(I picked this up at the local library. A delightful find. I liked it so much, I almost rewrote it in reviewing it. I’ll break up the posts to keep them manageable. The first four things that don’t make sense involve physics.)
Has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, some of what passes as knowledge these days is utter nonsense? That perhaps this age of specialization in which we live is making us incredibly vulnerable to the ideas of hucksters claiming to have some specialized knowledge and insight to which we aren’t, and can’t, be privy? It’s not the point of this book to show how outlandish are some of the explanations we have devised for natural phenomena, and how slavishly science is devoted to the status quo surrounding them, but it does, and brilliantly. Without further ado, let’s delve into the thirteen things. Once done, you may wonder why Mr. Brooks stopped at thirteen.
1: The Missing UniverseThe Theory of Relativity has a problem. It may be wrong. Or, at least, if it isn’t wrong, it only helps us understand 4% of the stuff–matter and energy–in the universe. We have now to assume that 96% of the universe is comprised of dark matter and dark energy in order to make the universe as we observe it fit Einstein’s equations.
Climbing out on a limb here, I’m gonna say that, like Einstein did to Newton, some scientist, perhaps one who is not alive today, will discover a better method of describing the behavior of the universe than did Einstein. Einstein will prove correct along some limited range of experience (which would hurt the old guy tremendously were he alive to witness it, as he always wanted to explain it all, and at once with his theories), and his theory will be discarded for the rest, much like Newton’s theories of gravity not taking account of the space-time warp caused by gravity made them obsolete for functions (rare, though they be) with very high velocities or mass.
The idea of dark matter and energy making up 96% of the universe smacks to me of a rationalization by scientists that are trying to back-fill data for holes in a theory that they wish to save at any cost. In any other endeavor except theoretical physics and astronomy, commoners would have long ago pointed to the nakedness of the emperor. But no one believes themselves smart enough to question the conclusions of these high priests of the cult of science, who are presumed objective until proved irrational, and are considered exempt from the ordinary biases of each and every other human heart in the cosmos. It is a reflection on us, actually, to believe that humans are capable of reaching so close to the mind of God that we can see as He sees and think as He thinks, free of all self-interested biases, but this is the vestment we project upon our scientific priests. Perhaps we could better understand God (and thereby, the universe) if we took time to better understand ourselves, specifically our innate ability to shape reality through illusion and rationalization until its description best suits our purposes, whether that purpose is research funds, or homage to an ancestral leader of the tribe, or just inertia in thought.
We really need a theory that doesn’t need to create invisible and undetectable entities to explain what we see and feel and taste and hear in the universe. Imagine if dark matter and energy were considered attributes of God that were included as part of the canon for medieval Christianity. Would scientists have even considered allowing them into a modern-day explication of the universe? Einstein worked the last half of his life trying to reconcile quantum theory and relativity. Had he known about all the dark matter and energy that would eventually queer up relativity, I’d like to think he wouldn’t have bothered.
2) The Pioneer AnomalyIt seems that the two Pioneer space probes sent out in the seventies are drifting off-course, and we can’t explain why. It is extremely difficult to troubleshoot a spacecraft as it approaches the limits of the solar system, so I’m not so intrigued by “this thing that doesn’t make sense”. The number of variables at play are immense. Brooks argues that it may mean some of Newton’s equations concerning gravity need revision, and yet it may, but I think were that the case, we should be able to test such a hypothesis closer to home, under more controlled circumstances. As it stands, all we can do in concluding Newton was wrong is to prove the negative that nothing else, out of all the imaginable else’s there might be for spacecraft that have been traveling for decades, has caused them to drift off course, which is utterly impossible.
3) Varying ConstantsIt appears that perhaps some of the various numbers involved in explaining the universe vary. There are roughly twenty-six physical constants that have been derived by experiment. These include thing such as the Newton’s gravitational constant, a mathematical description of the magnitude of gravitational pull relative to mass and distance (about which some concern was expressed so far as the Pioneer spacecraft’s course deviations were concerned), and the Planck constant, which is a proportion representing the relationship between quantum energy and particle wavelength.
In my estimation, it would be quite surprising if we discovered that all of the constants thus far discovered, for which we can ascertain no abiding principle yielding their seemingly arbitrary levels, should be constant for all corners of the universe at all times. Where was gravity at the Big Bang? Could a mathematically-precise description of gravity have been obtained at that moment that would then last the succeeding thirteen or so billion years? Gravity is a force presumably infused in every speck of matter and energy in the universe. That gravity happens to look the same around us today might be a function of the corner of space-time in which we find ourselves. And to believe we can realistically measure the gravitational force for the far-flung reaches of the universe–some of which are completely beyond our view–seems a bit outlandish. So we don’t really know whether gravity is everywhere and at all times the same as it is here. This uncertainty points to the weakness in a central assumption of physics–that the universe operates according to the same fundamental laws throughout all of space-time. But if we believe the Big Bang to be real, we know that during that space-time interval, there was a complete breakdown of the universe’s fundamental laws. It is claimed by Big Bang theorists that the fundamental constants didn’t appear until some fractions of a second after the bang. Physicists believe the universe is isotropic, i.e., the same in all corners of space-time, even against their own evidence that it is isn’t. Like Oliver Wendell Holmes said about the law, logic is not, apparently, the life of physics.
4) Cold FusionMy eyes glazed over reading this one. Whether it has been proved to work or not really doesn’t matter, until some functioning and useful means of applying the idea is developed. This one isn’t much of “thing that doesn’t make sense” because it isn’t yet much of a thing at all.