Science

Trip out with the best optical illusions of 2020

Trip out with the best optical...
The winning illusion puts a 3D twist on a classic 2D trick
The winning illusion puts a 3D twist on a classic 2D trick
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The winning illusion puts a 3D twist on a classic 2D trick
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The winning illusion puts a 3D twist on a classic 2D trick

Japanese mathematician Kokichi Sugihara has won the annual Illusion of the Year Contest with a fascinating 3D model of a nearly 200-year old 2D illusion. The contest, run by the UK-based Neural Correlate Society has been bending brains for 16 years.

Sugihara’s optical illusions have figured prominently in past contests, most recently taking the top prize in 2018 for a complex 2D image that appeared to have three different permutations. This time round Sugihara reinterpreted an old optical illusion called the Schroeder Staircase, originally devised by a German scientist named Heinrich Schroeder in 1858.

The original illusion was a 2D image with two interpretations, making a staircase seem as though it's being viewed from above and below at the same time. Sugihara took the 2D image and added 3D elements to present the old illusion from an entirely new perspective.

3D Schröder Staircase

“The present 3D object consists of the original Schroeder Staircase picture and real 3D side walls and support columns,” writes Sugihara. “It also has two interpretations, both of which are staircases seen from above and switch from one to the other when we rotate the object by 180 degrees around the vertical axis. The second interpretation can also be perceived if we reflect the object by a mirror placed behind the object.”

Second place this year went to UK “science magician” Matt Pritchard. His mirror illusion presents a series of scenarios that play with a common mirror perception trick. However, as Pritchard himself notes, the power of the illusion is how well it works even when the trick is deconstructed.

The Real Thing

“Even when deceptive elements designed to convince the viewer are stripped away, the illusion of seeing a mirror persists when the scene is viewed for a brief moment,” writes Pritchard. “Careful examination will reveal discrepancies in the scene but what causes the vision system to make the initial mirror assumption is not yet fully understood.”

Other highlights from this year’s top illusions include a compelling frame-induced position shift highlighting how we often perceive the position of objects in relation to other landmarks; a “sunray illusion” illustrating how we see shimmering rays coming from the sun when they are not actually there; and a simple, fun dinner table illusion turning a knife transparent.

Landloping ladybugs Frame induced position shift

Take a look a some more highlights from the contest below, and for more mind-bending illusions check out our previous coverage of the 2019 and 2018 winners.

Source: Illusion of the Year

Transparent Knife Illusion
The Sunray Illusion

4 comments
Username
Astro physicists should go back to these every time they feel compelled to invent a new theory to explain what they are seing.
Brian M
Ok give up just can't see most of them! Best was the mirror and coke can, sadly have always felt left out as never did see the alternative image amongst those 'dot' images of a few years ago or were they a case of the 'kings new cloths' !

The least convincing was the 'Schröder Staircase' but guess he was able to fool the judges - and that's all that matters!
MarylandUSA
Brian M,
The orange cone is set down on the top step. When the staircase is rotated, the cone is on the bottom step.
ljaques
Vewwy Twippy.