Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stereoscopic Vision: More Than Just for Mere Entertainment?

Given that all of our senses are there mainly for our species’ survival, is our eyes’ binocular / stereoscopic vision capability more that just an under-exploited sensory target niche for the entertainment industry?

By: Ringo Bones

It has been a long known fact that the left and right ear-pieces of a physician’s stethoscope allows for better early diagnosis for symptoms of an impending heart problem compared to older types that send sound to only one ear. But this had not hindered the music and hi-fi industry from using it in marketing stereo sound. And given the recent renaissance of 3-D movies, is our eyes’ ability for stereoscopic vision more than just an under-exploited target market for the ailing entertainment industry?

If your keeping track on the evolution of the marketing / moneymaking side of the entertainment industry since the end of World War II. You’ll notice that movies and still images aimed at our eyes’ stereoscopic vision capability was ironically left behind during the Golden Age of Stereo when stereo sound gained more popularity and commercial success than its 3-D movie cousin. More ironic still, 3-D imaging technology dates back from the Victorian era, a few decades before Thomas Edison and others invented our technical ability to record the sound of speech and music. But stereoscopic vision / 3-D vision’s finest hour is yet to come.

Cameras for taking “stereo pairs” were used extensively by photo-reconnaissance aircraft during World War II and then studied in detail by photo interpreters in an effort to learn the secrets of enemy airfields and factories. One such stereo pair revealed to a sharp-eyed examiner the presence on a German airfield of a V-2 rocket – the first visual proof to the British intelligence that such a weapon existed. If this WW II-era WMD had then been pictured only in a single conventional aerial photograph – without the three-dimensional effect of stereoscopic photography – its identification as a rocket would have been much more difficult.

Biologist had known for awhile that binocular vision / stereoscopic vision is not the sole preserve of humans, diurnal (daylight active) meat eating predatory creatures rely on binocular / stereoscopic vision to effectively hunt their prey. Although it is only humans who can verbally describe this physiological quirk of how we visually perceive our world. Ever since the time of the Gestalt school of Psychology, scientist had now reached a consensus that the phenomena of binocular vision / stereoscopic vision / spatial vision is no longer a paradox of philosophy – like the religious-leaning humanists used to think – but rather a factual result of physiological stimulation.

How binocular or stereoscopic vision physiologically works remained a mystery for such a long time because the receptive surface of the eye – the retina – is for all intents and purposes a flat surface. Yet we humans do not see the world as a flat photograph or an etched windowpane, we see it in all its dimensions - Which enables us humans to make visually sound judgments – which can be a matter of life and death – about the position, distance, shape, and size of objects with security and exactness that enabled our species to survive for more than a million years.

Our ability to perceive depth - via our two eyes spaced two and a half inches apart from center to center - had even the great 19th Century German scientist Herman von Helmholtz to point out that binocular vision “ is the necessary foundation for all our actions. From threading a needle through a tangled skein of silk to leaping from cliff to cliff when life itself depends on the right measurement of distance.” Binocular / stereoscopic vision even allows NASA space shuttle pilots to perform a dead stick landing – an indispensable feat of survival in our contemporary technological world.

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