Penrose stairs  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel


The Penrose stairs is an impossible object created by Lionel Penrose and his son Roger Penrose. It can be seen as a variation on the Penrose triangle. It is a two-dimensional depiction of a staircase in which the stairs make four 90-degree turns as they ascend or descend yet form a continuous loop, so that a person could climb them forever and never get any higher. This is clearly impossible in three dimensions; the two-dimensional figure achieves this paradox by distorting perspective.

The best known example of Penrose stairs appears in the lithograph Ascending and Descending by M. C. Escher, where it is incorporated into a monastery where several monks ascend and descend the endless staircase.

The staircase had also been discovered previously by the Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvärd, but neither Penrose nor Escher were aware of his designs.

In terms of sound, the Shepard tone is a similar illusion.

In popular culture

Christopher Nolan incorporates Penrose staircases into his film Inception, since it is explained that normally-impossible structures can be created within lucid dream worlds. It is also used as an example of realization, as one character uses it purposefully to get behind a guard, then forces himself to realize it is an illusion, thus creating a sheer drop in front of him that he throws the guard off of.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Penrose stairs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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