It’s an Illusion, Part 18 – Perpetual Energy

Melin Tregwynt Mill Water Wheel by Dave Challender for

Dave Challender, Melin Tregwynt Mill Water Wheel

M. C. Escher’s “Waterfall“, with its perpetually turning water wheel, is an image that makes you look then look again.  At first glance he creates the illusion that what you see could actually be.  Look more closely and you see impossible things.  For one thing, he has included two Penrose triangles in the watercourse that runs from water wheel to waterfall.  The Penrose triangle is one of those impossible shapes (my Penrose triangle post is here), an illusion in itself.

As well as using the triangles, Escher plays with our perceptions of height.  He uses the two towers in the picture (as well as the waterfall itself) to create the illusion of increasing height. One tower (the furthest away?) is two storeys, the other (the closest?) is three storeys.  That suggests that the channels the water is running along are rising, even though we know that water does not run uphill.  As you look at the image, the eye moves between channels and towers, but finds it difficult to make sense of both together.

Then he plays with the idea of water.  There is water moving in the channels, in an endless stream round and round through channels and waterfall, and water plants growing by the buildings.  On one of the building a woman hangs laundry to dry, so we assume that the buildings are not under the water.  Which means that underwater plants cannot grow there.  And still we try to put all the elements together into an image that makes sense to us.

There are people who are attracted to the puzzle, to the idea of being able to build what looks impossible.  Here is one of the most interesting constructions based on Escher’s Waterfall, with clues about how it was done.  Look closely – there are illusions here too!

And here you might find an idea about how a model of Escher’s Waterfall could be constructed so that water flows through it “uphill” in this video.  Again, it’s all about the perspective you’re seeing things from:

Complex or simple, it’s all an illusion.


M. C. Escher, Waterfall
Picture of Melin Tregwynt Mill Water Wheel by Dave Challender for and shared under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


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