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Theories and Puzzles of Light: Whiteboard Edition

September 19, 2011

Today, in my inquiry class, research groups reported out about their investigations.

Some groups did investigations that led them to propose some theories. Here’s an example of a group proposing a theory of what they think happens when light hits mirrors, shiny surfaces, and matte surfaces base on their investigation.

Here’s another group bringing attention to a puzzle they discovered and are trying to understand. The puzzle concerns why we can see two spots of light when the flashlight shines against a whiteboard. One spot of light is big and everyone agrees where to point on the whiteboard to locate it. The other spot is smaller and we don’t all seem to see it in the same place.

Of course, the above theories are pretty much all that’s need to work out the puzzle. But our class is still far away from being in a position to do so. First, we aren’t all committed to the theories proposed above. For the moment, they are reasonable ideas, not firm theoretical commitments. Neither, do we know that those theories are the relevant ones for solving the puzzle. Neither do we really know how to apply those theories for the range of phenomena to which they do apply. Right now those theories seem to just explain where “light” goes, but we aren’t really in the vicinity of thinking about source-object-receiver models; nor are we thinking of images as explainable with where light goes. All we’ve done is generated some theories about what happens when light hits surfaces and we’ve generated some perplexing puzzles about what happens when light hits a certain surface. We have some fantastic theories and some fantastic puzzles. My job will be to help close to gap between the two.

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