We spend our lives trying to get a grasp on “reality”, but anyone who has ever seen a rubber pencil, read a Magic-Eye kids book, been tricked by a stage magician’s sleight of hand, or watched a blockbuster film in three-dimensions knows that the “unreal” can be just as meaningful (and certainly just as entertaining) as reality. This course considers the very real roles that perceptual illusions have played and continue to play in a range of humanities topics—including philosophy, art, folklore, music, sports, magic, film, and food.
Interdisciplinary at its core, our discussions and coursework will oscillate between scientific and humanistic descriptions of illusory experience. We will introduce a range of perceptual and psychological mechanisms that give rise to illusions across different sense modalities, and we will survey specific illusions situated in a range of particular cultural contexts, including, for examples, the waterfall illusion at Niagra Falls, optico-geometric illusions in Greek architecture, size-weight illusions in children’s Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board seances, trompe l'oeil in Renaissance painting, forced-perspective illusions on Reddit, auditory illusions in music, and anti-gravity illusions in Mooresville, Indiana.
At times, students will act as empirical scientists, investigating the psycho-perceptual mechanisms that give to illusions. At other times, students will take on the roles of the philosopher, or folklorist, as they articulate the interplay of illusion and reality in art. Class meetings will involve a variety of student experiences, including traditional lectures, student presentations, group workshops, secondary (and primary) research outings, and special assignments in which students will create and present their very own illusion!
Ultimately, students in this course will work to unpack bedrock humanistic questions—What am I? Who are we? What is reality?—manifest as illusions in culture.
Catalog Information: COLL-S 103 FRESHMAN SEMINAR IN A & H