Demon Hill: A Devilishly Disorienting 3-D Optical Illusion

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Think you know which way is up and which way is down? "Demon Hill #2," a life-sized, 3-D optical illusion currently on display at the Harris Lieberman Gallery in New York City, will turn that notion on its head.

An outside sign ominously forewarns of the madness within: "DH#2 is an interior space in which gravity appears to have been altered or suspended. As a result, visitors may experience disorientation, dizziness, nausea, and/or exhaustion."

The trick behind Demon Hill is actually somewhat anticlimactic compared to its profound, reality-altering effect. It's simply an enclosed room constructed of grainy, warped plywood, tipped at about a twenty-degree angle. But even though you are well aware of the ruse before entering, that doesn't help to suppress the mind-boggling disillusionment that you feel inside. While the room appears to be normal and upright, you, and anything you bring along, will appear to be moving or standing at a gravity-defying angle.

"I felt woozy. I felt really sick. I actually fell into the wall," Flora Lichtman said on Science Friday about her experience within Demon Hill. Lichtman and her colleague, Christopher Intagliata, even tried pouring water into glasses when inside the room. They couldn't do it.

So what makes Demon Hill so devilishly disorienting?

"It demonstrates that perception is an interplay between information that you're getting immediately from your senses, and prior knowledge that you use to interpret that information, Michael Landy, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, told Science Friday.

When inside Demon Hill, the vestibular system in your inner ear - the sensory system that monitors spatial orientation - tells you that gravity is one way. But prior knowledge instructs you that rooms are vertical, and this takes precedence over your immediate senses. It also really messes with you.

"You can know that what you're perceiving is wrong, but you'll still perceive it that way," Landy said.

After her experience in Demon Hill, Lichtman furnished a remarkably keen insight. "Experience depends not on what is true, but what we perceive to be true."

Ain't that the truth?

[Source: NPR]

[Image: Wood Illusion via Shutterstock)
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