Magic Eyes
February 7, 2005 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I have never, ever, been able to resolve one of those 'magic eye' pictures that look like random noise but which, when looked at in a certain way, a certain distance from your nose, contain three-dimensional images. I have followed the instructions to the letter, but never seen anything. What am I doing wrong? Is there something wrong with me? I'm feeling left out. I am short sighted and astigmatic, and wear spectacles ...
posted by carter to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have proper depth perception and they don't work for me. Near-sighted as we say on this side of the pond, operated on for lazy eye as a child.
posted by fixedgear at 1:35 PM on February 7, 2005

It's all about unfocusing your eyes so the lines of sight of the two eyes are parallel, as though you were looking off at the horizon. The instructions are just tricks to try to keep your eyes from focusing on the plane of the picture.

The other way to see the image is to cross your eyes slightly, but then the depth of the image is inverted. Things that should seem to stick out instead recede and things that should recede pop out.
posted by stopgap at 1:38 PM on February 7, 2005

I have perfect vision, as far as I know, and I've never been able to see those things either. And I can independently control each eye (marty feldman-esque), so there's no problem there.

I've followed the instructions, and had friends try and coach me through it, all to no avail.

Thus, I've decided, in a purely non-sour-grapes way, that those things aren't really worth looking at. It doesn't bother me anymore.
posted by yesster at 1:41 PM on February 7, 2005

Give up. I don't think you'll ever get them. I haven't. Do you have a lazy eye? It could be that you don't have truly binocular vision and so you can't combine the two images in your head properly.
Possibly helpful AskMe thread.

On preview: what fixedgear said.
posted by Evstar at 1:41 PM on February 7, 2005

i can't see them either. but here's what i do.

if you see serveral people looking at one, go up, stare for 15 seconds and then go. "heh. that's cool." and then walk away.

no one will ask you what you saw but you'll disrupt the concentration of people who are trying to see the image.

also, no one i know who is near sighted can see these images so that might be a factor.
posted by Stynxno at 1:42 PM on February 7, 2005

I'm far-sighted with astigmatism and I can do them.

It really does take practice though. Since I haven't seen one of those things in a few years, it took me a couple minutes to see the example in the link you posted.
posted by falconred at 1:47 PM on February 7, 2005

I can relate -- I could never, ever see these pictures for the first several years they were around. I took the defensive position that there was really nothing there.

The first one I was able to make out was one of the more cheaply reproduced ones in the Sunday comics. After I discovered how to look at the outline of that first one, something clicked. After a lot of trying I was actually able to make them all out. It takes considerable effort for me, and if I get jostled or otherwise 'lose it', the 3D image slips away. But I can now see them, and I'm sure anyone can if they work at it. The question is, how much time do you want to devote to this?

The Sunday paper ones seem to be easier to see -- simpler and more obvious designs, maybe, I don't know. And I have no tips for you, because I don't think trying to verbalize it is helpful -- it never was for me before I was gifted with the power of the seeing. Just stare at the things, and try different things with your eyes. Let them blur, wander, go in and out of focus; try to stare through it at an imaginary point several feet behind the painting; go walleyed; go crosseyed; look to the center, look to the side; just keep messing with it, and eventually you'll see it, I'm sure. I should add that I'm severely nearsighted, corrected to normal vision with contacts. Many of the people who I've spoken to who couldn't see these pictures also had vision issues; I don't know if that's correlation or causation, though.

As stupid as those paintings are, it was a vast relief when I learned to see them. I had really suspected it was an
Emporer's New Clothes kind of thing.
posted by Miko at 1:47 PM on February 7, 2005

*shrug* I'm sure someone has said this before, but the way I figured out how is like this: Look outside, through a dirty window. Then, look at a spot of dirt on the window. Then look past it, outside. Then look at the dirt on the glass. Outside. Glass. Outside. Glass. Feel how your focus moves? Memorize that feeling, then look at a magic eye...look at the picture, like you're looking at glass. Then look past it.

THEN, the trick is to figure out what the stupid three dee blobs you see are supposed to be.
posted by stray at 1:48 PM on February 7, 2005

Stopgap's comment may or may not be true - some are designed to work with crossed eyes; some are designed to work with "wide eyes." I'm only successfuly doing them cross-eyed - if you haven't tried crossing your eyes, carter, give it a shot.

Also, I found this much easier to learn when looking at an actual stereoscopic separation: two seperate images, instead of a pattern embedded in random noise.

Here's a page with some excellent stereo pairs of 3d polyhedra. Click on the 'look crossed' link by the first model, and follow the instructions. Then try the 'color' link by the remaining models and see if you can get them to work.

I get a very vivid 3D effect and it's much easier to tell how much eye-crossing is needed than it is with a random dot stereogram. Just cross your eyes until the two images coincide.

Once you master these, you'll have a better idea what to "look for" when tackling the random dot stereograms.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:53 PM on February 7, 2005

Some small percentage of the population never develops stereoscopic vision.

On preview, what evstar said. Does Viewmaster (or other mechanical stereogram viewers) work for you? If not, your brain just doesn't do it.
posted by mzurer at 1:55 PM on February 7, 2005

The trick that let me finally see them. A poster had been framed. When I focused on my image (twice as far away, optically, as the poster) the 3D image quickly resolved.

So, the trick -- you look through, not at, the posters.
posted by eriko at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2005

The one linked is lame, it seems like the snowflakes are at different depths, that's all.

I actually had a lot of 'vision therapy' when I was younger, apparently I wasn't very good at making my eyes work together. I would get headaches if I tried to read for more then a few minutes.

Many of the exercises focused on looking, focusing on them at different angles between where the eyes were pointing.

Here's a simple exercise you can try:

Find some transparent stuff to print on, and print some small transparent 'cards' with an image on them. like 1"x5"

Hold the cards in front of you (one in each hand) and focus on something very far away. You should see 4 images of the cards. Move the cards closer together until you see three images. The one in the center is actually a composite of the two your holding in your hand. They'll probably look blurry. Work on trying to get them to be less blurry.

It might make it a little more fun to if you print stereoscopic images on the cards, so that the composite image looks holographic.


Work on this for a while. The technique to see the composite image is the same technique you use to see magic eye.
posted by delmoi at 2:02 PM on February 7, 2005

Stray's advice is what I do. Unfocus the eyes as though the image is much farther away from me than it really is. There's some effort involved, as the 'depth of field' can vary from image to image.

but honestly, most of these pictures are nothing much to look at, anyhow. certainly not worth the effort. do you really want to discern some plastic dinosaur, a scene from LOTR or some distant castle in these random dots? the images drawn inside of these dots have the plasticity of computer game action figures. Stynxno said it best - just mutter 'that's cool' and walk away
posted by seawallrunner at 2:03 PM on February 7, 2005

Whoa, I can do the polyhedra! Neat! (and thanks, Wolfdog). The effect reminds of the paper dragon illusion. Okay, back to the Magic Eye stuff ... (oh, and Viewmasters, stereoscopes, etc., all work for me).
posted by carter at 2:04 PM on February 7, 2005

Take a dry-erase marker and draw two dots on a glass window. The distance between them should be about the same distance as there is between your eyes.

Now, look through the glass window at something outside. Notice how your eyes combine the two dots into a single image if you position yourself correctly and focus your eyes properly. That's the exact same thing you want to do when you look at the book.
posted by odinsdream at 2:04 PM on February 7, 2005

This page from the KnotPlot site leads to tons more stereo pairs to practice with, and you can compare wide-eyed to cross-eyed pairs. While I agree that the RDS pictures are cheap kitsch, stereo pairs have been a truly useful visualization tool for people working with knots, curves and surfaces in space, compounds and molecules and so on. And having all your researchers wearing red-blue glasses would be just too dorky.

(You can also download KnotPlot and watch in stereo as it evolves knots. I've spent an awful lot of time in happy cross-eyed spaced-out oblivion.)
posted by Wolfdog at 2:13 PM on February 7, 2005

I'm nearsighted with mild astigmatism and I can see 'em just fine with or without glasses, using the "looking past" method.

The one linked is lame, it seems like the snowflakes are at different depths, that's all.

Look closer, there are two trees, and some of the birds in the background are actually sitting in nests in the foreground.
posted by squidlarkin at 2:16 PM on February 7, 2005

Let your eyes get really sleepy, lose focus, and don't regain focus. There, in the distance, you will see a dolphin. Or possibly a castle.

It may also help to practice on Metafilter. Just look at a word, and let the sentence the word is a part of become two images and then the two will float around. Anyway, same thing with magic eye, if you look long enough (a minute or so) and you never refocus, you'll see something. Like a dolphin. Or possibility a castle.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2005

Hmm, interesting. Just went to that KnotPlot site and I can't seem to view the cross-eyed pairs properly, though I can use the wide-eyed technique and get an inferior version of the same effect.
posted by squidlarkin at 2:23 PM on February 7, 2005

I was born with lazy eye and never developed full binocular vision. I can't do the standard red-and-blue-glasses type of 3-D stuff, so magic eye is right out. If your biology ain't adapted to it, you'll just have to go "eh" and let it go.
posted by matildaben at 3:14 PM on February 7, 2005

I don't have binocular vision, and have never been able to do them. I can only see out of one eye at a time, the "other" eye is just a lot of unprocessed peripheral information. I also have a mess of other eyeball strangeness, but I wonder if "undiagnosed" monocular vision is more common than I think, as the only real downside is that I suck at bar games like darts and pool.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 3:18 PM on February 7, 2005

Can't talk now, creepy dragon is watching...

thanks for that link carter

posted by mzurer at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2005

i have 20/20 vision and i still can't see the darned things!

i hate magic eye.
posted by freudianslipper at 3:33 PM on February 7, 2005

delmoi, you say the linked image is lame because it only brings the snowflakes out from the plane of the page, but you fail to notice the tree, branches (right side), and birds sitting on the branch (center).

Yeah, I can do these. I wear glasses for astigmatism.
posted by pmbuko at 3:58 PM on February 7, 2005

After decades of not being able to see anything, I finally saw this one. It looked like the birds that you can clearly see in the image, only "3-D". It was the most anti-climatic experience in my life.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2005

I have a controllable lazy eye (indeed, I have a lazy self, and am controllable), perfect for looking at Magic Eyes. I'm always impressed that normal people can see them.

Most people can cross their eyes, and get a blurry double image. They're blurry because the muscles working to cross the eyes squash them a bit. I wall my eyes by relaxing, and out they go, giving me a clear double image. (The "controllable" becomes less so when I'm sleepy or drunk.)

All this emphasis on "focus" by other posters may be useful for learning, but is in fact incorrect -- of course you want to focus on the plane of the picture you're trying to actually see, or it will be blurry! The problem for people who can't manage Magic Eyes is that they point their eyes at the same spot on that plane, when they should be pointing one eye at one copy of the birds, one eye at a different copy (in the linked example).

Easier said then done, of course (unless you have a controllable lazy eye, in which case it's done by relaxing): your binocular vision has been trained since birth to get both eyes to look at the same thing! One trick that I've seen, and noone else has mentioned in this thread, to fool the eyes into not making the connection is to look through two toilet paper cardboard tubes. This tunnel vision can make it difficult to correlate one image with the other, and fool your eyes into thinking two different copies of the birds are the same copy, which is exactly what you want.
posted by Aknaton at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2005

Didja see the tree the birdies are sitting on, dirigibleman?
posted by stray at 4:10 PM on February 7, 2005

Yes, I saw the branches, and the snow flakes, but you can see all of that in the image already. I guess that makes it an easy image to learn on. The other ones on the site are just abstract things where you're supposed to see a shape.

I think that part of the trick is that you need to get real close to the scene. It seems to make the "defocusing" easier. Aknaton's point that you're not defocusing, but pointing one eye at one part of the image and your other eye at a different part might also help.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:20 PM on February 7, 2005

Oh, now I see what you mean. I thought the tree was just a flaw in the scene.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:36 PM on February 7, 2005

There's definitely a trick and it's definitely worth trying to get it. "Looking past it" is the key. If it's a poster, try to focus on something in the next room (behind the wall.) In a book, try to see the table underneath. Suddenly the image will swim into your ken and you will be able to focus in on it. Once you do it once, it gets much much easier.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:36 PM on February 7, 2005

I see Magic Eye pictures without problems but they're "backwards"; what's supposed to project forward instead extends backwards; what's inset looks embossed. This happens also when I view stereoscopic pictures without a stereoscope; I can make them 3D without the stereoscope by crossing my eyes but need the scope to make the image correct. I understand that many people experience this. There's an explanation for it that I can't remember.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:37 PM on February 7, 2005

The explanation is that there's two ways of making the images run into each other, by defocusing your eyes (technically letting them drift away from each other) or by crossing them. Doing it the wrong way results in an embossed version, as you say. The Magic Eye pictures often use the defocus method but some people find it way easier to just cross their eyes.
posted by abcde at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2005

The usual method doesn't work for me either - you could try this method (suggested by the magic eye people) which works for me. Put your nose to the image, let you eyes relax, look ahead and slowly pull the image away from your nose, it'll take some practice but works. :)
posted by squeak at 5:00 PM on February 7, 2005

I've only ever been able to see one magic eye image, which was framed and hung on the wall of my high school english teacher's classroom. The image was of a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.
posted by makonan at 5:02 PM on February 7, 2005

Holy cow, I actually saw Saturn in this one! I guess my newly-discovered ability to let my right eye drift ever-so-slightly when I'm tired (first brought to my attention a a year or two ago by an opthamologist) really has its benefits. Woo! I'm going to dig out my old Viewmaster reels and see if they actually look 3-D now.
posted by scody at 12:14 AM on February 8, 2005

For what it's worth, Stynxo,I'm nearsighted [with glasses] but I can see both the "wide-eyed" and "cross-eyed" varieties.

Took a year to figure out how to do it, though, and it was pretty anticlimactic.
posted by ubersturm at 4:56 AM on February 8, 2005

i have 20/20 vision and i still can't see the darned things!

i hate magic eye.

My sentiments exactly, freudianslipper, and the more people try and give me their fail safe tricks to do it, and I *still* can't see it, the more I hate it...! 3D Viewmaster I have no problems with though.
posted by penguin pie at 6:19 AM on February 8, 2005

I'm with penguin pie & freudianslipper. I can't see them either - and I have no vision problems, and I can see ViewMasters etc. I stopped caring at some point, and decided that it probably wasn't going to be a life-changing experience so I shouldn't waste my energy on it. I think that judgement was defensive from a little bit of bitterness, but obviously I'm not the only one.
posted by raedyn at 6:30 AM on February 8, 2005

Oh man, it's incredible. You guys don't know what you're missing.
posted by squidlarkin at 8:23 AM on February 8, 2005

I'm far sighted in one eye and near sighted in the other, and was told flat out that I didn't have the depth perception needed to do the magic-eye pictures.

And the spell check is giving me a cold fusion error, so hopefully I spelled everything alright.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:35 AM on February 8, 2005

I had the same experience Miko did -- I've only been able to see the cheap Sunday-paper ones.

This probably has to do more with image size though -- I'm extremely nearsighted, and I discovered I can only see them without my glasses on, so that limits me to images that I can see from six inches away (!).

I have poor depth perception as well, so that probably also has something to do with it.
posted by neckro23 at 11:31 AM on February 8, 2005

FunkyHelix, I'm the same way (my far-sighted eye is lazy, too) and I supposedly should not have depth perception at all. Yet I can see 3-D in Viewmasters, with some effort. I can't see Magic Eye stuff at all, though.

I don't know why I can see 3-D in Viewmasters; I think it's just that I can force my eyes to work together enough to get something. But it takes a forced effort that I can't just do in normal sight. The Magic Eye things perhaps are more difficult.
posted by litlnemo at 7:01 PM on February 8, 2005

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