For Sparkle: What's Really Out There?

>> Thursday, July 16, 2009


Sparkle said: So i have a few questions most i dont think you will be able to answer since no one really has an answer which is why they trouble me so much but i just want your opinion on the matters. Sorry if my writing isnt very good im use to texting so not very good punctuation. Anyway i havent had the chance to read books from great minds like Newton or Einstein but i have read up alot of others summaries and comments about them but im fascinated with things like gravity,light, and the size of the universe along with how it works. Hmm how should i start off...

Might as well start out with the best i suppose. What do you think about white holes and about the chance that our universe isnt the only one. I mean how can we know for sure yet or ever know that there arent other universes at there other small condensed matter waiting to become a universe like ours and if so where and what kind of area are those other universes in is their time different than ours? Im sorry i know im asking unanswerable questions but like i said i just want your view on the matter. I will ask more questions based on your response to this one :) [sic]

Well, Sparkle, that's quite the question. Like many of the questions I get, I'll give you a short answer first: I don't know. That's people like me do for questions where the answer is, at best, speculative.

See, there's a great deal out there in the wide wide universe that doesn't fit neatly into the world was we understand it, which is incompletely. Models, particularly when delving into the world of quantum physics, only work part of the time or for part of the range or sometimes give different answers than, sigh, reality under certain circumstances. And there are still disconnects between what quantum particles (really really small things) and regular-sized stuff do that many a scientist has scratched his head over.

That's where theoretical physics come into it. Scientists try to devise explanations for what doesn't fit in with the physics as we know it, but does fit in what we can see. And, in science, reality trumps theory. In other words, if scientists think the world runs a certain way but reality demonstrates that's not true, science has to change because reality won't. These scientists come up with hypotheses to explain reality and then test it against what we can measure. Hypotheses that seem to fit with reality become theories. Hypotheses that fail get tossed during peer review. A single fact can kill a theory.

But these aren't theories like evolution and plate tectonics, which are well grounded, demonstrable and have literally piles of data to support them. Those are theories that give every indication of being fact, with only a few details still being bandied about. No, when we get into theoretical physics, we're getting more into speculative physics where the data is so sparse and limited that the hypotheses and theories that emerge sound like fantasy. Proving any of these theories might be hundreds of years in the future.

Some of the theories involve things like multiverses (as you mentioned), black or white holes, string theory, dark matter, gravitons, tachyons, in fact, many different ideas to explain what otherwise wouldn't be explainable. None can be proven. Many can't be disproven. So far, though, none of them explain everything, just some stuff here and some stuff there.

But there are a few things to remember. The first is that our ability to detect what we need to find the answers might be very limited. 100 years from now, the data we have might be lightyears beyond what we have today.

Secondly, just because these are the only explanations we've thought of doesn't mean that they are the only ones out there. Reality has thrown us a few curve balls.

So I don't know what's out there. But I don't disbelieve anything until proven impossible. Are there white holes and universes you can fit in your pocket? Are there multiverses and wormholes and tachyons flying through us as we speak? Possibly.

If you limit your disbelief to what can be readily disproven, your mind won't be closed to all the wonders that lie before you.

I like to keep an open mind, but not so open my brains fall out.
-- Arthur Sulzberger

2 comments:

  • The Mother
     

    Theoretical physics is a lot of fun. It's just the vivid imagination of some really, really smart people.

    A new set of mythology, if you will.

    Which is why so many scientists look at string theory and say, "Is it science? OR is it philosophy?"

    While the two were indeed the same idea for millennia, we have swooped past that.

  • Stephanie B
     

    One of the headaches science has is that they didn't develop new terminology for their speculative physics to separate it from scientific theories that are thoroughly well grounded in fact (or, conversely, new terminology for theories that are within kissing distance of fact). The average layman doesn't know that string theory (which they probably think is cool) falls far short of the pedigree for plate tectonics (which isn't exciting but stands a lot more chance of being reality).

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