Posted by: angmlr007 | 10/02/2011

Ames Room: is Seeing truly Believing? (Part 1)

What? Ames? What is that?

Before I continue, feel free to watch the video provided in the link below.

Ames Room Video (Source: Wikipedia)

This room, is what we call the Ames Room, discovered and created by American ophthalmologist Adelbert Ames, Jr. It is an optical illusion designed to produce two effects: 1. it convinces its viewers to believe that the room they are looking at is a cubic room, and 2. it can create “growing” and “shrinking” effects upon users walking to and fro within in. Interesting, isn’t it? How did they do it?

I will split this topic into two parts. In the first part, I will summarize the workings of this room into a few paragraphs, using a little bit of physics (just a little. No quantum mechanics or relativity here). Subsequently, I will discuss some of the philosophical impacts this room has with our lives. Here we go.


Room Construct

As you can already guess, this room is clearly NOT cubic in nature, thought it seems pretty much like one. The room, in fact, is trapezoidal. Not only are the visible walls cleverly shaped as trapeziums, the floor is also slanted towards the left (in the case of this video). The following diagram illustrates the layout of a typical Ames Room:

Layout of an Ames Room

Unlike how we view any other room, the Ames room needs to be viewed through a single viewing point, usually a small peep-hole. This forces us to look at the room with only one eye, thereby taking away our perception of depth. What would have been easy for us to distinguish with both eyes suddenly become impossible. You’ve no means of judging how far one corner of the room is compared to the other.

This is easily understood with a little bit of knowledge about optics. If you were to draw a straight line – representing a ray of light – from a corner of the room to your eye, you will realize that corner is able to exist at any point along the line, and yet look exactly the same to you – since the ray released from any other position will look exactly the same as how you have drawn it. The reason why we can perceive depth, is because the rays of light coming from the same point travel slightly different distances to each eye, hence our brain will instinctively work out the image’s position in three-dimensions. Take out one eye, and the mind can no longer do that. To prove my point, try poking your two index fingers head-on with each other with both eyes open, and then attempt it again with one eye shut. Notice how much harder it is to aim with only one eye?

In addition, the remaining visual cues that help guide our minds to view the room properly have been altered. For example, with reference to the video, notice how all the red squares on the floor look similar in size, when actually those on the left are drawn slightly bigger, due to the sloping of the floor. In other Ames room designs, there are also “identical” objects like windows or doors drawn on the opposite wall (intentionally drawn like trapeziums so that they look like rectangles when viewed from the viewing point), further reinforcing the viewers perception of a “normal cubic room”. As a result, the apparent symmetry tricks our minds to perceiving the room as a cube.

The two other guys must be laughing at the one on the left. Short fart.

“Growing/Shrinking” Phenomenon

As you can see from the video, we also notice how the man seems to “grow” and “shrink” as he walks across the room. This is also a trick of perspective, and has something to do with our view of the horizon. In essence, the reason why these people appear to change in size is because of the change in their distance away from the observer. As an object moves further away from us, it appears to look smaller. Not only that, notice how the feet level rises, while the head level falls. This continues until the object recedes very far away, where both head and feet merge into the “true” horizon.

Compare the ladies carrying the logs with the woman in red jacket behind

So how does the Ames room circumvent this perception of distance? Simple. Due to the enclosure of the room, we no longer have a sense of what is the “true horizon”. In addition, our minds already perceive the room to be cubic, so we automatically see the feet of all beings that are flushed against the rear wall of the room to be horizontally level. Hence, the respective subjects look equidistant from the observer, and yet possess a large difference in size between each other. See the B&W image with the three men in the room for reference. Observe their feet, and notice how they all seem to be level with each other – thanks to the shape of the room.

That’s it! One more optical illusion unraveled



Footnote: I got the inspiration to write this note from my friend Kenneth, when he talked about this “gravity hill” he visited in China on his blog. Was reading into it when I chanced upon the Ames Room. Hope you guys find it interesting. =)



  1. Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m undoubtedly
    enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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