Hide and Seek

We've all been there. Embarrassed by the revealed secret, suddenly bored at a dinner party, taken aback by an argument that had been a pleasant exchange only moments before, we sometimes wish we could just disappear.

What if we could?

As reported in "What Does it Feel Like to Be Invisible?" research using an "elaborate psychological trick" has made invisibility possible, at least in our heads. Researchers have succeeded in turning off the body through misdirection, leaving the mind to fill in the blanks.

Faced with contradictory information—the feel of the bristles against their torsos clashing with the sight of a brush touching nothing—many people experienced the uncanny sensation that their body had become transparent. This spell proved powerful. When those who succumbed to it watched a knife being thrust through the empty space, their skin reacted. Its electrical conductance jumped, which the researchers interpreted as a stress reaction to this threat against the invisible self. Volunteers who saw a knife but did not experience the invisibility illusion had a much smaller reaction.

Our minds are always providing missing information, of course. Magicians depend on it. And at the IdeaFestival, "Invisible Gorilla" author Daniel Simons and Teller - he talked! - demonstrated how just how malleable our minds and attention can be.

Nature reports that researcher Arvid Guterstam, the cognitive neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden behind the project, wants to further test the effects of invisibility by putting his willing subjects in moral dilemmas.

Given the advance of meta-material technology, the lessons learned may prove valuable.