A History and Experimental Analysis of the Moon Illusion

Shaun Nanavati


The moon illusion is one of the most ancient and persistent questions of natural philosophy. The investigation of this phenomenon has played a crucial role in the genesis and ongoing development of the field of perception, being a major point of consideration for Ptolemy, Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham), Leonardo da Vinci, Descartes and George Berkeley. Relatively recent empirical studies have focused on explanations of the illusion created by contrast with the horizon (Ponzo illusion). However, a careful review reveals that the far more dramatic appearance of the moon illusion still remains unsolved. This paper takes a historical view of the explanations over three major paradigms: the classical, the experimental, and the modern perceptual theories. The natural tension between mathematics and observation is also a sub-plot.

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