Sunday, August 23, 2009

Best Visual Illusions

2007 Best Visual Illusion of the Year -- Here is a novel illusion that is as striking as it is simple. The two images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa are identical, yet one has the impression that the tower on the right leans more, as if photographed from a different angle. The reason for this is because the visual system treats the two images as if part of a single scene. Normally, if two adjacent towers rise at the same angle, their image outlines converge as they recede from view due to perspective, and this is taken into account by the visual system. So when confronted with two towers whose corresponding outlines are parallel, the visual system assumes they must be diverging as they rise from view, and this is what we see.

What this illusion reveals is less to do with perspective, but how the visual system tends to treat two side-by-side images as if part of the same scene. However hard we try to think of the two photographs of the Leaning Tower as separate, albeit identical images of the same object, our visual system regards them as the ‘Twin Towers of Pisa’, whose perspective can only be interpreted in terms of one tower leaning more than the other.

The Leaning Tower Illusion also works with paired images of train tracks (pictured below), violating the rules of perspective. It's hard to believe, but these are actually identical images of parallel train tracks. Although the angles are the same in both images, the brain perceives them as being quite different.

2006 Finalist -- First time viewers of this display invariably do not see the 16 circles segmented from the background. Rather, they see a series of rectangles that they frequently describe as “door panels”. The illusion pits segmentation cues against what appears to be a very strong prior to interpret the image as a series of 3-D structures “coffers” with closed boundaries. (A coffer is a decorative sunken panel.) It appears that the prior involves both closure and shape-from shading assumptions. The Coffer Illusion is a variation on Gianni Sarcone’s “Op Art illusion."

Check out the Pinball Wizard.

Check out the 2009 winner: The Break of the Curveball.

More Best Visual Illusions of the Year, sponsored by the Neural Correlate Society

2009 Finalists
2008 Finalists
2007 Finalists
2006 Finalists
2005 Finalists

Originally posted at Carpe Diem.


At 8/24/2009 5:04 PM, Blogger KO said...

The curve ball one is astounding.


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