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Setups such as his laboratory demonstrations, Del Ames concluded, are persuasive confirmation that perception is far from simple observation; it is not the passive observance of fact. The experience of seeing is analogous to a "transaction" between the observer (who is informed by past experience) and reality: it is based on functional probabilities, not absolute certainties.
As a young lawyer, Ames had spent much of his time at the track at Saratoga Springs, New York, betting on horse races. Thirty-five years later, as a "transactional psychologist," he used gambling as a metaphor in explaining the Ames demonstrations.
In 1943, he wrote in his notebooks: "Our sense responses disclose the probability of future events for the same reason that ‘dope sheets’ disclose the probability as to which race horse will win or not win a race: namely, because our sense responses are recordings of observations of the results of action in connection with past events of a similar nature. The race horse dopester keeps a record of the performance of all race horses. When any particular horses are going to race, the averages of their past performances disclose a reliable probability as to their relative future performance. So the human being keeps a record of the result of all action following the experiencing of particular visual sensations and records them against the characteristics of the visual stimulus that gave rise to his visual sensations" (Cantril 1960, 5-6).

Heider’s cube setup used abstract geometric shapes, while Ames’s chair demonstration used identifiable everyday objects. The change by Ames from cubes to chairs, writes Heider, "was significant with regard to the difference between us in our ideas about perception. It was important for him to use the chair, because it had a familiar practical significance and because one could relate to it by actions—for example, by sitting on it" (Heider 1983, 141). To Heider, a Gestaltist, Ames and the other transactionalists had overplayed the significance of past experience.
Despite such differences, Heider’s interest in Ames’s research continued for many years, even as colleagues were voicing their doubts about its legitimacy. In Heider’s notebooks, for example, we learn that his friend James J. Gibson, a Cornell University psychologist and author of The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, "detested" the Ames demonstrations, which he dismissed as "peephole experiments." "I think these experiments [are] very important," Heider retorts, and, in several entries, he suggests that his friend is irrational in his objection to Ames: "Jim Gibson was very impressed when I showed him the cube demonstration. But later, when we were talking about Ames’s room, he was for some reason violently opposed to it—he said it was a very bad experiment, etc." (Benesh-Weiner 1988, 226-227).

Of the same era as Gibson and of equal prominence was Jerome Bruner, the Harvard psychologist, who first saw the demonstrations in the late 1940s, and whose second wife (née Blanche Marshall, whom he later divorced) was Ames’ niece. His former wife’s uncle’s demonstrations "were ingenious all right," Bruner says sarcastically in his autobiography, because, in his opinion, they were trickery more than research.
To Bruner, the Ames constructions were not scientific "experiments" but artful "demonstrations," in the sense that the eye was held captive by artificial constraints. We rarely perceive anything in daily life from a designated peephole with one eye only, through "snapshot vision." Instead, we are constantly moving around, gathering information with both eyes from multiple points of view. By speciously withholding clues, says Bruner, the Ames demonstrations have insufficient resemblance to normal experience, evoking what Bruner refers to as "weird decisions" (Bruner 1983, 88-90).

Heider does not disagree: In a note that anticipates the content (if not the tone) of Bruner’s remarks, he concedes that "the Ames room is an arrangement of distal stimuli that is completely artificial and that has an infinitely small probability of happening in nature uncontaminated by psychologists. It will be a very exceptional case when the good solution from one point of view will not also be a good solution from any other point of view" (Benesh-Weiner 1987, 243).

There is no indication that Heider and Ames met again after 1945 or on more than the several occasions described. Nor is there any more definite proof that Heider’s cube demonstration was really the model for the chair demonstration; that Ames was aware of Dutch perspective cabinets; or that Heider was influenced by Kopfermann.
Ames died in 1955 at age seventy-four. About twenty-five years later, when Heider wrote his memoirs, he reiterated his belief that the Ames demonstrations are "significant and interesting, partly, of course, because they fit right in with my own tendency to consider environmental factors lying beyond the retina and to consider the functioning of the whole perceptual system"—with the result that "I cannot help feeling," he wrote, "that his [Ames’] experiments should occupy a central place in ‘ecological’ treatments of perception" (Heider 1983, 142). 

Adelbert Ames II (1882-1955) was an American transactional psychologist who invented the "Ames demonstrations" in perceptual psychology. Fritz Heider (1896-1988) was a Viennese-born Gestalt psychologist whose interest was in social psychology. It is shown that one of Ames’s experiments (called the "chair demonstration") may have been inspired by Heider, while Heider was probably influenced by an experiment by Gestalt psychologist Herta Kopfermann. Heider’s interest in Ames’s research continued for many years, even as others were voicing their doubts about its legitimacy. 

Baltrusaitis, J. (1977): Anamorphic Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Behrens, R.R. (1994): “Adelbert Ames and the Cockeyed Room.” Print 48, 2, 92-97.
Behrens, R.R. (1998): “The Artistic and Scientific Collaboration of Blanche Ames Ames and Adelbert Ames II.” Leonardo 31, 47-54.
Benesh-Weiner, M. (ed.) (1987): The Notebooks / Fritz Heider: Vol. 1. Munchen-Weinheim: Psychologie-Verlags-Union.
Benesh-Weiner, M. (ed.) (1988): The Notebooks / Fritz Heider: Vol 2. Munchen-Weinheim: Psychologie-Verlags-Union.
Bruner, J. (1983): In Search of Mind: Essays in Autobiography. New York: Harper and Row.
Brusati, C. (1995): Artifice and Illusion: The Art and Writing of Samuel Van Hoogstraten. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cantril, H. (ed.) (1960): The Morning Notes of Adelbert Ames, Jr. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Gombrich, E.H. (1961): Art and Illusion. New York: Pantheon Books.
Gombrich, E.H. (1982): The Image and the Eye. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
Heider, F. (1983): The Life of a Psychologist: An Autobiography. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. 
Ittelson, W.H. (1968): The Ames Demonstrations in Perception. New York: Hafner.
Koffka, K. (1935): Principles of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt Brace and World.

*     *     *
A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009) FALSE COLORS
Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002) E.H. Gombrich (Art and Illusion): “The innocent eye is a myth. All thinking is sorting, classifying. All perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons.”
Above Two historic examples of anamorphic distortion as practiced in the 19th century. At the top are anamorphic letterforms, which make no sense when viewed frontally. However, when viewed from the edge of the page, they read HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
    The lower image is an engraving of a cylindrical anamorphosis. A distorted image of a juggler has been painted on the paper that rests on the table. It becomes readable by looking into its reflection in a polished cylindrical mirror.
Adelbert Ames, 
Fritz Heider and the
Ames Chair Demonstration
[continued | page 3 of 3]

by Roy R. Behrens
 1    2     3
Above Adelbert Ames II (center) during a visit to the Visual Demonstration Center at Ohio State University (c1949), with Hoyt Sherman (right) and Ross Mooney. For more on Sherman’s innovative methods of teaching “drawing by seeing” click here.DrawingInDark.htmlDrawingInDark.htmlshapeimage_12_link_0shapeimage_12_link_1
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Lewis Mumford (Sketches from Life): “…some of his [Ames’] ingenious experiments showed—conclusively, I believe—that pure sensations do not register automatically, by a reaction similar to the chemical changes on a photosensitive film; that every sensation is a perception that draws on the past experience and the present purposes of the organism.”
John Dewey (in a letter to Ames): “I think your work is by far the most important work done in the psychological-philosophical field during this century—I am tempted to say the only real important work.”
Left Among the most famous examples of anamorphosis in art history is The Ambassadors (1633) by Hans Holbein the Younger. 

In the bottom center foreground, rising above the carpet, is an anamorphic human skull. Ames would surely have known about this painting, since Holbein was among his (and his sister’s) favorite artists.

Below An alternative view of the distorted skull, as viewed from an oblique angle.
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Click here to acess an online article on artist Hoyt Sherman’s reconstruction of the Ames Demonstrations at Ohio State University, and his experiments in teaching drawing in the dark.DrawingInDark.htmlshapeimage_23_link_0