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ing upon them their optical axes, and so quickly does the point of convergence pass backward and forward over the whole object, that it appears single, though in reality only one point of it can be seen single at the same instant. The whole picture of the line Ab, as seen with one eye, seems to coincide with the whole picture of it as seen with the other, and to appear single. The same is true of a surface or area, and also of a solid body or a landscape. Only one point of each is seen single; but we do not observe that other points are double or indistinct, because the images of them are upon parts of the retina which do not give distinct vision, owing to their distance from the foramen or point which gives distinct vision. Hence we see the reason why distinct vision is obtained only on one point of the retina. Were it otherwise we should see every other point double when we look fixedly upon one part of an object. If in place of two eyes we had a hundred, capable of converging their optical axes to one point, we should, in virtue of the law of visible direction, see only one object.
The most important advantage which we derive from the use of two eyes is to enable us to see distance, or a third dimension in space. That we have this power has been denied by Dr. Berkeley, and many distinguished philosophers, who maintain that our perception of distance is acquired by experience, by means of the criteria already mentioned. This is undoubtedly true for great distances, but we shall presently see, from the effects of the stereoscope, that the successive convergency of the optic axes upon two points of an object at different distances, exhibits to us the difference of distance when we have no other possible means of perceiving it. If, for example, we suppose G, D, Fig. 7, to be separate points, or parts of an object, whose distances are Go, Do, then if we converge the optical axes Hg, H'g upon G, and next turn them upon D, the points will appear to be situated at G and D at the distance Gd from each other, and at the distances Og, Od from the observer, although there is nothing whatever in the appearance of the points, or in the lights and shades of the object, to indicate distance. That this vision of distance is not the result of experience is obvious from the fact that distance is seen as perfectly by children as by adults; and it has been proved by naturalists that animals newly born appreciate distances with the greatest correctness. We shall afterwards see that so infallible is our vision of near distances, that a body whose real distance we can ascertain by placing both our hands upon it, will appear at the greater or less distance at which it is placed by the convergency of the optical axes.
We are now prepared to understand generally, how, in binocular vision, we see the difference between a picture and a statue, and between a real landscape and its representation. When we look at a picture of which every part is nearly at the same distance from the eyes, the point of convergence of the optical axes is nearly at the same distance from the eyes; but when we look at its original, whether it be a living man, a statue, or a landscape, the optical axes are converged in rapid succession upon the nose, the eyes, and the ears, or upon objects in the foreground, the middle and the remote distances in the landscape, and the relative distances of all these points from the eye are instantly perceived. The binocular relief thus seen is greatly superior to the monocular relief already described.
Since objects are seen in relief by the apparent union of two dissimilar plane pictures of them formed in each eye, it was a supposition hardly to be overlooked, that if we could delineate two plane pictures of a solid object, as seen dissimilarly with each eye, and unite their images by the convergency of the optical axes, we should see the solid of which they were the representation. The experiment was accordingly made by more than one person, and was found to succeed; but as few have the power, or rather the art, of thus converging their optical axes, it became necessary to contrive an instrument for doing this.
The first contrivances for this purpose were, as we have already stated, made by Mr. Elliot and Mr. Wheatstone. A description of these, and of others better fitted for the purpose, will be found in the following chapter.
DESCRIPTION OF THE OCULAr, THE REFLECTING, AND THE LENTICULAR STEREOSCOPES.
Although it is by the combination of two plane pictures of an object, as seen by each eye, that we see the object in relief, yet the relief is not obtained from the mere combination or superposition of the two dissimilar pictures. The superposition is effected by turning each eye upon the object, but the relief is given by the play of the optic axes in uniting, in rapid succession, similar points of the two pictures, and placing them, for the moment, at the distance from the observer of the point to which the axes converge. If the eyes were to unite the two images into one, and to retain their power of distinct vision, while they lost the power of changing the position of their optic axes, no relief would be produced.
This is equally true when we unite two dissimilar photographic pictures by fixing the optic axes on a point nearer to or farther from the eye. Though the pictures apparently coalesce, yet the relief is given by the subsequent play of the optic axes varying their angles, and converging themselves successively upon, and uniting, the similar points in each picture that correspond to different distances from the observer.
As very few persons hare the power of thus uniting, by the eyes alone, the two dissimilar pictures of the object, the stereoscope has been contrived to enable them to combine the two pictures, but it is not the stereoscope, as has been imagined, that gives the relief. The instrument is merely a substitute for the muscular power which brings the two pictures together. The relief is produced, as formerly, solely by the subsequent play of the optic axes. If the relief were the effect of the apparent union of the pictures, we should see it by looking with one eye at the combined binocular pictures—an experiment which could be made by optical means; but we should look for it in vain. The combined pictures would be as flat as the combination of two similar pictures. These experiments require to be made with a thorough knowledge of the subject, for when the eyes are converged on one point of the combined picture, this point has the relief, or distance from the eye, corresponding to the angle of the optic axes, and therefore the adjacent points are, as it were, brought into a sort of indistinct relief along with it; but the optical reader will see at once that the true binocular relief cannot be given to any other parts of the picture, till the axes of the eyes are converged upon them. These views will be more readily comprehended when we have explained, in a subsequent chapter, the theory of stereoscopic vision.
The Ocular Stereoscope.
We have already stated that objects are seen in perfect relief when we unite two dissimilar photographic pictures of them, either by converging the optic axes upon a point so far in front of the pictures or so far beyond them, that two