Nor did star­ing at this blue dot

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TIE YOUR SHOES A LIT­TLE TOO SNUG IN THE morn­ing, and, by lunchtime, that un­com­fort­able feel­ing will be nearly gone. Sen­sa­tions—smells, sights, feel­ings— that stay stag­nant for too long tend to fade away. The same goes for this blue dot fixed in its green mi­lieu. Stare it down for 15 sec­onds and it van­ishes. Blink and it comes back.

The dot’s Achilles’ heel is its con­sis­tency. Our brain con­serves en­ergy when­ever pos­si­ble, says Frans W. Cor­nelis­sen, a neu­ro­sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Gronin­gen in the Nether­lands. If noth­ing changes, we stop reg­is­ter­ing.

To gen­er­ate images, neu­rons con­stantly re­lay sig­nals from our reti­nas to the brain. The longer we stare, the more the cells tire of send­ing along the same mes­sages. Even­tu­ally those sig­nals de­cay in strength. In­stead of work­ing hard to an­a­lyze the in­tri­ca­cies of the im­age, after a while, the brain ig­nores de­tails in fa­vor of the big pic­ture. It says: “Eh, that’s mostly green.” Cor­nelis­sen also notes the blue dot’s spotty bound­ary en­cour­ages the brain to an­nul it.

But don’t get down on your gray mat­ter for slack­ing; it’s still mostly cor­rect. Ac­cord­ing to Cor­nelis­sen: To sur­vive, we don’t need to sweat the small stuff.

By Jes­sica Boddy

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