Multistable Perception

Made by Jeffrey Bradley

Explain and show examples of multistable perception

Created: October 15th, 2015


Perceptual Illusion: 

Multistable perception involves a stimulus that is too ambiguous for the mind to decide on a definitive interpretation. The example below, the Necker Cube, shows this phenomenon with its oscillation between two possible states. One can see a cube with its front pointing down and to the left or up and to the right. 

The image in itself is only a series of lines. The brain contextualizes it as a three dimensional object due to the angles of some of the lines. However, because there is no shading or indication of orientation, it has to make assumptions based on where one focuses. 


Mass Effect: 

In the first image below, we see a picture of a crater on mars. However, due to the light source in the leftmost picture, we see a dome rather than a crater. The light source in the left crater makes this less ambiguous and allows us to see the crater instead of a dome. I imagine this may have caused some astronomers some confusion.

In the second image, we see the silhouettes of the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Pay attention to the rightmost character, Crow T. Robot. Due to his construction and the lack of depth from the silhouette it can appear that his head is facing the viewer rather than the film. Knowing this, it is possible to switch one's perception of his head by imagining where the beak is pointing. 

This effect is not limited to visual images. You can see an example by simply repeating a word to yourself. Say the word "life" to yourself repeatedly. Eventually, you can start to hear the word "fly". Knowing this, you can switch back and forth between hearing "life" or "fly" while still saying the same syllables.


Media Art:

The first work below is "Rememory" by Michael Challenger. Depending on one's point of view, it can give the impression of a triangular surface com out of the page with a trapezoidal indent going in or the other way around. The title "Rememory" seems to imply that this effect is the point of the piece. It shows how one can replace their initial impression of the work at will and re-remember it. 

The second piece below, "Heyday/Mayday" by Jayden Tan, also exhibits this illusion visually with multiple layers of paper. One's focus can switch between the natural disaster pictured and the celebrity hidden within. We can see Kurt Cobain in a tsunami, Michael Jackson in a volcano, and Marilyn Monroe in a tornado. On a deeper level, this may be meant to liken those celebrities' impacts on the world to those of natural disasters. However, more basically, we still see the concept of multistable perception. 



This method of embedding two mutually exclusive perceptions into one image seems like an easy way to blend two concepts in a viewer's mind. It forces them to compare the two things depicted. On the other hand, this effect also seems very technically difficult to create visually. 

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Explain and show examples of multistable perception