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Aguilonius says ought to exist, in consequence of some parts of the resulting relievo being seen of one size by the left eye alone,—other parts of a different size by the right eye alone, and other parts by both eyes. This confusion, however, Aguilonius, as we have seen, found not to exist, and he ascribes it to the influence of a common sense overruling the operation of physical laws. Erroneous as this explanation is, it is still better than that of Mr. Wheatstone, which we shall now proceed to explain.
In order to disprove the theory referred to in the preceding extract, Mr. Wheatstone describes two experiments, which he says are equally decisive against it, the first of them only being subject to rigorous examination. With this view he draws "two lines about two inches long, and inclined towards each other, on a sheet of paper, and having caused them to coincide by converging the optic axes to a point nearer than the paper, he looks intently on the upper end of the resultant line without allowing the eyes to wander from it for a moment. The entire line will appear
single, and in its proper relief, &c The eyes," he
continues, "sometimes become fatigued, which causes the line to become double at those parts to which the optic axes are not fixed, but in such case all appearance of relief vanishes. The same experiment may be tried with small complex figures, but the pictures should not extend too far beyond the centre of the retina?."
Now these experiments, if rightly made and interpreted, are not decisive against the theory. It is not true that the entire line appears single when the axes are converged upon the upper end of the resultant line, and it is not true that the disappearance of the relief when it does disappear arises from the eye being fatigued. In the combination of more complex figures, such as two similar rectilineal figures contained by lines of unequal length, neither the inequalities nor the entire figure will appear single when the axes are converged upon any one point of it.
In the different passages which we have quoted from Mr. Wheatstone's paper, and in the other parts of it which relate to binocular vision, he is obviously halting between truth and error, between theories which he partly believes, and ill-observed facts which he cannot reconcile with them. According to him, certain truths "may be supposed" to be true, and other truths may be " in some degree true," but "not entirely so;" and thus, as he confesses, the problem of binocular and stereoscopic vision "is indeed one of great complexity," of which "he will not attempt at present to give the complete solution." If he had placed a proper reliance on the law of visible direction which he acknowledges I have established, and "with which," he says, "the laws of visible direction for binocular vision ought to contain nothing inconsistent," he would have seen the impossibility of the two eyes uniting two lines of inequal length; and had he believed in the law of distinct vision he would have seen the impossibility of the two eyes obtaining single vision of any more than one point of an object at a time. These laws of vision are as rigorously true as any other physical laws,—as completely demonstrated as the law of gravity in Astronomy, or the law of the Sines in Optics; and the moment we allow them to be tampered with to obtain an explanation of physical puzzles, we convert science into legerdemain, and philosophers into conjurors.
Such was the state of our stereoscopic knowledge in 1838, after the publication of Mr. Wheatstone's interesting and important paper. Previous to this I communicated to the British Association at Newcastle, in August 1838, a paper, in which I established the law of visible direction already mentioned, which, though it had been maintained by preceding writers, had been proved by the illustrious D'Alembert to be incompatible with observation, and the admitted anatomy of the human eye. At the same meeting Mr. Wheatstone exhibited his stereoscopic apparatus, which gave rise to an animated discussion on the theory of the instrument. Dr. Whewell maintained that the retina, in uniting, or causing to coalesce into a single resultant impression two lines of different lengths, had the power either of contracting the longest, or lengthening the shortest, or what might have been suggested in order to give the retina only half the trouble, that it contracted the long line as much as it expanded the short one, and thus caused them to combine with a less exertion of muscular power! In opposition to these views, I maintained that the retina, a soft pulpy membrane which the smallest force tears in pieces, had no such power,—that a hypothesis so gratuitous was not required, and that the law of visible direction afforded the most perfect explanation of all the stereoscopic phenomena.
In consequence of this discussion, I was led to repeat my experiments, and to inquire whether or not the eyes in stereoscopic vision did actually unite the two lines of different lengths, or of different apparent magnitudes. I found that they did not, and that no such union was required to convert by the stereoscope two plane pictures into the apparent whole from which they were taken as seen by each eye. These views were made public in the lectures on the Philosophy of the Senses, which I occasionally delivered in the College of St. Salvator and St. Leonard, St. Andrews, and the different stereoscopes which I had invented were also exhibited and explained.
In examining Dr. Berkeley's celebrated Theory of Vision, I saw the vast importance of establishing the law of visible direction, and of proving by the aid of binocular phenomena, and in opposition to the opinion of the most distinguished metaphysicians, that we actually see a third dimension in space, I therefore submitted to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in January 1843, a paper On the law of visible position in single and binocular vision, and on the representation of solid figures by the union of dissimilar plane pictures on the retina. More than twelve years have now elapsed since this paper was read, and neither Mr. Wheatstone nor Dr. Whewell have made any attempt to defend the views which it refutes.
In continuing my researches, I communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in April 1844, a paper On the knowledge of distance as given by binocular vision, in which I described several interesting phenomena produced by the union of similar pictures, such as those which form the patterns of carpets and paper-hangings. In carrying on these inquiries I found the reflecting stereoscope of little service, and ill fitted, not only for popular use, but for the application of the instrument to various useful purposes. I was thus led to the construction of several new stereoscopes, but particularly to the Lenticular Stereoscope, now in universal use. They were constructed in St. Andrews and Dundee, of various materials, such as wood, tinplate, brass, and of all sizes, from that now generally adopted, to a microscopic variety which could be carried in the pocket. New geometrical drawings were executed for them, and binocular pictures taken by the sun were lithographed by Mr. Schenck of Edinburgh. Stereoscopes of the lenticular form were made by Mr. Loudon, optician, in Dundee, and sent to several of the nobility in London, and in other places, and an account of these stereoscopes, and of a binocular camera for taking portraits, and copying statues, was communicated to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, and published in their Transactions.
It had never been proposed to apply the reflecting stereoscope to portraiture or sculpture, or, indeed, to any useful purpose; but it was very obvious, after the discovery of the Daguerreotype and Talbotype, that binocular drawings could be taken with such accuracy as to exhibit in the stereoscope excellent representations in relief, both of living persons, buildings, landscape scenery, and every variety of sculpture. In order to shew its application to the most interesting of these purposes, Dr. Adamson of St. Andrews, at my request, executed two binocular portraits of himself, which were generally circulated and greatly admired. This successful application of the principle to portraiture was communicated to the public, and recommended as an art of great domestic interest.
After endeavouring in vain to induce opticians, both in London and Birmingham, (where the-instrument was exhibited in 1849 to the British Association,) to construct the lenticular stereoscope, and photographers to execute binocular pictures for it, I took with me to Paris, in 1850, a very fine instrument, made by Mr. Loudon in Dundee, with the binocular drawings and portraits already mentioned. I shewed