Scientific Philosophy

I visited the University of Waterloo bookstore where naturally, one finds books of an academic nature. I sometimes wonder if an appreciation of science is related to liking technical things, hence my reason for sharing a few book excerpts. Many people may find non-fiction dull, but I find if I don’t read the whole book, just reading what I want, I may not get a PhD in anything, but at least I enjoy myself. Now on to my discovery of the day:

In “Ideas and Opinions (1954)” by Albert Einstein, he states that reality and experience trump theory, or even logic. In this context he states that Galileo emphasized experience over theory. Which leads to another book, “Contemporary debates in Philosophy of Science (2004)”. In it is an chapter about how thought experiments can transcend empiricism. (This is the opposite to what Einstein was saying in that one quote). Apparently, and keep in mind this is a philosophy book, it is not necessary to perform one of the most famous experiments, considered to be one of the most important ever, that Galileo performed to show that contrary to Aristotle, a heavier object does not fall faster than a lighter object (other factors, such as air resistance, not withstanding).

In a demonstration of the power of language, reality and truth, one need only consider that if a heavier object fell faster than a lighter object, if you got a second set and connected them together, how fast would they fall? A: Using Aristotle’s supposition, the combined object is heavier and thus must fall faster than the heavy object. B: Again using Aristotle’s supposition, the lighter object must fall slower, so it must act as a drag on the heavy object when connected together, so the combined heavier object must fall slower than the heavy object. A & B can not both be true at the same time (This, subtly, is the only empiracal fact here).

According to the 2004 book, Galileo may never have even performed the physical experiment instead used this “beautiful” thought experiment to establish the fact. So from “Ideas & Opinions”, “On the method of theoretical physics”, Einstein says, “Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; …. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed this into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics — indeed of modern science altogether.”

I don’t know about you, but my conclusion on this is moderately profound. Now let me throw a wrench into it all, what if the Greek word used by Aristotle for “faster” in this context, could be shown by scholars to have the connotation of “more energetic” at times?


So what does this have to do with Tech Tok? Well take my interest in photography. I like to learn new things, but they have to be technically achievable. So we head down to the air show with our knowledge of RAW image formats (12 bits), auto-focus limitations, auto-exposure control limitations and we try (that is experiment) with some shots. The importance of the RAW image format shot is only established through empiricism, as are the limits of manual and auto focus. The exposure control is well known and well tested, but through an interest in science, logic, experiment and technology, you wind up with photos that would have been impossible any other way.

Other items that went into the creation of that photo:

1. Locate high (Atlantis @ Ontario place)

2. 80-400mm VR zoom lens (Yes, $$, but you should be able to do the same with a 12x optical zoom non-SLR)

3. +0.7 exposure compensation in aperature priority mode (wide open). You might try +1

4. RAW mode, to allow histogram adjustments of the shaded areas later.

5. Cropped in photoshop to eliminate unwanted sky.

6. Checked the weather forecast to pick the right day.

7. ISO of 200 chosen, but only because it was bright enough to ensure a fast-shutter speed of about 1/800 to 1/2000th second.

8. Camera set to a workable focus mode for the subject

9. Auto-focus used — because experiments with manual focus showed it was unworkable.

10. Re-focused frequently as the subject approached (this is a half-press on the shutter button)

11. Camera set to continuous shot mode (4 frames per second) — be sure camera is given a chance to refocus

The upshot of this is that I am probably not mentioning things that don’t work, like for example if you do not use raw mode, and then try to enhance shadows in 8-bit Photoshop, the loss of color depth will ruin the detail, richness and reality of what is in the shadows. Philosophically, what gives us the right to construct a photo in this way? The answer is that the human eye has dynamic range that far outperforms a camera and we must use these tools to duplicate it, but it is interesting to note that when I took the above picture, I could not see the pilot. It would have been nice to have the sun behind me too.

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