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Chapter 7 - Illusions of Depth and of Distance
Like other phases of the subject, this has been treated in many papers, but of these only one will be specifically mentioned, for it will suffice. Carr [Visual Illusions of Depth, H. A. Carr, Psych. Rev. 1909, 16, p. 219.] has studied this type of optical illusion comparatively recently and apparently quite generally, and his work will be drawn upon for examples of this type. Apparently they may be divided into four classes: (1) Those of pure distance; that is, an object may appear to be located at varying distances from the observer, but no movement is perceived. For example, a person might be seen first at the true distance; he might be seen next very close in front of the eyes; then he might suddenly appear to be quite remote; (2) optical illusions of pure motion; that is, objects are perceived as moving in a certain direction without any apparent change in location. In other words, they appear to move, but they do not appear to traverse space; (3) optical illusions of movement which include a change in location. This appears to be the most common optical illusion of depth; (4) those including a combination of the first and third classes. For example, the object might first appear to move away from its true location and is perceived at some remote place. Shortly it may appear in its true original position, but this change in location does not involve any sense of motion.
These peculiar optical illusions of depth are not as generally experienced as those described in preceding chapters. A geometrical optical illusion, especially if it is pronounced, is likely to be perceived quite universally, but these optical illusions of depth are either more difficult to notice or more dependent upon psychological peculiarities far from universal among people. It is interesting to note the percentages computed from Carr's statistics obtained upon interrogating 350 students. Of these, 17 per cent had experienced depth-illusions and between one and two per cent had voluntary control of the phenomenon. Of the 48 who had experienced optical illusions of this type and were able to submit detailed descriptions, 25 per cent belonged to class (1) of those described in the preceding paragraph; 4 per cent to class (2); 52 per cent to class (3); and 17 per cent to class (4).
Usually the optical illusion involves all objects in the visual field but with some subjects the field is contracted or the objects in the periphery of the field are unaffected. For most persons these optical illusions involve normal perceptual objects, although it appears that they are phases of hallucinatory origin.
Inasmuch as these optical illusions cannot be illustrated diagrammatically we can do no better than to condense some of the descriptions obtained and reported by Carr. [Visual Illusions of Depth, H. A. Carr, Psych. Rev. 1909, 16, p. 219.]
A case in which the peripheral objects remain visible and stationary at their true positions while the central portion of the field participates in the optical illusion is as follows:
The observer on a clear day was gazing down a street which ended a block away, a row of houses forming the background at the end of the street. The observer was talking to and looking directly at a companion only a short distance away. Soon this person (apparently) began to move down the street, until she reached the background of houses at the end, and then slowly came back to her original position. The movement in both directions was distinctly perceived. During the illusory movement there was no vagueness of outline or contour, no blurring or confusion of features; the person observed, seemed distinct and substantial in character during the illusion. The perceived object moved in relation to surrounding objects; there was no movement of the visual field as a whole. The person decreased in size during the backward movement and increased in size during the forward return movement.
With many persons who experience illusions of depth, the objects appear to move to, or appear at, some definite position and remain there until the optical illusion is voluntarily overcome, or until it disappears without voluntary action. A condensation of a typical description of this general type presented by Carr is as follows:
All visual objects suddenly recede to the apparent distance of the horizon and remain in that position several minutes, returning at the end of this period to their original positions. This return movement is very slow at the beginning, but the latter phase of the movement is quite rapid. If the subject closes her eyes while the objects appear at their distant position she cannot even imagine those objects located anywhere except at their apparent distant position.
In all cases (encountered by Carr) the motion in both directions is an actual experience reality and the subject was helpless as to initiating, stopping, or modifying the course of the optical illusion in any way. Objects and even visual images (which are subject to the same optical illusions) decrease in size in proportion to the amount of backward movement and grow larger again on their return movement. The objects are always clearly defined as if in good focus. In this particular case the optical illusion occurred about twice a year, under a variety of conditions of illumination, at various times of the day, but apparently under conditions of a rather pronounced fatigue.
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In regard to the variation in the size of objects, many who have experienced these optical illusions of depth testify that the size seems to change in proportion to the apparent distance, according to the law of perspective. Some persons appear in doubt as to this change and a few have experienced the peculiar anomaly of decreasing size as the objects apparently approached.
Many persons who have experienced these peculiar optical illusions report no change in the distinctness of objects; almost as many are uncertain regarding this point; and as many report a change in distinctness. Apparently there are phases of hallucinatory origin so that there is a wide variety of experiences among those subject to this type of optical illusion.
According to Carr's investigation internal conditions alone are responsible for the optical illusion with more persons than those due to external conditions alone. With some persons a combination of internal and external conditions seem to be a necessity. Fixation of vision appears to be an essential objective condition for many observers. In other words, these illusions appeared while the person was fixing their gaze on someone speaking or someone singing in church or in a theater. With others the illusion occurs while reading. Some reported that fixation upon checkered or other regularly patterned objects was an essential condition. Among the subjective conditions reported as essential are steady fixation, concentration of attention, complete mental absorption, dreamy mental abstraction, and fatigue.
Ocular defects do not appear to be essential, for the optical illusions have been experienced by many whose eyes were known to be free from any abnormalities.
Period of life does not appear to have any primary influence, for those who are subject to these peculiar illusions often have experienced them throughout many years. In some cases it is evident that the illusions occur dining a constrained eye position, while lying down, immediately upon arising from bed in the morning, and upon opening the eyes after having had them closed for some time. However, the necessity for these conditions are exceptional.
The control of these illusions of depth, that is, the ability to create or to destroy them, appears to be totally lacking for most of those who have experienced them. Some can influence them, a few can destroy them, a few can indirectly initiate them, but those who can both create and destroy them appear to be rare.
It may seem to the reader that the latter part of this chapter departs from the main trend of this book, for most of these illusions of depth are to a degree of hallucinatory origin. Furthermore it has been the intention to discuss only those types of illusions which are experienced quite uniformly and universally. The digression of this chapter is excused on the basis of affording a glimpse along the borderland of those groups of illusions which are nearly universally experienced. Many other phases of depth illusions have been recorded in scientific literature. The excellent records presented by Carr could be drawn upon for further glimpses, but it appears that no more space should he given to this exceptional type. The reader should be sufficiently forewarned of this type and should be able to take it into account if peculiarities in other types appear to be explainable in this manner. However, in closing it is well to emphasize the fact that the hallucinatory aspect of depth illusions is practically absent in types of illusions to which attention is confined in other chapters.
Chapter 7 - Illusions of Depth and of Distance
Depth and Distance
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