Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A note from Matt Jordan

Matt Jordan wrote:

So we're not meeting for the philosophy group right now. But I can still pontificate at you, can't I? I'm TA-ing for a philosophy of religion class this quarter, and one of the issues that keeps coming up (or at least, one of the issues that I can't stop thinking about) concerns the highly speculative nature of much advanced physics these days. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm pro-science. But I find it a bit irritating that if someone in a white lab coat says something, it's taken as gospel truth by so many in our culture, even though some of it is far more contentious than some of what the philosophers (and, dare I suggest, theologians) say. The nature of theoretical science suggests that greater humility than is usually displayed would be appropriate.

My point may not be especially clear. The World Series is on behind me, and I'm having trouble focusing my thoughts. Basically, I just wanted an excuse to introduce the following quote from my favorite weekly sports column, Tuesday Morning Quarterback (on nfl.com):

Tuesday Morning Quarterback regularly notes the "dark energy" puzzle -- cosmologists believe the galaxies move as if acted upon by far more matter and energy than can be detected in the firmament. For the last decade or so, physicists have posited the explanation is mysterious "dark energy" that defies detection. Last year's common estimates used by astrophysicists was that 85 percent of the content of the cosmos is undetectable. As yours truly said in this space, "We can't find 85 percent of the universe. But trust us, we're experts." This year many researchers have endorsed the idea that an incredible 96 percent of the universe is exotic "dark" stuff that cannot be located.

Comes now these words from the frontiers of science. First, Edward Kolb, a researcher at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, declared the whole dark-energy concept may be nonsense . That still leaves the problem of explaining the movement of the galaxies. Kolb's proposal? The galaxies move as they do because they are following "perturbations" in space-time, extremely large-scale structures created during the Big Bang. Why can't we discover the perturbations? They, um, are undetectable, Kolb thinks. Back to Square One. But wait! Consider this recent paper by two researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada, pointed out by Bobby Schmidt of Bellevue, Washington. The paper posits the galaxies do, in fact, move as if acted upon solely by the matter and energy accounted for; it's just that scientists haven't realized the equations of general relativity already explain galactic motion. So we fell for the notion that 96 percent of the universe is concealed in mysterious forces, and now it turns everything was directly in front of our eyes the whole time. But trust us, we're experts!

1 comment:

Mike D said...

It just so happens I am wading through an article in Scientific American about curved space where a light beam can travel an infinite distance in a finite amount of time in a reverse curved quantum model of the universe.

I detect a move from scientific observation to theoretical doctrines seeking to defend scientific orthodoxy. Science turned religious?