What topics did the Exploratory cover?

The Exploratory will start with human perception: with the Explorer-visitor finding out how the senses provide information to perceive and understand the world – and sometimes misperceive and misunderstand.

There will be a wide variety of perceptual experiments on seeing, hearing, touching and the other senses: starting by looking, inwards at perceptual phenomena to suggest, by direct experience, insights into essential processes for gaining knowledge, which are still not generally considered in schools. With simple experiments, we shall show physiological and psychological principles of perception and learning; as well as sources of illusion and error.

Many illusions are fascinating phenomena which are well worth considering: though they are strictly 'outside' physics they are 'inside' and essential for us. From perception and learning, we move to principles of mechanics and physics and other sciences and how they have combined to achieve the results of technology. This ranges from simple mechanisms, such as locks and keys, and kitchen scales, to computers.

The following tentative list of main topics is given serially, but the Exploratory will be for individually chosen exploration among the wide variety of its 'Plores'.

The order given here is, however, intended to suggest the underlying theme of development – from the individual out to the world of physics, and processes and mechanisms of biology and technology – with a maintained emphasis on not only the Laws of forces and motion and so on of the traditional sciences, but also of information and computing. This leads to the new challenge and opportunities of Artificial intelligence, as we find some of our powers of perception and thinking mirrored in computers, grown from the pre-historic seed of the Abacus.

The Observer – The Visitor him/herself

Measuring basic sensitivities of the eye, the ear, touch, temperature, balance etc. The principles of detecting patterns from the external world; for touching, seeing and hearing, and the other senses.

Showing procedures by which sensory signals are ’read’ to give perception of objects and events – and how and why and when the mechanisms and procedures of perception lead us into experiencing the various phenomena of illusion. Many examples of perceptual illusions, with interactive adjustments etc., to measure and show how perceptions – true and false – relate to behaviour and errors.

Betting on probabilities, e.g. in gambling and conjuring situations. Judging people, such as criminals and saints, and idiots and geniuses from static pictures, and in real life situations with video. Aesthetic judgements, which Visitors can compare. (How 'objective' are any of our judgements?).

Visual and mental puzzles and games; Deductive v. Inductive logic, with examples to try; Laws of Thought (Boole). Learning and memory experiments.

Human Physiology
Especially non-invasive and non-harmful sensing of bodily structures and functions: e.g. ultrasound imaging of organs of the body in real time; ECG; EEG; heat sensing; muscle recording including recording with surface electrodes.

The Physical World

Light and Optics
Reflection, (why mirrors invert sideways, but not up and down) refraction, interference, scattering, polarizing; image forming and Caustics; historical uses of the camera obscura, microscopes, telescopes and other instruments; resolution of eyes and instruments and matching to the eye; particle v. wave accounts; speed of, with historical re-enactments and modern ways of measuring 'c'; colour mixing, with lights and pigments. Colour temperature and the electromagnetic spectrum, line spectra for various gases, The laser, the hologram.

Waves, temporal compared with spatial, as in a gramophone; amplitude and frequency, simple and complex waves, beats, resonance, Fourier, velocity measurements with historical methods. How the loudspeaker works. Musical instruments, how they work.

Basic Properties – inertia, weight, mass, friction (producing heat) compression and tensile strength, springs, etc. The three states of matter, with gas-liquid changes in boiling water, and in a refrigerator.

Kinetic and Potential in various forms. Heat and the Second Law. Maxwell’s Demon. Experiments on conservation; on our own energy expenditure; conversions and efficiencies. Practical heating systems, and experiments on lagging etc. Available sources of useful energy; high and low grade energy and why important.

Real and Apparent (Coriolis) forces; mechanical v. electrical and magnetic et;. Inertial forces, gyroscopes; parallelogram of forces; levers and gears; forces of construction and destruction.

Loss of energy through friction to heat; why lubricants work. Low friction bearings, especially in the development of clocks. Perpetual motion attempts.

Mechanical principles and mechanisms
Degrees of freedom; simple machines, gears, slides, levers, etc.; Mechanisms such as clocks and cars.

Historical experiments to modern electronics. including control systems, and computers – there is a huge range here.

Historical emphasis on William Gilbert’s experiments on magnetism and the compass; Faraday’s coil, and the dynamo and motor; and (by relating with ’h’ above) the nature of matter by e.g. deflecting electron beams with magnetic and electrostatic fields with CRT’s.

Basic concepts of representing with symbols, and selection of alternatives; channel capacity and coding. (This is not at all easy because unfamiliar. but important).

Mechanical-electronic computing. Here mechanical models may show logical functions of computers. Analog v. digital. Principles of micro processors – with several to use. Graphics; games, including chess – leading to principles of AI.

Past Present and Future

Re-Enacting key historical experiments
E.g vacuum pumps; Galileo’s falling weights down inclined planes, etc. This should really bring science and its history alive.

Examples of familiar gadgets, especially around the home – for finding out how things work.

How to put ideas together creatively.


Adapted from: The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre, Plan for Action 1, February 1983 and The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre, Plan for Action 2, February 1985.



© 2000 The Exploratory
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