Ocular Equivocation: The Rivalry Between Wheatstone and Brewster

Nicholas J. Wade (Lead / Corresponding author)

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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Ocular equivocation was the term given by Brewster in 1844 to binocular contour rivalry seen with Wheatstone's stereoscope. The rivalries between Wheatstone and Brewster were personal as well as perceptual. In the 1830s, both Wheatstone and Brewster came to stereoscopic vision armed with their individual histories of research on vision. Brewster was an authority on physical optics and had devised the kaleidoscope; Wheatstone extended his research on audition to render acoustic patterns visible with his kaleidophone or phonic kaleidoscope. Both had written on subjective visual phenomena, a topic upon which they first clashed at the inaugural meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1832 (the year Wheatstone made the first stereoscopes). Wheatstone published his account of the mirror stereoscope in 1838; Brewster's initial reception of it was glowing but he later questioned Wheatstone's priority. They both described investigations of binocular contour rivalry but their interpretations diverged. As was the case for stereoscopic vision, Wheatstone argued for central processing whereas Brewster's analysis was peripheral and based on visible direction. Brewster's lenticular stereoscope and binocular camera were described in 1849. They later clashed over Brewster's claim that the Chimenti drawings were made for a 16th-century stereoscope. The rivalry between Wheatstone and Brewster is illustrated with anaglyphs that can be viewed with red/cyan glasses and in Universal Freeview format; they include rivalling 'perceptual portraits' as well as examples of the stimuli used to study ocular equivocation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number26
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Early online date6 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Wheatstone
  • Brewster
  • Chimenti
  • binocular rivalry


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