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Nature's Optical Illusions
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In this fascinating, profusely illustrated study, Professor Mark Fineman explores the psychology and physiology of vision, including such topics as light and color, motion receptors, the illusion of movement, kinetic art, how we perceive size, how our eyes move, phantoms of the visual system and many other subjects. Take, for example, the simple question, "Why does the world look the way it does? Why, for instance, does one object appear circular, another square, and so forth? Moreover, if we view an object on a slant, its image on the retina changes, yet the mind remains aware of the true shape of the object.
By understanding the ways in which a brain misperceives stimuli, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the rudimentary principles and schemas through which the brain routinely processes information. This information also has practical value, especially in advancing research and development of robotics and artificial intelligence.
The Nature of Visual Illusion
For example, the dynamism of the visual system, which allows humans to recognize and discern objects from multiple perspectives, has yet to be achieved in robotics. Illusions occur with all five of our physical senses, but visual illusions are the most common, well-known, and well researched.
Vision is continuously engaged in daily life. Though the world is perceived as seamless, images and motions imperceptibly blending into the next, it is only so because of the continual, visual updates that the eyes relay to the brain on a time scale so rapid that a break in vision is never perceived. The collaboration of photo-receptors, ganglion cells, receptive fields, and the brain creates the perception of colors , seamless motion, contrast, and quality such that the efficiency and completeness of vision is unparalleled in comparison with any piece of apparatus or instrumentation yet invented.
The study of the visual system often involves artificially manipulating visual stimuli specifically created to cause mis-perception of a visual scene. A conventional assumption is that there are naturally occurring physiological illusions and cognitive illusions that are demonstrated through manipulations and expose the mechanisms of human perception.
The existence of optical illusions underlines the adaptations the brain has made in order to operate at the speed it does in perceiving and translating visual stimuli. Though the term "optical illusions" itself sounds pejorative, as if describing some malfunction, they actually reveal the various essential adaptations that are either hard-wired or well established in the brain. Several well-known visual illusions are described below.
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Rubin Vase - This illusion displays an aspect of perceptual organization, figure-ground perception, in which the brain is attempting to assign one shape as the figure on top of a background based on contrast. There is considerable flexibility, as the brain can interpret the figure-ground illusion as a white vase in front of a black background, and almost as simultaneously interpret the illusion as two, silhouetted faces facing each other over a white background.
This illusion was made famous by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin in Kanizsa Triangle - First described by the Italian psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa in , this famous illusion contains a white, equilateral triangle that seems to be obscuring three, black circles and the outline of another equilateral triangle. However, the white triangle is nonexistent. This effect is known as a "subjective" or "illusory" contour and is a product of a process known as "modal completion.
Ponzo Illusion - Illusions can be based on an individual's ability to see in three dimensions even through the image hitting the retina is only two dimensional. The Ponzo Illusion, revealed by Mario Ponzo in , is an example of an illusion which uses monocular cues of depth perception to fool the eye. In the Ponzo illusion the converging parallel lines suggest to the brain that the image higher in the visual field is further away due to perspective. The brain therefore perceives it to be larger, though the two images hitting the retina are actually the same size.
Phi Phenomenon - In his Experimental Studies on the Seeing of Motion, Max Wertheimer described a perceptual illusion involving a succession of still images that created the illusion of apparent motion. The classic phi phenomenon experiment involves two images. The first image depicts a line on the left side of the frame.
The second image depicts a line on the right side of the frame. The images are projected in succession at different combinations of time and space between the two lines, and at a certain combination, viewers will perceive a sensation of motion in the space around the two lines. This is not to be confused with perceiving continuous motion of objects, a motion that Wertheimer called "beta" movement.
Beta movement can often be seen in blinking Christmas lights or the lights that border movie marquees.
The example shows how blinking lights can give the appearance of movement, despite the fact that each light is simply turning on and off at a regular interval. The study of illusions has focused on the visual system due to the prevalence and diversity of optical illusions. Our visual system faces a challenging task, attempting to correctly represent reality while calculating and perceiving various factors, such as light , color , texture, and size in a three-dimensional environment.
Visual perception is created by our brain 's interpretation of visual information and sometimes it results in fascinating visual illusions. Our mind gets "actively" involved in interpreting the perceptual input rather than passively recording the input, though it does not always accurately represent that input.
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