Three-Dimensional Structure Identified from Single Sections

Science  03 Dec 1971:
Vol. 174, Issue 4013, pp. 993-1000
DOI: 10.1126/science.174.4013.993


Errors in the identification of objects have been made frequently because of faulty interpretation of their flat images or sections. Such errors are perpetuated through a strange psychological chain reaction.

1) The first author who observes sections of an object, although presenting faithful pictures of sections of it, identifies its shape incorrectly. Such an initial mistake may be due to identification of the flat image with the object itself or to failure to consider the shape of the image as a function of the shape of the real object and the angle and level of cutting.

2) The first author describes verbally his personal concept of the object.

3) The reader reads the text of a publication before or without examining the pictorial evidence.

4) The reader's belief in the authority of the printed word immunizes him against critical evaluation of the evidence.

5) The reader regards a published opinion as a "fact."

6) A mechanism of suppression of new evidence is set up in the brain of the reader in favor of previously published, verbalized concepts. His brain unconsciously rejects new concepts that might arise intracerebrally. The printed word supersedes visual evidence.

7) A secondary mechanism parallels steps 3 to 6. An observer notices an unfamiliar figure in the microscope. Following established procedures for scientific investigations, he refrains from forming an opinion about his observation. Instead he rushes to the library searching for similar, published observations. If he finds a previous report about a similar shape, he accepts it as a "fact" and he "confirms" the previously printed viewpoint. Let me interject a personal experience concerning this mechanism. I investigated the arrangement of blood vessels in the human liver by means of corrosion preparations. The work was divided between an assistant and me. He was assigned the task of preparing drawings of two specimens. In his drawings he showed a structure which was absent from the specimens but had been described in a previous publication.

This article shows simple ways for correct initial identification of shape and structure and for the breaking of the reverberating circuit of erroneous thinking.