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Oh My Gosh. Is This Shroud Science?

Left: A photograph of a death mask from “Probable Origins of a 14th Century Shroud Image," a presentation by Joseph Accetta. Right: 3D rendering of the photograph produced by Colin Berry using the National Institute of Health's ImageJ software.


Dear Joe Marino, I am always grateful for your periodic emails highlighting new Shroud information. I particularly appreciate you asking for my opinion on the new two-part video, “Is This The Real Face Of Jesus Christ?” It is true that I have “issues with the 3D claim,” as you say, but I am not sure that makes me an expert about the “science” presented in the video, but I’ll make some observations anyway.

A non-sequitur jump from “science” to proselytizing a personal conviction is clearly the presenter’s primary intent. Thus, from the his own words, I would change the title to “The Shroud Is a Warning From a God Who Can’t Tolerate What He Is Seeing Anymore.” You will want to look at the science but take a look at a warning segment if you want a sense of where this is going.

To watch the entire video on YouTube:

My first thought when I saw the “science” of Part 2 was that this is way over my head and we need some experts who know real science and understand the 3D image characteristics of the Shroud. The first five names that came to mind were Colin Berry, O.K., Hugh Farey, Giulio Fanti, and John Jackson, who have all contributed so much to a greater understanding of the Shroud. As always, I encourage anyone else to chime in.

Part 1 of the video introduces Pete Schumacher and his VP-8 Image Analyzer. It then goes on to present a series of tests intended to prove that photographs and paintings cannot be used to create realistic 3D projections. It is too bad, the video’s presenter did not test the death mask photo from the top of this posting or some other images that disprove the proof.

Part 2 of the film attempts to demonstrate a method that John Jackson* developed to create a 3D-encoding in an image file. In the demonstration, a glow-in-the-dark bust is immersed in a tank of water with blue food coloring. For me, not trained in science, the presentation was hard to follow from that point forward. It seems riddled with questionable facts and observations. For example, does human DNA really emit laser-like light? Why is it necessary to slow down the speed of light in water? How is it that only collimated brightness/distance/speed-of- light is seen at the surface of the water? Or is this simply a case of diffused and refracted light in water just as it is air as with the death mask? Far from being convinced about anything, I am confused. If all this is so, why couldn’t a medieval artist simply submerge a body in water with the right lighting and with the right paint and acid binder, paint what he sees at the water’s surface to create an interesting picture that is unintentionally 3D encoded? Like I said, we need some smarter people to look at this video. *Note that I have had no success in fact checking this information about John Jackson’s method and I am taking the video maker at his word. Anyone know for sure? John?

My “issues with the 3D claim” have nothing to do with what is presented in Part 2. My issue is related more to Part 1, with the progressive misinterpretation of the real 3D data starting out with the experiment carried out in 1976 by physicist John Jackson and radiographic expert William Mottern. Utilizing the VP-8 Image Analyzer, they examined a photograph of the Shroud. Pete Schumacher and the narrator do a good job of showing this.

Later, in the summary of STURP’s 1981 conclusions, the outcome was described as follows:

The computer image enhancement and analysis conducted by a device known as a VP-8 image analyzer reveal that the image contains unique, three-dimensional information encoded within it.

So far, so good.

Subsequently, Barrie Schwortz, in a visually rich presentation discussing STURP’s 1978 Scientific Examination of the Shroud, described the image as a:

rather amazing natural relief of a human form, demonstrating that, in stark contrast to regular photographs or artworks, certain spatial or topographic data was encoded into the Shroud’s image.

The words ‘human form’ had now appeared, as well as the assertion that it was unlike normal photographs or artwork. Was this distinction based on additional data or an expansive interpretation? It’s unclear.

By 2015, Schwortz was saying: 

This spatial data encoded into the image actually eliminates photography and painting as the possible mechanism for its creation and allows us to conclude that the image was formed while the cloth was draped over an actual human body.

National Catholic Review: “The Shroud of Turin and Technoscience” by Father Dwight Longenecker, July 4, 2015

I’m not faulting Barrie. This progression was slowly viral and Barrie, the outstanding presenter he is, was reporting the expanded judgment of many researchers.

Now we —and I say we because for many years I had been caught up in the excitement of believing it was so—could conclude that the image was formed while the cloth was draped over an actual human body. The VP-8 tells us no such thing, however. Not that the cloth was draped. Not that what we were seeing was unlike normal photographs or artwork. Not even that three-dimensional information was encoded in the image. The VP-8, as it was being used by Mottern and Jackson, is a very simple tool. Its purpose is to create a 3D rendering from the brightness (= relative grayscale values) in all the different places of a two-dimensional flat image.

Because a photograph, including a so-called black and white photograph, is a collection of varying bits of brightness, the VP-8 will produce a 3D rendering of that brightness data. Today, software apps have replaced the VP-8. Photographs used as input are now digital image files called heightmaps or topography-brightness-maps.

The VP-8 and all of the newer modern software can also be used to visualize two-dimensional information for easier interpretation. A good example of this is graphing the population densities of a geographic region as imaginary terrains that soar upward where cities are found and drop down to valleys in rural areas. It is useful for visualizing geographic terrains and medical imaging.

I seriously doubt that the VP-8 was ever intended for classifying data as three-dimensional. It cannot be used to prove that suspected 3D data is, in fact, 3D. Ray Rogers pointed out that a drop of black ink dropped onto a piece of filter paper would diffuse outward and when plotted with the VP-8, would produce a picture of a mountain. Would anyone imagine that this was a real mountain or that the data was truly three-dimensional or spatial data?

The VP-8 machine is capable of generating a 3D rendering from a photograph if the photograph functions as a heightmap. I have a hard time believing that Jackson and Mottern believed they had demonstrated or proven anything more. Didn’t the use of the VP-8 to plot a checkerboard, as Pete Schumacher does in Part 1, demonstrate this?

Because the VP-8 is equally capable of allowing correct and incorrect interpretations, the word “apparent” is vital in this context because the varying brightness only suggests the apparent shape of something, possible spatiality, or ostensible topography. Therefore, the 3D rendering generated by the VP-8 is an interpretation of the heightmap rather than a true representation of 3D data. Certainly, Jackson and Mottern knew this.

If we put the word ‘apparent‘ in front of the word spatial, as we should, we find that we can no longer eliminate paintings or photographs. Nor, can we really conclude anything.

But we can inadvertently jump to conclusions. It is easy to believe that the image displayed on the VP-8’s screen is three-dimensional simply because it appears that way. I did! As the adage goes, if it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. Consequently, if the image seems to portray the natural contours of a human figure, it’s logical to assume it contains 3D information about a human figure. However, it’s crucial to recognize that the perceived 3D quality of the image could be merely an illusion generated by the VP-8’s capacity to map the apparent distance of each point on the image’s surface. In truth, the image remains two-dimensional, and the illusion of 3D results from our interpretation of the brightness data seen on the surface of the blue water in the Part 2 experiment. It could be that our proverbial duck in the water is nothing more than an illusion.

Karl Popper, certainly one of history’s greatest philosophers of science, tells us that the duck test, formally the fallacy of essentialism, has been a problem since the days of Plato’s analogy about the shadows of men on the wall of a cave. What we see may not be reality. Modern humorists like Groucho Marx and the Monty Python troupe have lampooned the test with duck puppets and nonsense logic. What looks like a duck, they tell us, may in fact be a real duck, a rubber duck, or a miraculous apparition of a duck.

3D renderings of faces have been made from a dry powder painting, a photograph of a face mask, a conventional woodblock print, and thermal imprinting on cloth. The apparent 3D of the Shroud image may be many things and we owe it to ourselves not to jump to conclusions. The narrator of the video series does, however, and hastily. The body, he tells us is levitated. The top and bottom halves of the Shroud are flat and float above and below the body. Laser-like (coherent, he may mean) and vertically collimated light across the entire field produces an image on the cloth. The film narrator then uses a sleight-of-hand trick to reintroduce the image from the water in an ImageJ rendering to show us it is three-dimensional. This is, of course, not proof of anything. I felt I was watching a game of Three Card Monte.

The VP-8 was a good machine in its day. The 1981 “official Summary of STURP’s Conclusions” to the media simply stated: “The VP-8 image analyzer, a computer image enhancement and analysis device, reveals that the Shroud image contains unique three-dimensional information.” It would have been better if the document hadn’t used the word “unique” and instead had used “apparent.” And it would have been much better if, by 2015, the message hadn’t evolved in such a way as to conclude that the cloth was draped over a real human body. There was evidence that there was real blood on the cloth and that it was in near-registration with the image. But, while that may be so, that was not what was being explained. Image analysis was a nascent discipline in the 1970s. Regrettably, primary researchers and those who, like me, read about it, disregarded alternative ideas to which we now should give serious consideration.

Left: A dust painting by Emily A. Craig and Randall R. Bresee, University of Tennessee forensic researchers, from a paper, “Image Formation and the Shroud of Turin.” Right: A 3D rendering of it produced by ImageJ software from the National Institute of Health.

In 1994, Dr. Emily A. Craig and Dr. Randall R. Bresee, a couple of University of Tennessee forensic researchers, wrote a paper, Image Formation and the Shroud of Turin. It appeared in the prestigious Journal of Imaging Science and Technology (Volume 34, Number 1, 1994). From the outset, their work did not receive the recognition it deserved because it was widely acknowledged they had not successfully reproduced the chemical nature of the image. Fair enough. But look more closely. They were successful in showing that by daubing with powdered pigment it was possible to “paint” a rather amazing natural relief of a human form. Adler knew this but dismissed it because he believed they were copying the Shroud’s image. It doesn’t look that way. And is that a meaningful objection? Recent analysis, using modern plotting tools reveals the absolute success of their efforts to mimic spatial data.

A few years later, Hugh Farey, the editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, explained how Colin Berry demonstrated that 3D information can be encoded in an image using thermal imprinting. By applying different levels of pressure between linen and a hot statue, a 3D effect can be mimicked. Farey didn’t pull his punches:

He demonstrated that almost any scorch will produce both an effective ‘negative’ image, and can be converted into a ‘3D image’ using similar software to that of the famous VP-8 Image Analyser, demolishing any miraculist claim that only the Shroud was capable of such effects.

British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, June 2015

I am not asserting that the image on the Shroud is not three-dimensional. The truth is we don’t know. Nor am I claiming that the Shroud did not cover a human body when the image was formed. We simply do not have sufficient evidence to confirm this. The VP-8 image analysis, which seems to show the three-dimensional features of the image, is apparent. And if it is apparent, it’s not evidence of anything.

This video is truly unusual. The narrator presents a series of science-sounding claims, some of which seem to be dubious. He then concludes with a disjointed, harsh end-time warning. (The God I believe in is ever-patient and unconditionally loving) I wonder what people who encounter the Shroud for the first time through this video will think about Shroud science, the Shroud itself and Shroudies.

Again, Joe, thanks for giving me these links and this opportunity to speak out. I cannot recommend this video to anyone.

Joseph Accetta, one of the original STURP team members, proposed that woodblock or intaglio technique known to be in use in the 14th century could account for all visible attributes including the 3-d effect. This is a full-frontal face view of the renowned painter Claude Monet. The woodcut and print is by Monthian of Phuket, Thailand. The 3D image was created with Microsoft 3D builder emulating a VP-8.
Colin Berry’s roasted whole-body medieval flour imprint showing 1) toy used, 2) imprint on cloth and 3) 3D rendering produced by ImageJ software.
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