I pondered over the observation that a mirror forms a virtual image of any object when placed near it and that image is formed whether or not an observer is present to see it. But what actually distinguishes the real from virtual?
When I see the image of myself in the mirror, by the laws of optics I can say that the image of myself is a virtual image. But if I didn’t know those laws of image formation in my school, I wouldn’t know that, that was an image at all. I would think that there was another person standing in front of me facing me and copying my every move flawlessly. As I have already talked about virtual and real paradox in my earlier articles, the question arises with the above observation that whether I am a real image of the virtual one in the mirror or am I the virtual image of my real self in the mirror? This question knocked me off my understanding of the real and the virtual.
Looking at this dilemma from another angle, if I see an object in the mirror and if I didn’t know that there was even a mirror present, I wouldn’t recognize the difference between the real and the virtual image. I would know that the object in the mirror is a real one. If I knew that there was a mirror, my observation could have been very different from the earlier one. So, the difference between the real and the virtual is relative.
So what distinguishes the real from the virtual?
The answer is hidden in the physical influence. We can interact with the real object by touching it and moving it, but we can’t do that with the virtual one. But that doesn’t absolutely answer the question- which one is real and which one is virtual?
“Real and virtual are just the two sides of a coin.”