Scientific Thinking LO21909

Leo Minnigh (
Tue, 15 Jun 1999 15:44:40 +0200 (MET DST)

Replying to LO21889 and LO21876

Dear LO'ers,

I wonder if the crap detector of John Gunkler is only his nose, or is he
using also his other senses :-).
At de Lange promotes the use of all the senses, first digestive, than

I would like to start with the crap detector (D3 of At de Lange), since it
is much easier to find crap than to find gems (that is why gems are gems).
It is a matter of occurrence. In an overpopulated area the amount of crap
is overwhelming the possible gems. But in a desert or on the moon a piece
of crap might be a gem.

A (crap) detector is a siever or filter. It splits the worth from the
crap. BUT (1) all the succes of filtering depends on the mazes of the very
sieve! If the mazes are too wide, nothing else than crap will fall
through, no gem will be detected. On the other hand, if the mazes are
smaller, there is a chance that possible gems are mixt with the crap. BUT
(2) filtering or sieving is only valid, if originally there was crap as
well as gems! The one cannot exist without the other.

So what is the crap detector and what is the gem detector? Are we looking
to the left overs underneath the sieve, or are we looking to what is left
above the sieve?

BUT (3) usually not only one sieve will serve. We need other filters,
since even the crap may still contain gems.

Gold is a gem. One can use only one detector: the eyes. Gold is yellow and
shiny. Easy to recognise. But those who only will use their eyes to select
the gold from the crap, will be fooled soon. The cheap and common iron
sulphite, called pyrite is yellow and shiny. It is also called 'fuller's
gold'. A lot of people have been fooled. One needs other senses (other
filters) to distinguish the real gold from the fake gold.

This reminds me of a story that I just saw last weekend in the newspaper.
Pig's excrements form a serious problem for the environment, mainly
because of the huge quantities. In the old days it was used as manure for
the crop fields. But due to the intense cultivation and breeding of pigs,
the balance is lost. The manure causes acid rain and other problems.
Mainly these problems result from the amonia. At present, an engineering
consultancy developed a very simple solution for these problems. Untill
now, urine together with the solid parts of the excrements were stored
together. It is the urine which produces the amonia (rich in nitrogen),
the solid parts contain much phosphor. The running experiments are based
on the separation of the two at the location of the sty. By sampling the
excrements on a slightly inclined conveyer belt, the urine flows to a
separate tank, whereas the solid material is transported to another
reservoir. Simple solution. The consultancy's slogan is: "Crap is no
waste, but a commodity".

Another example of re-working the crap is told me during a mining
engineering course during my study. It is the story of the silver mines of
the Inca's in Latin America. The huge pile of tailings (waste material of
the mine) of the mining activity of the Inca's (which was crap for them),
is until now three times reworked. It appeared that it was much easier to
look for more silver in the tailings, than searching for new original
deposits. Due to better separation techniques again and again, still
silver could be separated from the original crap.

In other words, looking for gems, one should not deny the crap. It is a
matter of using another filter than the former one. So, the filter of the
thinker is another filter than the filter of the editor (he was also
separating crap from gem). This reworking or recycling is nothing else
than an industrialised turbulent flow, recycling again and again.

One could also produce crap with the intention to produce gem, but
knowing it is still crap.
Another example from the mining industry, which was told to me in NE
Brazil. Local farmers in that area are so called 'garimpeiros' (mineral
hunters) during the long dry periods in that part of the world. Farming
was impossible, so these people were looking for other ways to get some
means of live. In NE Brazil there is a rare mineral, called Scheelite,
rich in Wolfram (tungsten). Tungsten is a strategic element used for
hardening purposes of military equipment. During WW II, the United States
needed a lot of Scheelite for their war industry. So Scheelite is a very
valid gem. The characteristics of Scheelite are: fluorisence and the
mineral is pretty heavy, and it is white coloured. What did the Brazilian
garimpeiros? They made a crap-gem. They used a mixture of white milk
powder (fluoriscence) with another mineral, Barite. Barite is also light
coloured, is heavy, but far more common and easy to find. According to the
storyteller, a lot of tons of this fake scheelite was exported to the
United States. Apparently still another filter or detector was needed to
separate the real scheelite from the milk-barite mixture. This filter was
the expensive chemical analysis. Was this the spoiler detector of the

In other words, I do not understand very well the stories of John Gunkler
and At de Lange. All their detectors are nothing else than a series of
filters. One should realise that a crap detector is also a gem detector.
Just look on the other side of the filter or sieve.

The thing is that the world is not so simple that it consists of only crap
and gems. We have already seen that with only one filter or detector, we
are only able to separate on ONE characteristic (for instance colour, or
size, or density). We can either split in black and not black; larger than
a foot and smaller than a foot; denser than water, or less denser than
As soon as other characteristics play a role, we need for each extra
characteristic an extra filter.

And At is correct that all our senses are detectors or filters in
themselves. If we only could use our eyes, we have a tough task to
distinguish pyrite from gold (extra filter, e.g. a magnet), or calcite
from quartz (extra filter, e.g. a knife to see which is harder).

So in conclusion, John with his detector, looking for crap, was looking
underneath the sieve, whereas At looked for gems above the same sieve. And
Rick, our host is using just another filter, to either refine the crap,
or refining the gems. The principles are the same, the criteria may be
In my mind, all detectors are instruments which all belong to the stage of
'Observation' of the scientific method.

dr. Leo D. Minnigh
Library Technical University Delft
PO BOX 98, 2600 MG Delft, The Netherlands
Tel.: 31 15 2782226
Let your thoughts meander towards a sea of ideas.


Leo Minnigh <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>