Impossible Objects

Vsauce, I’m Jake and on a recent flight
I rewatched the fantastic Christopher Nolan film Inception. In the movie Joseph Gordon Levitts’ character
mentions “The penrose steps. The infinite staircase.” And that got me thinking about impossible
objects, which the penrose steps or impossible staircase are. So, I decided to 3D print some. Impossible Objects are shapes that form in
an inconsistent way creating a visual illusion…something that deceives our mind by producing a false
impression of reality. And if you’ve played the video game Monument
Valley, it is filled with those sorts of illusions. So let’s look at a few examples we printed
starting with This is the impossible staircase. An endless loop of steps going up, then back
down, then back up and so on and so forth. At first glance it seems logical, we understand
what a staircase is and how it functions but it is connected in such a way to create an
impossibility. Once we rotate the object and change the specific
viewpoint, the illusion is revealed. With every impossible object the most important
part is perspective and lighting. It only works if you are looking at it in
a very specific way, For the effect to exist in real life you need to have one eye closed,
limit your depth perception, or be looking at a 2D image through a camera lens like you
are right now with this video, and that also applies to what we generally think of as a
2D image, one that is drawn. In the february 1958 edition of the British
Journal of Psychology, a paper by Lionel and his son Roger Penrose was published describing
a creation of theirs…the Penrose Steps, the impossible staircase, a structure that
is “acceptable as representing a flight of steps but the connections are such that
the picture, as a whole, is inconsistent.” Also in their paper they talk about how two-dimensional
drawings can be made to convey the impression of three-dimensional shapes. It can be used to induce contradictory perceptual
objects. And no one was better at that or more widely
known for it than M.C. Escher who, two years after the Penrose’s
paper, created Ascending and Descending showcasing that particular impossible object in his work
for the first time. And speaking of M.C. Esther, he imagined and drew a multitude of
impossible structures and objects, one of my favorites is an object he created called The Impossible Cube first appeared in Esther’s
piece Belvedere. Down at the base of the steps on a bench is
a boy holding the cube. And in real life, it looks like this. The beams at the joints are intersecting with
the horizontal crossing sections, weaving in front of and behind. If you stare at it long enough, looking at
the object as a whole, your mind becomes tricked by what side of the cube is in front and which
is in the back. That is until we move it. It is incredibly reminiscent of another type
of perspective illusion that I’m pretty sure you’ve drawn at least once in your
life, the necker cube, which is also in Belvedere at the same boy’s feet. It is an ambiguous line drawing. Even though it is a 2D object, it’s depth
changes. Is this the front…or is this? It creates a bistable percept, a perceptual
phenomena where there are unpredictable subjective changes. YOU NEED CONTEXT or else a shape could be
in any orientation. When our perception disagrees with physical
reality, we say we have experienced an illusion. A visual illusion is not really there in the
image. Our mind makes it “real”. All of these objects I am showing you have
been lit in such a way, and filmed in such a way to make it look like they are all on
the same plane, that is to say, that there is no part of the object out of focus even
though they do have depth. In essence we are filming a 3D object to look
like a 2D object to give the illusion that it is 3D. And one of the best examples of this is probably
the most famous Impossible Object. The Impossible Triangle or Penrose Triangle,
was first created by swedish artist Oscar Reutersvärd in 1934 and, separately, by the
Penroses in that same Impossible Object paper from the 1950s. In it they say that the lines of the drawing
are connected in such a manner as to produce an impossibility. Yet, here it is. When features or objects are touching they
tend to be viewed at the same distance. It looks like every surface, every connection
is on the same plane creating what appears to be one solid object…even though it isn’t. So what’s happening? Impossible objects are perceptual paradoxes,
objects which cannot exist. And we tend to use the term visual illusion
or optical illusion to describe them but that’s not always correct because, as we discussed
before, the cause is beyond our eye. Here we see 4 large circles with smaller circles
filling it. Ok, nothing too crazy but what if we turn
some sections in these circles blue? What do you see? A square maybe even though there are no lines
in between the separate larger circles to tell us there is a one, there are no physical
boundaries but yet our mind is making them. Let’s look at another example. We have these objects. It looks like there is depth even though it
is a 2 dimensional image. If I asked you what those two shapes were
you would probably say two rectangles with one beneath the other. But looking at it, why does our mind assume
this? Why not a rectangle with two squares on either
side? There is typically a degree of predictability
or expectancy from one glance to the next in the visual world. Things look as they do because they are what
they are. Or are you? Hey Jake. Oh hi Eric. We are intentional beings who are projecting
our expectations into the future. We usually see what we expect to see. It’s Empiricism, the philosophical approach
that “all information is derived from sensory perceptions and experiences”. We use information from the past to predict
the present. For example, we say this is a table because
we were told that this is a table. You don’t need to see the legs of it to
know that. It has become an object. Just like this book is an object. And when taken individually, the words in
the book are objects as well. It’s Gestalt Psychology. Gestalt in German means “shape” or “form”. And in short, Gestalt Psychology is that we
perceive objects as a whole rather than as parts. Our perceptual system organizes what we see
into groups which brings us to the five grouping laws: The Law of Nearness or Proximity, of
Similarity, of Good Continuation, of Closure, and the Law of Common Fate. We saw the Law of Nearness with those 4 circles
that when areas were colored, created a square. Where objects near each other tend to be seen
as one. But the two laws that factor in the most with
an Impossible Object are the Laws of Good Continuation and the Law of Closure. These two Laws can be seen in all 3 of the
impossible objects we looked at but lets focus on the impossible triangle for the Law of
Good Continuation, where the lines of the object come together to be seen as one unit. And with the Law of Closure, it states that
when a figure has a gap, we tend to see it as a closed complete object. Like in the case of the impossible stairs. If you want some more illusions, I would highly
recommend checking out Michael’s video on the Sydney Opera House Illusion on our DONG
channel. Michael, Kevin, and I are making two videos
a week there and it is full of Saucey goodness. There is a link in the description to go give
it a look. Now, just for fun, here is one more illusion
we made. Not only does it look like an impossible triangle
but something else is happening. It looks like each cube that makes up the
triangle is coming straight at us even though we know it is a trick so it can’t be. And of course, it isn’t. We tend to have the visual assumption that
objects are more likely to be convex, bulging outwards, instead of hollow. And a lot of that effect is accentuated with
lighting. Now these illusions challenge us to disagree
with what our mind is seeing. We are aware we are being lied to, but it
is hard to pinpoint why. It is that rare moment when we know our brain
is wrong but how do you convince yourself that yourself isn’t seeing what it is? Because of what we know, what we’ve been
told, we tend not to question what we see, we rationalize it…If it can’t be real
than how is it in front of me? Everything is an illusion, we’ve just been
conditioned to give it a form, to make it an object. And, as always, thanks for watching. If you’ve seen my videos before you know
I love and use the site Skillshare who are supporting Vsauce by sponsoring this episode
and by checking out Skillshare, you can support my videos as well. They are a wonderful online community that
offers over 20 thousand classes on things like design, photography, production and more. I’ve taken courses on color correction and
photoshop using Skillshare but if you want to get into 3D modelling and then be able
to print your own models I’d recommend this Introduction 3D modelling in Blender class. Blender is great because it is free, open
source and pretty full featured so you can get started right away. This class gives you all the basics you need
to learn the software and get creating. Skillshare was nice enough to give the first
1000 Vsauce3 viewers who sign up using the link at the top of the description their first
2 months of a premium subscription for FREE. That’s a pretty good deal and I love you.

100 thoughts on “Impossible Objects

  1. So is there a stipulation where in order to become a Vsauce channel you have to use the same speech patterns as Michael? Love the channels I just think its odd they all do the same pauses and such in their speech

  2. "Things are what they are, because they are. Or are they?"
    ~ VSauce summed up in two sentences.

  3. I love hearing people try to pronounce swedish names, they usually don't do a great job. This is no exception.

  4. I think the penrose staircase can be made, just have some parts of the stairs slanted at an angle

  5. This whole video made me think of that s thing everyone drew in school

  6. Im so hogh right now and this vodeo made like nr completley questoions life

  7. I create my own impossibles, you can see them here

  8. The cazry tnhig is taht we dnot need the lrteters in the swdors to be in the rgiht odrer to be albe to raed tehm, olny the frsit and lsat lteter hvae to be in the rhigt sopt.

  9. Watching this vid when your alone and it's dark is quite eerie.

  10. The Penrose triangle and stairs are NOT impossible objects – they simply can't be embedded in flat euclidean space. Both the stairs and triangle are actually projections from a 3-sphere.

  11. 3:48 I actually saw through that illusion before you showed how it works

  12. There are topics which we can only think and not explain verbally. We understand the thing but cannot accurately explain it. But Mark Roper still explains these topics with complete understanding in a beautiful manner. I love this channel.

  13. I always love your closes. You said thanks for watching and I nearly left from habit cause other vids but then i remembered you do that and I was not disappointed.

  14. this got me thinking about impossible objects, so i (logically) decided to 3d print one

  15. So glad you mentioned the great MC Escher, the king (imo) of these type drawings.

  16. These objects will appear on facebook's stolen videos with a different music lol

  17. I thought it was 2 squares and a rectangle and not two rectangles, am I God now?

  18. I like that NASA t-shirt.

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