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Optical illusionist achieves the "impossible"

posted 7 Mar 2011, 04:54 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 7 Mar 2011, 04:56 ]

Japanese mathematics professor Kokichi Sugihara spends much of his time in a world where up is down and three dimensions are really only two. Professor Sugihara is one of the world's leading exponents of optical illusion, a mathermatical art-form that he says could have application in the real world.

REUTERS / KOKICHI SUGIHARA - Three sloped ramps are aligned along three of the four sides of a square. Each ramp appears to be sloped in the same direction but when a marble is placed at one end of the ramp it seems to defy gravity.

It's called an "anti-gravity slide". Only when the the entire structure is turned 180 degrees, is the illusion revealed.

Japanese mathematics professor Kokichi Sugihara from the Meiji Institute near Tokyo, has made a career of creating optical illusions. He's devised and built more than a hundred of them, like this one called "Perches and a Ring".


"Among these models, there are those which are reproductions of optical illusions, and others that seem like normal models, but when you add movement to them, they show movement that should be impossible in real life. This is done by using the same trick, and I call them 'impossible motions'."

Professor Sugihara's "impossible motions" have been recognised around the world. He won first prize in an international competition last year with this one, called "Magnet-Like Slopes".

Sugihara says the success of his illusions is tied to human perception. Beecause humans have the capacity to perceive two-dimensional objects as being three-dimensional, they can be fooled into believing that something "impossible" is taking place during the course of the illusion.

For Sugiraha the illusions aren't just for amusement. He says they have real world application. For example, he says misjudgements made by drivers on steeply curved roads could be mitigated by changing their perceptions of the immediate environment.


"If we can find how drivers misjudge an incline, we would be able to construct roads where these incidents are less likely to happen. In other cases, we could also reorganize the surrounding environment so that drivers could more easily see the difference between an ascending and descending road, and it could lead to reducing traffic jams."

Sugihara says says his dream is to create playground amusements - even buildings with his models. More immediately though he has plans for an "impossible object exhibition", a venue to demonstrate that seeing really is believing.

Rob Muir, Reuters