Deep encounters of the third kind

 

1 + 1 = 3

    From its beginning about 150 years ago, the stereoscopic viewer in its various forms has worked by showing us two images, each taken by a separate camera or lens, one left, one right.  When we look into the viewer, each eye sees what each camera lens saw, slightly different because of the different positions of the lenses, shifted sideways as our eyes are.     


     In the brain, the two images are combined into a much improved -- brighter, sharper, deeper -- third view that can exist only in what we call the mind: it is a virtual image magically created by the brain’s adding the two views together and somehow comparing them.  It “contains” the sensation of depth, space, and relative position of objects in the scene, and gives us a much closer replica of the reality we live within than a 2-D picture gives us. 


       “The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, inventor the card stereoscope shown above, about this two-eyed process.*  As true as this is, is it not strange that the mind is feeling its way into a picture that exists only inside itself?  Holmes was writing in 1859 about stereo still photographs, movies of course not having been invented yet.  (To see how the feeling is evoked by moving stereo pictures, click here.)

   

      Going a bit further, could this portend a mending of the rift between us and the world that began with the invention of 2D representation?   See Article 2, Implications.


*Quoted in Ray Zone, Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2007, p. 11.