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Re: Ball lightning and "experimenter regress"
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- Subject: Re: Ball lightning and "experimenter regress"
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- Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2005 23:19:48 -0600
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Original poster: William Beaty <billb@xxxxxxxxxx>
> Science isn't as simple as most people believe, no?
There are two incorrect ways to solve the Regress: one way is to become a
"Scoffer" who rejects all observations if they contradict known theory.
Such a person believes that Science is complete, and the unknown is
vanishingly small. (For them, BL doesn't exist because it's impossible,
and also there will never be another major revolution in science.)
The other way is to become a "Believer" who rejects all modern theories
which conflict with observation. Such a person believes that Science has
barely scratched the surface, and enormous unknowns lie all around us.
(For them, BL is just one small mystery, what about Bigfoot and UFOs and
Einstein being wrong?) People exist on a spectrum between these two
Ok, *NOW* think about ball lightning.
If we 'know' that ball lightning doesn't exist, then all stories about
ball lightning are lies or misperceptions or delusions.
Suppose a number of highly trained observers (reputable scientists) in an
airliner during a thunderstorm watch a glowing sphere drift along the
aisle. Suppose the airline pilots acknowledge that such things happen
frequently. Well, since we KNOW that ball lightning doesn't exist, (it
violates the laws of physics,) therefore we know that all those scientists
and pilots are lying about what they saw. Right? Wrong. A number of
professional eyewitnesses in an airliner did see BL, and this event
changed the status of BL in the physics community. Suddenly many of the
earlier reports of ball lightning were taken seriously. Some reports
were of course delusions or hoaxes. But since we *know* that ball
lightning exists, we can no longer ridicule the reports automatically.
7th Scientific conference on Ball Lightning, 2001
Ball Lightning papers in physics journals 1989-1996
Atmospheric scientists fear being labled as "lightning-ball quacks"
Today there are still plenty of "ball lightning scoffers" around, but they
are in a minority which is shrinking. On the other hand, since full-blown
BL cannot be produced in a lab setting, the exact characteristics aren't
yet known ...so we don't really know which eyewitness accounts are bogus.
For example, a large number of accounts describe BL as having electric
sparks moving around inside. If it turns out in the coming years that
this is a genuine phenomenon, then we'll know that these eyewitnesses were
giving accurate descriptions. But if BL becomes well-known, yet BL with
moving internal sparks remains a total mystery, then we'll know that those
reports of moving sparks were (very probably) incorrect.
See? Theories determine which evidence is acceptable, yet evidence
determines which of several theories are correct. Or even more
disturbing: theories determine reality! Some people live in a world
where Ball Lightning is a ridiculous fantasy. Others live in a world
where BL is a common event (though not yet tamed by physics.) The
question isn't settled, so we don't REALLY know which viewpoint is
correct. Without solid information, the two "worlds" are real yet not
Rather than trying to be right, or trying to feel superior about joining
the winning side, it's probably more important to cultivate the mental
agility needed to switch back and forth between the two brands of
ball-lightning religion. Normal humans are "intolerant of ambiguity" and
tend to flee from these sorts of discussions. If you want to become a
scientist, you need to cultivate an abnormally high Tolerance for
"Let the mind be enlarged... to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not
the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind" - Francis Bacon
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two
opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to
function." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought
without accepting it." -Aristotle
"I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is
much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that
might be wrong." - Richard Feynman
(((((((((((((((((( ( ( ( ( (O) ) ) ) ) )))))))))))))))))))
William J. Beaty SCIENCE HOBBYIST website
billb at amasci com http://amasci.com
EE/programmer/sci-exhibits amateur science, hobby projects, sci fair
Seattle, WA 206-789-0775 unusual phenomena, tesla coils, weird sci