Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Insights See an Electron Lately? - Comments

  1. Nov 16, 2015 #1

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2015 #2
    All right. But when they complain that nobody has ever seen an electron, they are not claiming that their eyes are superior detectors. It's more like an allegory for the fact that the subject is too abstract for them.
     
  4. Nov 18, 2015 #3

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    ".. an allegory for the fact that the subject is too abstract for them... " What does that even mean?!

    Is it like claiming ignorance of a law after you've broken it? "Sorry officer, I didn't know I was breaking the law!" How well does that go?

    Just because "they" didn't understand it doesn't make it abstract and unobservable.

    Zz.
     
  5. Nov 19, 2015 #4
    [Quote
    And apply such techniques to the pile of manure that one often hears in the media from politicians, etc.,
    Unquote

    I have the feeling that even if your prose was "required reading", there still would be a segment of the population that would remain unconvinced, and stubbornly comment "But still ..... "
     
  6. Nov 19, 2015 #5

    sophiecentaur

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Actually I see where he's coming from. He is pointing out that some people demand a concrete form of evidence of things before they are prepared to acknowledge its existence or even that 'scientists' could understand those things. That attitude makes me smile when people post ideas like that, using electrons all the time for their communication.
    PS I was looking for a better word than "allegory" but couldn't come up with one. I assume you agree with the meat of his comment - but I found your post equally abstruse, I'm afraid. :smile:
     
  7. Nov 19, 2015 #6

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    But that is the whole point of the article. A "concrete form of evidence", for most people, implies seeing it with their own eyes. My argument here is that your eyes that you've been using as the standard bearer for detection are very poor, and worse than many detectors that we have!

    However, if people are demanding they should be able to see an electron with their eyes because electrons are something "too abstract" for them, then the issue here isn't the detection, but the understanding of what electrons are! After all, physicists won't argue that electrons do not exist simply because they can't see them with their eyes. So just because something appears abstract to you, it doesn't mean that you need to see it for you to accept that it exists. After all, brain surgery is "abstract" to me. Do I dismiss it simply because I don't understand it? Do I really need to see brain surgery in action with my own eyes for me to accept that it can be done?

    Zz.
     
  8. Nov 19, 2015 #7

    sophiecentaur

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    But, of course, they don't always want to 'see' something with their own eyes. The typical person we are discussing is quite prepared to believe all sorts of 'evidence', even when presented third hand, on the grounds that they 'could understand that' and the information reinforces their prejudices. The daft arguments for and against medical treatments are an example.
    I guess we're just saying that people are fallible and we happen to be taking offense about their attitude, particulalry when it happens to go against our special 'loves'. So we are actually being no more rational than the others. (You just can't win).
     
  9. Nov 20, 2015 #8
    It means that they are lacking the required background knowledge (or in some cases even the cognitive capability) to verify the presented chain of evidence, and they are not willing to just believe what they are told by someone who claims that he can.

    The problem is that if you are unable to verify a presented chain of evidence yourself, then you have to believe in the judgement of others who claim that they can. With respect to natural sciences that might not be an issue for you, but there might be other areas where even you are lost.

    Let's assume for example, that some law expert presents you a chain of legal arguments that you are completely unable to verify on your own. Then you might say something like "On the high seas and before the court, one's fate is in Gods hand". And this is actually the same category of statement as "Nobody has ever seen an electron". It just means: I am unable to verify this myself. So either I just believe what the so-called experts tell me, or I have to take an agnostic position.
     
  10. Nov 20, 2015 #9

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    But even you have to admit that this is not what the article was about. It is about the use of one's eyes as the sole determination of what "exists" and what doesn't! If you insist that it is justifiable that people who do not understand the physics involved with electrons, and that the ONLY way that they can be convinced that electrons exist is by seeing them with their own eyes (i.e. using a very poor detector), then we have nothing more to talk about here.

    Zz.
     
  11. Nov 20, 2015 #10
    Sorry, it was not my intention to bash your article. The article is well-written, and I enjoyed reading it.

    If I was allowed to propose one improvement, it would probably be to put more emphasis on the commonalities between "detecting something with your eyes, ears or sense of touch" and "detecting something with external tools".

    I get your point, and you certainly did a great job explaining why external tools can be much better detectors than our natural senses. But for some of the sceptics the challenge might rather be to understand what the process of detecting something with an external tool has in common with the process of detecting something with our natural senses.

    You are completely right: Our eyes are indeed very poor detectors when compared with a CCD. But we all had much time to get used to our eyes, and we all (at least those of us who can see) have acquired a great part of our knowledge about "the world" by observing it with our eyes. Trust is closely related with familiarness. People are confident that they can judge about a chain of evidence that they can see with their eyes, simply because they are so familiar with this process.
     
  12. Nov 20, 2015 #11

    Nugatory

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    That's not quite right.... In that case your choices are to believe what the experts tell you, or to decline to take any position on the grounds that you haven't studied the issue yourself. The latter is not an agnostic position - the agnostic position is that the truth is unknowable, so actively denies the possibility that the experts have the answer when the agnostic does not.

    The "No one has seen an electron with their own eyes" argument sets teeth on edge because it ignores this distinction, promoting the arguers lack of knowledge into a universal truth.
     
  13. Nov 21, 2015 #12

    sophiecentaur

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The word is EVIDENCE. You couldn't trust your eyes alone, even if you somehow thought you had 'seen' an electron. Have you ever 'seen' a distant galaxy (except as a photograph)? Have you ever 'seen' a tektonic plate moving? Why does the phrase "believe the experts" read as being dismissive? If we didn't have experts, we would have no medicine, engineering or chemistry; we need to believe them and, when several of them agree and present evidence, that is more than enough to be going on with. On the other hand, when we see Penn and Teller, we don't actually believe that the little guy's head has just been cut off.
     
  14. Nov 21, 2015 #13
    I always thought that not taking a position is the main point about agnosticism. But if you think that agnosticism refers to a specific motive for not taking a position, then let's just call it "not taking a position".
     
  15. Nov 21, 2015 #14

    sophiecentaur

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That sort of implies equal weighting to the expert view and my uninformed view. How can one hang on to an uninformed view on the off chance that it could possibly be right (the probability being based on ignorance, perhaps). This has been the approach of medical quackery and many people have suffered accordingly.
    Science is agnostic by nature. Science admits to the ever present possibility that, tomorrow, a theory may arrive and turn everything upside down. But you owe it to yourself to to commit to what you have found to be right until there's some damned good evidence to the contrary.
     
  16. Nov 21, 2015 #15
    Because there are people who simply have no trust in authority, and who are not willing to accept authority. I am not one of them, so please do not blame the existence of such people on me.

    I also mentioned the alternative which is simply to believe what is claimed by those who are considered experts. But then again, how do you know who has the best expertise? If you are lacking the knowledge to judge on subject yourself, then it seems likely that you are also lacking the knowledge to decide who is competent with respect to that subject. So again, you have to trust the judgement of others.

    At the end, it is all about trust: If you cannot judge yourself, you have to trust the judgements of others.
     
  17. Nov 21, 2015 #16

    sophiecentaur

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Yes. You have to trust. People often have a problem with that because giving that trust may mean hard work in actually learning some theory rather than some easier, half baked ideas. Imo, that's often the reason for choosing a model. (It is such a shame to be maths phobic, in particular.)
     
  18. Nov 21, 2015 #17

    ZapperZ

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    Then those are the people who live out in the woods, devoid of any contact with civilization. After all, for them to use their cellphones, fly in an airplane, or go to a doctor will all require that they be an expert in Special Relativity, General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Medicine, etc... These backwoods, isolated folks are not the one I encountered who asked me if I have "seen" an electron, and they are also not the ones who posted in all those threads that I cited in the article, because that will imply that they have to use some modern electronics and will have to know solid state physics and material science.

    We have ended up with making too many claims and too many characterization of "other" people as strawmen to argue against this. If you are not one of them, don't speculate on their behalf unless you are willing to defend such a thing. The article points to the fallacy of just your eyes as the final arbiter of what is real and what exists based on the fact that our eyes are very poor and limited detectors.

    Now, this is BEFORE I argue on the fact that our eyes and our "observation" can easily be fooled. We are not only limited by many optical illusions, but what we see has to be processed by our brains, which in itself has its own set of issues. I can point out to you studies in which people swear they saw something that never happened (seeing Bugs Bunny at a Disney theme park) simply via a suggestion. Now, did their eyes actually saw that? But they claim they did, so it is as "real" to them as anything else.

    So now, not only do we have a physical shortcoming in terms of our optical system alone, but we also have a shortcoming in terms of how human being actually decide if he/she actually saw something in how the brain process on what we believe we saw.

    And this is the device that these people will trust in.

    Zz.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted



Similar Discussions: See an Electron Lately? - Comments
  1. Can we see electrons? (Replies: 1)

  2. The electron (Replies: 12)

  3. To see the air. (Replies: 12)

Loading...