Sunday Morning Illusion

I love these Things. How does it work?  Check after the break

The short version: Tiny eye movements.

The longer version:

“Visual images consisting of repetitive patterns can elicit striking illusory motion percepts. For almost 200 years, artists, psychologists, and neuroscientists have debated whether this type of illusion originates in the eye or in the brain. For more than a decade, the controversy has centered on the powerful illusory motion perceived in the painting Enigma, created by op-artist Isia Leviant. However, no previous study has directly correlated the Enigma illusion to any specific physiological mechanism, and so the debate rages on. Here, we show that microsaccades, a type of miniature eye movement produced during visual fixation, can drive illusory motion in Enigma. We asked subjects to indicate when illusory motion sped up or slowed down during the observation of Enigma while we simultaneously recorded their eye movements with high precision. Before “faster” motion periods, the rate of microsaccades increased. Before “slower/no” motion periods, the rate of microsaccades decreased. These results reveal a direct link between microsaccade production and the perception of illusory motion in Enigma and rule out the hypothesis that the origin of the illusion is purely cortical. ”

Xoana G. Troncoso, Stephen L. Macknik, Jorge Otero-Millan, Susana Martinez-Conde*. Microsaccades drive illusory motion in the Enigma illusion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. 2008


The full Version:


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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