I'm playing around with the concept of a society that is built around optical illusions.

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This society would heavily incorporate these illusions into their architecture and their very way of life.

As masters of optical illusions, I wonder just how sophisticated this society would become over hundreds or even thousands of years.

Specifically, can optical illusions be weaponized during war? If yes, to what extent is this possible?

In terms of practicality, you can ignore the cost of potential illusion applications; assume this society has nearly endless money and resources.

This world should be considered to be Earth-like and have technology like modern-day.

Some ideas include:

  • Clothing that causes an enemy to be confused or disoriented about what they're seeing, due to an optical illusion (not including camouflage)
  • Using special effects to fool the enemy into thinking you have more power than you actually do

  • Home-field advantage of navigating through optical illusions while the enemy has no idea where they are going (like a giant room of mirrors).

For this question, "weaponizable" follows the following criteria:

  1. Repeatable: The advantage of the illusion must be kept - even if the enemy discovers how the illusion works.
  2. Portable: The weaponized illusion must be able to be taken anywhere; home-field advantage is disqualified.
  3. Practical: Setting up the illusion should not take so long that it gets in the way or makes them very vulnerable. (as stated above, ignore the cost)
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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Oct 9, 2019 at 23:19

2 Answers 2


Here's some ideas:

Confusing enemy aim.

Optical illusions often mess with the viewer's perception of space and distance, two important factors to consider when aiming a ranged weapon. A simple example would be soldiers marching in formation and wearing uniforms of different stripes. A single line of soldiers may appear to be moving in ranks or the front ranks of a formation may appear farther forward than they really are. Vehicles and ships could be designed so that their front profiles are just smaller forms of their side profiles, appearing farther away. Real world example would be zebras (although the confusing properties of their stripes are up for debate). A common idea is that the zebras' stripes confuse the eyes of predators and make it impossible to select a target.

A more tech-heavy solution would be to project lines on the field itself and move them slowly, causing whole sections of the battlefield to shift uncomfortably. Field bases could employ fake buildings of disproportional sizes next to real ones (or the buildings themselves can consist of functional, but disproportional sections) to throw off artillery. Cheap drone vehicles of impractical sizes can drive alongside real ones. In WWII, fake cities could be replicated with a few buildings and shining lights across water. The entire Suez canal was hidden in a brilliant light show (source).

If money's no problem, how about just setting up giant mirrors to make a column look like it is heading in opposite directions?


Most illusions only make sense when viewed from the correct perspective (Example). A society so advanced in optical illusions could employ them for encryption. A message could only make sense if folded correctly. Another could result in several meanings depending on perspective or make sense only if viewed in order. By using perspective to overlay images with human-imperceptible noise attempts to brute force "solve" an encryption with image recognition may be thwarted (example).

Making and hiding obstacles

Projectors can striate a gentle hill so that it looks like an impassibly steep cliff. Armies will waste time to march around it. Smoke and shadow over a shallow trench can make it look like an impassable ravine. Doing this in water can result in a "safe passage" to shipwreck enemy boats. Take a ravine where one side is markedly lower than the other. Slope the taller side toward the lower and terminate with rocks and scrub. Opposing forces (or the front lines at least) may be baited right over the edge (IRL obscured, sudden drops can be dangerous while hiking and it is not implausible for real world combat engineers).

If all else fails, paint a fake tunnel on a wall so they run right into it. Follow it with an appropriate cry of "lol, gott'em!"

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    $\begingroup$ A landscape filled with ha-ha's (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha-ha) would be a nice example of hiding obstacles. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Oct 8, 2019 at 23:04

One major use was the “Razzle Dazzle” or just “Dazzle” painting schemes used on ships during WW1 and WW2.


By painting lines of various colours on ships they could confuse observers looking at those ships as to their precise course and speed. This meant that fire control for guns and submarines torpedoes may be given the wrong settings and miss the target when fired. However once radar came into common use dazzle became less useful as settings for range finders could be taken from those devices.


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