Posted by: angmlr007 | 11/02/2011

Ames Room: is Seeing truly Believing? (Part 2)

This post is a continuation from my previous post: Ames Room: is Seeing truly Believing (Part 1). If you haven’t read that, you are highly encouraged to do so first.

Photo by isavdmisa2 (Flickr)

In my first post, I have explained the function of the Ames Room, and how it makes use of it’s structure to create the optical illusion as demonstrated in the picture above. In this second part, I will try something different this time by attempting to relate this phenomenon to some philosophical issues. I am no expert in this field, but I’ll do my best and see how this goes. It’s like getting a historian to give a talk about electrochemistry.


The Ames Room reveals to us a central problem that we have to deal with everyday in our lives. This problem, is none other than perspective. The Ames room warps our perception of reality by taking out our ability to sense depth in a 3-dimensional world, hence causing us to view our world in a somewhat “warped, distorted reality”. In fact, the world has not changed a single bit since you started looking through that peephole. The only thing that has changed is your viewing perspective.

Take a photograph of a 3m tall tree from the base up, and the tree looks enormous. But shoot it this time from the front with a 2m tall basketball player leaning on it, and the tree doesn’t look that large anymore. Our perception of the world around us changes to a lot of different variables: the environment we’re cast in, our mood, our experiences, the type and colour of the shades we wear, the smells we’re exposed to before we entering the room, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Photo by wearpants (Flickr)

I was watching a TV programme a few nights ago, and one of the actors mentioned a line which stuck in my head for a long while: “We can use the same set of tea leaves, and brew it using the same technique. Yet, the taste will come out different each time. When I am alone, the tea tastes ever so bitter. But when you come around, the tea tastes like the best thing in the world”. Identical physical scenarios can suddenly become a world of difference to the observer.

The situations we meet in life are very much similar. For instance, one day your best friend decides to date the girl/guy whom you wanted to date. You could view this as your best friend is being an absolutely selfish bastard by preventing you from getting your dream girl/guy, or you could be supportive of this prospective relationship and lend them your eternal support and encouragement because you want to see your friend happy. The choice of viewpoint ultimately lies in your hands, and more importantly, your mind.

Shoot the right angle

In photography, one of the basics lessons we learn about is our shooting angle. Most people have a tendency to shoot their subjects at eye-level, which tends to bring about boring, mundane shots. To avoid this, some photographers break away by picking a more appropriate angle to enhance the feel of their photo. For instance, to emphasize the height of an object we shoot it skywards. In contrast, to make a subject feel small, you shoot vertically downwards from on top of him. Want to play with reflections? Try shooting with your camera upside down and see if your viewers can distinguish the water reflections from the actual subjects. Do portrait shots always lack the “oomph” factor to you? Try shooting upwards towards their faces from the waist level, and compare that to shots at eye level. Does it feel different?

(I am not a photography expert, so I will refrain from going any further into the subject. I’ll provide a link to a site belonging to my friend who is much better at photography when his site is ready)

Photo by Mr. Mark (Flickr)

Like how we take our photos through the lens of a DSLR, we likewise view our world through the lenses in our minds. Sometimes, we bring in too many distractions which throw our main subject out of focus. Some of these distractions are benign, and are nothing more than another random nuisance that clutters your image. However, some of them may end up working against you and your subject of interest, ruining your desired outcome. Sometimes, all that we need is a change in perspective, and life would suddenly look so much more interesting, so much more vibrant. We want to believe that our lives are good and meaningful, but if we are constantly picking inappropriate angles to view the things around us, or bringing to focus unnecessary objects, how can we ensure that we are viewing it appropriately?

On this note, what does it mean to view something appropriately? Viewing it as realistically as possible? Then what exactly is reality to us?

(The argument of what is reality is another immense topic which I will leave out of this post, since I personally believe it is beyond my current ability to discuss. However, anyone with suggestions and ideas is free to enlighten me about it.)

Is it half-full? Or half-empty?

Photo by ProfMoreau (Flickr)

While there are many ways for us to construct different perspectives of our lives, I’ll elaborate on the simplest “black vs white” example: Optimism vs Pessimism. I am sure most of you would have been confronted with the question of the half-filled glass. Is the glass half-full, or half-empty? If your answer is “half-empty”, you have chosen the stand of the pessimist. If your answer is “half-full”, you’re now considered an optimist. Notice how we are commenting about the same glass of water, containing the same finite amount of water in it, yet diverging answers are surfaced? The optimists relish in the fact that at least there is water in the glass, whereas the pessimist laments the shortage of half a glass of water – a choice of perspective. Although it is unfair to say that many things in life can be simply cast in black versus white, I believe it is within our power to take those shades off and put in effort to make our lives more beautiful, hopeful, and exciting than it was yesterday, simply by changing our attitudes and mindsets.



I do apologize if this post isn’t as conclusive or as convincing as the previous one. This post is only meant to pose a couple of questions for us to think about, and examine our lives in a different light. Perhaps that will lead you to an epiphany, or help solve your next physics problem.

So have you discovered your Ames Room yet?



Footnote: I had loads of fun writing this article, because I got to see some really interesting photos on Flickr and through Google. I’ve found a site with some really cool perspective photos. Have fun!


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