Monday, May 28, 2012

Observation vs. information

There's the difference between "information" and "observation."

An alert letting you know it's raining outside is information. Standing outside getting hit by drops of water under gray clouds while your brain melts from the earthy aroma, that's observing.

Both can be summed up as "it's raining outside." On a multiple guess test, you'd be hard-pressed to separate the two--but it matters.

Here's a piece of information--that rainy day smell comes from geosmin, and chemists draw it like this:

"Geosmin" means "earth smell"--that's information.
Letting a child dance under the first raindrops of a late May rainfall, letting her sniff the ethereal aroma, that's observing.

If a child is to have any hope understanding the natural world, she first need to observe it.

Yeah, ethereal is the wrong adjective there--
chemists use it to mean related to ethyl ether. That would be information.


Lee said...

I think I prefer "ethereal aroma" or even "earth smell", to "geosmin".

Now here's a question for ya: What is the chemical formula for that very distinctive odor that permeates the air after it rains? It's been my observation that it is usually indicative of a substantial number of unearthed earthworms!

Tom Hoffman said...

Is this inspired by this?

Leslie said...

Lee-it's definitely worms--I've been saying "smells like worms" after it rains my whole life!

Malcolm said...

back from the anonymous time warp....this is better Doyle. Thank you.

ps i love that wet asphalt smell....

doyle said...

Dear Lee and Leslie,

You two need to talk--I may be immune to earthworm smells, or maybe I associate whatever smell that is to something else. I'm going to give my nose a workout next time I find an earthworm.

Dear Tom,

I managed to get lathered up on my own this time. When I want to get lathered up by others, I peek (twice daily) at your website.

Dear Malcolm,

I enjoy this more, too--just thought some of the anonymous comments were thoughtful enough to deserve a response. One was kind enough to encourage me to learn how to read, who couldn't respond to concern like that?

Anonymous said...

You are being deliberately obtuse. The phrase was "obtain information" and you can obtain information by observing.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Of course you can "obtain information" by observing, but that's not what the standards say, eh? You can "obtain information" through textbooks and Kahn Academy videos, through computer simulations, through television, etc. When teaching science, especially to the young ones, the distinction is critical.

I can travel to Utah, and I can get there by driving, but that does not mean that "driving" means the same as "traveling."

My words may appear obtuse to you--I had to look up the word to be sure--but being "deliberately obtuse" makes little sense.

Perhaps you meant I was guilty of deliberate obfuscation. At any rate, it would be silly for me to write to a tiny audience just to show how dull I might be. I know I need help refining ideas--it's why I respond to anonymous folks more interested in comparing hat sizes than in real discussion.