Downside Up

Fact: after being upside down for a week, you start seeing things the right way up.

I’ll admit I took a bit of poetic license with the title, but it’s true – we quickly adapt to seeing things upside down.

The logic behind studying what appears at first to be a bit of a joke area of science lies in the biology of our eyes. When light passes through the lens of the eye it is inverted, meaning that the image that hits your retina – which is then ‘seen’ and passed to the brain – is actually upside down.

Obviously we see things the ‘right way up’, so our brain flips this image over to make sense of it. So, to determine whether this was learned or innate behaviour, in the 1980s a researcher decided to force his student, Ivo Kohler, to wear a pair of special glasses that made the world appear upside down.

At first, Kohler was incredibly disorentated and unable to tell which direction was up or down. But, amazingly, after just ten days he was able to perform feats as complex as riding a bicycle. He reported his vision appearing normal – i.e. ‘right side up’ – suggesting that his brain had learnt to flip the image over again. Scarily, when he then took the goggles off everything stayed upside-down for a few days.

 

We have no real idea of how the brain knows to do this, or even how it interprets light to generate our perception of the world, but it’s just another example of the amazing adaptability of mother nature.

‘Another one of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under Creative Commons license, taken by dbking

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