Wow! Hermann’s Sparkling Grid!

Look at it! It’s sparkles! It shines! But, um, how?!?

How It Works

When overfed, the stomach regurgitates Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat. The same things happen when we overfeed the brain, but instead of vomit the brain hurls hallucinations, distorted perceptions, and other coolness. We like that. Which is why we like Wow! Hermann’s Sparkling Grid! This illusionary high was created in 1870 by German speech researcher Ludimar Hermann (1838 – 1914). The most popular (and controversial) theory is that the illusion works by stimulating the neurons in our eyes so much that they shut off the neurons near them in a process known as lateral inhibition.

When photoreceptors—the neurons in our eyes that detect areas of light—focus on the center of Hermann’s grid, they detect increased brightness. The photoreceptors turn on the visual system’s ganglion cells, which send the “brightness” information to the brain. However, details from the peripheral areas of Hermann’s grid confuse the eyes. There are too many lines, squares, and dots to process. The photoreceptors react by turning off some of the ganglion cells in these peripheral areas. The brain, confused by these counteracting on/off signals, reacts by stabilizing the areas of center focus, and flashes the areas in the peripheral vision as it processes them on then off, on then off. As you concentrate on different areas of the grid, the flashing areas shift.

Note that the above is an unproven, simplified, and semi-hybridized theory compounded for you by two people: me and the really tired guy staring at me in the reflection of the computer monitor. If you are annoyed by the brevity of this explanation we invite you to apply for a neuroscience degree at your favorite university . . . or better, sod off! Now, can we get high already?