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kottke.org posts about Jeffrey Zacks

Why didn’t human brains freak out when we first watched cuts in film?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2017

Cuts in film and television are so normal now that it’s absurd to think of them as optical illusions. But they are. Adapted from an essay by psychology professor Jeffrey Zacks, this video examines how the human brain dealt with the novel mechanism of film cuts at the turn of the last century.

Before the emergence and rapid proliferation of film editing at the dawn of the 20th century, humans had never been exposed to anything quite like film cuts: quick flashes of images as people, objects and entire settings changed in an instant. But rather than reacting with confusion to edits, early filmgoers lined up in droves to spend their money at the cinema, turning film — and eventually its close cousin, television — into the century’s defining media. It would seem that our evolutionary history did very little to prepare us for film cuts — so why don’t our brains explode when we watch movies?

The answer lies with the limitations of our visual systems and how much work our brain does in providing us with the illusion of an endlessly panning “reality”.

For more visual tricks brought on by technological innovation, see also a bird magically floats because of a camera frame rate trick and a magically levitating helicopter, courtesy of a camera frame rate trick.