I’m at Subtle Technologies this weekend. It’s a festival combining art and science, with an underlying theme. This year’s theme is light, so the talks are about ways in which scientists and artists use light.
So far my favourite talk was by Jayanne English, about astronomy images. She showed how the (artificial) colour in these images can be functional both scientifically (eg. to represent rotation of galaxies through red/blue shift) and artistically (to draw the eye to certain parts of the image). My favourite example was a picture that looked generally okay, but which was significantly improved in clarity and “interestingness” by just turning it upside down. The convention is to put images in the actual orientation – like a map – but it doesn’t matter if it’s upside down in this case. (It’s not like anyone will use these images as a map for space travel and get terribly lost.) And here just flipping the image, without other changes, improved it so much that it looked like a whole different picture, even though the information presented was still the same.
It’s like the difference between switching the x and y axis on a bar graph. Some graphs make more sense when you see them flipped, even though the data that were used to make either graph are obviously the same.