This Mathematician Created a Computer Program To Design Baffling Illusions


In 1980, Kokichi Sugihara accidentally created an illusion machine. The young mathematician was working on making a computer program that could assist his research in robot vision and computer-assisted design when he discovered something strange. The program was designed to interpret two-dimensional line drawings and generate their three-dimensional counterparts (the idea was for the 3D objects to recreate the 2D drawings when projected back onto a flat plane). But when Sugihara fed seemingly impossible 2D line drawings, like the illusions created by M.C. Escher, into the computer, it unexpectedly generated feasible 3D solutions.

Sugihara realized the computer was able to generate 3D simulations that, from the correct angle, perfectly copied their 2D counterparts. Turn them to the side, or look at them from another direction, and the illusion became clear.

The mathematician began experimenting with more seemingly impossible illustrations and eventually began building paper versions of his program’s illusions. In the years since, Sugihara has built over 100 illusions with the help of the computer program he developed.

In a 2014 interview with Nautilus, Sugihara explained, “Interpretation of images of three-dimensional solids can’t be controlled by the logical part of the brain.”

According to Nautilus, researchers are still trying to understand how humans process images, and how illusions trick our brains. Sugihara’s work is visually impressive—but it’s also part of an ongoing effort to understand how we interpret visual data.

In 2010, one of Sugihara’s illusions—the wooden ball illusion posted above—won the annual Best Illusion of the Year Contest in Naples, Florida. His latest illusion, posted below, shows a straight rod moving through a folded ladder structure in seemingly impossible ways. Check out more of Sugihara's work here, and read the full Nautilus profile to learn more about Sugihara and his baffling illusions.

[h/t: Nautilus]

Banner Image Credit: Nautilus, Vimeo