Physics Reports vol.61

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He realized that the gas that Priestley had collected was not a variety of air, but a P1: OTA/XYZ P2: ABC JWST195-c02 JWST195-Andersson 28 May 22, 2012 6:53 Printer: Yet to come Trim: 246mm × 189mm What is Science? separate component of air with unique properties. It was he who named it oxygen. Since Priestley never stopped supporting the phlogiston theory we know that he interpreted his observations using a false theory. Despite this, his observation statements make perfect sense to us. If his experiments were to be repeated today by someone ignorant of the idea of phlogiston, the results would probably be described very similarly.

Perception, in other words, is personal. Chalmers uses several examples to underline this [3]. One of them is how a student and an expert radiologist perceive X-ray images. Where the student may only see shadows of the heart and ribs, with a few spidery blotches between them, the expert sees a wealth of significant features. With training, the student may gradually forget about the ribs and begin to see the lungs as well as a rich panorama of details on them. Another example from Chalmers is an amusing entry from Johannes Kepler’s notebook, made after observation through a Galilean telescope.

Others use routine techniques to map out some aspect of nature. For instance, physicists who investigate the structure of atoms use established spectroscopic techniques to collect data. They proceed to interpret their spectra by established analysis techniques. The results are published in databases and are accepted as good quality research within their field, despite the fact that not a single bold hypothesis has been formulated or tested. Some philosophers of science maintain that such results become useless after a theoretical paradigm shift, since the information is incorporated in the definitions and concepts of the existing theory.

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