Purghé F, 1997, "Can illusory figures be transparent and opaque at the same time?" Perception 26 ECVP Abstract Supplement
Can illusory figures be transparent and opaque at the same time?
A simple and convincing way of explaining illusory figures is based upon the idea that the visual system would infer the presence of an occluding object when the inducing pattern shows features, such as indentations or interruptions, that can be logically explained as due to an occlusion. This kind of explanation implies (a) that an illusory figure should be prevented from occurring if there is no logical need for it, and (b) that the illusory figure must be opaque to be effective as an occluding object. It can be shown, however, that illusory figures can emerge even when there is contrary evidence to occlusion. A special kind of stereoscopic Kanizsa-like pattern superimposed onto a picture (an Escher engraving) is capable of inducing clear illusory figures (two rectangles). In this pattern, the illusory figures seem to be transparent with respect to the picture on the background, which remains fully visible through them, but act as opaque surfaces with respect to the inducers. The inducers are parts of a Necker cube which can be clearly seen only when its fragments induce the illusory rectangles, but disappears if the same fragments, being only outlined, are not able to induce them. If this outcome can be regarded as a demonstration that the Necker cube can be seen as an amodally completed object only when it virtually completes itself `behind' the illusory rectangles, one would have to conclude that the same illusory surfaces can be transparent and opaque at the same time. This paradoxical result seems to challenge any interpretation of illusory figures as being due to an intelligent solution to a cognitive problem.