The Physics of Optical Illusions

What are the physics of optical illusions?

Physics and Optical Illusions

Optics is a branch of physics that has an impact on optical illusions. Optics is the study of light and vision. Optical illusions use light, as well as color and other features, to trick the mind.

Optical Illusions, the Brain and the Eyes

The brain is set up to interpret messages from the eye. Several factors determine how we percieve optical illusions. First, there are physical reasons why we see optical illusions. Have you ever seen an afterimage? An afterimage is an excellent example of an optical illusion with a physical basis. Afterimages occur when you look at bright colors for too long. After the image is gone, you can still see "imprints" of the image. You can also see afterimages after looking at a bright light.

Another factor that influences the way that we perceive optical illusions boils down to habit. The brain likes seeing the same objects over and over again. If the brain "sees" something out of the ordinary, the brain may reinterpret this strange image as something more familiar, regardless of what the real image is.

Practical Uses of Optical Illusions

Looking at optical illusions is just not fun. Scientists study optical illusions to get a better understanding about how our eyes and brain interact and interpret information.

Optical illusions have practical applications today, too. For example, pilots can train on flight simulators that use optical illusions to simulate real events without ever having to leave the ground.

Some art is created to be an optical illusion. For example, look at some of the work of Salvador Dali and M. C. Escher. However, artists have been using optical illusions for centuries to create a perspective of depth in their work.

Entertainment and entertainers use optical illusions all of the time. Think magicians and 3-D movies.

Optical illusions also occur naturally. If you have ever seen a mirage, you have seen a natural optical illusion. Additionally, living organisms use illusions for protection. For example, zebras probably have stripes so that an individual zebra is more difficult to pick out of a herd.

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