I answered the question "Why aren't optical illusions called visual illusions?" and would like to get more information to improve my answer.

In doing a search on Ngram for occurrences of the expressions "optical illusion" and "visual illusion" I saw that "visual illusion" appeared in 1900. It might have existed earlier.

My questions:

  1. When did "optical illusions" start being seen as "visual illusions?" By visual illusions, I mean phenomena of the brain and visual system.
  2. In your field (cognitive/neuro sciences) is the expression "visual illusion" now preferred over "optical illusion?"
  3. Also, sources say that interest in optical illusions goes back to Aristotle and the ancients. What were these optical illusions they were interested in?

1 Answer 1

  • ad 1. Difficult to answer, but I found an article from as early as 1825 that links the rotating spokes illusion to the retina (Roget, 1825).
  • ad 2. Interesting question, but more a question of semantics I think. Personally, I think optical illusion is fine, as used by a master of illusions Michael Bach. Admittedly, he is German, so if this is linguistically the best term may be better off at English.SE. Visual illusion may be better targeted for (pathological) phenomena associated with the use of hallucinogens and psychotic states such as those seen in episodes of positive symptomatology. Although here, visual delusions and hallucinations are more appropriate terminology, in my opinion. One way or the other, for the use of referring to benign brain trickery, I would stick to optical illusion, but visual illusions is fine too.
  • ad 3. Reportedly, one of the most well-known contributions in optical illusions are his writings on the motion-after effect. He believed, erroneously, that the motion aftereffect was a form of visual inertia, a tendency to continue seeing things move in the same direction because of the inertia of some physical movement stimulated in the brain (Ramachandran & Ramachandran, 2012).

- Ramachandran & Ramachandran, Sci Am (March 2012)
- Roget, Phil Trans Royal Soc B (1825); 115: 131-40


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