When the combination of color, shading, shape, light, and design cause the eye and brain to create a picture of something that is different than what it really is. This may include seeing colors that aren't there or are different, seeing curves in straight objects, thinking two things are different length when they aren't, or just plain seeing things that aren't there.

Examples:

Is this an old hag or a young bride?

             _,addba,
         _,adP"'\  "Y,                       _____
       ,P"  d"Y,  \  8                  ,adP"""""""Yba,_
     ,d" /,d' `Yb, ,P'              ,adP"'           `""Yba,
     d'   d'    `"""         _,aadP"""""""Ya,             `"Ya,_
     8  | 8              _,adP"'                              `"Ya,
     8    I,           ,dP"           __              "baa,       "Yb,
     I,   Ya         ,db___           `"Yb,      a       `"         `"b,
     `Y, \ Y,      ,d8888888baa8a,_      `"      `"b,                 `"b,
      `Ya, `b,    d8888888888888888b,               "ba,                `8,
        "Ya,`b  ,d8888888888888888888,   d,           `"Ya,_             `Y,
          `Ybd8d8888888888888888888888b, `"Ya,            `""Yba,         `8,
             "Y8888888888888888888888888,   `Yb,               `"Ya        `b
              d8888888888888888888888888b,    `"'            ,    "b,       8,
              888888888888888888888888888b,                  b      "b      `b
              8888888888888888888888888888b    b,_           8       "       8
              I8888888888888888888888888888,    `"Yb,_       `b,             8
               Y888888888888888888888888888I        `Yb,       8,            8
                `Y8888888888888888888888888(          `8,       "b     a    ,P
                  "8888""Y88888888888888888I           `b,       `b    8    d'
                    "Y8b,  "Y888PPY8888888P'            `8,       P    8    8
                        `b   "'  __ `"Y88P'    b,        `Y       "    8    8
                       ""|      =""Y'   d'     `b,                     8    8
                        /         "' |  I       b             ,       ,P   ,P
                       (          _,"  d'       Y,           ,P       "    d'
                        |              I        `b,          d'            8
                        |              I          "         d,d'           8
                        |          ;   `b                  dP"          __,8_
                        |          |    `b                d"     _,,add8888888
                        ",       ,"      `b              d' _,ad88888888888888
                          \,__,a"          ",          _,add888888888888888888
                         _,aa888b           I       ,ad88888888888888888888888
                     _,ad88888888a___,,,gggd8,   ,ad88888888888888888888888888
                  ,ad888888888888b88PP""''  Y  ,dd8888888888888888888888888888
               ,ad8888888888888888'         `bd8888888888888888888888888888888
             ,d88888888888888888P'         ,d888888888888888888888888888888888
           ,d888888888888888888"         ,d88888888888888888888888888888888888
         ,d8888888888888888888P        ,d8888888888888888888888888888888888888
       ,d888888888888888888888b,     ,d888888888888888888888888888888888888888
      ,8888888888888888888888888888=888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
     d888888888888888888888888888=88888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
    d88888888888888888888888888=8888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
   d8888888888888888888888888=888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
  d888888888888888888888888=88888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
 ,888888888888888888888888=888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
 d8888888888888888888888=88888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
,8888888888888888888888=888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888
d888888888888888888888=88888888888888888888888888888888888888888  Normand   88
888888888888888888888=888888888888888888888888888888888888888888  Veilleux  88
888888888888888888888=88888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888888

credits: alt.ascii-art

Optical Illusion, Elliptical Vision

I am eight years old. The teacher has brought a picture of a pretty lady for us to look at. She tells us that if we look carefully, we will see another face in the picture.

All around the room, the other children are calling out that they see it - they see it! They are screeching and giggling at how weird this is. I can't see another face, although I am trying hard. I look in her dress, in the coils of her hair, I crane my neck from side to side - and I still can't see the other face.

Finally my best friend shows me - how the pretty lady's chin is the nose of an old woman who looks like Baba Yaga. The old woman's eyes peek out of the lady's hair. As my friend continues pointing out the features of the crone, I find that I can't see the pretty lady any more, just as I couldn"t see the crone before.

I take the picture home and study it until I can switch back and forth - the pretty lady, the crone, the pretty lady, the crone - easily. Now I want to see both of them at once, but that is harder. I can't manage it.

I begin to look for people's other faces with a kind of cross-eyed intensity which they seem to find unsettling. So I sneak looks at them, trying to surprise the other faces which I'm pretty sure are there into making themselves known.

Riding in the car at night, I like to watch my mother's face. Her eyes are luminous in the strip of light reflected by the rearview mirror. I watch my own reflection in the car window, my face floating on a field of stars in the Kansas sky. I look at my reflection, the stars, the reflection and the stars.

Further experiments in search of my own hidden face suggest themselves. The dark glass of the television - I stare it right in the middle of the quiet screen, trying to see my eyes in the shadowy reflection. The room reflected behind me wavers and curls. I return to the dark silhouette which is my unseeable face and wait for the features to appear, like night vision. Eventually my brother comes into the room, calls me a dork, and demands to watch CHiPs.

We watch Ponch and Jon vroom around Los Angeles and charm pretty speeders. My eyes still hurt a little from looking so hard into the t.v. screen. Still, I will try again later. One day I take a flashlight with me into the bathroom, close the door tight, and turn off the lights. I shine it on my face at different angles. This early practice will come in handy in later years, when big sisters of my friends are trying to scare the younger girls into baby coronaries by playing the part of Bloody Mary at slumber parties.

I never really manage to act appropriately shocked when Bloody Mary appears from behind their faces.

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