Visual perception constitutes a fundamental way of obtaining information with empirical content towards understanding the world and acting within it.
Related to visual perception, observation is an important way of validating scientific knowledge. However, observation, and especially in a scientific context, is not limited only to perceptual observation. In the context of scientific observation practice, transformed and sophisticated elements - products of indirect, mediated perception, i.e. data - are used.
The usage of such elements, which are distinct from the raw elements of direct perception, seems, prima facie, to circumvent important epistemological problems (e.g., cognitive penetrability, theory-ladenness, theoretic underdetermination, etc.). However, as it turns out, even in such ‘mechanized’ approaches, the factor of subjective perception cannot (and also should not) be eliminated.
This Master’s thesis promotes a way of addressing such problems and an approach to scientific observation that largely rely on expert visual perception.
Experts present both theoretical and practical knowledge related to the specific domain under study (i.e., domain related knowledge). This practical knowledge is characterized by the fact that it is not declarative but procedural, and therefore tends not to be reduced to knowledge-that, i.e. to the explicit inclusion of the relevant facts. In order to respond and act in an intelligent and skillful way, it appears necessary to possess a know-how/knowing-how in which a tacit dimension is involved and with which the presence and mainly the manifestation of skills is interwoven. The expert possesses a kind of tacit knowledge that manifests itself in conducting skillful behaviors. Findings from cognitive science and psychology show that expert observation patterns - as they arise from eye tracking techniques - are significantly different from those of non-experts.
Therefore, expert observation involves observational skills emerging from systematic and deliberate practice, on the basis of which the visual perception and attention is directed and/or guided. It is precisely this directed attention that leads to a relatively homogeneous way in which experts observe the visual scenes related to their field of specialization – in comparison to the non-experts’ way of observing. The cultivated and acquired observation habits lead scientists-observers to immediately and readily perceive the objects and phenomena under investigation (e.g., recognition of anatomical irregularities in X-rays, recognition of cloud types in the sky) as well as solving problems or making decisions in an effective way (e.g., diagnosis of diseases, weather forecasting, etc.). However, the perceptual immediacy and readiness (“all-at-once-ness”) of scientific observation tends to involve in principle psychological type of evidence – that is aesthetic valuations.
Besides, scientific observation cannot take place on the basis of individual observations and isolated observer scientists. Instead, scientific activity is a collective process that is conducted in the context of thought collectives inspired by discrete thought styles that function in a manner which makes the attention particularly selective and, therefore, promote an almost instinctive ability to immediately perceive definite forms and objects (Gestaltsehen). Ultimately, these thought styles – which come to result in seeing styles - although they are derivative of social interactions and historical contingency, are understood by the scientists of the various collectives as having a timeless and immutable substance. In this sense, scientific observation is a function of the scientific style of each discipline and creates a relatively stabilized world of entities and phenomena to which all members of collectives who have assimilated this style of thought have access. However, the price for this ‘guaranteed’ access to the same, ‘bound’ elements of empirical reality is the unconscious loss of the capability to perceive other, potentially observable, elements.