Stereopsis refers to our binocular vision. It has a slightly unusual history to its discovery. Around 300 BC, the Greek philosopher Euclid proposed several very foreword thinking notions about how we perceived 3D. However there wasn’t a clear recognition of stereopsis until Charles Wheatstone developed his stereoscope in 1838. Usually inventions take advantages of new findings, but in this case, it was the invention that helped make the discovery! To be fair though, Chuck had a pretty good understanding as to what he was doing – but the word ‘stereopsis’ did not come into general usage until after he released his stereoscope.

The Stereoscope

The Stereoscope

The stereoscope was a funny looking box-like contraption. It displayed two images each with slight differences in their horizontal positions. Because the images were different from one another, the viewer’s brain unified and processed them as a single image, giving the illusion of three dimensions. A 1970 MIT study proposed that stereopsis is an inherited ability and that some of us are “stereo blind”.  Perhaps this is why some people hate 3D movies and others get headaches from them.

On the other there are also indications that stereopsis is a learned trait. I use the example in my book Shoot 3D Movies Like a Pro of early movie goers who ducked beneath their seat to avoid the oncoming train they saw while viewing a movie theater. In that case, you might say their stereopis was overactive. They hadn’t learned to relax their eyesight and enjoy a two dimensional movie. In the same way, the first movies could not cut from one shot to another too rapidly or people would become confused, disoriented and even dizzy. Does this sound familiar?

Today, 3D editors are careful to lower the rate at which 3D movies are edited so that viewers do not become disoriented. But as 3D continues to evolve we will also evolve along with it. Of course, it takes many many years for us to evolve physically, but we can learn new traits and skills quickly due to our neuroplasticity. This is a fascinating topic in itself and also a complex subject that I’m not qualified to speak about. However, with the help of neuroplasticity and some hard work, I hope to learn and write a posting on the relationship between neuroplasticity and our video-oriented culture in a forthcoming blog post. 🙂

Wheatstone Discovers Stereopsis

Wheatstone Discovers Stereopsis

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