The Situationist

Leaning Tower Illusion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 2012

From The Leaning Tower illusion: a new illusion of perspective Frederick A. A. Kingdom, Ali Yoonessi, Elena Gheorghiu Perception. 2007. 36(3):475-477:

Consider the photograph in [above image] of the Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur. Both towers are physically vertical, but in the two-dimensional projection their corresponding outlines are not parallel but converge as the towers recede into the distance. Our knowledge of perspective however compensates for this and leads us to perceive the inclinations of the two towers veridically.

From The Leaning Tower illusion (cont’d):

Our knowledge of perspective however compensates for this and leads us to perceive the inclinations of the two towers veridically. It follows that if the corresponding outlines of a pair of physically identical, receding objects are parallel in the two-dimensional projection, the objects cannot be physically parallel but, instead, must be diverging as they recede from view. This is clearly what we perceive in [above image], where the right-hand tower has been replaced with a copy of the one on the left. Now the corresponding outlines are parallel, and the two towers appear to diverge . . . .

From The Leaning Tower illusion (cont’d)

The illusion is not restricted to towers photographed from below, but works well with other scenes, such as the tram lines in above image. What the illusion reveals is not a failure of perspective per se, but the tendency of the visual system to treat two side-by-side images as if part of the same scene. However hard we try, we seem unable to see the two photographs of the Leaning Tower in figure 1 as separate, albeit identical, images of the same object. Instead, our visual system regards the images as the `Twin Towers of Pisa’, whose two-dimensional projection leads to the `correct’ interpretation that one tower is leaning more than the other.

To view other Situationist posts involving illusions, click here.

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