Necker cube


The Necker cube is an optical illusion that was first published as a Rhomboid in 1832 by Swiss crystallographer Louis Albert Necker.[1] It is a simple wire-frame, two dimensional drawing of a cube with no visual cues as to its orientation, so it can be interpreted to have either the lower-left or the upper-right square as its front side.

The Necker cube: a wire frame cube with no depth cues
One possible interpretation of the Necker cube.
Another possible interpretation


The Necker cube is an ambiguous drawing.

Necker cube on the left, impossible cube on the right.

Each part of the picture is ambiguous by itself, yet the human visual system picks an interpretation of each part that makes the whole consistent. The Necker cube is sometimes used to test computer models of the human visual system to see whether they can arrive at consistent interpretations of the image the same way humans do.

Humans do not usually see an inconsistent interpretation of the cube.[citation needed] A cube whose edges cross in an inconsistent way is an example of an impossible object, specifically an impossible cube (compare Penrose triangle).

With the cube on the left, most people see the lower-left face as being in front most of the time. This is possibly because people view objects from above, with the top side visible, far more often than from below, with the bottom visible, so the brain "prefers" the interpretation that the cube is viewed from above.[2][3][4]

There is evidence that by focusing on different parts of the figure, one can force a more stable perception of the cube. The intersection of the two faces that are parallel to the observer forms a rectangle, and the lines that converge on the square form a "y-junction" at the two diagonally opposite sides. If an observer focuses on the upper "y-junction" the lower left face will appear to be in front. The upper right face will appear to be in front if the eyes focus on the lower junction.[5] Blinking while being on the second perception will probably cause you to switch to the first one.

This is an example of two identical Necker cubes, the one on the left showing an intermediate object (blue bar) going in "down from the top" while the one on the right shows the object going in "up from the bottom" which shows how the image can change its perspective simply by changing which face (front or back) appears behind the intervening object.

It is possible to cause the switch to occur by focusing on different parts of the cube. If one sees the first interpretation on the right it is possible to cause a switch to the second by focusing on the base of the cube until the switch occurs to the second interpretation. Similarly, if one is viewing the second interpretation, focusing on the left side of the cube may cause a switch to the first.

The Necker cube has shed light on the human visual system.[6] The phenomenon has served as evidence of the human brain being a neural network with two distinct equally possible interchangeable stable states.[7] Sidney Bradford, blind from the age of ten months but regaining his sight following an operation at age 52, did not perceive the ambiguity that normal-sighted observers do, but rather perceived only a flat image.[8][2]

During the 1970s, undergraduates in the Psychology Department of City University, London, were provided with assignments to measure their Introversion-Extroversion orientations by the time it took for them to switch between the Front and Back perceptions of the Necker Cube.[citation needed]

Apparent viewpointEdit

The orientation of the Necker cube can also be altered by shifting the observer's point of view. When seen from apparent above, one face tends to be seen closer; and in contrast, when seen from a subjective viewpoint that is below, a different face comes to the fore.[9]

References in popular cultureEdit

The Necker cube is discussed to such extent in Robert J. Sawyer's 1998 science fiction novel Factoring Humanity that "Necker" becomes a verb, meaning to impel one's brain to switch from one perspective or perception to another.[10]

The Necker cube is used to illustrate how vampires in Peter Watts' science fiction novels Blindsight (2006) and Echopraxia (2014) have superior pattern recognition skills. One of the pieces of evidence is that vampires can see both interpretations of the Necker Cube simultaneously which sets them apart from baseline humanity.[11]

See alsoEdit



  • Einhäuser, W.; Martin, K.A.C.; König, P. (2004). "Are switches in perception of the Necker cube related to eye position?". European Journal of Neuroscience. 20 (10): 2811–2818. CiteSeerX doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2004.03722.x. PMID 15548224. S2CID 1831130.
  • Einhäuser, Wolfgang; Stout, James; Koch, Christof; Carter, Olivia Louise (March 2008). "Pupil dilation reflects perceptual selection and predicts subsequent stability in perceptual rivalry". PNAS. 105 (5): 1704–9. doi:10.1073/pnas.0707727105. PMC 2234208. PMID 18250340.
  • Gregory, R. (August 2004). "The Blind Leading the Sighted: An Eye-Opening Experience of the Wonders of Perception" (PDF). Nature. 430 (7002): 836. doi:10.1038/430836a. PMID 15318199.
  • Khan, Aarlenne; Crawford, J. Douglas (June 2001). "Ocular dominance reverses as a function of horizontal gaze angle". Vision Research. 41 (14): 1743–8. doi:10.1016/S0042-6989(01)00079-7. PMID 11369037.
  • Marr, D. (1982). Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. W.H. Freeman. Reprint: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-7167-1284-8.
  • Martelli, M.L.; Kubovy, M.; Claessens, P. (1998). "Instability of the Necker cube: influence of orientation and configuration". Perception. 27 (ECVP Abstract Supplement). 90a.
  • Necker, L.A. (1832). "Observations on some remarkable optical phaenomena seen in Switzerland; and on an optical phaenomenon which occurs on viewing a figure of a crystal or geometrical solid". London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. 1 (5): 329–337. doi:10.1080/14786443208647909.
  • Sawyer, Robert J. (1998). Factoring Humanity. New York: Tor. ISBN 978-0-312-86458-3.
  • Troje, Nikolaus F.; McAdam, Matthew (2010). "The viewing-from-above bias and the silhouette illusion". i-Perception. 1 (3): 143–148. doi:10.1068/i0408. PMC 3485768. PMID 23145219.
  • Ward, Emily J.; Scholl, Brian J. (2015). "Stochastic or Systematic? Seemingly Random Perceptual Switching in Bistable Events Triggered by Transient Unconscious Cues" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 41 (4): 929–939. doi:10.1037/a0038709. PMID 25915074.
  • Watts, Peter (2006). Blindsight. Tor. ISBN 978-0-7653-1218-1.

External linksEdit

  • History of the cube and a Java applet