Monday, March 5, 2012
FUN, LEARNING & RELAXATION WITH RANDOM DOT STEROGRAMS (or "Magic Eye" Pictures): CAN YOU SEE THE HIDDEN IMAGE?
In retrospect, throughout the nineties when I was still running my own unique book store, aptly called 'The Brain Resource' [1992-2005], located just outside the Central Business District in Singapore, I often played with random dot stereograms, or better known to most folks as "Magic Eye" pictures, one of which [from www.garybeene.com] is shown above, since I was also retailing them in my store.
In fact, I had also used them in my creativity classes to illustrate the power of the human mind, especially its innate ability to discern a hidden image of 3D, amidst the seemingly chaotic mess of random dots organised on a black-and-white or colour picture of 2D.
The principles of random dot stereograms were first invented by Prof. B. Julesz in during the early sixties, and refined further during the late eighties by Prof. C. W. Tyler, who had made significant improvements, which in turn facilitated the many popular 3D pictures to be created around the world.
It is pertinent to note that the technology for constructing those 3D pictures was intended beyond just fun and entertainment, as we knew them then. They could be applied in 3D modeling as in architecture, engineering, manufacturing, and even in medicine, as well as for Visual Science research, including brain behaviour research.
As an engineer by training, I was naturally intrigued by random dot stereograms. In fact, my introduction to them came actually from Patricia Danielson, co-developer of the PhotoReading methodology with Paul Scheele of Learning Strategies Corporation, and one of its international master trainers, in early 1992.
Frankly, I couldn't see them the first time, and to my chagrin, it took me several months later to be able to discern the hidden image of each random dot stereogram which came my way. As a matter of fact, I had since then amassed a large collection of beautiful 3D posters, which are still in my personal library today.
At its primary core, a random dot stereogram is basically composed of two arrays (or frames) of randomly scattered dots, organised with the aid of computer technology.
The arrays are identical except for the fact that in certain areas, one of the arrays has been "shifted" horizontally to create a deliberate disparity between the two arrays.
The two arrays are usually displayed side by side to allow the viewer to compare them visually.
When viewed "monocularly", i.e. with one eyeball functioning, the viewer is confronted with a mass of random dots, and often fails to make any correspondences across the dots.
However, when the images are "stereoscopically" fused, with both eyes functioning, correspondences across the random dots are made in one's perceptive mind, and the "shifted area" in the stereogram appears at a separate depth level from the "unshifted area", in a manner of speaking.
Because of your innate capability of stereoscopic vision of the world around you, on account of the inherent binocular disparity of your eye balls, discerning a hidden image in a random dot stereogram is a piece of cake. In a nut shell, your eye balls can see "depth".
Unfortunately, from most of my customer encounters while running my book store during the heydays, I had found that, in general, accountants, economists, engineers like yours truly, lawyers and psychologists, often encountered tremendous displeasure of not seeing the hidden image, at the beginning, whereas most folks in the visual and performing arts had absolutely no problems at all from the beginning.
This is because of what is generally known as "brain dominance".
In simplistic terms, when we are too logically-oriented in our natural disposition, our left brain - with its preferred focus on logic, analysis, sequencial processing, and words - has the dominant tendency to exert executive control of our cognitive functions. Hence, it becomes a major obstacle in viewing random dot stereograms.
Only when we are able to tap on our right-brain, with its preferred focus on pictures, imagination, random processing, and images, the whole brain comes into play, through our densely-packed corpus collasum - that's the marvellous inter-connecting and inter-active superhighway in our brain - to facilitate the 3D viewing.
In fact, during those heydays, I had surprisingly found that kids generally could embrace random dot stereograms more readily as well as spontaneously, as compared to adults. This could be attributed to the fact they still had that sense of wonder and sense of discovery when dealing with novelty, and had yet to be "degeniused" by the school system.
By the way, it is pertinent for me to point out that, about 10% of the population are always unable to view the random dot stereograms because of their eye defects or other medical reasons.
Having played with them for so long, I have come to know that there are usually two appropriate ways to view random dot stereograms.
- divergent or far-eyed viewing method;
- convergent or cross-eyed viewing method;
In the first method, while looking at the random dot stereogram, you turn both your eye balls "outward" and straight-ahead, to maintain a sort of a long-distance focus, as if you are looking out of the window and gazing at the horizon. It almost like you are daydreaming.
In the second method, with your nose almost close to the random dot stereogram, you turn both your eye balls more or less "inward" to maintain a sort of a near-distance focus, with your eye balls crossed, so to speak.
In both methods, it is important for you to stay relaxed but persistent, and not to give up too soon.
It takes some time for your brain to make sense of the random dots, and after a few practice attempts, your brain will then gradually form the combined image. Just be relaxed and curious with what you are attempting to do.
From a physiological standpoint, controlling how we use and "aim" our eye balls at the world out there together as a "team" is an important skill.
The ability to use both eyeballs as a singular functioning pair, is what allows our brain to fuse the two separate "pictures" coming in from each eye ball into a single combined image. These innate abilities are the essence of binocularity disparity and stereoscopic vision.
By the way, random dot stereograms can also provide an entertaining way to relax the eye balls, especially after you have spent inordinate amount of time glued to the computer screen.
It is refreshing to note that random dot stereograms are still available today in some Singapore book and/or stationery stores, especially in the form of post-cards and pocket-books.
Here is a quick sampling of random dot stereograms excerpted [from the gallery of www.eyecanlearn.com] for your lesiure viewing:
Readers who are hungry for more random dot stereograms to play with are welcome to explore the following interesting links on the net:
[Notes: The hidden images in the foregoing stereograms are: a skull; two fishes; a dinosaur, and three dolphins.]