To celebrate the Smart ultra 6, we've been throwing loads of optical illusions your way. But how #ultrasmart do you have to be to see them? Lets find out...


What happens when we look at a tricky optical illusion? What legwork is your brain doing to try and make sense of the images in front of you? And what happens when there’s no sense to be found? At Vodafone Social, that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to find out.

Why? Because to celebrate the brand new Vodafone Smart ultra 6 hitting our store shelves, we’ve taken to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to bamboozle you with not only some great shots of the phone itself, but also a bevy of amazing optical illusions.

How #UltraSmart do you need to be to make sense of them? We’ve been speaking to Nate Jacobs, a neurological research scientist at UCLA with a penchant for illusions, to unravel the answers…

#UltraSmart synapses

“We often don’t know enough about the underlying circuitry to say exactly what the neural mechanisms are for understanding illusions,” Nate tells us, “but we do understand the basic issues at play.” And more often than not, it all boils down to how we’ve evolved to see make sense of our environment.


To kick us off, take a look at the ballet dancer here. Which direction is she spinning? Clockwise or anticlockwise? It’s a divisive question, and looking away and back may even make you see it in a completely different light each time. But why?

“The spinning dancer is a great example,” says Nate. “What’s happening here is that our brain is confronted by some pretty ambiguous sensory information – the black moving shape could justifiably have come either from a left spinning or a right spinning dancer. So what should the brain do? Should it see 2 dancers simultaneously each with 50% chance of being real? No, that would be way too philosophical [for life in the real world].

“The brain doesn’t see multiple versions of reality,” he explains, “it just takes its best shot and creates the perception of one single (most-likely) reality. This is what all our sensory systems are trying to do – to take relatively poor sensory information and, with a lot of guess work and assumptions, create a coherent vision of the world around us.”

But taking such leaps can cause errors, which Nate argues is a necessary by-product of the way our minds are trained to guide us around the world:

“Why does the brain make assumptions that lead to ‘errors’ in so many optical illusion examples? The answer is that we would make way way more errors in the real world if we didn’t make all of these assumptions. Truly confusing optical illusions are very difficult to come by,” he adds, “because we’ve evolved nearly infallible ways of rapidly figuring out what’s going on around us. 99.999% of the time we are deadly accurate, and that’s good enough.”

Clouding your judgement

Ready to trick your brain? Here are some of the illusions from our #UltraSmart campaign that provide that 0.001% margin for error, with an explanation from Nate about how each one works.

1. The ferris wheel

“This is a cool one. The little seats on the ferris wheel are moving exactly one position between frames, so it’s ambiguous whether it’s spinning clockwise or anticlockwise. Everything I said above rings true, here: our brains are the executive branch of our bodies and the brain doesn’t like ambiguity.

“It’s very hard for us to interpret something like this as not really moving. That’s because we’re not designed to see abstract images and shapes, we want to interpret everything as actual objects moving in the world around us. The same thing applies for two dots flashed one after the other on different parts of a screen – we perceive the two dots as moving from place to place if they are flashed in rapid succession.”

2. The running man

We think #OpticalIllusions are #UltraSmart! Can you work out how many steps the running man has taken?

Posted by Vodafone UK on Thursday, July 9, 2015

“This is an interesting one, and combines two things. First, whenever we see a partially covered image, our brains fill in the gaps to recreate the rest of the object. There’s no point in us seeing abstract shapes, so we assume the image is whole, and fill in whatever’s missing.

“Secondly, when we see two images one after the other with slight changes in the position of object, we perceive it as motion. So by combining the two, our brains automatically fill in the gaps and merge the different images to create whole objects which are moving.”

3. The ultra-stretchy ultra 6

Did you fall for it? Let us know if you thought it was real or fake/ #UltraSmart #OpticalIllusions

Posted by Vodafone UK on Friday, July 10, 2015

“We interpret certain angles in the real world as indicating the height and size of things. When you look up at a building, for instance, it looks really tall even though it shrinks into a fairly small space on our visual field. Therefore, the angles of the lines help us realize it’s actually a really tall object that’s rising above us.

“This illusion plays on that, where the shape of the phone is being contorted in a weird way so that if viewed from a very particular angle it looks like a different shape.”

For lots more on how we deal with illusions, check out Nate’s animated TED-Ed talk about the subject right here.

Are you #UltraSmart? Our foray into illusions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram may have messed with your mind, but one thing’s plain to see: the £125 Vodafone Smart ultra 6 is a real no brainer. Click here to see why the web’s tech press agree.