One-Off: Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark

One-Off: Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark

Dark matter and dark energy are more directly motivated by observations of the real world. Dark matter is apparently needed to account for the gravitational effects that seem to come from parts of space where no ordinary matter is visible, or not enough to explain the tug. For example, rotating galaxies seem to have some additional source of gravitational attraction, beyond the visible stars and gas, that stops them from flying apart. The “lensing” effect where distant astrophysical objects get distorted by the gravitational warping of spacetime also seems to demand this invisible form of matter. But dark matter does not exist in the usual sense, in that it has not been seen and there are no theories that can convincingly explain or demand its existence. Dark energy too is a kind of “stuff” required to explain the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, discovered by astronomers observing far-away objects in the mid-1990s. But it is just a name for a puzzle, without any direct detection.

It seems quite possible that dark energy, and perhaps dark matter too, will turn out to be like Crookes’ “dark space” and “radiant energy”: not exactly stuff, but symptoms of some hitherto unknown physical principle. These connections were exquisitely intuited by Philip Pullman in theHis Dark Materials trilogy, where (the title alone gives a clue) a mysterious substance called Dust is an amalgam of dark matter and Barrett’s quasi-sentient psychomeres, given a spiritual interpretation by the scientist-priests of Pullman’s alternative steampunk Oxford University who sense its presence using instruments evidently based on Crookes’ light mill.

Scientists, of course, are not just making things up, while leaning on the convenience of supposed invisibility. They are using dark matter and dark energy, and (if one is charitable) quantum many-worlds and branes, and other imperceptible and hypothetical realms, to perform an essential task: to plug gaps in their knowledge with notions they can grasp.

From Nautilus, a great publication for all the obvious reasons. This article was perfect. I’d definitely recommend it. If only I could write half as well. 

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2 thoughts on “One-Off: Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark

  1. Physicists make up things all the time because tney just don’t know what happens at certain points. For example, to explain the epansion of the universe immediately following the big bang, they had to use the concept of “Planck Time”, after Max Planck, the time required for light to travel in a vaccum, which of course violates the currently known laws of physics since Planck Time at the Big Bank would have been faster than the speed of light. That is, E=MC^2, Einstein’s equation, meant nothing at the big bang.

    Or did it?

    You see, people like Lawrence Krauss compete to make up the best-fit theory and somehow that becomes a psuedo-consensus in the physics community. However, you will recall that until 1964, when scientists at Bell Labs discovered the background radiation left over from the Big Bang, these physicists thought there was no big bang, no beginning.

    Now, where is the “experiment”, Lawrence Krauss, that explains the “Faster than the Speed of Light Time” at the big bang. Reproducing the smallest units of time in a lab does not mean they were present at the Big Bang. It just means that it is a possibility, 51.01% probability at best.

    There is no evidence other than a “best fit” model and physicists shoukd admit this when they are on programs like “The Universe” and “The Cosmos”.

    • “There is no evidence other than a “best fit” model and physicists shoukd admit this when they are on programs like “The Universe” and “The Cosmos”.”

      Whatever my agreement is worth you have it. I’m reminded of the old adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing. And into this category I would also put groups like Fuck Yeah Science, a popular Facebook page, and any other media that release little nuggets of ‘science’ for the panting public. But people need to either drink deep or not drink from the Pierian spring. Otherwise this sort of fashionable ignorance punctuated by easily digestible facts is a parody of our expedition into the natural world.

      As for the bit of history lesson I found that interesting. Though I imagine it will not find its way into many popular science lessons I’m glad I can say that information now resides on my blog.

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