Zen mountains: an illusion of perceptual transparency

Susan Wardle, Thomas Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


The human visual system is usually very successful in segmenting complex natural scenes. During a trip to the Nepalese Himalayas, we observed an impossible example of Nature's beauty: "transparent" mountains. The scene is captured in a photograph in which a pair of mountain peaks viewed in the far distance appear to be transparent. This illusion results from a fortuitous combination of lighting and scene conditions, which induce an erroneous integration of multiple segmentation cues. The illusion unites three classic principles of visual perception: Metelli's constraints for perceptual transparency, the Gestalt principle of good continuation, and depth from contrast and atmospheric scattering. This real-world "failure" of scene segmentation reinforces how ingeniously the human visual system typically integrates complex sources of perceptual information using heuristics based on likelihood as shortcuts to veridical perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-110
Number of pages3
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2015. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • depth perception
  • Gestalt principle of good continuation
  • image segmentation
  • nonreversing X-junction
  • perceptual grouping
  • transparency
  • visual illusion


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