Scientific pre-history of cinema: neuroscientists and "optical toys"

Lorenzo LORUSSO1, Nicholas J. WADE2 and Sherry GINN3
1Neurology Department, "M. Mellini" Hospital, Chiari, Brescia, Italy.  walton2002 AT
2Psychology Department, University of Dundee, Scotland.  n.j.wade AT
3Social Sciences Department, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Concord, North Carolina, USA.  ginns AT

Great strides were made in studies of the physiology of the eye and the understanding of the physical and mental process of seeing between 1820 and 1870. This applied particularly to visual motion perception where a series of connected, sometimes even contemporaneous, but independent studies were undertaken by European scientists. These concerned the persistence of vision, optical illusions and related phenomena. Amongst these students of vision were Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869) in London and Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787-1869) in Breslau. Roget was a multifaceted physician who in December 1824 gave a lecture at the Royal Society on: “Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel seen through vertical apertures.” This lecture provided the basis for the development of the thaumatrope that transforms two separate images into a new one due to visual persistence. Roget’s study was important because his was among the first experimental attempts to understand the phenomena. In addition, he recreated the process under scientific conditions. Another scientist who has been neglected by neuroscientists examining the scientific pre-history of cinema is Purkinje, who dedicated himself to study of visual perception. His 1818 thesis was entitled: “Contribution to the knowledge of vision in its subjective aspects.” In 1840 he improved upon the phenakistoscope of Joseph Plateau (1801-1883) and the stroboscopic disc of Simon von Stampfer (1792-1864) by placing the pictures and the slots onto two separates disks mounted on the same axis. Purkinje’s first machine was named phorolyt and was offered for sale in Breslau (now Wroclaw) in Poland, where he was teaching. Later, he replaced the drawings with three-dimensional figures, a technique he referred to as phorografia. He further developed the phorolyt, re-naming it the kinesiskop. These experiments were conducted in a century which embraced the concept of the machine as an instrument of progress.

Session IV.  Neurocinematography
Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 4:30 - 5:00 pm

12th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences   (ISHN)
Los Angeles, California, USA, 19-23 June 2007