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Tony Grist

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Dark [Feb. 10th, 2006|08:52 am]
Tony Grist
OK- so most of the universe is made up of "dark matter"- which doesn't show up on any of our scientific instruments- and "dark energy"- which is even more elusive. As one of the sceptical participants in last night's Horizon grumbled, "this isn't physics, it's fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Exactly.

Am I being naiive, or does this mean that scientific materialism is finished? Or, to put it another way, who's to say that ghosts and fairies (and angels and demons and djinns and gods and goddesses and Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster) can't exist when it's scientific orthodoxy that most of the stuff in the universe is something other than matter as we know it?
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From: minnesattva
2006-02-10 02:32 am (UTC)
They're all just stories, right? I mean, from my (scant) knowledge of modern cosmology, dark matter/energy seems to be a way of saying "the world is like this, according to all our observations, but we can't really explain it so we'll give it this weird name."

It might end up being viewed by future scientists the way we view "aether." Aether says more about the scientists than science. It's like an inkblot test: what you learn from it is not that there is such a thing as the aether but that people thought there should be some medium through which light travelled. No one knew how this could be, but they did had a name for it. Until later developments refined our understanding.

Now, gravity and whatnot do certain things to certain other things, and no one knows how, so they call it dark matter and dark energy. It's a story.

And that's not that different from fairies and deities: those are just stories to explain rain and war and other big, confusing, and misunderstood things.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-02-10 03:23 am (UTC)
That's a good way of looking at it.

Giving something a name creates the illusion that we know what we're talking about- only half the time we don't.

The programme last night featured some guys who've been working down a mineshaft for 16 years trying to capture a particle of dark matter. Thus far they've come up with zilch.
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[User Picture]From: cassiopia
2006-02-10 10:11 am (UTC)
Hmmm...I think my boyfriend is about to join that experiment...is the mineshaft in Italy?

anarchist_nomad had his PhD in astrophysics. He just accepted a postdoc position at Oxford in which he will be studying dark matter. He'll be over there 2-4 years. Which is exciting for him but dreadful for me since I am in Illinois. LOL
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-02-10 11:24 am (UTC)
This particular mineshaft was somewhere in the North of England, but I believe similar experiments are being carried out at a number of different sites.

You'll be visiting him in Oxford, won't you?
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[User Picture]From: cassiopia
2006-02-10 11:57 am (UTC)
Sure, I'll visit. But plane tickets costing what they do and my vacation time allotment being as pitiful as it is, I'll be lucky to get over once a year. The ultimate plan is for me to try and move over there but finding a way around all the red tape is problematic. We are polyamorous and marriage is not an option. His primary partner will be living with him and our relationship is too new for me to move in with them so I'd need my own place as well. Many hurdles.
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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2006-02-10 03:23 am (UTC)
It was an interesting programme, with a popular narration style but without being dumbed down.

I found the Israeli scientist Milgrom particularly interesting. Conceptually it's more convincing to say that if you can't make empirical observations about "stuff" then it doesn't exist, and therefore the laws of physics must be wrong. That's exactly what Einstein did with the theory of relativity - the Michelson-Morley experiments demonstrated the lack of an aether and the constancy of the speed of light, though most physicists at the time presumed that meant the experiment was flawed or just not sensitive enough.

As for scientific materialism, well at least the programme didn't discuss string theory ... another thing which many physicists "believe" to be right but for which there it little, if any, compelling evidence. I wonder what Richard Dawkins has to say about that?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-02-10 03:28 am (UTC)
It was fun wasn't it? I particularly liked the bit where they were playing tennis with invisible rackets.

Yes, Milgrom was interesting. I guess the whole thing rather nicely illustrated Newton's line about wandering along the edge of an unknown ocean, picking up sea shells.

I find it both comforting and exhilarating (if that's not a total contradiction) to have it confirmed that there's still so much we don't know.

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[User Picture]From: qos
2006-02-10 05:42 am (UTC)
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. . .

For which I am always extremely grateful.
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[User Picture]From: forestdweller
2006-02-10 06:19 am (UTC)
Hear Hear
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-02-10 11:25 am (UTC)
Next time someone asks, "Is there a rational scientific explanation for this?" I'll be tempted to answer, "Yes, there is; it's called dark energy."
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2006-02-10 05:44 am (UTC)
Oh, good, we have reached the place where we can't continue scentifically, and must now rely on conjecture.

I love it when a new sub-atomic particle is discovered and given a silly new name. It's like Something (something in a seventh dimension somewhere) is toying with us: "Let's give them a Stickyon to ponder!"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-02-10 11:27 am (UTC)
There's one called "strangeness" isn't there?

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2006-02-10 11:33 am (UTC)
Indeed there is.
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