Have you ever wondered what it would be like to experience some of the psychoactive effects of illegal drugs without the risk of obtaining and consuming the real thing? The attached video allows you to do just that. At the outset of the video, the viewer is prompted to enlarge player into full-screen mode and stare into the center of the screen. A black and white spiral then plays in a continuous loop for one minute and forty seconds, with a simple electronic melody and up-tempo techno beat rhythmically pounding in the background. At the end of the clip, red text on the screen instructs the viewer to look away from the screen and observe various objects in the room. The viewer should perceive inanimate objects as moving and rapidly increasing and decreasing in size for approximately thirty seconds.
The concept of the video is simple in theory: the visuals displayed on the screen interfere with the brain’s natural processing of moving images, and successfully trick the viewer into thinking that his vision is temporarily altered. However, this video employs a classic optical illusion used by magicians and hypnotists for centuries.
Whenever I watch the “Natural Hallucination” video, I find it extremely difficult to keep my eyes in the center of the screen for the entire duration. First and foremost, the alternating black and white lines moving away from the center in a concentric motion causes me considerable eyestrain. At times, it even appears that the lines sporadically changed direction, although I consciously know that they follow the same movement pattern for the entire video. Furthermore, the background music is tolerable for the first twenty seconds or so, but it quickly grows irritating and borderline obnoxious.
I affectionately refer to the 50-second mark in the video as “The Wall” (homage to the running term and the Pink Floyd album of the same name), after which the viewing experience rapidly declines and becomes almost painful to watch at times. The one saving grace that helps me fight through the searing boredom and monotony of the video is the element of the unknown. The taboo notion of experiencing a visual hallucination is exhilarating, and as much as I want to prematurely end the video and look around the room, my eyes always stay glued to the screen until the end. Despite the rampant peccadilloes throughout the clip, the mind-blowing optical illusion at the end makes it all worthwhile.
In theory, this video is boring. A repetitive audio-visual pattern drawn out for an extended period of time leaves little to the imagination and forces the viewer into a dull trance of mental inactivity. In practice, however, this video is quite the opposite of boring. I am amazed at how such a short, simple, effortless film can successfully hold a viewer’s attention. So far, this video has garnered 15,667,167 views, 28,600 likes, and 1,018 dislikes on YouTube. It goes without saying that the effects of this video are far-reaching and well received.
One has to wonder why someone would spend his or her time making such a video. Most would argue that this video serves no purpose other than a cheap novelty and a way to pass the time. I defend that this video has much more significant qualities not realized by the average viewer. For example, this video provides an alternative means of mind-alteration without the use of substances. While I have never consumed any form of hallucinogenic drugs, many users on YouTube and other online forums declare that the visual aftereffects of this video are very similar to that of LSD. Moreover, this video is an effective form of stress relief. Whenever I seek a momentary break from a high-pressure assignment or simply wish to decompress after a long day, I sometimes watch this video to fall into a relaxing trance (although the music still bothers me, so I mute the volume and substitute with classic rock).