Wednesday, December 14, 2016

New Blog, no S:

I have restarted the blog at a new address:

That's right---similar address but "Science" instead of "Sciences." 

Thank you for visiting this page.  Please visit me at my new (virtual) location!


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hybrid Motion Video

Here is a video concerning my illusion contest entry from 2014.

I made the video in a hurry.  Steve Macknik called and said they needed a video to accompany an upcoming Scientific American Blog post.  I made a quick screencast discussing the illusion.  Hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Star Wars Scroll Illusion

I haven't posted for a looooooooong time . . . but I'm back.

My goal is to create videos about my illusions, post them on my youtube channel, and post them here.

Here is the first video after my seven year hiatus: The star wars scroll illusion.

I made the video as an entry for the 2015 Best Illusion of the Year contest. The video feels somewhat incomplete since I have several fun variants of the illusion that could not fit into the time limit for the contest. As it stands, the Star Wars Scroll is simply a dynamic version of Fred Kingdom's "Leaning Tower of Pisa" illusion. Nonetheless the Star Wars scroll illusion is interesting to play with because the effects are dynamic and so powerful. I hope you enjoy the video.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rotating Reversals

What to notice: You are looking at two spinning rings. When you look at the yellow dot in the center of the spinning ring on the right, the rings spin toward each other; when you look at the red dot in the center of the spinning ring on the left, the rings spin away from each other.

What is happening? The rings are made up of two components:

1) Six ovals that rotate in one direction

2) Lines inside the ovals that rotate in the opposite direction

When you look directly at the display, you perceive the rotation of the ovals.
When you look toward the red dot or the yellow dot, you perceive the rotation of the internal lines in the ring that is further away from the dot.

Comments: Many illusions “work” because they pit two sources of information against each other (look at the first illusion in this blog for an example). In the rotating reversals demonstration above, the global motion of the ovals is pitted against the internal motion of the lines. To see what I mean, let’s take a look at one ring by itself in the demonstration below.

There are two sources of information.

The global motion rotates counter-clockwise; the internal motion rotates clockwise.

Your visual system has to “choose” how to perceive these conflicting sources of information. In other words, will perception be guided by the motion of the ovals? Or by the motion of the internal lines? Or by a combination of these two? Or will you be able to see both types of motion at the same time, while keeping their signals separate?

When you look directly at the one-ring display, you can discern both sources of information (the ring will spin one way, and the motion caused by the internal lines goes the other way). But when you look at this display peripherally, it becomes difficult to separate the two sources of information, and the internal motion drives the perceived direction of the ring.

(To look at the display with your peripheral vision, focus your eyes on a spot a few inches above the display.)

In the two-ring display, I simply flipped one of the rings so that there would be a conflict in perceived direction of motion when you focus on one dot or the other.

Why is there a difference when you view the display foveally (i.e., directly) and when you view the display peripherally?
The foveal visual system is quite different from the peripheral visual system. We know, for instance, that the world looks blurrier to the peripheral visual system than to the foveal visual system (vision scientists would phrase this as, “The peripheral visual system has poorer spatial resolution than the foveal visual system”). But a blurry peripheral perception alone does not seem to explain why the disks appear to reverse direction. If you blur the display and then look at it in the fovea, the rings do not seem to reverse motion. Well, at least to me and others who have done this experiment in my laboratory, they don’t. I’ll be interested to hear your comments on this topic.

In the Shapiro, Knight, and Lu talk at the recent Society for Neuroscience conference (Nov. 2008), we hypothesized that the machinery of the foveal visual system allows us to represent multiple features simultaneously, but this machinery is absent in the periphery. The peripheral visual system seems to mix up the features that are available in the scene. We called this “feature blur,” and we showed a number of illusions that are consistent with this hypothesis.

At first, the “feature blur” hypothesis may seem counter-intuitive: when you focus on one point, the features in the periphery don’t often appear to jumble together. I think that the reason that some, but not all, displays show strong feature blur is that the effect depends greatly on the contrast with the background. To see this, move the lever in the single-ring display to adjust the background luminance. When the background is brighter or darker than the luminance inside the ovals, the ring no longer reverses when you focus on a spot a few inches above the dot.

Peter Meilstrup, at the University of Washington, points out that the spinning rings also juxtapose motion over different scales. The brain can register “short-range” motion (i.e., motion over a small region) and “long-range” motion (i.e., motion over a large region). Changing the luminance of the background also changes the relative responses to short-range and long-range motion. When the background is gray, the short-range motion signal is strong, but when the background is black or white, the short-range motion signal is weak. As a result, processes that respond to long-range motion energy may predominate against a white or black background, but not against a gray background.

Here are two references (courtesy of Peter) that examine the juxtaposition of long-range and short-range motion processes:

G. Mather, P. Cavanagh, and S. M. Anstis (1985). A moving display which opposes short-range and long-range signals. Perception, 14(2): 163–166.

C. Chubb and G. Sperling (1989). Two motion perception mechanisms revealed through distance-driven reversal of apparent motion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 86(8): 2985–2989.

* * * * * *

History of the illusion: As indicated on the displays, the illusion has been developed independently in two laboratories, and was presented by both laboratories at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C., in November 2008.

I developed the effect as an extension of the illusions that Emily Knight, Zhong Lin Lu, and I presented at the May 2008 Best illusion of the year contest (here is a link to the pdf of the entry) and as an extension of our work on “feature blur” in the visual periphery.

Peter Meilstrup and Mike Shadlen presented their version of the illusion as part of a continuation of Shadlen and Movshon’s work on motion signals in the brain (specifically, in area MT of the visual cortex). Here is a link to Professor Shadlen’s webpage.

* * * * * *

Here are code snippets for you to post the illusion on your blog or website, if you would like.

Two rings demonstration

<embed pluginspage="" src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" height="535" width="555"></embed>

One ring demonstration

<embed pluginspage="" src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" height="540" width="500">></embed>

* * * * * *
Once again, I feel a need to apologize for the long delay between posts. I have changed the tag line on my blog to read “An illusion whenever I can get around to it.” I find it quite difficult to manage the blog while the semester is in progress.

Thursday, Dec. 18, 12:15
The site was running up against a google-pages bandwidth limitation and so people who visited were not able to see the illusion. I moved the illusion files to a different host site--that should fix the problem for now.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Four Bars: wiggle wiggle

What to notice:
The four center bars are always vertical and straight, and they do not physically change, but the bars appear to wiggle as the surround rotates.

You can slide the lever to change the spacing between light and dark in the background circle. The different-sized bars make the bars wiggle differently. You can also press the button to see what the four bars look like when the background circle is not present.

Brief Comments: As I have said before, many illusions capture our attention because they violate our expectations about how objects behave in the world. In the real world, straight bars don’t typically wiggle when the background changes, but here they do. (Well, I suppose you could argue that a stick appears to bend when you put it into water, but that has an entirely different cause than this illusion).

In many respects, the effect is similar to the Fraser illusions that I wrote about in my last post. The local information (the contrast between the bars and background) indicates that the bars wiggle; the global information (the bars themselves) tells you that the bars are straight. Here, though, the effect seems to be due not only to contrast but also to brightness changes induced into the bars from the surrounding field. (This is a type of grating induction—you can find some excellent research on grating induction at the webpages of Barbara Blakeslee and Mark McCourt at North Dakota State University.)

We seem to expect the global information (i.e., the information about the bars) to be correct and invariant even though the local contrast is equally real. To explore the effect of the contrast, I have included another version of the illusion that allows you to spin the background at your own speed. I find it most compelling to move the background between -45 deg and 45 deg.

I have been a little neglectful of the blog for the past few weeks—sorry. I was out of town, and classes have started.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

100th anniversary of “A New Visual Illusion of Direction”

What to notice: The letters in the word “LIFE” appear to tilt left and right. The letters are actually vertical, even though they are made up of little tilted line segments.

Press the button to put red vertical lines on the display. This way you can convince yourself that the letters are indeed aligned.

Brief Comment: The image is my reconstruction of Figure 1 from “A New Visual Illusion of Direction,” written by James Fraser in 1908.

The 100th anniversary of Fraser’s paper is worth commemorating. Many of the illustrations in the paper—like the one above—are a staple in books on illusions.

Fraser worked with two strands of fiber, one black and one white. When the two fibers are twisted together, the resulting cord looks like a series of black and white line segments, all inclined at a similar angle. Fraser referred to the line segments as “units of direction” that could make lines appear to tilt one way or the other (see the image above, for example).

The “units of direction” can also make a collection of circles appear as a spiral. In the example below (from the original paper), the image looks like a spiral, but if you click on the button to place red lines on top of the twisted cords, you can see that the image is composed of individual twisted cords that form circles.

The important point is that the twisted cords can be thought of as a global object (i.e., lines and letters) composed of local features (the line segments). The illusion occurs because the visual system receives different stories from these two sources of information: in the word “LIFE,” the global object (a series of lines) says straight, while the local features (line segments) say tilt. The visual system must create a reasonable percept from the conflicting stories.

There have been many studies that have examined how a global percept is influenced by local features. One of the most revealing is Michael Morgan and Bernard Moulden’s 1986 paper, “The Munsterburg Illusion and twisted cords,” published in Vision Research. Morgan and Moulden digitally filtered a twisted cord image to produce a new image in which the tilt of the line is physically present. That is, if you remove some of the information from the original image, you can measure the tilt in the new image with a ruler.

In some ways, then, twisted cord displays disagree with “reality” only if we are tied to the idea that the line (or the circles) are what is important for vision. If you want to read more about this, I strongly recommend Michael Morgan’s chapter on visual illusions in the book Unsolved Mysteries of the Mind, edited by Vicki Bruce (here is a Google sample from the chapter).

A complete pdf of Fraser’s original paper can be downloaded at this link (the pdf file is 3.5 Mb).

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