Family Science Club

Pointing to the Author of Science


Photograph of the photographer, 2015

Image: Kevin practicing his artwork, 2015, taken by Joseph Kejr

Art, Science and Reasonable Opinions (January 2016)

Heidi is an artist in the classical sense - she draws pictures of a variety of subjects. Kevin's art, on the other hand, is photography. It is not only a fairly recent form of art, but it bleeds over into the realm of science. In fact, many people wonder if photography really is art, because one just uses technology to capture what he or she sees.

One interesting contrast between photography and more classical arts is that people generally think the former should be accurate, or true, while the latter does not need to be. Even with realistic art, the artist chooses what to show, and what level of detail to use.

Heidi spends many hours researching each drawing she creates. Yet, her animals usually stand (or swim) before a white background. Her animals are accurate, but the drawings as a whole are not what you would see in real life.

On the other hand, people expect a photograph to look like what they would see if they had been at a certain place at a certain time in the past. Well, they did until the advent of computers, at least. Now, they look at a picture and ask, "Is that real, or has it been photoshopped?"

We believe this phenomenon is a good example of the way many people approach science and technology.

A camera sees in a fundamentally different way than your eye does. The principles of light and optics apply to both, but that is only part of the equation. Just one example is that a camera uses one focus setting and captures the whole scene at once. Your eye wanders around, adjusting focus as it looks at different areas of the scene before you.

Add to this the fact that the two-dimensional aspect of photographs tends to trip people up. You can "see" the scene in the photo correctly because it triggers a memory, but a person who was not there will wonder why a tree is sticking out of your mother's head.

The best photographer cannot take a picture that looks just like what you would have seen with your own eyes. A person with a well-trained eye can look at a photograph and pretty much know what the scene would have looked like to the naked eye, but even that person is translating the image in his head. He does not really "see" the scene as it was.

Of course, a photographer can learn to take pictures that are more pleasing or more expressive over time. That is a combination of artistic and technical skill. Such skill is developed very similarly to the skills of a painter or other classic artist. Yet, beautiful and inspiring photographs are never quite what the eye would have seen.

The irony is that people will try to present pictures as proof of events, believing that no further clarification should be needed to establish their case. "See! He was looking up her dress!" At the same time, people are quick to believe a picture was doctored if it looks anything different than they would have expected.

Most people could learn to interpret photographs fairly accurately. Most people could learn to tell the difference between a doctored photograph and the strangeness that comes naturally with many photos. Yet, most would rather not bother.

It would not matter if there was little or no controversy over certain photographs, but such controversy can rage and rage (especially on the Internet). Most likely you have seen how once a person has made a comment about the veracity of a photo, no amount of reason or expertise seems to get them to reconsider.

This situation seems hauntingly similar to the way many people take and hold opinions on scientific matters of much greater import. In many arguments, it is hard to tell if anyone involved has actually studied the issue enough to take a reasonable position.

God gave us an amazing ability to understand things. However, our fallen human nature wants to jump to conclusions rather than to study a bit, think carefully and then decide. If an issue is important enough to get into an argument about it, should we not take the effort to study and think before trying to convince another person to agree with us?