Thursday, May 14, 2009

Only An Illusion

The three best visual illusions in the world were chosen at a gathering last weekend of neuroscientists and psychologists at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Florida.
The winning entry, from a Bucknell University professor, may help explain why curve balls in baseball are so tricky to hit.

A properly thrown curve ball spins in a way that makes the air on one side move faster than on the other. This causes the ball to move along a gradual curve. From the point of view of a batter standing on home plate, though, curve balls seem to “break,” or move suddenly in a new direction.

This year’s winning illusion, created by Arthur Shapiro of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, may explain this phenomena. His animation shows a spinning ball that, when watched directly, moves in a straight line. When seen out of the corner of the eye, however, the spin of the ball fools the brain into thinking that the ball is curving.

So as a baseball flies towards home plate, the moment when it passes from central to peripheral vision could exaggerate the movement of the ball, causing its gradual curve to be seen as a sudden jerk.

You know. When I was a younger man and played baseball, I never knew that a curve ball really wasn’t happening and was only an illusion. If I had only known, maybe I would have been a better ballplayer!

I wonder. How many pro baseball players today believe that a curve ball is nothing more than illusion? Try convincing them of that!


  1. Gotta go with you on this one Steve. I watched several ball players on TV last night who would bet they saw more than an illusion. When I pitched unless I held the ball differently, which was a no-no, I could not throw a curve. Hmmm if I had only known that the fastball I just threw really was a curveball I might have continued on. Too bad I couldn't have convinced the ones who got hits that it was just an illusion also. A virtual hit not a real one. But I still don't understand that guys explanation.

  2. Bill...I am either blessed or cursed. I can throw with both arms...and bat both ways. So, when I pitched, I had a "natural" curveball. More than once, the umpire came out and complained about me throwing curveballs. I couldn't help it! My dad, who was our team's coach, had to explain it repeated to the umps...

    I always wanted to pitch half a game lefthanded and half a game righthanded...

  3. Steve -

  4. cool!

    Sure takes away the advantage of a switch hitter!!!

    Also, did you see all those illusions he was throwing?

  5. If the curve ball is an illusion, why does the catcher's glove have to move to catch it?

  6. Me writing on your blog is only an illusion. Now where's my prize?



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