Optical Illusions: The Science of Visual Perception / Edition 3

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This fascinating collection of more than 300 visual puzzles and enigmatic designs will have you wondering exactly what you are seeing, from baffling shapes that change before your eyes to hidden figures and dazzling graphic patterns. Featured in four galleries, the book includes the well-known — Shepard's Tabletop, Wade's Spiral and Escher's Impossible Box — and the more obscure. Also included are notes about the stories behind the illusions and their inventors.

With a huge variety of themes and effects, every type of optical illusion is here: much-loved ground/field reversal images where one shape switches into another and back again, Escher's impossible crates, eternal spirals and much more. With illusions rendered in photography, artwork and computer imaging, The Great Book of Optical Illusions proves that these magical eye tricks never grow old. From a 12th-century Japanese Noh mask and optical tricks based on mathematical formulas, to illusions you can recreate yourself, all the world's most fascinating and startling optical illusions are here in one full color book.

About the author:

Al Seckel is one of the world's leading authorities on illusions. He has lectured extensively on the subject both in the United States and abroad, at venues which include many of the world's most prestigious universities. He is currently working on a comprehensive treatise on illusions for MIT, and designs interactive illusion and perception galleries for science museums all over the globe. He works in the Division of Computational and Neuronal Systems at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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Editorial Reviews

Halifax Chronicle Herald
Highly entertaining.
— Jodi DeLong
Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library
[Optical Illustions] has far more than the usual figure illusions found in other books of this nature.
— Sara Catherine Howard
Martin Gardner
What a gorgeous and wonderful compilation of illusions. Many of the illusions were startling and unfamiliar to me.
Douglas Hofstadter
It is superb and filled with very impressive and sometimes overwhelmingly powerful images. Great stuff!
Tim Blangger
One of the most intriguing collections of its kind.
Allentown Morning Call
Irving Biederman
This is the most striking collection of illusions that I have ever seen. I have taught perception and visual cognition at the university level for decades, but many of the illusions were new to me.
Publishers Weekly
You can't always believe what you see in The Great Book of Optical Illusions by Al Seckel. Organized in eight sections called "galleries," the exhaustive volume presents more than 280 color and b&w images created by the likes of M.C. Escher, Salvador Dal!, Shigeo Fukuda and Ren Magritte. Classics such as Impossible Staircase and Rubin's Face/Vase Illusion are also included; Seckel's IllusionWorks presents brand-new stunners, each of which is explained at chapter's end. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
According to the book itself, Seckel is "one of the world's leading authorities on illusions." This California Institute of Technology professor compiles more than 250 optical illusions here, reproduced in vivid color where appropriate. The illusions pictured in each of the book's eight galleries of numbered reproductions range from the familiar Escher-type to less-familiar pictorial puzzles. Numbered summaries of each illusion follow each gallery in a notes section. Although this book is certainly interesting to gaze upon-its graphic cover is especially attention-getting-the structure, along with the inconsistent quality of the illusion reproductions, make this collection less than stellar. The notes following the illustrations explain each illusion in understandable language; however, flipping back and forth between pages to connect illusion and explanation does not make the book user-friendly. Additionally, although many illustrations are beautifully reproduced, some are rather shoddy looking, as if Seckel himself was at work with a ruler and a pack of crayons. Seckel writes in the introduction that his book is not like others that "print the same classic illusions over and over again." Nevertheless, many are strikingly similar in both concept and construction. That the galleries are not organized conceptually adds to a feeling of uncertain repetition. Although attractive, this book lacks the genuine magic found in a book of Escher illustrations or the holistic style of Walter Wick's Optical Tricks (Cartwheel Books, 1998). Glossary. Illus. Photos. Further Reading. VOYA CODES: 2Q 4P J S A/YA (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; Broad general YA appeal; JuniorHigh, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Firefly, 304p, Pattee
Library Journal
A leading authority on visual perception and a designer of interactive galleries for science museums around the world, Seckel here assembles more than 300 visual illusions, some of which have fascinated viewers for centuries and others that are designed specifically to challenge one's visual intelligence in today's world. The book collects traditional puzzles such as eternal spirals and ground/field reversal images, as well as works by such artists as M.C. Escher and Ren Magritte; other illusions involve themes, photographs, and sculptures from the last 20 years. Visual science, which the author claims has become "one of the most exciting areas in current scientific research," not only challenges and tricks the reader but encourages us to look differently at our own world. This is a fun-packed book, divided into seven galleries, with illusions depicted in full color. Each illusion presents the reader with a question or a problem to solve, with the answer and explanation given in detail at the end of each gallery. A glossary of terms and a list of resources are also provided. A highly useful and entertaining book for public, school, and academic libraries.-David A. Berone, Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This visually stunning collection will appeal to illusion enthusiasts as well as to art lovers. It presents more than 270 classic examples and works of art that incorporate them. The book is divided into "galleries" and endnotes explain individual entries and how they work. One could spend hours exploring its thoughtful arrangement and the excellent-quality, full-color and black-and-white reproductions. There is factual information about the science behind the illusions, a bit about the artists, and about the types of illusion. However, this is, by and large, a sophisticated coffee-table book that young people will enjoy poring over and figuring out what they see or think they see.-Cynde Suite, formerly at Horry County Memorial Library, Surfside Beach, SC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The Telegram (St. John's NF)
This book offers a comprehensive collection of more than 275 mind-bending images, hidden figures and eye-opening graphic patterns. Explanations ... offer readers insight into how optical illusions are created.
Calgary Sun
Stunning images guaranteed to both befuddle and amaze you. Plus, it explains the science behind the illusion.
Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library - Sara Catherine Howard
The 300-page collection of visual shapes and images has far more than the usual figure illusions found in other books of this nature.
Halifax Chronicle Herald - Jodi DeLong
[A] highly entertaining look at how our perceptions can be deceived... includes some handy notes about the science of visual perception, offering explanations about how our eyes truly can deceive us.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554071722
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 1/1/2009
  • Series: Illusion Works
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 897,756
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Formerly at the California Institute of Technology, Al Seckel is a leading authority on visual and other types of sensory illusions. He is the author of 15 books on this subject, including the classic The Great Book of Optical Illusions. He is also well-known for his illusion column in National Geographic Kids magazine.

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Read an Excerpt


By Al Seckel

Firefly Books Ltd

Copyright © 2002 Illusion Works
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1552976505

Chapter One


(1) Shepard's Tabletop: These two tabletops are absolutely identical in size and shape! If you don't believe it, trace only the tabletops and see for yourself.

Previous page: Fraser's Spiral is one of the most powerful illusions known. What you see appears to be a spiral, but it is really a series of perfect concentric circles! This illusion is so powerful that it has been known to induce incorrect finger tracing!

(2) Extent and Perspective: Although they appear to be dramatically different in length, lines AB and CD are equal.

(3) The Scintillating Grid: The disks at the junctions will appear to flash when you move your eyes around this image.

(4) Checker Shadow: The light check inside the shadow is identical to the dark check outside the shadow. If you don't believe it, cut out a peephole exactly the size of each square and test it!

(5) Escher's Impossible Box. Belgian artist Matheau Haemakers, drawing his inspiration from a print by the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Esther, has created a physical model of an impossible box.

(6) Ouchi Illusion: Move the page back and forth. The center section may appear to move in a direction different from its surroundings.The center section will also appear to be at a different depth.

(7) Man on the Moon: This image of Buzz Aldrin's helmet was made out of a collage of space images.

(8) Melancholy Tunes on a Flemish Winter's Day: Flemish artist Jos De Mey captured this incredible scene on a winter's day. How does that left column come forward?

(9) Crazy Nuts: Can you figure out how the straight steel rod miraculously passes through the seemingly perpendicular holes?

(10) Figure/Ground: What is hiding here? Before you check out the answer, search carefully, because once you perceive the hidden image, you will never be able to see this image in its meaningless state again.

(11) Kissing Couple Illusion: An illusory kiss by American artist Jerry Downs.

(12) Impossible Staircase: What happens when you walk around this peculiar staircase? Where is the bottom or top step located?

(13) Ball and Shadow Illusion: Are the balls in the two illustrations in different positions relative to the background?


Excerpted from THE GREAT BOOK OF OPTICAL ILLUSIONS by Al Seckel Copyright © 2002 by Illusion Works
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents


Gallery I
Notes on Gallery I

Gallery II
Notes on Gallery II

Gallery III
Notes on Gallery III

Gallery IV
Notes on Gallery IV

Gallery V
Notes on Gallery V

Gallery VI
Notes on Gallery VI

Gallery VII
Notes on Gallery VII

Gallery VIII
Notes on Gallery VIII

Further Reading

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Part of the fun of this book will involve being tricked, fooled, and misled. Being fooled has nothing to do with how smart you are, how cultured you are, how artistic you are or how old. You will be tricked. In fact, many of the illusions are so powerful you will doubt the written description. Others are so convincing, you will not know what the illusion is until you read the caption.

This volume is by far the most comprehensive collection of illusions ever published. A good number come from recent work in vision and perception laboratories and others come from a variety of modern artists who have deliberately incorporated an illusion into a drawing, photograph, or sculpture. There are also quite a few illusions that have been created specially for this book. I have tried to provide a variety of different perceptual experiences. Many of the illusions in this book appear here for the first time in print. Of course,
you will find the familiar classics here too.

The chapter "Your Mind's Eye" puts the illusions into a framework of modern understanding. At the back of the book you will find a chapter "What's Going On?" that provides brief scientific explanations of our best guesses for why these effects occur and how they are consistent with the processes that mediate normal perception. There is also a glossary of technical terms that are used throughout the text, a category index so you can compare similar examples of the same type of illusion as well as suggestions for further reading.

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"Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our own mind."
-- Wllliam James

The Great Book of Optical Illusions can be appreciated on many levels. Most books on illusions reprint the same classic illusions over and over again, but this is not the case here. Although you will find the familiar classic illusions, this book contains innumerable illusions, which are not found in any other published source. A number of the illusions come from the results of recent research in vision and perception laboratories. Other examples come from a variety of artists who have deliberately incorporated an "obvious" illusion into a drawing, photograph, or sculpture. There are also quite a number of illusions, which were specially created by us.

The illusions are not ordered in any systematic fashion, but are grouped into galleries and at the back of each you will find some notes which give brief scientific explanations of our (and in some cases, my own) best guesses for why these effects occur, and how they are consistent with the processes that mediate normal perception. Illusions are a very nice window into how the brain perceives, because they can reveal the processes that underlie perception in a way that normal perception does not. At the end of the book is a glossary of technical terms that are used in the textual explanations and suggestions for further reading. Although the book is in a popular format and accessible to all ages, it can serve as a stepping stone to some wonderful projects onperception for students of all ages.

Most of us take vision for granted, We seem to do it so effortlessly; however, perceiving images, objects, depth, and motion is a very complicated process. Only in the last one hundred years, and especially in the last twenty years, have scientists started to make some progress in understanding vision and perception.

Take a moment to observe the world around you. For example, if you tilt your head, the world doesn't tilt. Move around an object: the shape you see changes, yet the object remains constant in your perception. "Sorting it out" is a truly wonderful process. Your visual system, however, usually settles for the correct interpretation. But there are some very powerful constraints on just how your brain does this.

For the most part, these constraints work. However, mistakes can happen. Sometimes, an illusion occurs when there is not enough information in the image to resolve the ambiguity. For example, important clues that would normally be present in the real world, and which would have resolved the ambiguity, are missing.

It needs to emphasized, though, that our understanding of vision and perception is very far from complete and the explanations in this book are tentative and should be regarded with some degree of skepticism, especially since some of the explanations involve my own speculations! Therefore, I sincerely hope that this collection will inspire some serious thought -- and practical demonstrations -- as to why these effects occur. It is my hope that this may lead to some new insights about the creative intelligence of vision.

Part of the fun will involve being tricked, fooled, and misled. This collection of illusions will definitely do that! It has nothing to do with how smart you are, how cultured you are, how artistic you are, or how old you are. You will be tricked. In fact, many of the illusions are so powerful you will doubt the written description, while others are so convincing that you will perceive nothing wrong. You will know that you are being tricked, but you won't know how.

Vision Science is one of the most exciting areas in current scientific research, and the study of illusions is one that brings great joy. I hope that this book will bring surprise and delight to both young and old alike, as well as stimulating some thought about the most marvelous mystery in the universe, the human brain. Now go have some fun!

Al Seckel
California Institute of Technology, 2002

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 19, 2009


    What do you say when you want someone to believe you? Probably, you'll say, "I saw it with my own eyes." That's because you believe that if you have seen something with your own eyes, it must be true. But your eyes can fool you.
    Certain patterns confuse your eyes and brain, causing you to misjudge the size of a circle, or the length of a line. When your eyes see a picture, they "send" that picture to your brain. Then it's up to your brain to make sense of the picture. But sometimes your brain gets it wrong.These are optical illusions.

    Most published books contain age old illusions without offering a scientific explanation to enlighten the reader how their eyes and brain was tricked. With Optical Illusions, we have an alternative.

    Optical Illusions is a good collection of a wide array of visual and other types of sensory illusion. It contains a large number of illusions that have not yet appeared before. Thanks to new discoveries in vision science, new effects have been added plus classics with a significant augmentation done. A wide variety of effects are shown with over 150 illusions presented to give your eyes a wonderful visual experience.

    Perception is everything

    A testimonial by a satisfied reader.

    "The Art of Optical Illusions' will trick and treat your eyes. Images appear from nowhere, flat surfaces become three-dimensional, and pictures with paradoxes become peculiarly perplexing. This is a true amusement park for the mind. The lavishly produced collection of 150 color and black and white pictures are displayed in four galleries. Each gallery is followed by a page containing the explanations for the illusions. Under each picture, there is a short description of how to enjoy the illusion or a description of how to make the illusion work."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    Very interesting book.

    This book was for my grandchild but the whole family enjoyed it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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