Chapter 11 - Nature:
|A Random Illusion
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Optical illusions abound everywhere, and there are a number of special interest in nature. Inasmuch as these are representative of a wide range of conditions and are usually within the possible experience of nearly everyone daily, they appear worthy of special consideration. Some of these have been casually mentioned in other chapters but further data may be of interest. No agreement has been reached in some cases in the many suggested explanations and little or no attempt of this character will be made in the following paragraphs. Many optical illusions which may be seen in nature will be passed by because their existence should be obvious after reading the preceding chapters. For example, a tree will appear to be longer while it is standing than it will after it has been cut down and is lying horizontally on the ground for the same reason that we overestimate vertical lines in comparison with horizontal ones. The apparent movement of the sun, moon, and stars, when clouds are floating past, is a powerful, though commonplace, optical illusion but we are more specifically interested in static optical illusions. However, it is of interest to recall the effect of involuntary eye-movements or of fluctuation in fixation because this factor in vision is important in many optical illusions. It is demonstrated by lying face upward on a starlit night and fixing the gaze upon a star. The latter appears to move more or less jerkily over its dark background. The magnitude and involuntary nature of these eye-movements is demonstrated in this manner very effectively.
The effect sometimes known as aerial perspective has been mentioned heretofore. The atmosphere is not perfectly transparent or colorless and is not homogeneous from an optical standpoint. It scatters rays of the shorter wave-lengths more than those of the longer wave-lengths. Hence it appears of a bluish tint and anything seen through great distances of it tends toward a reddish color. The blue sky and the redness of the setting sun are results of this cause. Distant signal-lights are reddened, due to the decrease in the rays of shorter wave-length by scattering. Apparently we have come to estimate distance to some extent through the amount of blurring and tinting superposed upon the distant scene.
In the high Rockies where the atmosphere is unusually clear, stretches of fifty miles of atmosphere lying between the observer and the distant peaks will show very little haze. A person inexperienced in the region is likely to construe this absence of haze as a shorter distance than the reality and many amusing incidents and ludicrous mistakes are charged against the tenderfoot in the Rockies. After misjudging distance so often to his own discomfiture a tourist is said to have been found disrobing preparatory to swimming across an irrigation ditch. He had lost confidence in his judgment of distance and was going to assume the risk of jumping across what appeared to be a ditch but what might be a broad river. Of course, this story might not be true but it serves as well as any to emphasize the optical illusion which arises when the familiar haze is not present in strange territory.
It is a common experience that things "loom in a fog," that is, that they appear larger than they really are. An explanation which has been offered is that of an "excess of aerial perspective" which causes us to overestimate distance and therefore to overestimate size. If this explanation is correct, it is quite in the same manner that in clear atmosphere in the mountains we underestimate distance and, consequently, size. However, another factor may enter in the latter case, for the optical illusion is confined chiefly to newcomers; that is, in time one learns to judge correctly. On entering a region of real mountains the first time, the newcomer's previous experience with these formations is confined to hills relatively much smaller. Even allowing considerably for a greater size when viewing the majestic peaks for the first time, he cannot be expected to think in terms of peaks many times larger than his familiar hills. Thus underestimating the size of the great peaks, he underestimates the distance. The rarity of the atmospheric haze aids him in making this mistake. This is not offered as a substitute for aerial perspective as the primary cause of the optical illusion but it appears to the author that it is a cause which must be taken into account.
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Chapter 11 - Nature:|
The Sky, A Flattened Vault
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