June 6, 2009


A Professor Throws Curveballs a Curve (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6/06/09)

“There’s something physical about it and something illusory about it,” the Bucknell University professor Arthur Shapiro said.

A die-hard Mets fan well versed in the field of visual sciences, Shapiro has studied curves from every angle, and he reached the same conclusion as many other experts.

“They look like they jump or break or do all these funky things, but they don’t,” he said. “The idea that the bottom falls out isn’t so.”

He added: “I’m not saying curveballs don’t curve. I emphasize that, yes, they curve. They just do so at a more gradual rate. Instead of making a sudden hook, they would form a really big circle.”

That might have pleased Dizzy Dean. He had a favorite line for those who doubted the ball moved at all.

Dean liked to say, “Stand behind a tree 60 feet away and I’ll whomp you with an optical illusion!” Shapiro, however, offers a new theory on why hitters might think a ball bends so drastically: The eye exaggerates the break.

Shapiro said the brain processes objects it sees in peripheral vision differently than things it observes looking straight on. So a batter tracking a pitch from the corners of his eyes might throw himself a curve.

To illustrate his point, Shapiro presented a tantalizing design that recently was judged the world’s best visual illusion by a group of neuroscientists and psychologists.

It depicts a spinning ball that quickly changes direction, depending at which angle it is viewed. Straight on, it appears to simply drop; from the side, it seems to veer.

“I’m not saying this is it,” Shapiro said. “It’s a hypothesis.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 6, 2009 3:27 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus