The Visual World of Shadows

The Visual World of Shadows

By Roberto Casati and Patrick Cavanagh

How the perception of shadows, studied by vision scientists and visual artists, reveals the inner workings of the visual system.





How the perception of shadows, studied by vision scientists and visual artists, reveals the inner workings of the visual system.

In The Visual World of Shadows, Roberto Casati and Patrick Cavanagh examine how the perception of shadows, as studied by vision scientists and visual artists, reveals the inner workings of the visual system. Shadows are at once a massive problem for vision—which must distinguish them from objects or material features of objects—and a resource, signaling the presence, location, shape, and size of objects.

Casati and Cavanagh draw up an inventory of information retrievable from shadows, showing their amazing variety. They present an overview of the visual system, distinguishing between measurement and inference. They discuss the shadow mission, the work done by the visual brain to parse, and perhaps discard, the information from shadows; shadow ownership, the association of a shadow with the object that casts it; shadow labeling, the visual system's ability to tell shadows from nonshadows; and the shadow concept, our knowledge about shadows as a category. Casati and Cavanagh then apply the theoretical apparatus they have developed for shadows to other phenomena: illumination, reflection, and transparency. Finally, they examine the art of the shadow, paying tribute to artists' exploration of shadow, analyzing a series of artworks (reproduced in color) from a rich and fascinating art historical corpus.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262039581 408 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 509


  • This boundary-crossing monograph will appeal to readers interested in either or both fields: visual arts and human perception. The text incorporates abundant, rich illustrations specifically designed to cause the reader to linger and reevaluate the role of shadows in their own visual environment, and thus appreciate shadows with a new sense of understanding. While its language is certainly accessible to a general audience, the work will probably find its most enthusiastic readership among an academic or quasi-academic population.



  • “I love this book. Not since Leonardo has anyone so carefully and accurately described the, surprisingly to me, many properties of shadows. After reading it, I find myself observing shadows as I never did before, especially the astigmatic shadows of elongated fluorescent lights.”

    Margaret S. Livingstone

    Takeda Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

  • “The word 'shadow' is a familiar linguistic term: 'She worked for a shadow agency,' 'She emerged from the shadows,' 'He is a shadow of his former self, and 'the shadow of war,' to name a few. As these phrases suggest, shadows can be somewhat mysterious. Casati and Cavanagh's beautifully written and beautifully illustrated book elucidates the nature, importance, and beauty of shadows.”

    Hany Farid

    Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley

  • “Beyond a shadow of doubt—this book is destined to become a classic. We usually regard shadows as a device for accentuating the artistic appeal of pictures, not as a subject worthy of scientific study. Casati and Cavanagh dispel this view using cleverly designed experiments to illuminate the science underlying the world of shadows.”

    V. S. Ramachandran

    Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego; author of The Tell-Tale Brain

  • “This book is a wonderful journey in the world of light and shadows. It is an authoritative essay by two of the scientists who have made the greatest discoveries on shadows in recent times. The book is flush with basic principles, some natural, others counterintuitive, always richly illustrated. It will interest not just scholars who work on shadows, but anyone interested in optics, human perception, and the visual arts. Read this book and you will share the excitement of artists and scientists who have been bewildered by the number, complexity, and beauty of all the shadows around them.”

    Pascal Mamassian

    Directeur, Laboratoire des Systèmes Perceptifs, École Normale Supérieure, Paris

  • “Vision science can inspire artists and art can inspire vision scientists, and this interplay has flourished in recent years. Now, in one of the finest examples of this new synergy, Casati and Cavanagh have mined a rich vein, using shadows to illuminate both vision and art. In lively language, the authors present the fundamental paradox of shadows: how crucial they are to the construction of our perceived world and yet how unnoticed and unremarked their existence. The many fascinating photos and gorgeous paintings enrich this lively romp through the world of shadows.”

    Alan Gilchrist

    Professor, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University