Friday, May 15, 2009

Baseball curve ball part skill part illusion

It turns out that while curve ball in baseball really does curve a bit due to aerodynamic forces and they way it is thrown, that there is an optical illusion component. Many players claim that a curve ball seems to suddenly break, more than the physical science would seem to indicate. Turns out that is due to the eye shifting between central vision and peripheral vision as the pitch reaches the batter. Researchers from
American University, USC, Dartmouth and the SUNY College of Optometry have put together and excellent application that lets you see the origin of the effect
. Try it. When you look at the falling spinning ball head on it appears to fall straight when you look at it with your peripheral vision by staring to the right the ball seems to fall at an angle top the left. Switching between the two viewpoints makes it seem as if the falling ball jumps to the left.

It has been pointed out that curveballs really do curve (see also the essay "The Hell it Don't Curve" and this thesis) but in our Cartesian dualist influenced society it always has to be either-or instead of both. Seems that curveballs do curve and that an optical illusion enhances this effect. This simulation does not appear to be the first of its type. Here is one that focuses on the batter's point of view, and other POV's of your choice.

I would love to see this insight combined with high speed photography of curve balls to see if the comparison holds in real life as with the simulation (already done in the thesis above and elsewhere). Perhaps instead of just a regular baseball one could also use a ball painted half black and half white. Does that enhance the effect? What other variables could you change? I want a machine that throws baseballs with control to change the pitches every which way, a high speed camera and computer to capture the data (It exists). I can always design the experiments, and great minds think alike since much of this has been done, I just don't have the resources or time to follow through.

(via Neatorama's Upcoming Queue, via the Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest)

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