Thursday, November 13, 2008

The New Denial of Science: Monkeys on Trial

We now know we're descended from monkeys. Our current monkey-like behavior proves it:


The modern-day Copernican principle amounts to two assumptions. First, that averaged over large enough scales the universe is homogeneous, having essentially the same properties in all locations. Second, that the universe is isotropic, or appears to have the same properties when viewed in any direction from every location. These two ideas are intimately related, but logically separate (see diagram). They were introduced into cosmology not because of any observational evidence, but to save face. In 1917, Albert Einstein had applied his theory of gravity - general relativity - to the dynamics of the universe. Without the simplifying assumptions of homogeneity and isotropy, Einstein's fiendishly complex equations proved impossible to solve.

Even with those assumptions, Einstein's initial insistence that we live in an unchanging universe led him to the wrong solutions. By dropping the "unchanging universe" requirement a few years later, cosmologists created the picture that became the kernel of today's phenomenally successful big bang model. In this picture, the universe started out as a single, infinitely hot and dense point in space, and has since been expanding - initially rapidly, but gradually more slowly as gravity has exerted its pull on the mass of the cosmos.

All seemed well, with evidence in support of the big bang model piling up throughout the 20th century. Then, in 1998, astronomers studying stellar explosions known as type 1a supernovae made a sensational discovery. These supernovae are thought to be uniformly bright, so that the fainter they appear to us, the farther they must be away. But measurements showed that the most distant supernovae did not fit in: they were a lot fainter than they should have been, and seemed impossibly far away. Some time over the past few billion years, they must have begun to race away from us ever faster. Rather than the universe's expansion slowing down, it looked like it was speeding up.

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According to Ellis and others, our uncertainty about galaxy distances allows an interesting possibility. The distribution of matter could look the same in all directions, but vary with distance from us. In particular, we might be sitting in the middle of a "void" - a vast spherical bubble in an otherwise homogeneous universe. This bubble is not devoid of matter. In fact, most of the stars and galaxies we can see from Earth would be contained within it. It's just that everywhere beyond it, which is too far away to see, the density of stars and galaxies is much higher.

NewScientist


When we talk about the arrogance of science, we probably mean the tendency of scientists to see a bit of truth that's verifiable, and then make a horde of assumptions based upon it -- which are not verifiable, but are presented as being as equally verifiable as the originally factoid itself.

That's like me looking in the mirror and saying, "I have an attractive nose hair... so I must be attractive. Brad Pitt, outta my way!"

Of course, in a dying civilization, everyone is looking for a reason to be important so they can market themselves, and these scientists didn't come close to dying in obscurity.

However, we now must re-assess: how much of our many "Enlightenments" were actually misperceptions? Do all human failings come back to the perceptual fallacy, where we forget that appearances are relative to our own Heisenbergian perspective within the situation, and not outside of it like some dualistic God?

1 Comments:

At 5:52 PM , Blogger Forrest said...

A vastly simpler possibility exists than we're living within a void. The Big Bang is as always has been simply a joke as many scientists today realize but are afraid to speak out for fear they will lose their job or their funding. The answer always has been simple, nothing complicated. For my explanation see technical paper at pantheory.org. forrest noble

 

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Subvert the dominant paradigm, don't be a solipsist.

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