Amid much oohing and aahing at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Fla. last Monday, mathemetician Kokichi Sugihara defied gravity. During the latest Vision Sciences Society meeting, he stood in front of a large screen that displayed the impossibe: four wooden balls rolling uphill, climbing a series of ramps and meeting at the top in the center. The contraption won him the award for Best Visual Illusion of 2010.
The balls appear to be pulled up the slopes by a magnet, but in fact, understanding the angle of the ramps themselves is the key to deciphering the illusion. The gravity-defying stunt that we’re witnessing can only appear to take place from one and only one vantage point. Which is, of course, our vantage point when viewing the video. Take just one step to your left (or right or up or down), and you’ll see the ramps for what they are: downward-sloping and of varying lengths.
The magic, as it is with most things, lies in the way we see.
For more riddles, stunts and bits of perceptual magic, check out the honorable runners-up from this year’s award ceremony.