Home > Uncategorized > Adam Savage on observation, thinking and scientific discoveries

Adam Savage on observation, thinking and scientific discoveries

March 25, 2012

Since Adam Savage is at the Reason Rally this weekend, I thought I’d post my favorite video of his:

Thing is, I’m a freak about this stuff. I love reading how Daniel Rutherford discovered Nitrogen using only whatever he could get his hands on in 1772. I love reading how Thomas Edison did scientific usability testing on silent films long before we did it on web pages. It’s fantastic to me how Darwin, building on a lifetime of painstakingly careful observation and research, figured out the basic idea of evolution before anyone even knew about genes. It’s awesome just to think about it.

What I try not to think about too much, because it makes me so sad, is how schools suck the life out of scientific discovery and make it into a dry subject. Maybe it’s part of our culture; you’re only allowed to get excited about sports I guess.  But one thing the Internet has done for us is to give a platform for geek culture. We’ve been waiting to share the thrill we feel in discovery, in knowing stuff. Used to be, you were considered odd. Now you’re still considered odd, but you can look at Adam Savage and go “Yeah! Take that, people who think we should be all blase’ about the Universe!”

(Since Savage mentioned Eratosthenes, there’s a question that has always bothered me. For Eratosthenes to measure the differential angle of the sun between two cities a known distance apart, he had to know the moment at both cities. How did he get a signal from one city to another fast enough for the measurement to be useful? And if he did use a time-dependent method, might his accuracy have been helped by the coincidence that Alexandria is just an eyelash to the West of Due North from Swenet? Or did he simply figure the time at both cities using E/W solar angle then use the N/S solar angle to do his circumference calculation? Does anyone have a good link about that?)

(h/t @LesJenkins for the link)

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Chas, PE SE
    March 25, 2012 at 10:12 | #1

    RE Eratosthenes: Somewhere, buried in the story is the fact that the sun wqas visible at the bottom of the well at noon on the Solstice. Eratosthenes would have to make his measurment on the preceding/next Solstice. Change of Longitude between the well and Alexandria would not be a major factor, because the Sun would be due South of Alex a few minutes later.

    The difficulty in teaching Science is that we have to teach a lot of facts that have already been discovered, and the Scientific Method which is the way these facts were determined, in the same class. When I do Mad Scientist answers, I try to get the kid to do experiments to try and determine the fact himself.

  2. March 25, 2012 at 11:56 | #2

    He did NOT have to know the time.
    Noon is DEFINED (inter alia) as shortest shadow.
    Jeebs man!

  3. decrepadmin
    March 30, 2012 at 07:54 | #3

    Jeebs man!

    I am suitably chastened ;-)

    That was one of the possibilities I mentioned; that he simply marked the time by the sun itself along the E/W axis. But that’s the awesome thing about historic science; he figured this out with sticks… and careful observation, and got pretty damn close. I’d love for people to start observing opportunities around them for understanding the universe. Like quartz inclusions in decorative boulders, shadows moving across a restaurant table during lunch, Venus and Mars “together” in the sky, algae growing on a wall, stuff like that. Even people without laboratories can have fun making observations and thinking about them.

    Yeah, I wasn’t super-popular as a kid. That’s why I love geek culture so much today.

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