Powers of Observation

I usually give modern scientists a lot of criticism. Its like a pleasure sport. After all, a lot of the accusations I make against them are simply truths that they often skillfully try to hide from the public. Since so many people these days have placed almost a religious level of faith on the scientific communites' purported emipirical superiority, it is rather satisfying to point out their failures so that we can avoid any irrational fervor.

Scientific revelation is wonderful so long as we keep it in perspective and don't become presumptious about our powers of observation. We are fallible human beings. We make mistakes and we can become illusioned. This does not, however, mean that we always make mistakes or that all of our observations are worthless.

A nice way to illustrate this point is to consider the Hubble Telescope. Its position outside the Earth's atmosphere provides significant advantages over ground-based telescopes — images are not blurred by the atmosphere, there is no background from light scattered by the air, and the Hubble can observe ultra-violet light that is normally absorbed by the ozone layer in observations made from Earth.

Great telescope! But it took two multi-million dollar space shuttle missions to get it working properly because after its expensive launch into the Earth's orbit it was discovered that the primary mirror had been ground to the wrong shape. Oops!

But look at these amazing images of nebulae in deep space. If you click on an image it will open up a high resolution image in a seperate window or tab.


Hourglass Nebula

My grandfather tried to instill his fascination with the night sky into me when I was a wee lad. It must have worked because I think these images are awesome. You can see more of them here. These four images above aren't even close to definitive. They were just the ones from Wikipedia.

"Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding," he said. "This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion."

- Albert Einstein