Cognitive Daily

Gestalt, cubism, and camoflage

i-50ab6ce4541af5e03ef8589756f5d64a-dazzle.jpgRoy Behrens has created a fascinating site analyzing the relationship between Gestalt psychology, cubism, and camoflage used on ships in World War I.

In recent years, it has been verified that prominent French camoufleurs during World War I were consciously, willingly influenced by cubist methods (“In order to completely dissimulate things,” wrote French artist Lucien Victor Guirand de Scevola, who commanded the first camouflage unit, “I used the same methods the cubists had used to simulate objects” (Kahn 1984, 19).) But the same cannot be said of Gestalt theory and cubism. As Heider concludes, “this tenuous contact [between Gestalt theory and cubism] by way of camouflage does not mean there was an influence in either direction as far as Wertheimer and Picasso were concerned. We have to assume two independent developments reaching a culmination at the same time” (Heider 1973, 71).

During this period, ships were painted with “dazzle camoflage,” which served not to conceal the ship entirely, but to break it into unrecognizable groups of objects, thus making it harder to target. I wonder why dazzle camoflage, apparently quite effective, doesn’t continue to be used. Do CogDaily readers have any ideas?

(via BoingBoing)

Comments

  1. #1 boojieboy
    May 31, 2006

    Dazzle camouflage works on entities that use conventional visible light optics to form an image (i.e. you and me with our vertebrate eyes, lions of serengeti, etc). Modern naval warfare finds targets using radar (and other technologies, surely), which is/are not fooled by this type of camouflage. To a radar that strange looking ship looks like a single solid object. On the other hand, there *ARE* radar equivalents to this type of disruptive camouflage, particularly chaff, drones, and the like. Attempts to baffle radar are where the action is at in camouflage technology, but unfortunately those attempts don’t leave us with such crazy looking ships.

  2. #2 Barry
    May 31, 2006

    IIRC, ‘dazzle’ camouflage was out of fashion by WWII. Also, present-day naval ships are still painted in visual camouflage, but not ‘dazzle’.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    May 31, 2006

    Interesting, Boojieboy. But I do sometimes see warships painted in traditional camoflage. Why is that? Does the Navy just think it looks cool?

  4. #4 Alex
    May 31, 2006

    I would think that the main challenge in protecting a ship since the 1950s has been reducing its radar and sonar signature.

    There is a lovely story about (I think) Dirk Bogarde’s time in the Royal Navy – as a wartime temporary lieutenant he had to take command of one of a group of newly built landing craft that were to head from Canada to Gibraltar to join the invasion of Sicily. They were encouraged to camouflage the craft for the long sea voyage however they saw fit, as protection from submarines.

    Bogarde’s crew went in for a dazzle pattern made up of blue and white squares, which got them a lot of ragging before they sailed, but once on the high seas, the flotilla leader regularly complained he couldn’t see them..

  5. #5 Mark Paris
    May 31, 2006

    One of the problems with radar is that it reveals not only the hunted but also the hunter. Thus in some cases radar might not be used as much. In those cases, visual camo is useful.

    On a somewhat related note, the use of camo on Allied warplanes during WW II was interesting. Early in the war, camo was used extensively. Later, when the Allies had virtually complete air superiority, planes were bright, bare aluminum (which is actually hard to see in some lighting conditions) or painted in bright, very visible colors and patterns. Another interesting side path in the visual camo world was the use of lights on aircraft. The lights were intended to cause the plane to merge into the bright background sky, and apparently worked pretty well.

  6. #6 Vasha
    May 31, 2006

    For a natural example, see the phantom cranefly (Bittacomorpha clavipes). The name is certainly appropriate as they drift invisibly, catching air currents with their long flattened legs.

  7. #7 Roman Werpachowski
    June 1, 2006

    On a somewhat related note, the use of camo on Allied warplanes during WW II was interesting. Early in the war, camo was used extensively. Later, when the Allies had virtually complete air superiority, planes were bright, bare aluminum (which is actually hard to see in some lighting conditions) or painted in bright, very visible colors and patterns.

    I did a bit of research on that (i.e. asked the relevant newsgroup). It seems that the main task of camouflage paint for day aircraft was to mask its presence on the airfield, so that an enemy raid would have it harder to destroy idle aircraft. In 1944, the chance of such raid happening over an Allied (West Front, that is; the USSR never achieved such air superiority on the Eastern front, AFAIR) were slim. At the same time, the paint added weight to an aircraft (100-250 lb) and increased air resistance compared to bare aluminium. Removing the pain increased engine life or allowed to add a respectable amount of ammunition. Hence it was done when became possible.

    I still don’t know about the night bombers, which were painted black – the reason for their camouflage still existed.

  8. #8 Opiwan
    June 5, 2006

    Traditional camoflage is still useful for preventing identification of large units (like ships and tanks) by ground- or air-based reconaissance units, or even by photosatellites, which is why it’s still used (though it doesn’t help much if a photosat picks up a ship’s wake, for instance). However, like Boojie said earlier, every other non-personnel targeting system these days relies on infrared or radar detection and target-acquisition/prosecution, for which visual camoflage is useless.

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