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Re: Ball Lightning from high-amp discharge

Original poster: William Beaty <billb@xxxxxxxxxx>

On Sun, 14 Jan 2007, Tesla list wrote:

> Original poster: Mddeming@xxxxxxx
>       This new group was scientifically rigorous enough NOT to call
> their observed phenomenon ball lightning, but to indicate that it may
> have a similar type of  mechanism of formation. and some similar behaviors.
> This brings up an interesting epistemological question.Is it possible
> to RE-create something in a laboratory if you don't know what IT is
> to start with?

Yes, and this is simply an issue of theoretical science versus
experimental science.  Go search on the phrase "Experimenter's Regress."
If the details of an experiment are made clear in the published papers,
and if other labs can then use that "recipe" to produce the same unique
phenomenon, then that's a replication.  Even better is if they can make
some measurements which agree.

Any new theory which fails experimental testing is wrong.  But any new
experiment which fails to be explained by any theory is simply mysterious.
It's outside of current science.  Such new experiments often lead to lots
of interesting work in science both theoretical and experimental.  That of
course is why Ball Lightning is such a fascinating topic:

  "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
   discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!)  but  'That's funny...'  "
    - Isaac Asimov

On the other hand, the interplay between theory and experiment can make
for very interesting psychology.  Richard Feynman, the champion of
scientific honesty, points out the dangers of human mental biases by using
the example of Millikan's oil drop experiment and the discovery of the
electron.  Millikan published a value for the electron's charge which is
today known to be wrong, but later scientists didn't zero in on a more
accurate value.  Instead the later papers gave values which were between
Millikan's and the correct one.  Even later experiment papers were slowly
moving their results towards the currently accepted value.

Feynman points out that this is an embarassment to physics, since it shows
that the experimenters' data was being biased by their beliefs about what
the results were "supposed" to be.  (The experimenters disbelieved their
own data. Theory had an effect on the results!  Not good.)  If all those
involved were honest, then instead their results would have been scattered
around, both high and low, and only later would they narrow in as their
equipment was slowly improved.  But instead, later scientists were unable
to bring themselves to publish values which were so different than the
famous Millikan results, so they went back and massaged their data
(perhaps subconsciously) to bring it closer to a pre-determined value.

  "I have to disregard everybody else, and then I can do my own work."
    - R. P. Feynman.

In science, strong disbeliefs are just as bad as strong beliefs.  After
all, they are essentially the same:  emotional prejudices which distort
our reasoning.

(((((((((((((((((( ( (  (   (    (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  425-222-5066    unusual phenomena, tesla coils, weird sci