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Chapter 3 - Vision:
Distance and Size Perception Affect Optical Illusions
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Chapter 3 - Vision:
Depth and Stereoscopic Vision

According to Brucke's theory the eyes are continuously in motion and the observer by alternately increasing or decreasing the convergence of the axes of the eyes, combines successively the different parts of the two scenes as seen by the two eyes and by running the point of sight back and forth by trial obtains a distinct perception of binocular perspective or relief or depth of space. It may be assumed that experience has made the observer proficient in this appraisal which he arrives at almost unconsciously, although it may be just as easy to accept Wheatstone's explanation. In fact, some experiences with the stereoscope appear to support the latter theory.

Wheatstone discovered that the dissimilar pictures of an object or scene, when united by means of optical systems, produce a visual effect similar to that produced by the actual solid object or scene provided the dissimilarity is the same as that between two retinal images of the solid object or scene. This is the principle upon which the familiar stereoscope is founded. Wheatstone formulated a theory which may be briefly stated as follows: In viewing a solid object or a scene two slightly dissimilar retinal images are formed in the two eyes respectively, but the mind completely fuses them into one "mental" image. When this mental fusion of the two really dissimilar retinal images is complete in this way, it is obvious that there cannot exist a mathematical coincidence. The result is a perception of depth of space, of solidity, of relief. In fact the third dimension is perceived. A stereoscope accomplishes this in essentially the same manner, for two pictures, taken from two different positions respectively corresponding to the positions of the eyes, are combined by means of optical systems into one image.

Lack of correct size and position of the individual elements of stereoscopic pictures are easily detected on combining them. That is, their dissimilarity must exactly correspond to that between two views of an object or scene from the positions of the two eyes respectively (Fig. 2). This fact has been made use of in detecting counterfeit notes. If two notes made from the same plate are viewed in a stereoscope and the identical figures are combined, the combination is perfect and the plane of the combined images is perfectly flat. If the notes are not made from the same plate but one of them is counterfeit, slight variations in the latter are unavoidable. Such variations will show themselves in a wavy surface.

The unwillingness of the visual sense to combine the two retinal images, if they are dissimilar to the extent of belonging to two different objects, is emphasized by means of colors. For example, if a green glass is placed over one eye and a red glass over the other, the colors are not mixed by the visual sense. The addition of these two colors results normally in yellow, with little or no suggestion of the components - red and green. But in the foregoing case the visual field does not appear of a uniform yellow. It appears alternately red and green, as though the colors were rivaling each other for complete mastery. In fact, this phenomenon has been termed "retinal rivalry."

The lenses of the stereoscope supplement eye-lenses and project on the retina two perfect images of a near object, although the eyes are looking at a distant object and are therefore not accommodated for the near one (the photographs). The lenses enlarge the images similar to the action of a perspective glass. This completes the optical illusion of an object or of a scene. There is a remarkable distinctness of the perception of depth of space and therefore a wonderful resemblance to the actual object or scene. It is interesting to note the effect of taking the two original photographs from distances separated by several feet. The effect is apparently to magnify depth. It is noteworthy that two pictures taken from an airplane at points fifty feet or so apart, when combined in the stereoscope, so magnify the depth that certain enemy-works can be more advantageously detected than from ordinary photographs.

Stereoscopic images such as represented in Fig. 2 may be combined without the aid of the stereoscope if the optical axes of the eye can be sufficiently converged or diverged. Such images or pictures are usually upon a card and are intended to be combined beyond the plane of the card, for it is in this position that the scene or object can be perceived in natural perspective, at a natural distance, of a natural form and of natural size. But in combining them the eyes are looking at a distant object and the axes are parallel or nearly so. Therefore, the eyes are focally adjusted for a distant object but the light comes from a very near object - the pictures on the card. Myopic eyes do not experience this difficulty and it appears that normal vision may be trained to overcome it. Normal eyes are aided by using slightly convex lenses. Such glasses supplement the lenses of the eye, making possible a clear vision of a near object while the eyes are really looking far away or, in other words, making possible a clear image of a near object upon the retina of the unadjusted eye. Stereoscopic pictures are usually so mounted that "identical points" on the two pictures are farther apart than the interocular distance and therefore the two images cannot be combined when the optical axes of the eyes are parallel or nearly so, which is the condition when looking at a distant object. In such a case the two pictures must be brought closer together.

In Figs. 2 and 3 are found "dissimilar" drawings of the correct dissimilarity of stereoscopic pictures. It is interesting and instructive to practice combining these with the unaided eyes. If Fig. 2 is held at an arm's length and the eyes are focused upon a point several inches distant, the axes will be sufficiently converged so that the two images are superposed.

Chapter 3 - Vision: Depth and Stereoscopic Vision
Fig. 2. - Stereoscopic pictures for combining by
converging or diverging the optical axes.

It may help to focus the eyes upon the tip of a finger until the stereoscopic images are combined. In this case of converging axes the final combined result will be the appearance of a hollow tube or of a shell of a truncated cone, apparently possessing the third dimension and being perceived as apparently smaller than the actual pictures in the background at arm's length.

Chapter 3 - Vision: Depth and Stereoscopic Vision
Fig. 3. - Stereoscopic pictures.

If the two stereoscopic pictures are combined by looking at a point far beyond the actual position of Fig. 2, the combined effect is a solid truncated cone but perceived as of about the same size and at about the same distance from the eye as the actual diagrams. In the latter case the smaller end of the apparent solid appears to be nearer than the larger end, but in the former case the reverse is true, that is, the smaller end appears to be at a greater distance. The same experiments may be performed for Fig. 3 with similar results excepting that this appears to be a shell under the same circumstances that Fig. 2 appears to be a solid and vice versa. A few patient trials should be rewarded by success, and if so the reader can gain much more understanding from the actual experiences than from description.

The foregoing discussion of vision should indicate the complexity of the visual and mental activities involved in the discrimination, association, and interpretation of the data obtained through the eye. The psychology of visual perception is still a much controverted domain but it is believed that the glimpses of the process of vision which have been afforded are sufficient to enable the reader to understand many optical illusions and at least to appreciate more fully those whose explanations remain in doubt. Certainly these glimpses and a knowledge of the information which visual perception actually supplies to us at any moment should convince us that the visual sense has acquired an incomparable facility for interpreting the objective world for us. Clearness of vision is confined to a small area about the point of sight, and it rapidly diminishes away from this point, images becoming dim and double. We sweep this point of sight backward and forward and over an extensive field of view, gathering all the distinct impressions into one mental image. In doing this the unconscious interpretation of the muscular activity attending accommodation and convergence of the eyes aids in giving to this mental picture the appearance of depth by establishing relative distances of various objects. Certainly the acquired facility is remarkable.

Continue on to Chapter 4 on Geometrical Optical Illusions

Chapter 3 - Vision:
Distance and Size Perception Affect Optical Illusions
1   2   3   4    

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About This Book Preface Chap 1, Introduction Chap 2, The Eye Chap 3, Vision Chap 4, Geometrical Chap 5, Figures Chap 6, Angles Chap 7, Depth/Distance Chap 8 Brightness/Contrast Chap 9, Color Chap 10, Lighting Chap 11, Nature Chap 12, Painting/Decorating Chap 13, Architecture Chap 14, Magic Mirror Chap 15, Camouflage

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