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Optical Illusions: The Science of Visual Perception

by Al Seckel
Firefly Books, Inc., Toronto, Canada, 2006
312 pp., illus. Trade $26.60
ISBN: 10: 1-55407-151-8.

Reviewed by George Shortess
3505 Hecktown Road, Bethlehem, PA 18020, USA


This is a wonderful book that contains excellent illustrations of over 250 optical illusions, with appropriate color as necessary. Some illusions, of course, are variations of the same basic effect, but these variations add to an appreciation of the pervasiveness of the illusion. Included are the classics, but there are also new and fascinating illusions and examples. Some have a certain whimsy about them that makes them very entertaining. In other instances the author has reproduced early examples that provide interesting historical background for the study of illusions.

Included are a number of works by artists who have incorporated illusionary effects in their art. There are examples not only by the more well known artists, such as Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and M. C. Escher, but by other artists who have expanded the possibilities in many interesting ways.

There is an introductory chapter that gives some of the general background of illusions, followed by the illusions, each on a single page with the title and a short comment or question. In the back of the book each illusion is described and explained in more detail. This is a very good feature in that it allows viewers to experience the illusions as visual phenomena. Then if viewers want more information or an explanation, they can go to this section. There is a glossary of terms that is also helpful. Furthermore, a listing of the illusions by general category allows viewers to find relationships and commonalities among the illustrations. A list of references of some of the major sources in the literature provides a base for further reading.

The one suggestion that I would make is a more complete glossary, with terms like Mach Bands and fovea defined there, along with a more complete description of the visual nervous system. A simple diagram of the inverted retina would be helpful to those less familiar with the literature.

However, the book is a delightful visual feast and a fascinating exploration of an area of visual perception that can provide important keys to our understanding of the normal functioning of the nervous system. The book provides a source of visual intrigue for those who enjoy the sheer pleasure of experiencing puzzling and conflicting images. It also can serve as a starting point for those visual scientists interested in uncovering new perceptual mechanisms that can help us to understand visual perception in a more complete way.




Updated 1st March 2007

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