Here’s the Science Behind That Ham Photo Everyone Is Freaking Out About

Here’s the Science Behind That Ham Photo Everyone Is Freaking Out About

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Susmita Baral
Jan 9, 2017
(Image credit: Reddit)

The first optical illusion of the year has arrived, courtesy of a Reddit user who shared a blurry image of sliced deli ham under the Mildly Interesting subreddit. While we're all pretty sick of hearing about the next "The Dress," this ham photo caught our attention. I mean, just look at it!

We need to know: Is the image really blurry or is it a bunch of thin slices of ham, shot in focus, creating the illusion of a blurry image?

Most viewers have made the judgment call that the photo is out of focus, with some even claiming the image gave them motion sickness. But the truth is that the image is in focus. The first clue lies in the area that is blurry; the Coburger ham is the only part of the picture that is out of focus, while the container and table are perfectly sharp and in focus.

The Reddit user who uploaded the image deconstructed the optical illusion in a YouTube video.

Why did the ham slices look so blurry? One factor is how thinly sliced the ham is. That, coupled with the veins and semi-translucence of the meat, creates the optical illusion of blurriness when layered.

Our brain gets tricked with optical illusions — which vision scientist Michael Bach calls "a mismatch between the immediate visual impression and the actual properties of the object" — due to neural delays.

In order to see things, light has to enter the retina of our eyes. The signal from our retina to reach our brain takes about one-tenth of a second, reports Discovery News. While one-tenth of a second is a short span of time in our everyday life, our brain fills in the time gap with what it thinks we should be seeing to process information more efficiently. In the case of the ham picture, it was a fuzzy blob of meat.

While our eyes manage to get it wrong every now and then, it's pretty amazing that our brains can make educated guesses — and get them right — so often.

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