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Illusion Confusion: The Wonderful World of Optical Deception 

by Paul M. Baars
Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, UK, 2014
320 pp., illus. 385 b/w, col. Paper, £18.95
ISBN: 978-0-500-29131-3.

Reviewed by Madalena Grimaldi
Plymouth University

Optical illusions always awaken a curious fascination and can offer us, at the same time, some interesting information about how the brain system works. In this book, the author Paul M. Baars guides us through this mysterious world of optical illusion and presents a vast variety of images from early examples to the most current.  Included are several lithographed reproductions of oil paintings and sculptures from artists that relate to the topic of visual illusion and optical deception.

One of the key strengths of the book are the illustrations that highlight some of the more enduring examples of optical illusions, containing 385 excellent images in colour and black & white. These illustrations are divided into different categories and include the more well known that provide an interesting historical background for the study of illusions. But, there are also new examples that are fascinating and show us how our visual perception can be easily manipulated by artistic creations. Some illusions are variations of the same basic effect, but these variations have devised a rich universe and highlight some of the more enduring examples of optical illusions.

With its illustrations, Illusion Confusion builds interest as a visual collection that covers deceptions of ambiguous figures, anamorphic art, inversions, camouflage, tessellations and other brain-teasing illusions. In addiction, the book provides examples from the decorative arts, contemporary street art and the fine arts. This wide range of images includes the work of well known artists, such as M. C. Escher, Salvador Dalí, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Liu Bolin, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, and Jos de Mey, but also adds a number of works by other artists who used illusionary effects in their art, such as John Pugh, István Orosz, and Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

One exceptional aspect of the book is found in the introductory chapter relating to key questions about visual systems and how perception works. The illusions are divided into seven categories: 1) Perspective Illusions, Anamorphic Images, Murals, and Camouflage; 2) Impossible Illusions in Perspective; 3) Upside-Down Illusions; 4) Ambiguous Figures and Figure-Ground Illusions; 5) Neon and After-Effects, Colour Brightness, Static Movements, and Vibrations; 6) Estimated Sizes, Images Distortions, and Geometric Illusions; 7) Tessellations and Illusions of Depth and Distance.

The seven categories are helpful for understanding discrepancies and similarity between the different effects of deception. A short description accompanies each picture that contains some information that allows the reader to understand how the illusions were created and how they work. At the end of the book there is a list of illustrations and credits that are also useful.

Finally, optical illusions often manipulate perspective so cleverly that they deceive our brains; they are tricks, and we find pleasure in trying to figure out how they exactly manage to fool our perceptions so completely. The volume captures these issues, and through images, shows how the art of illusion represents a triumph over reality. It becomes clear that optical deceptions are an important instrument of mediation that help us understand the rules for how vision and the brain phenomena work, especially how sensations are produced and their possible uses.

I recommend this volume to those who are working with visual perception and for all those interested in this subject. The main criticism is that his book could have a greater depth in the introductory chapter, explaining how visual systems work and how the mind interprets optical illusions. Furthermore, a detailed analysis of the types of visual tricks used in the different categories of illusions would stimulate a more general discussion about perception, anomalies, and mind functions.

Last Updated 7 March 2014

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