MadSci Network: Other

Re: @ if i were to look into the early 1900's and see kids with red glowing eye

Date: Wed Oct 11 18:55:38 2006
Posted By: John Christie, Faculty, Dept. of Chemistry,
Area of science: Other
ID: 1159229070.Ot

The question you have asked is one that is all but impossible for us to deal with.
You say:

 I've no idea what science it would fit into or 
whether you would even take it seriously.

Your enquiry does not really fit into any branch of science, for reasons that I will
explain shortly. I do take it seriously -- anyone who asks a serious question has
a right in common courtesy and decency to be taken seriously, at least in the first

The very basis of modern science is to try to understand how nature works through
observation and experiment, careful weighing of the evidence, and trying to come up
with explanations that fit. In different branches of science this is done in very different 

There is a very important distinction to be made between branches of science. Some are
like chemistry or electronics or atomic physics, where you investigate nature by setting 
up measuring equipment in a laboratory, and running an experiment you design under
controlled conditions, at a place and time of your choosing. In other branches of science,
like astronomy or most areas of Earth Sciences, you are restricted to observing what 
Nature chooses to throw up. You have to work from observation rather than experiment.
There is no real opportunity to manipulate the systems you want to study.

There is a very real and important difference in the "scientific method" that must be used 
for these two sorts of science. It is often not recognized by scientists, but it is much 
discussed by philosophers of science. There is an important difference between branches
of science that are primarily observation-based or experiment-based.

I believe that there is also another very important distinction to be made within the 
observation-based sciences. It is often a distinction of degree rather than of kind. Suppose
that you want to study planetary motions. You can observe where every planet is in the sky 
at whatever time you want. Hundreds of other scientists can do so as well; you can all 
compare and confirm one another's observations. Even with phenomena like volcanic 
eruptions or eclipses, you know either where or when, and you have some chance to set up
whatever measuring equipment you wish to use.

But if you want to study something like tornadoes or lightning phenomena (such as ball 
lightning) there are two very important difficulties. Firstly it is extraordinarily difficult to 
get the instruments you would like for the measurements into the right place at the right 
time. Secondly, it is almost certain that there will be no possibility of independent 
confirmation of your measurements.

This has awkward consequences for the methods that scientists like to use to draw their 
conclusions. Independent confirmatory evidence is very important. Tornado chasing and 
lightning watching sometimes have difficulty being regarded as serious science. They 
succeed for two reasons-- firstly because the phenomena being investigated fit into a 
much broader framework of atmospheric science as a whole, and secondly because 
although independent and confirmatory evidence is seldom available for a single 
tornado or thunderstorm, a pattern has been built up over a large number of similar 
events. (Modern remote sensing techniques have helped as well, of course, but that 
is a side issue to what I am trying to exemplify).

At long last I have arrived at what I might call (without disrespect) ghostly phenomena.
In many ways these are a bit like tornadoes and lightning strikes: you might have some 
idea where and when, but you cannot tell reliably and exactly, and if a phenomenon
arises, you will not have much time to set up equipment for measurement and observations.
Science does not do a particularly good job in these circumstances -- it struggles with
things like ball lightning. 

Ghostly phenomena differ from these other "opportunity-based" areas of observational 
investigation in the two most important ways: they do not conveniently slot in with any other 
branch of science, and the quantity and quality of available evidence that has been collected
is insufficient and too inconsistent to allow any convincing conclusions to be drawn, or even
any serious scientific hypotheses to be put forward.

In particular, there is no way at present that science could consider a question like yours:

It occurred to me that this could be a clue into how to "see" into the 
past and possibly future.  i know there's red eye in photography which 
means low light conditions exist.  one light bulb made it very bright 
down there and i wasn't looking through a camera.  have you got any 
ideas?  could this be explained through use of the electro-magnetic 
radiation light spectrum? 

At the very least we would need several hundred spectra of ghostly light 
emissions to have been recorded and published.

Personally, I am a sceptic about ghostly phenomena generally. That does not mean that I
cannot consider whether and how science might investigate them. And my scepticism
might well not remain if, like you, I had a direct experience of such things. I will refer you to
the writings and life stories of two men for whom I have some admiration: Harry Houdini, 
and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Both were very interested in spiritualism. Both brought very
incisive powers of analytical logic and evidence weighing, as well as considerable skill
and experience with stage magic, to the investigation of ghostly phenomena. Both had 
spectacular successes in exposing charlatans. Neither finished up content that he had 
actually found what he was seeking.

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