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See Inside June/July 2007

Right-Side Up

Studies of perception show the importance of being upright

THE LENS IN YOUR EYE casts an upside-down image on your retina, but you see the world upright. Although people often believe that an upside-down image in the eyeball gets rotated somewhere in the brain to make it look right-side up, that idea is a fallacy. No such rotation occurs, because there is no replica of the retinal image in the brain—only a pattern of firing of nerve impulses that encodes the image in such a way that it is perceived correctly; the brain does not rotate the nerve impulses.

Even leaving aside this common pitfall, the matter of seeing things upright is vastly more complex than you might imagine, a fact that was first pointed out clearly in the 1970s by perception researcher Irvin Rock of Rutgers University.

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