‘Once a scientist, always a scientist’ seems to be an affliction I suffer from. Although I have recently gained a number of postgraduate qualifications in Philosophy, it seems that my initial training as a biochemist has embedded a pragmatism that ruins my ability to think more ‘philosophically’. A great recent example came whilst reading Peter Benson’s article ‘The Ontology of Photography’ in Issue 95. I found myself intrigued and fascinated as I pondered the difference between analogue and digital pictures – before my scientist head kicked in. More specifically the part of me that processes X-ray diffraction images collected on CCD detectors. Here I regularly find myself analyzing the distribution of pixels in order to distinguish between background levels and the intensity peaks that represent my data. As soon as you start performing analyses at this level, you quickly discover distributions of pixels in ‘real’ digital images that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fake, even with the best Photoshop skills. So although Peter Benson may not be able to distinguish a good ‘fake’ digital photograph from a ‘real’ one with his eyes, I’m pretty convinced I could distinguish it rather easily using a couple of histograms.
Here we have what I perceive to be a problem with philosophy, especially ontological arguments. Philosophers come up with some great ideas that catch the imagination; however, a weekend with a science textbook often seems to deflate such arguments rather depressingly. It’s one of the reasons I have moved into ethics, because here at least philosophical thinking can occupy its own space without making claims that can be ruined by some simple mathematics or inconvenient observations that everyone except the philosophers seems to know about.