It might be time to expand the way we think of human visual perception. What we “see” is a construct of our brain and how it processes the stream of data that is input from our senses. The vast amount of raw data that our brains receive from our eyes, set aside the data from our other senses for now, is not something that we typically think about. We open our eyes and see stuff. We’ve spent a lot of time learning about the parts of the eye and the mechanics, but I’m not sure that teaches us very much about “seeing”.
Understanding computers gives us a new way to think about this, specifically the converting of data (the signals our eyes send to the brain) into conscious perception. We aren’t born with all of the “software” needed to perceive the signals coming from our eyes. “Software” is created over time as the brain interprets and learns cause and effect through experience. I believe the brain never stops tweaking that processing and makes all sorts of modifications in the same way that computer software has upgrades that provide desirable new features and ease of use functions and performance enhancements and so on.
What we see and how we perceive what we see is a function of the snapshot in time of the current version of our vision “software”. Maybe that’s a radical idea, but there is anecdotal evidence that this might be true. I became aware of it when I noticed that each time I looked at a 3D image of an African tribal mask that it looked different from what I remembered. It was the same picture, it had not changed but how I perceived the image did change.
The weird thing about the image of the mask was that I did not have the same reaction to a 2D image of it. The 2D image always looked the same. The 3D image always looked slightly different. In my experience, my brain seems to be much more aggressive at tweaking how I perceive images with depth than it is when I look at flat images.
Having said that, it isn’t noticeable for all 3D images. Images that are life size or larger than life size and ones that I have some level of interest in seem to change in a more noticeable way. I’m curious if other 3D enthusiasts have experienced this.
I think it might be more pronounced with a 3D image because it is an illusion with perception conflicts that the brain must reconcile in some way.