Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures: Fluctuating Optical IllusionsStrange times are these in which we live, when old and young are taught in falsehoods school. And the one man that dares to tell the truth is called at once, a lunatic and fool. - Plato
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  1   2   Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures:
Psychological or Physiological?

Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures:
Fluctuating Optical Illusions

Many figures apparently change in appearance owing to fluctuations in attention and in associations. A human profile in intaglio (Fig. 72 and Fig. 73) may appear as a bas-relief. Crease a card in the middle to form an angle and hold it at an arm's length. When viewed with one eye it can be made to appear open in one way or the other; that is, the angle may be made to appear pointing toward the observer or away from him. The more distant part of an object may be made to appear nearer than the remaining part. Plane diagrams may seem to be solids. Deception of this character is quite easy if the light-source and other extraneous factors are concealed from the observer. It is very interesting to study these fluctuating figures and to note the various extraneous data which lead us to judge correctly. Furthermore, it becomes obvious that often we see what we expect to see. For example, we more commonly encounter relief than intaglio; therefore, we are likely to think that we are looking at the former.

Proper consideration of the position of the dominant light-source and of the shadows will usually provide the data for a correct conclusion. However, habit and probability are factors whose influence is difficult to overcome. Our perception is strongly associated with accustomed ways of seeing objects and when the object is once suggested it grasps our mind completely in its stereotyped form. This type of optical illusion is commonly illustrated by cubes, stairs, rings, intaglios and glasses.

In connection with this type, it is well to realize how tenaciously we cling to our perception of the real shapes of objects. For example, a cube thrown into the air in such a manner that it presents many aspects toward us is throughout its course a cube.

The figures which exhibit these optical illusions are obviously those which are capable of two or more spatial relations. The double interpretation is more readily accomplished by monocular than by binocular vision. Fig. 27 consists of identical patterns in black and white. By gazing upon this steadily it will appear to fluctuate in appearance from a white pattern upon a black background to a black pattern upon a white background. Sometimes fluctuation of attention apparently accounts for the change and, in fact, this can be tested by willfully altering the attention from a white pattern to a black one.

Visual perception, psychology, physiology and how they relate to optical illusions.
Fig. 27. - Illustrating fluctuation of attention.

Incidentally one investigator found that the maximum rate of fluctuation was approximately equal to the pulse rate, although no connection between the two was claimed. It has also been found that inversion is accompanied by a change in refraction of the eye.

Another example is shown in Fig. 28. This may appear to be white circles upon a black background or a black mesh upon a white background. However, the more striking phenomenon is the change in the grouping of the circles as attention fluctuates. We may be conscious of hollow diamonds of circles, one inside the other, and then suddenly the pattern may change to groups of diamonds consisting of four circles each. Perhaps we may be momentarily conscious of individual circles; then the pattern may change to a hexagonal one, each "hexagon" consisting of seven circles - six surrounding a central one. The pattern also changes into parallel strings of circles, triangles, etc.

Visual perception, psychology, physiology and how they relate to optical illusions.
Fig. 28. - The grouping of the circles fluctuates.

The crossed lines in Fig. 29 can be seen as right angles in perspective with two different spatial arrangements of one or both lines. In fact there is quite a tendency to see such crossed lines as right angles in perspective. The two groups on the right represent a simplified Zollner's optical illusion (Fig.37).

Visual perception, psychology, physiology and how they relate to optical illusions.
Fig. 29. - Crossed lines which may be interpreted in two ways.

The reader may find it interesting to spend some time viewing these figures and in exercising his ability to fluctuate his attention. In fact, he must call upon his imagination in these cases. Sometimes the changes are rapid and easy to bring about. At other moments he will encounter an aggravating stubbornness. Occasionally there may appear a conflict of two appearances simultaneously in the same figure. The latter may be observed occasionally in Fig. 30. Eye-movements are brought forward by some to aid in explaining the changes.

In Fig. 30 a reversal of the aspect of the individual cubes or of their perspective is very apparent. At rare moments the effect of perspective may be completely vanquished and the figure be made to appear as a plane crossed by strings of white diamonds and zigzag black strips.

Visual perception, psychology, physiology and how they relate to optical illusions.
Fig. 30. - Reversible cubes.

The optical illusion of the bent card or partially open book is seen in Fig. 31. The tetrahedron in Fig. 32 may appear either as erect on its base or as leaning backward with its base seen from underneath.

Visual perception, psychology, physiology and how they relate to optical illusions.
Fig. 31. - The reversible "open book" (after Mach).
Visual perception, psychology, physiology and how they relate to optical illusions.
Fig. 32. - A reversible tetrahedron.

The series of rings in Fig. 33 may be imagined to form a tube such as a sheet-metal pipe with its axis lying in either of two directions. Sometimes by closing one eye the two changes in this type of optical illusion are more readily brought about. It is also interesting to close and open each eye alternately, at the same time trying to note just where the attention is fixed.

Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures: Fluctuating Optical Illusions
Fig. 33. - Reversible perspective of a group of rings or of a tube.

The familiar staircase is represented in Fig. 34. It is likely to appear in its usual position and then suddenly to invert. It may aid in bringing about the reversal to insist that one end of a step is first nearer than the other and then farther away. By focusing the attention in this manner the fluctuation becomes an easy matter to obtain.

Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures: Fluctuating Optical Illusions
Fig. 34. - Schroder's reversible staircase.

In Fig. 35 is a similar example. First one part will appear solid and the other an empty corner, then suddenly both are reversed. However, it is striking to note one half changes while the other remains unchanged, thus producing momentarily a rather peculiar figure consisting of two solids, for example, attached by necessarily warped surfaces.

Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures: Fluctuating Optical Illusions
Fig. 35. - Thiery's figure.

Perhaps the reader has often witnessed the striking optical illusion of some portraits which were made of subjects looking directly at the camera or painter. Regardless of the position of the observer the eyes of the portrait appear to be directed toward him. In fact, as the observer moves, the eyes in the picture follow him so relentlessly as to provoke even a feeling of uncanniness. This fact is accounted for by the absence of a third dimension, for a sculptured model of a head does not exhibit this feature. Perspective plays a part in some manner, but no attempt toward explanation will be made.

In Fig. 36 are two sketches of a face. One appears to be looking at the observer, but the other does not. If the reader will cover the lower parts of the two figures, leaving only the two pairs of eyes showing, both pairs will eventually appear to be looking at the observer. Perhaps the reader will be conscious of mental effort and the lapse of a few moments before the eyes on the left are made to appear to be looking directly at him. Although it is not claimed that this optical illusion is caused by the same conditions as those immediately preceding, it involves attention. At least, it is fluctuating in appearance and therefore is equivocal. It is interesting to note the influence of the other features (below the eyes). The perspective of these is a powerful influence in "directing" the eyes of the sketch.

Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures: Fluctuating Optical Illusions
Fig. 36. - Illustrating certain influences upon the apparent
direction of vision. By covering all but the eyes, the
latter appear to be drawn alike in both sketches.


  1   2   Chapter 5 - Equivocal Figures:
Psychological or Physiological?

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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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