Moving Visual Images produced by Regular Stationary Patterns

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IT would seem that some of the intriguing visual phenomena discussed by Dr. MacKay1 may be due, not to cerebral or retinal factors only, but at least in part to preretinal factors, namely, fluctuations of accommodation combined with lack of axial symmetry in the optical system of the eye. Helmholtz2 described how, when looking at a pattern consisting of black and white concentric circles, and thus similar to one of Dr. MacKay's, a complicated system of darker and brighter radial zones is seen. If accommodation, or the distance from the pattern to the eye, is slightly altered, the positions of the brighter zones vary and the observer sees them rotate rapidly to and fro. According to the above explanation the phenomenon is due to actual changes occurring in the image of the pattern formed on the retina. Unless such changes can be ruled out as a factor in Dr. MacKay's more complicated experiments, it does not seem possible to conclude that subjective impressions of movement received while the pattern is looked at, or in afterimages, are necessarily caused by the nervous system responding to a truly stationary light distribution in the optical image formed by the eye.

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  1. 1

    MacKay, D. M., Nature, 180, 849 (1957).

  2. 2

    Helmholtz, H. von, “Physiologische Optik”, 1st ed., Part 1 (1856).

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PIRENNE, M. Moving Visual Images produced by Regular Stationary Patterns. Nature 181, 362 (1958) doi:10.1038/181362a0

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