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Akihito Maruya, Qasim Zaidi; Mental geometry of three-dimensional size perception. Journal of Vision 2020;20(8):14. https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.8.14.
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Judging the poses, sizes, and shapes of objects accurately is necessary for organisms and machines to operate successfully in the world. Retinal images of three-dimensional objects are mapped by the rules of projective geometry and preserve the invariants of that geometry. Since Plato, it has been debated whether geometry is innate to the human brain, and Poincare and Einstein thought it worth examining whether formal geometry arises from experience with the world. We examine if humans have learned to exploit projective geometry to estimate sizes and aspects of three-dimensional shape that are related to relative lengths and aspect ratios.
Numerous studies have examined size invariance as a function of physical distance, which changes scale on the retina. However, it is surprising that possible constancy or inconstancy of relative size seems not to have been investigated for object pose, which changes retinal image size differently along different axes. We show systematic underestimation of length for extents pointing toward or away from the observer, both for static objects and dynamically rotating objects. Observers do correct for projected shortening according to the optimal back-transform, obtained by inverting the projection function, but the correction is inadequate by a multiplicative factor. The clue is provided by the greater underestimation for longer objects, and the observation that they seem to be more slanted toward the observer. Adding a multiplicative factor for perceived slant in the back-transform model provides good fits to the corrections used by observers. We quantify the slant illusion with two different slant matching measurements, and use a dynamic demonstration to show that the slant illusion perceptually dominates length nonrigidity.
In biological and mechanical objects, distortions of shape are manifold, and changes in aspect ratio and relative limb sizes are functionally important. Our model shows that observers try to retain invariance of these aspects of shape to three-dimensional rotation by correcting retinal image distortions due to perspective projection, but the corrections can fall short. We discuss how these results imply that humans have internalized particular aspects of projective geometry through evolution or learning, and if humans assume that images are preserving the continuity, collinearity, and convergence invariances of projective geometry, that would simply explain why illusions such as Ames’ chair appear cohesive despite being a projection of disjointed elements, and thus supplement the generic viewpoint assumption.
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