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By on January 23, 2011, with 57 Comments

Let me show you another very old optical illusion. I wanted to share it with you not because of quality of illusion it holds (actually, this one’s pretty naive), but because it seems interesting when you see it from historical view. In one hand it, it may helps us understand how illusions progressed over time. On the other hand, there were even older examples with much better effect. I’m not sure I understand it fully, but the original text that came along with this print went something like this:

Were they really motor-men (smoothly propelled along the surface by an unseen force) that our poor old friend suddenly encountered in the streets of London, or were they merely two British workmen employed in digging down into the roadway taking five minutes rest in situ?

  • fossda

    dont get it

  • Keson

    I cant really see anything but two half workers ;(

  • omidel

    I don’t see it

    • razoraaa

      It’s British humor,who could understand it,we’re Americans!

  • Alice

    Someone help!!!!!!!!!!!!! I dont understand it!!!

    • Niki

      those men look like they don’t have their legs but they are really inside a hole

  • what the hell is this?

  • Sarah-Jane

    i don’t get it either D:

    • melpoe

      sara-jane hamilton?

    • Sarah-Jane


  • Norman

    Hmm… I guess it’s so naive that we don’t see it. Is it possible that the fact you see them only in half is the illusion itself? I mean:
    Two workmen digging the streets and standing in the hole they dug. This creates the illusion that they only have the upper part of their body. It’s veeeeeeery naive…

  • A Snail

    I too am hopefully missing the illusion here unless it really is two men standing in holes just the right size for them to stand in and get run over.

    Perhaps I am missing the point about why people dig holes in roads that shape.

  • Gregory Padilla

    If you see two workers in holes- or two half men in the street, then you see the whole illusion.

    That’s what Vurdlak meant by ‘naive’ illusion. It seems that optical illusions at this point in history were not much more than extremely simple perception puzzles. I assert that this is largely due to the limitations of the media used to display them.

  • Scott McNay

    The markings appear to be just right to be shadows. If there are holes, they are exactly the same shape as the men.

    The “motor-men” statement seems to imply that there is a vehichle that we are (naively?) not seeing yet and which appears to make their lower bodies invisible.

  • fossda

    i get it now, but its still not a very good illusion.

  • Rob

    The holes are small and look like the mens’ shadows. You can see the tops of shovel handles coming out of the holes.

  • Kimon

    What appears to be the shadows of the half-men on the road, is actually the holes the workmen have dug (check the shovel handles).

  • Peter

    In 1749 De Situ Britanniae (The Description of Britain) was released in England. Although it was a fictional description of the peoples and places of ancient Britain it was thought to be an accurate historical accounting of history. The fraud was not debunked until 1846 in England, but by then had been incorporated into the history of what made England England.

    This brings me to two questions. Have you ever tried to dig a hole where you are actually standing? And, how many time have you passed the same person, or group of people, on their “5 minute break.”

    I think this is more a satire asking what other things have we (the English at that time) taken for granted, but are actually be defrauds or lied to about. Or put more simply, not everything is really the way it looks or sounds.

    Information taken from http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/De_Situ_Britanniae without permission or checking other sources. (which I think is what this cartoon actually is warning against.)

  • Allison

    if you look at their shadows that becomes holes that the men are standing in

  • Isabella

    It took me a while, but I think I can see it. You see the shadow at the sides of the half-men, it could be taken as a shadow or as part of a hole.
    At least that’s what I see.

  • Mind

    It’s not an illusion folks it’s just a cartoon drawing. I don’t understand it either. Some of these called “Illusions” are just photo’s or pictures; not sure why they are being shown as illusions they’re not.

    • ohmygosh

      If you read the description then MAYBE you might be able to figure out why this was put here in the first place.

      And I agree, this is a pretty weird illusion but it makes sense.

  • Slammer

    Oh ya ok so it’s saying this guy was walking down the street and saw these two guys here, and wondered if they were motorized robots with half a body, or if they were just normal workers with the job of digging holes in the street, who were taking a break. I agree it’s pretty dumb, but according to that quote that came with it, that’s basically what it’s saying. I guess back then people were just dumb enough to think two half-body robots might be rollling down the street. :)

    • Jess

      yeh :) Makes sense! Glad you explained it

  • salvo

    nude woman?

  • I like what Peter said. But I do find it quite “naive”………..

  • Glidos

    “Smoothly Propelled” How would they seem smoothly propelled if they were standing in holes? I think we must all be missing something.

  • anonymous

    at first all i saw was 2 men digging in the road but then i saw that the holes could be they’re shadows so the whole thing creates kind of an illusion that they only hav they’re upper body

  • mohawklogan

    ha im surprised nobody got this it has nothing to do with the guys looks at the carrige it looks like a car there are head lights and everything but yet it a horse carrige :)

  • Cherry Blossom

    Huh? I don’t see the illusion. Could someone please help me??

  • TM

    Ahh the good old days when you could smoke on the job, in public no less. Did anyone notice the nude woman?

    • Angelina

      Yes, saw the nude lady and thought THAT was the illusion at first :)

  • TM

    Is the cop actually booking the horse drawn carriage? This is possibly the first recorded use of a speed detection device being used (& abused)? LOL

  • Shriya

    Interesting! An olden day illusion (I am mad about history maybe that’s why I like it?) but I can see the illusion? funny how illusions were then and how they are now!

  • Tom

    Too much effort! I’m really not seeing it.

  • dana

    “Let’s call the HOLE thing off.”

  • Vurdlak has missed the point.
    The image is a joke about how mysterious “motor-men” were perceived to be at the time. So the artist made a picture where even unambiguous things like half submerged workmen are mistaken for motor-men, and is obviously joking as that is a ridiculous thing to think. Vurdlak believes the naivety is in the artists assumption that anyone could ever mistake workers for a motor-man – when in fact that is the entire point.
    When looking at strips like this assume a sarcastic humour, and especially with these punch style ones, assume a british style of humour.

  • ThorButtox

    I think it represents man inhumanity to man

  • faya

    I love how Peter goes far…
    What if it was much more simpler :
    Behind, on the walls, it looks like ads for a freak show (like there were at the time)…

    So, those guys could just be “playing the illusion” while in fact they are simple legless cripples.

    Am I the only one thinking that?

  • Jesica

    i get da illusion but seriuosly a half body robot? i guess its an ok illusion

  • Care Bear

    Must be a government project.

  • Cyphis

    I think the most important technology at the time was the steam engine and trains. I think the artist is trying to make an image of two men half-buried in the streets which can look similar to trains. (See pipe smoke)

  • fowheela

    I don’t think this one should have made it.

  • Paul

    It’s all in the caption. Two men digging holes take a break, and to the passerby, they look like motormen with a half a body.

    Why motormen? Look at the handles of the shovels. Someone at the time this was published would have probably recognized those handles as looking like the levers that motormen used.

    Weak, not really an illusion, but more of a “cute” cartoon. Maybe it was funnier “in the day.”

  • ZL123

    Or maybe… it’s two workers on the ground with their legs cut off, and the dark-coloured thing is their shadows.
    Or maybe what Paul said.

  • Ron Calhoun

    The two workers look like they are only half people.

  • bam bam

    THose people are not dug into the ground but it looks like it thoough. really, they are just half people with their shovels in the ground

  • Kirk Hamster

    I think that the illusion depends on where you live. I find this from other illusions like the one that shows a family in a room for people from the south, or buisnessman in a building for people from the north. I perspect the the men were in a hole, (since I am from the south) while others will perspect two “half-men.”(since they are from the north.)

  • blueeye

    OMG! Is the illusion that they appear to have no legs at all? And they will be hit any minute by the speeding carriage in the background! How will they run away now these poor chaps? I’m flabbergasted LOL!

  • Stefan

    Duuh! The illusion is that u may think the cop in yhe back is not dirty but we all know ther’s no such thing as clean cops! :D

  • Akemi


    (What i thought was they dug a hole and put their bodies in it so people would think they’re half-bodied!) xD

  • Dude…

    Two halves make a whole worker.

  • MrCead

    Back then, people put more stock into the absurd than the “more than likely” – don’t laugh, people still do it to this day (Nigerian money scams, Ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff).

    So the picture states that the man must think that they have invented an invisible motorcar (in Victorian England mind you) rather than the more likely event that the men are taking a smoke break from digging a hole which in 4 paces could be thoroughly and freely inspected by the curious man (based solely on the picture and nothing else – it’s an anti-speculation piece – don’t speculate beyond the available evidence).

    It’s the very thing Sherlock Holmes stories were trying to teach people. Use your effing brain for cripes sake. Lol.

  • Pulchra55

    I think … that the two workers look like train conductors from the waist up with the shovel handles being the levers of the train engine “or” they look like half robots as portrayed during the ’30’s.

  • Pulchra55

    sorry…like motorman or workers on break from digging a hole

  • Pulchra55

    I think … that the two workers look like train conductors from the waist up with the shovel handles being the levers of the train engine “or” they look like workers on break from digging a hole

  • Divyansh

    What’s in them posters ?