The Economist recently ran an article, The dark side of the universe, reporting on scientific attempts to understand what is causing the universe to expand at an ever increasing rate.  Instead, the article mainly illuminates the dark side of theoretical physics.  When will someone, anyone, point to the theoretical physicist’s emperor, General Relativity, and explain to them that he is buck naked?   A theory purporting to explain everything, or at least everything until things get really small, that requires 96% of everything to be incapable of detection by any means so far developed (dark matter and dark energy), is not a theory about everything.  It is a theory about nothing.  Which ironically fits quite well with the reigning ideology of another particular branch of physics (string theory and its progeny), some implications of which were recently popularized, sort of, by Laurence Krauss in his latest book, A Universe out of Nothing?, which posits, haltingly and not very convincingly, that the universe could have arisen from nothing.  Why don’t the Einsteinians and the String Theorists just get together and declare that there is nothing, nothing at all, in the universe, and be done with it?  The Irish philosopher George Berkeley will have beat them to the punch by about three hundred years, and in a very Einsteinian way, by simply intuiting his way to nothingness, and not because a pile of fancy equations didn’t work if there was something. But still, at least by admitting where their big theoretical physicist brains continually lead, they might just rediscover the compelling limitation of reason in the service of emotion, something which Berkeley and a great many other wise men have been intuitively well aware, but from which theoretical physicists seem to believe themselves exempt.

The Economist article seems to fairly closely represent the paradigmatic view of the science of cosmology, given that journalists are paid to report, not evaluate, so examining some of its assertions might be profitable in helping to evaluate the present state of the science (or mysticism) regarding how the universe is organized, from the article:

It has been known since the late 1920s that the universe is getting bigger. But it was thought that the expansion was slowing. When in 1998 two independent studies reached the opposite conclusion, cosmology was knocked head over heels. Since then, 5,000 papers have been written to try to explain (or explain away) this result.

How, exactly, does a “universe” get bigger such that it is known to be doing so?  If the universe encompasses everything, then how can everything be enlarging?  Into what nothingness not encompassed by a universe comprising everything can a universe comprising everything expand?  Thus the premise fails, at least linguistically, before even lurching out of the gate, resolving to a mush of logical contradiction.

But assuming there is such a thing as a universe encompassing everything that can still expand like a marauding empire, swallowing up the far reaches of nothingness that are somehow not already included in its imperial domain of everything, what possible difference could it make whether the expansion rate was increasing or decreasing?  Except to cosmologists?  Could it be simply because expansion at an accelerating rate happens not to square with the pretty little box of equations physicists built to contain the rampaging beast?  So we get 5,000 scientific papers on a problem that could easily be resolved by pointing out that a universe, properly understood as encompassing everything, including nothing, does not, and cannot expand in any meaningful, logically sound, way.  But things get more absurd.  

Many of those 5,000 papers deal with something that has come to be known as dark energy. One reason for its popularity is that, at one fell swoop, it explains another big cosmological find of recent years. In the early 1990s studies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), an all-pervading sea of microwaves which reveals what the universe looked like when it was just 380,000 years old, showed that the universe, then and now, was “flat”. However big a triangle you draw on it—the corners could be billions of light years apart—the angles in it would add up to 180°, just as they do in a school exercise book.

Now we have an expanding universe that is also flat.  How flat?  Is it flat, like road-kill flat?  Or is it simply sort of skinnier one way than it appears another?  I could draw triangles on the globe that sits on the corner of my desk.  Would those angles also add up to 180 degrees?  Indeed, I thought not.  But you can draw triangles on a universe in which the globe on my desk and everything else is contained and no matter how big (or presumably small) is the triangle, the interior angles will behave just like Euclid’s, as if drawn on a flat sheet of paper?  Quite remarkable is this universe abstractly conjured by that Swiss Patent Clerk.  But didn’t he say it was curved? 

At some scales space is not at all flat: the power of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity lies in its interpretation of gravity in terms of curved space. Cosmologists were quite prepared for it to be curved at the grandest of scales, and intrigued to discover that it was not.

So, flat and curved and triangular angle additions are a matter of scale?  I’m still having trouble getting past the idea that everything, as is a proper universe comprising everything, can, in aggregate, have a shape (i.e., flat), as if we can somehow stand apart from this universe of everything to which we belong and view it with the eyes of God.  But no, I understand, a great deal of this exercise is to eliminate any need, or at least supplant with human understanding, the idea of God, neverminding the reality that Krauss’ universe that arose from nothing is also the means by which roughly two billion pious humans believe it came to be.  

Relativity says that for the universe to be flat, it has to have a very particular density—which in relativity is a measure not just of the mass contained in a certain volume, but also of the energy. The puzzle was that various lines of evidence showed that the universe’s endowment of ordinary matter (the stuff that people, planets and stars are made of) would give it just 4% of that density. Adding in extraordinary matter—“dark matter”, not made of atoms, that interacts with the rest of the universe almost only by means of gravity—gets at most an extra 22%.

Ah, so now that we have assigned this universe of everything a shape, our reigning theory attempting to explain it requires that it have a particular density, however in the world the density of a thing comprising everything, including nothing, is measured.  We’ve gone from giving a universe of everything a shape, to requiring it contain a particular density, but of what?  Apparently something that’s like nothing, but isn’t nothing, and is a very dense something that is like nothing, but isn’t. How again does everything, including all of the nothing contained within it, have a density?

Whatever it is that is driving the universe’s accelerating expansion fits the bill rather well. Add the amount of energy needed to keep cosmic acceleration going to the amount of matter and energy in the universe already accounted for and you have more or less exactly the density of matter and energy needed to make the universe flat. But there is a catch; for the sums to tally, that “dark energy”—Dr Turner is thought to have coined the term— must be very strange stuff indeed. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, energy in the form of radiation has the same sort of gravitational effect as matter does—the photons of which light is made exert a pressure, and this in turn gives rise to a gravitational attraction. In order to drive its acceleration, then, dark energy must instead have a repulsive effect. It must, in other words, exert a negative pressure.

How can the 96% of something that is like nothing but isn’t, be described as flat, or have really any attributes at all?  But somebody please define flat.  I’m pretty sure I’m not flat, by whatever scale it is measured.  How can something with just our little insignificant solar system a part of it be considered flat?  There is this ages-old philosophical question about divisibility that comes to mind.  Zeno’s arrow never gets to where it’s going because its flight could be said at any moment to be traveling half the remaining distance to its target.  Really being flat would seem as impossible as Zeno’s arrow reaching its target.  But to get Einstein’s equations to work, we have to invent a substance that pervades the universe, whose only discernible effect is that it counteracts the very agent (gravity) which the theory purports to explain?  How remarkably convenient.  Surely this couldn’t simply be a conjured rationalization in the service of Einsteinian loyalty.

Divide dark energy’s pressure (negative) by its energy density (positive) and you get something cosmologists label “w”. It is easy to see that w must be negative. Observations made since 1998 suggest that w is pretty close to -1. If it were found to be exactly -1, that would make dark energy something physicists call a cosmological constant. A cosmological constant is the same no matter where in the universe you look—an inherent, unchanging feature of the fabric of creation, however much it expands, twists or ties itself in knots.

The idea that “observations” since 1998 that seem to indicate the negative pressure and the density of dark energy are equal, (i.e., that their ratio resolves to negative one, which is a far less elegant and far more convoluted way of saying they are equal), is quite incredible on its face, since dark energy or pressure can’t have been observed, else it wouldn’t be dark, and if it hasn’t been observed, how then could its quantity have been tallied?  But the idea that such a thing would comprise a cosmological constant, the same no matter where in the universe one looks, is hardly remarkable at all, considering that the pervading cosmological constant of which we know, i.e., gravity, is an all-pervasive cosmological constant this dark energy and pressure cosmological constant is intended to counterbalance, apparently for the purpose of preserving the elegance of the relativity equations.

The cosmological constant is another thing first dreamed up by Einstein. On realising that the equations of general relativity allowed for the universe’s expansion (or, indeed, contraction), he added a parameter describing just such a constant in order to keep it from doing either. For all his notoriously counterintuitive predictions, an expanding universe was one he was not prepared to countenance, at least not in 1917, when he published his theory. After Edwin Hubble’s discovery 12 years later that other galaxies were indeed streaming away from Earth’s Milky Way backyard, Einstein dropped the tweak. No doubt miffed that he had not trusted his maths in the first place, he later called the cosmological constant his “biggest blunder”.

 The discovery that Einstein was wrong about being wrong simply added to Einstein’s mythology, which has by now attained something of a cult status.  No one seems to care that, by his initial mistake of conjuring a cosmological constant and inserting it into his equations to keep his universe from expanding, the utterly non-scientific nature of his enterprise was profoundly exposed.  Even Francis Bacon, and a litany of early modern philosophers like him, understood that scientific inquiry, properly done, reaches conclusions according to the evidence, no matter where it leads.  Of course Einstein intentionally cut his universe from the whole cloth of his imagination, with really no evidence one way or another about the nature of the reality he was trying to describe.  He thought the universe into being, and remarkably, at least in some domains, the limitations of which are becoming more clear with each pass of powerful modern telescopes through the night sky, the universe that sprang from his mind actually predicted some behaviors of the universe that actually, maybe, exists.  That it later turned out a conjured and discarded constant would in fact help the universe behave according to his equations is no defense to the charge that Einstein’s observations were more mystical than experiential and scientific. And the mysticism continues.  What could dark energy and matter be considered other than mysticism in the service of elegant equations and, of course, of continued funding of gargantuan projects to prove their existence?

By then, though, the cosmological constant had been seized upon by quantum theorists, themselves in the midst of turning physics on its head. Quantum theory says that the seemingly empty vacuum of space is, in fact, not empty at all. Instead it is constantly abuzz with “virtual” particles flitting in and out of existence. The energy resulting from all this buzzing—vacuum energy—should be a fixed feature of space—in other words, a cosmological constant.

First, if gravity is everywhere connecting each bit large and small of the universe with every other, regardless how weak or strong it may be, then how could there ever have been a “seemingly empty vacuum of space”?  Gravity is a thing and it pervades every place of which we know, i.e. the entirety of the universe.  If humans once thought of space as a seemingly empty vacuum (which, incidentally, is redundant, but I quibble), the idea reflects the limits of our faculties of perception and scale that even a rudimentary, yet clear-eyed, examination of the world around us might dispel.  It is very obviously clear that nowhere in here (the universe) is empty.  If it were, it wouldn’t be a part of here, which is another problem with the darkness that seems to pervade the universe. 

The general problem with General Relativity is that it tries to conjure the base reality of the universe by looking at the qualities of entities that have emerged as a result of its fundamental attributes. Trying to ascertain the fundamental from the particular is no better means of reducing reality to its basic components than is trying to extrapolate the particular from the fundamental.  General Relativity does no better job at explaining fundamental reality than Quantum Theory does at predicting the formation of a galaxy.  The galaxies and supernova and quasars and asteroids and comets and quarks and electrons and every other discernible thing, from the very large to the minutely small, are expressions of some collection of fundamental attributes of the universe that we are apparently unable to decipher. They arose as a consequence of the interaction of multitudinous forms of what we call matter and energy in the soup of existence that is the universe, and float about in the soup, like the meat and potatoes in a stew.  But describing the nature of the very small as the “energy resulting from all this buzzing” gets things backward.  The buzzing is the energy/matter or whatever name is used to describe it.  It is the stock floating about in the soup of existence.  

And, in principle, it could also propel the universe’s expansion. Thus vacuum energy and dark energy might be the same thing. But this theoretical neatness runs into a practical problem. A naive approach to quantum theory says that vacuum energy should be a whopping 1060 to 10120 times bigger than dark energy’s estimated energy density. Some physicists call this “the worst prediction ever”. Working out why vacuum energy is not so vast has been a problem for physics ever since.

And so, what do the physicists do when faced with yet another logical corner into which they have painted themselves, when their elegant equations render nonsense?  Do they reexamine the equations, or do they shunt the anomaly off to the side, or create something even more nonsensical to explain away the anomaly?  You should know by now that the last two options are the preferred strategy of theoreticians in physics. Perhaps the moniker “metaphysician” should be revived, for it seems quite descriptive, in all that it connotes, of the enterprise.

Cliff Burgess, from Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, and the author of a handful of the 5,000 papers Dr Perlmutter has dug up, thinks he has a solution; the vacuum energy is vast, but it is almost all hidden away in extra spatial dimensions. Unlike the familiar three of length, breadth and height, these extra dimensions are curled up so tightly that they elude detection (though scientists are trying to prise them open in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva). Extra dimensions are of interest because string theory, a class of mathematical models based on quantum theory that seeks to describe reality in the most fundamental way, requires that there be at least six of them, maybe more.

So the answer is to create another dimension, invisible and undetectable, except in the equations, in which this vacuum energy might exist.  As General Relativity was born in mysticism, physicists are determined that mysticism will kill it.  String Theory might provide that the universe could have arisen from nothing, but it could not have done so without the extra-nothingness of extra dimensions.  But it gets better.

What makes Dr Burgess’s proposal unusual is that he went out on a limb and suggested that these energy-sapping, curled-up extra dimensions should be as big as a few microns across, gargantuan by string-theory standards. The reason they have not been noticed by chipmakers, virologists and others who pay attention to things on the micron scale, he contends, is that, like dark matter, they are sensitive only to gravity, and relatively oblivious to the other three of nature’s fundamental interactions: electromagnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces. This may sound like a cheap excuse but it makes robust mathematical sense. And it makes predictions; at micron scales the attraction between two masses will no longer depend on the square of the distance between them in the way that physicists since Newton have required it to.

“This may sound like a cheap excuse but it makes robust mathematical sense” is about the most accurate, if implicitly and unwittingly so, observation in the article.  But what is robust mathematical sense to a physicist is not robust logical sense to an ordinary intellect not schooled in the art of mathematical sophistry and rhetoric employed in the service of metaphysical mysticism.  This is presumably the same robust mathematical sense that gives us infinities in equations that are ignored as inexplicable, and imaginary numbers that are employed to describe what are purported to be real phenomenon. 

An alternative is to monkey with one of the existing forces. Some physicists would rather fiddle with Einstein’s theory of relativity, for instance by making gravity weaker at extremely long ranges. This is tricky. It is notoriously hard to modify the equations of general relativity without damaging the theory beyond repair. That is one reason for their enduring appeal. Another is that they have been confirmed time and again by tests that range from minute measurements of bodies circling the solar system to observations of the farthest known light sources, quasars, billions of light years from Earth. Any new theory, then, has its work cut out—which has not, of course, stopped theorists trying.

That’s it—just “make” gravity weaker at extremely long ranges, which incidentally, could never be conclusively proved or disproved.  There’s no real way to know for sure about gravity except in our local area, i.e., our solar system and perhaps a little beyond, but everywhere we look, it seems the same. 

But what is the object—to discover the attributes of the universe, or to confirm the elegance of relativity theory’s equations?  And so far as those relativity equations being confirmed by the observations of the farthest known light sources, and even those close-in confirmations, the principle of false precision comes to mind.  To claim precision in measurements of galaxies billions of light years away speaks more to hubris regarding the capacity for measurement than to the actual capability to do so. 

The more precisely w comes to look like -1, the more enthusiasm there will be for cosmological constant theories, which require that value, and the less enthusiasm there will be for fifth forces and modified gravity, part of the charm of which is that they can work with other values. This is where telescopes like Cerro Tololo come in. Existing data from ground-based and space telescopes put w at between -1.1 and -0.9. DES will aim to narrow the margin of uncertainty down to just 0.01.

So, at the end of this fantastical journey rationalizing our way through a universe made from nothing that apparently still contains a lot of nothing within it, the whole matter resolves to getting the certainty to 0.01 that the ratio of dark energy negative pressure (dark gravity?) to its density be equal to negative one?  What if its certainty is only 0.02?  Does that mean the idea of a flat, expanding universe comprised mainly of nothing must necessarily be rejected, never minding for the moment whether precise measurements of something so vast as the totality of all things can be discerned by a creature that maybe can’t even measure the speed of a neutron over a few hundred kilometers?  Or maybe can, but distrusts his capacity for measurement when the results auger ill for his emperor’s favorite clothes.

The first is a time-honoured method borrowed from Dr Perlmutter, Dr Schmidt and Dr Riess and used to study exploding stars called supernovae. These come in different varieties. Some, called type Ia, always explode with almost exactly the same energy. They are, therefore, equally bright. Since brightness decreases in a predictable way with distance, type Ia supernovae make excellent cosmic yardsticks. Since the speed of light is constant, knowing how far away such a “standard candle” is (calculated from its apparent brightness seen from Earth) is to know how long ago it exploded. The rate at which stars and galaxies are moving away from Earth, meanwhile, can be worked out from their redshift. As light travels across space, which is stretching, its wavelength, too, is stretched and its frequency shifts towards the red end of the spectrum. The faster the expansion, the greater the redshift.

But doesn’t light, according to the tenets of relativity theory (and upon which the entire enterprise depends) always travel at the same speed, no matter the position and speed of the observer doing the measurements?  Isn’t that fantastical premise the foundation of all the elegant equations in Special and General Relativity? The well-known Doppler Effect that changes a siren’s wail from high-pitched to low as the ambulance passes should not apply to light, if light’s speed is the same for all observers.  How could light experience a redshift—the same as happens with sound waves?  If this redshift is then the whole source of the idea that the universe is expanding and at an accelerating rate, and it violates the very principles of the theory purported to explain the universe, then is there really any point to any of this?  Isn’t the emperor nakedness thus revealed?  Furthermore, might the idea of a “standard candle” from which comparisons can be made, which itself is measured from many billions of light years away, be just another instance of false precision?

What the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z Supernova Search both found, and what others have later confirmed, is that distant exploding stars are dimmer, and so farther away, than their redshift implies they should be if the universe has been expanding at a steady clip throughout. The expansion must therefore have sped up recently.

Indeed, the expansion must have sped up recently only if every preceding premise and supposed discovery is correct, and we conclusively know that these apparently dimmer exploding stars are further away.  But if the expansion is in fact expanding into some not-universe space, it seems rather mercurial in its behavior, speeding up expansion, slowing down expansion, inflating quite rapidly at the beginning (according to the Big Bang Theory), etc.; not at interested in a nice, orderly expansion that might save relativity from itself.  And there again are those redshifts that Special Relativity clearly prohibits. 

The two groups originally based this conclusion on data from a mere 50-odd supernovae. The number has since grown tenfold, but it still leaves plenty of wriggle room for the cosmological constant to prove, well, not so constant after all. Joshua Frieman, who heads DES, hopes his team will eventually analyse over 4,000 exploding stars, some as far away as 7 billion light years. They exploded when the universe was half its current age and, researchers now reckon, still dominated by the gravity of the matter it contained, which was putting the brakes on expansion. Dark energy, it is thought, revved things up some 5 billion years ago. A better estimate of the time at which one gave way to the other helps determine w.

I wonder, what are their theories as to how dark energy mysteriously arose, though invisible and impossible to detect, except in Einstein’s equations, some five billion years ago?  How do we even know that it arose, except in the recesses of neo-metaphysician’s minds, if it can’t be otherwise detected? 

Alternatively, the distribution of matter, both dark and humdrum, can be gleaned from the effect it has on light. Relativity requires the path of light to be bent by massive objects. The heavier the object, the more an image of something behind it is warped. Most of the time, this warping is tiny—images of galaxies are typically stretched by 2% or so by the clumps of matter they pass on their way to telescopes on Earth. To complicate matters further, few galaxies are perfectly round to start with, so it is hard to tell whether stretching has taken place by looking at any particular galaxy. Fortunately, light from all the galaxies in a given region of the sky passes by the same clumps of matter on the way to Earth. So galaxies as seen from Earth ought all to be distorted in a preferred direction. Observe enough of them, 300m in DES’s case, and a pattern should emerge, allowing astronomers to model the structures responsible for the bending.

Is there any consideration given to the path of light being bent by the cosmic dust and debris it must pass through on its way around a galaxy?  There are other types of rather mundane lenses that bend light.  I’m wearing a pair of them right now.  Is there any way to know that a) a light ray has been bent, when we can only speculate as to its source; and b) that it was bent by gravity, when a great many other things along its several billion light-year path might be responsible? 

Ah, but the usefulness to neo-metaphysicians of dark energy, and the quest for the Holy Grail of w at precisely -1, is finally revealed:

Other, even more ambitious projects, will strive to increase the precision of the measurement of W. Last year ground was broken on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a much bigger instrument which will be perched atop Cerro Pachón, 10km (6 miles) from Cerro Tololo. Though its $620m budget awaits final approval from America’s National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, scientists hope to have it up and running by 2021. The LSST’s mammoth camera will boast 3.2 gigapixels.

Then there are two space telescopes, each with a price tag of $1 billion or so. The European Space Agency plans to launch Euclid in 2019 and NASA hopes to put WFIRST in orbit three years later.

Billions of dollars to pin down the precise measurement of w seems the whole point of the exercise.  No matter what is the value of w, on the unlikely chance that w is anything more than a fantasy conjured by neo-metaphysicians to enhance future funding prospects, nothing about the human condition will change.  The personal condition of the astrophysicists doing the research might change, but human beings will go on living as before, believing in God or not, needing a certain amount of calories each day to survive, loving, living and dying.  Francis Bacon, perhaps the modern world’s first philosopher of science and still a preeminent one, believed that science, like philosophy, should be useful.  I think he would be quite disappointed in the present state of cosmology, back to the article: 

The rub is that no amount of observations can ever pin down the figure for w with perfect accuracy. That would require infinite precision, something impossible to achieve even in an ever-expanding universe. And the whole constant idea falls to pieces if w is even a smidgen off -1.

So there.  The whole exercise, disregarding the illogical leaps and bounds of the premises supporting it, is tantamount to chasing a ghost.  There is no way to know whether this mythological w is equal to -1.  Incredible. 


I don’t claim to have a towering intellect like these neo-metaphysicians conjuring realities from the recesses of their minds.  I’m not like the character Sheldon on the popular television show The Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon is a theoretical physicist that snubs his intellectual nose at even his fellow scientists, if they aren’t also engaged in theoretical physics (which has apparently supplanted philosophy as the queen of the academy, which is about right, as theoretical physicists are doing much the same, if by slightly different methodology, as their metaphysician brethren before them).  Theoreticians should watch the show.  Sheldon’s character presents a riotously funny portrait of what I imagine is the average theoretical physicist.  Sheldon’s intellectual snobbery–his belief that he can never be wrong because he’s so smart—yields a treasure trove of comedic hijinks.  And like all else, it’s funny because it’s true.  Sheldon’s character personifies how stupid is someone that thinks themselves smart.

It takes no towering intellect to see that modern theoretical physics, particularly of the meta/astro variety concerned with discerning the nature of the universe from the perspective of the very large, does not make up in intelligence what it lacks in wisdom.   A wise astronomer would be humbled at the vastness of the challenge that discerning universal reality simply by peering through a telescope from a tiny planet in an unremarkable solar system in the corner of one of billions of galaxies presents.   But humility does not garner increased funding, and to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is quite difficult for a man to humbly admit the futility of his efforts when his salary depends on their fruition.  As the article states, it is not possible to know the precise value of w, but the truth hardly dissuades the neo-metaphysicians from seeking funding in order to try.

And who checks the astronomers, except other astronomers?  Aside from the incentives suppressing humility in the high-stakes game of capital-intensive cosmology, there is also a real danger of collusion and group-think among the fraternity of neo-metaphysicians whose funding depends on laymen that either can’t, or don’t care, to understand what it is they are up to.   While we’ll never know whether w equals negative one, from the beginnings of time we’ve always known that a man’s self-interest tints, and often taints, his perceptions of reality, a truth so compelling as to comprise a cosmological constant of human nature to which even neo-metaphysicians are subject.  Or, as Francis Bacon so aptly put it several centuries ago:

In general let every student of nature take this as a rule—that whatever his mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction, is to be held in suspicion; and that so much the more care is to be taken, in dealing with such questions, to keep the understanding even and clear…The understanding must not be allowed to jump and fly from particulars to remote axioms and of almost the highest generality…it must not be supplied with wings but rather hung with weights to keep it from leaping and flying.

In the Preface to the Second Edition of his masterpiece, The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant warns of what might happen if knowledge becomes so specialized, discrete, technical and voluminous that it can’t be reasonably synthesized and digest by the ordinary man:

For if knowledge become too great for communication, it would degenerate into scholasticism, and the weak acceptance of authority; mankind would slip into a new age of faith, worshiping at a respectful distance its new priests; and civilization, which had hoped to raise itself on education disseminated far and wide, would be left precariously based upon a technical erudition that had become the monopoly of an esoteric class monastically isolated from the world by the high birth rate of terminology.

“Scholasticism” of course refers to the medieval priests and clergy (the “Schoolmen”) who studied the ancient philosophers, mainly Aristotle, for the purpose of discerning the nature of the universe which they could then communicate to the parishioners, enthralled and credulous as they were.  Scholasticism represented a great forest of ignorance, planted in ancient times and cultivated in the Dark Ages, that had to be cut and cleared in order for new knowledge and understandings to gain purchase and grow with the Renaissance and age of Enlightenment.  Einstein has become to our age as Aristotle was to the Enlightenment, and the modern- day metaphysicians in astronomy and cosmology, his scholastics.  Trying to explain the universe with a theory whose convolutions now require 96% of it to be invisible and undetectable is roughly tantamount to explaining the sun’s movement through the sky as the result of its circuit around the earth by relying on a complicated series of imaginary epicyclical orbits.  Eventually some brave physicist will have to stand up and boldly shout to the crowd cheering the parade of Einstein’s relativity that the only invisible and undetectable thing in the universe is the cloak worn by the reigning theory trying to explain it. 

This is not to say that Einstein was conclusively wrong.  He wasn’t.  Matter and energy have proved just as he guessed, to be different forms of the same thing.  General Relativity usefully accounted for the precession of Mercury’s orbit, and is used to precisely calibrate global positioning satellites.  It is to say that the domain of his theory of everything appears to be limited, at least in its useful explicatory powers, to a great deal more than just the very small or very slow.  It is time to at least trim its branches so some new understanding (one that doesn’t require the existence of multiple universes or extra dimensions, as any such theory would be as useless and resistant to proof as relativity has shown itself in some domains) may gain purchase and grow.