Today’s nerd word is “stereopticon”

ENTRY # 55

It seems, shortly after human beings figured out the here and now was not always the greatest place to be, they devised ways to make believe they were elsewhere. Before the holodeck, before DVD, before movies (but after books) there was the stereopticon. The stereopticon was one of the first stabs at a virtual 3D world. A simple device really. It works with the basic understanding that the reason you perceive depth in space is that your eyeballs are a few inches apart. Your left eye gets a picture. Your right eye gets a picture (mostly the same, but from a very slightly different angle), and your brain uses the discrepancies between the two to make sense of a world where things are near or far. The stereopticon, looks like some antique attempt at binoculars.

The viewer would hold a handle. The handle supported a track with a lens mounted at one end, and a slot at the other that supported placement of a card. You look through the lens at the card. Well, the card would hold two pictures side by side. If you look at the pictures, but not through the lens, they look pretty much identical. The kicker is, that the pictures are two different shots of the same scene, but taken a few inches apart. Sound familiar? The lens is set up so your left eye gets a picture. Your right eye gets a picture (mostly the same, but from a very slightly different angle), and your brain uses the discrepancies between the two to make sense of a world where things are near or far. Bottom line- 3D pictures, circa 1840. You can still find the great granddaddy of the viewmaster at antique shops, and cards of exotic places. Give it a shot, not only do you get to see some early virtual worlds, but also a chance to step back in time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *