Optical illusions give fascinating insight into how our brains work. Specific combinations of color, light, and patterns can trick our brains into visually perceiving something that isn’t there. Creating illusions is a popular art form, and there’s even an annual Best Illusion of The Year Contest. The competition receives thousands of mind-boggling entries from around the world each year, and the winners for 2020 were recently announced.
Winning first prize, Japanese Professor of Engineering Dr. Kokichi Sugihara created a 3D model of a Schröder Staircase. The original, 2D version was published in 1858 by German natural scientist Heinrich G. F. Schröder. The drawing of a staircase can appear differently, depending on where you rest your eyes. If you look at the “A” panel, the stairs will appear to run from top left to bottom right. If you focus your gaze on the “B” panel, it will come to the foreground and you will experience an upside down version of the image.
Sugihara’s 3D version of the famous illusion also has two interpretations—upper and lower staircases that seemingly switch between the other as the model rotates. “This object is an example of my experimental material to investigate the behavior of the brains, which are apt to misperceive 2D pictures as 3D objects when they are embedded in real 3D structures,” Sugihara explains. “The Schroeder Staircase, which is known as an ambiguous picture for more than 150 years, is decorated by real 3D side walls and support columns. As a result, we perceive new ambiguity, which is different from that of the original Schroeder Staircase.”
Check out Sugihara’s winning optical illusion below, plus some of the other top entries from the competition.