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Vision Res. 2004 Mar;44(7):727-49.

Uncertainty in visual processes predicts geometrical optical illusions.

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  • 1Department of Computer Science, Computer Vision Laboratory, Center for Automation Research, Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-3275, USA.


It is proposed in this paper that many geometrical optical illusions, as well as illusory patterns due to motion signals in line drawings, are due to the statistics of visual computations. The interpretation of image patterns is preceded by a step where image features such as lines, intersections of lines, or local image movement must be derived. However, there are many sources of noise or uncertainty in the formation and processing of images, and they cause problems in the estimation of these features; in particular, they cause bias. As a result, the locations of features are perceived erroneously and the appearance of the patterns is altered. The bias occurs with any visual processing of line features; under average conditions it is not large enough to be noticeable, but illusory patterns are such that the bias is highly pronounced. Thus, the broader message of this paper is that there is a general uncertainty principle which governs the workings of vision systems, and optical illusions are an artifact of this principle.

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