Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER VI.

ON THE UNION OF SIMILAR PICTURES IN BINOCULAR

VISION.

In uniting by the convergency of the optic axes two dissimilar pictures, as shewn in Fig. 18, the solid cone MN ought to appear at mn much nearer the observer than the pictures which compose it. I found, however, that it never took its right position in absolute space, the base Mn of the solid seeming to rest on the same plane with its constituent pictures AB, ab, whether it was seen by converging the axes as in Fig. 18 or in Fig. 22. Upon inquiring into the reason of this I found that the disturbing cause was simply the simultaneous perception of other objects in the same field of view whose distance was known to the observer.

In order to avoid all such influences I made experiments on large surfaces covered with similar plane figures, such as flowers or geometrical patterns upon paper-hangings and carpets.

These figures being always at equal distances from each other, and almost perfectly equal and similar, the coalescence of any pair of them, effected by directing the optic axes to a point between the paper-hanging and the eye, is accompanied by the instantaneous coalescence of them all. If we, therefore, look at a papered wall without pictures, or doors, or windows, or even at a considerable portion of a wall, at the distance of three feet, and unite two of the figures,—two flowers, for example, at the distance of twelve inches from each other horizontally, the whole wall or visible portion of it will appear covered with flowers as before, but as each flower is now composed of two flowers united at the point of convergence of the optic axes, the whole papered wall with all its flowers will be seen suspended in the air at the distance of six inches from the observer ! At first the observer does not decide upon the distance of the suspended wall from himself. It generally advances slowly to its new position, and when it has taken its place it has a very singular character. The surface of it seems slightly curved. It has a silvery transparent aspect. It is more beautiful than the real paper, which is no longer seen, and it moves with the slightest motion of the head. If the observer, who is now three feet from the wall, retires from it, the suspended wall of flowers will follow him, moving farther and farther from the real wall, and also, but very slightly, farther and farther from the observer. When he stands still, he may stretch out his hand and place it on the other side of the suspended wall, and even hold a candle on the other side of it to satisfy himself that the ghost of the wall stands between the candle and himself.

In looking attentively at this strange picture some of the flowers have the aspect of real flowers.

In some the stalk retires from the plane of the picture. In others it rises from it. One leaf will come farther out than another. One coloured portion, red, for example, will be more prominent than the blue, and the flower will thus appear thicker and more solid, like a real flower compressed, and deviating considerably from the plane representation of it as seen by one eye. All this arises from slight and accidental differences of distance in similar or corresponding parts of the united figures. If the distance, for example, between two corresponding leaves is greater than the distance between other two corresponding leaves, then the two first when united will appear nearer the eye than the other two, and hence the appearance of a flower in low relief, is given to the combination.

In continuing our survey of the suspended image another curious phenomenon often presents itself. A part of one, or even two pieces of paper, and generally the whole length of them from the roof to the floor, will retire behind the general plane of the image, as if there were a recess in the wall, or rise above it as if there were a projection, thus displaying on a large scale the imperfection in the workmanship which otherwise it would have been difficult to discover. This phenomenon, or defect in the work, arises from the paper-hanger having cut off too much of the margin of one or more of the adjacent stripes or pieces, or leaving too much of it, so that, in the first case, when the two halves of a flower are joined together, part of the middle of the flower is left out, and hence, when this defective flower is united binocularly with the one on the right hand of it, and the one on the left hand united with the defective one, the united or corresponding portion being at a less distance, will appear farther from the eye than those parts of the suspended image which are composed of complete flowers. The opposite effect will be produced when the two portions of the flowers are not brought together, but separated by a small space.

All these phenomena may be seen, though not so conveniently, with a carpet from which the furniture has been removed. We have, therefore, an accurate method of discovering defects in the workmanship of paper-hangers, carpet-makers, painters, and all artists whose profession it is to combine a series of similar patterns or figures to form an uniformly ornamented surface. The smallest defect in the similarity or equality of the figures or lines which compose a pattern, and any difference in the distance of single figures is instantly detected, and what is very remarkable a small inequality of distance in a line perpendicular to the axis of vision, or in one dimension of space, is exhibited in a magnified form at a distance coincident with the axis of vision, and in an opposite dimension of space.

A little practice will enable the observer to realize and to maintain the singular binocular vision which replaces the real picture. The occasional retention of the picture after one eye is closed, and even after both have been closed and quickly reopened, shews the influence of time over the evanescence as well as over the creation of this class of phenomena. On some occasions, a singular effect is produced. When the flowers or figures on the paper are distant six inches, we may either unite two six inches distant, or two twelve inches distant, and so on. In the latter case, when the eyes have been accustomed to survey the suspended picture, I have found that, after shutting or opening them, I neither saw the picture formed by the two flowers twelve inches distant, nor the papered wall itself, but a picture formed by uniting all the flowers six inches distant ! The binocular centre (the point to which the optic axes converged, and consequently the locality of the picture) had shifted its place, and instead of advancing to the real wall and seeing it, it advanced exactly as much as to unite the nearest flowers, just as in a ratchet wheel, when the detent stops one tooth at a time; or, to speak more correctly, the binocular centre advanced in order to relieve the eyes from their strain, and when the eyes were opened, it had just reached that point which corresponded with the union of the flowers six inches distant.

1 A sheet of Queen's heads may be advantageously used to accustom the eyes to the union of similar figures.

We have already seen, as shewn in Fig. 22, that when we fix the binocular centre, that is, converge the optic axes on a point beyond the dissimilar pictures, so as to unite them, they rise into relief as perfectly as when the binocular centre, as shewn in Fig. 18, is fixed between the pictures used and the eye. In like manner we may unite similar pictures, but, owing to the opacity of the wall and the floor, we cannot accomplish this with paper-hangings and carpets. The experiment, however, may be made with great effect by looking through transparent patterns cut out of paper or metal, such as those in zinc which are used for larders and other purposes. Particular kinds of trellis-work, and windows with small squares or rhombs of glass, may also be used, and, what is still better, a screen might be prepared, by cutting out the small figures from one or more pieces of paper-hangings. The readiest means, however, of making the experiment, is to use the cane bottom of a chair, which often exhibits a succession of octagons with small luminous spaces between them. To do this, place the back

« PreviousContinue »