Thursday, August 20, 2015

Because, hey, there's nothing like discussing an uncomfortable topic to bring about some good 'ol College Misery, and since a prior post brought up the topic of, well you know...

Is this image of a peculiar Martian rock formation a fact or opinion?

P.S.:  The original image can be found here on NASA's webpage.


  1. NASA has a long-standing policy of simply not responding to cranks. Academics are well known for taking any bait, no matter how contrived. Since I have feet in both puddles, I will compromise by saying, "Pppffffftttttthhhhttt!"

    1. Now you're sound like Shelby Foote, Bubba. It's not a bad thing: he got marriage proposals as a result of his appearances on Ken Burns's film.

  2. I'd say it's a representation/product of data (pixels, or rather, I suspect, whatever code specifies/describes the pixels), recorded at a particular time and place using particular equipment/methods, and later displayed in a particular way, using particular equipment/methods, etc. Accurate information about how it was originally recorded and how it is now being displayed would roughly correspond to what most people mean when by "fact." So you've essentially got a whole bunch of interrelated "facts" that add up to what we're seeing on the screen.

    Any interpretation of the meaning of that interrelated complext of data/facts (ranging from "it's evidence of intelligent life on Mars!" to "we're seeing evidence of asteroid hits [or wind, or water, or whatever] on Mars" to "that picture couldn't possibly be produced under those circumstancces; this is evidence that the picture was, in fact, created in the Arizona desert [or a Hollywood soundstage, or whatever]" would more or less correspond to what most people call "opinion." However, it's important to note that some interpretations/opinions are better-informed than others, thanks to the additional knowledge and/or experience the interpreter brings to the problem (so I'm probably going to trust Frod's interpretation more than Bubba's in this case -- unless intimate knowledge of the western desert is involved, in which case I might have to inquire more closely into just where on earth Frod has explored, and Bubba has been riding that horse, and/or how much geological knowledge each possesses).

  3. I can say that the first time I saw this image, my reaction was in line with "Oh shit. Somebody's been playing with Photoshop again." But then, I saw that one of the sources actually had a link to NASA's image with the actual SOL number posted. When I clicked on the image and zoomed, my reaction changed to "Oh shit. Umm... Oh dear. How am I going to explain things now. God? God? Are you there? I don't have all the answers? Can you lend me some? Oh wait. It looks like the rock has been dragged (or pushed), forming a trench in its wake and there appear to be tread marks in the trench that are consistent with the rover's means of transportation, or not..., and, oh dear God what do I tell the children? Think of the children! What if some madmen come along and mumble some obscure argument about pareidolia, probability, pixels, and the Copenhagen Interpretation? And I end up dragged away in a straight-jacket... Maybe it IS an illusion! Maybe NASA put it there somehow, as a way to ensure that funding continues... Or not... Maybe this isn't Mars... Maybe it is... Does a tree still fall in the forest if there's no rover around to record the event?"

    I read a story about how one young man lost his girlfriend, an archaeology student, over this picture. He showed her this image but introduced it as an image taken in some desert (which isn't really a lie since it IS a desert on another planet). She started going off about oh how cool blah blah blah, evidence of a lost civilization, blah, blah, blah, where did they take this image? He told her Mars and instantly her attitude shifted more to the pareidolia, probability, pixels and Copenhagen Interpretation spectrum. She broke up with him that evening for "tricking" her.

    Some mysteries are just too big for me.