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Science, rules and beliefs
  • This discussion was created from comments split from: Big Bang=Big Wrong?.

  • 35 Replies sorted by
  • Interesting. I'm always amazed at science in general, mainly at with the scientist's ability to bend the laws to fit their theories instead of actually making a theory that fits the facts. The universe doesn't seem to fit into your theory? Make it multidimensional! That doesn't work either? Make dark matter! That doesn't work either?? Add quantum mechanics! FORCE those models to fit! But yet they don't, because people aren't observing, they are too busy trying to make a name for themselves or get grants. Get over it folks, everything has already been discovered. What we find now are just combinations of what has already been seen. Oh, the universe is oscillating? Everything else does, so why would we think the universe as a whole doesn't want to do the same thing?

  • actually the rules we think govern the Universe don't cooperate with one another. Hence the elusive quest of the Unified Field Theory. Most certainly, everything has NOT been discovered.

  • One aptitude I would love to see more on this forum would be that of the scientist's ability to be comfortable with uncertainty, as opposed to the layperson's drive for quick answers.

    With Stephen Hawkins, we had our hero, our explanation of the universe proven. Yet recently Hawkins himself was the first to point out he may have been wrong.That's not humility, It's just science.

  • @goanna


    I much more prefer to have here situation where people who understanding the subject could have more ability to speak.

  • @brianluce & svart: There are neither "rules" that "govern the Universe", nor are there any "laws" that reality would follow. The wording is an important part of a common misunderstaning, here, as those words imply the existence of conscious decisions, both to set forth and to follow them.

    But in reality, cause and effect are not like this: Physicists create models that make aspects of reality understandable and allow valuable predictions, as in "Which direction will an apple take when separated from the tree?". Newton's model, for example, even though today known to be woefully incomplete, allows to make a very good prediction for such a scenario ("Apple and earth will move towards their common barycenter"), but neither Newton nor any other conscious entity or book of science caused the apple and the earth to behave like that.

    It is not a quality of a physical model to be "true", because very different models can allow to explain and predict real scenarios equally well. The quality of a model lies in its ability to allow precise and useful predictions - with as little effort as possible.

    Even a very sophisticated model - like quantum mechanics - can be very useless when applied to a scenario that it cannot be evaluated for with reasonable effort. Imagine, for example, that you wanted to model a car crash in a computer, appling quantum mechanics to each particle the car consists of. Alas, the computer you'd need to run your simulation using such a model would today not be feasible to build, and even if it was, one simulation run would still consume energy worth more money than a real car would cost you to build and crash for real.

    The idea that one day there will be a "big unified theory" that allows to create "a model of everything" is very over-rated - even if such a theory can be found, the model would likely be of little to no use for any real world task.

  • @Vitaliy_Kiselev Of course. I don't see any contradiction.

  • @Karl Well if the rules and laws that physicists develop are not rules, then all the text books and scientists that lecture on the subject should stop referring to them as such. Einstein sure didn't agree with you about a unified field theory.

    Sorry, but your posts reallys comes off as "Karl's world".

  • @brianluce: Indeed many physicists and lecturers today refer to "theories" and "models", not to "rules" or "laws". And indeed, Einstein and me would not agree on a number of things, if only because Einstein was religious, while I am not. Einstein reportedly dismissed some aspects of the (back then new) quantum theory by writing that "god does not roll dice", a clear indication that he was believing in a supernatural being that was consciously making decisions, giving reality a certain direction, and when you believe in such, it is only consequential to also speak of "rules" or "laws" that some deity may have created which its creation has to follow.

    As much as I admire Einsteins great scientific work, he was just a human of his time, and he wasn't right in everything. I probably am not, either.

  • @Karl Sorry, but you are wrong. But thats not your fault, you are more or less expressing popular missinterpretations of physics, Einstein and quantum mechanics.

    First, Einstein did understand much more about physics and the world than you think. There are many stupid people in the world and sad enough, there no less doing Physics (and Steven Hawking is famous but not on the same level as Einstein, Schrödinger,... - not even close). And after a long argument between Einstein and Schrödinger/Heisenberg which was way beyond what most physicists understood, those idiots claimed that Heisenberg "won" - and thats what you learn at university until today. The problem Einstein was arguing is still not solved but got mixed up with another "problem" with quantum mechanics, which let to quite some confusion. (You might want to read about the "Bell inequality").

    Second, Einstein said "god does not roll dice" (Gott würfelt nicht) and was more right than most Scientists might know. There is a very interesting theorie that produces the EXACT same results as "orthodox" quantum mechanics, but with much more insight about how nature might work. Its called bohmian mechanics or de Broglie–Bohm theory. The only problem is: there is no relatevistic bohmian theory until now. But don't be fooled, there is NO consistens relativistic quantum theory at all - quantum field theory was proofen to be mathematical inconsistent. With bohmian mechanics its just not so easy to mask the littel inconsistencies. (The main problem here leads back to the Bell inequality.)

    And Einstein never believed in a supernatural being that "rules" our universe - or at least his work was never influenced by his religious believes.

    @all Physicists are looking for the rules that are underlying our universe, but they didn't find it yet. So, they make models and theories and are trying to get closer to the core of all things. Nobody knows if or when that journey will end.

    The really stupid thing that happens at the moment is, that nobody has the balls to call a theorie falsified when its proofen to be wrong. The theory just gets modified till its absolutely absurd (e.g. dark matter, higgs particle,...). The reason behind this and/or ego - they get money and reputation for working on that theory and calling it wrong from the beginning would cost them there jobs (or at least a lot of funding). Theoretical physics is stuck in stupidity since the development of quantum physics because of money and ego.

  • @igorek7 Have you ever thought what would happen if everything in the world had shrunk to half size overnight? How would we know? One would be half as tall, but the ruler would be only half as long, so how one could tell?:

    If the observable universe is 1,000 parsecs, and you shrink a parsec down to half size, the observable universe will be 2,000 parsecs. We can discount the size of "the world" in this example for reasons that I hope are obvious. However, if we turn your argument upside down, then it becomes interesting. If the size of the earth is increased so that it is larger than measurable universe (not the theoretical size of the universe, but the actual measurable size), then we theoretically would either be able to see something about which we know nothing, or we we would see nothing. This is interesting because it is not possible to prove it either way, which in turn disproves your premise that measurement is a ratio. Measurement depends, in this example, on the observer, and the same is true in quantum physics.

    Incidentally, measuring time with a clock can be inverted in the same way, which is also interesting.

  • @psyco

    Interesting read. What do you find absurd about the higgs particle?

  • @goanna

    I don't like elementary particles that change there mass/energie every two years because the latest accelerator ruled out the former clamed number - happend to the higgs particle several times.

    Most of the better theoretical physicists hope that they don't find a higgs particle at cern. If the first measurements of the higgs particle are confirmed, they will have a hard time finding a better theory. And we need something to replace quantum chromo dynamics because it has the same problems as every quantum field theory (e.g. infinite field strength at the most interesting locations - the positions of the particles - and no way to combine it with general relativity).

  • @Psyco: We seem to agree that scientists should be a little quicker in scrapping theories that don't fit observations instead of bending them to sometimes unreasonable degrees - but for different reasons.

    Regarding the mind set of Mr. Einstein, which we both didn't meet personally: Einstein certainly did leave the religious community he was born into at the age of 17, and he certainly wasn't a naive believer in some personal god (he clarified his position on this in 1954, in this letter(1)(2).)

    But he was nevertheless making use of religous terms in his reasoning, as in a letter he wrote to Cornelius Lanczos on 21st of March 1942:

    „Es scheint hart, dem Herrgott in die Karten zu gucken. Aber dass er würfelt und sich telepathischer Mittel bedient (wie es ihm von der gegenwärtigen Quantentheorie zugemutet wird), kann ich keinen Augenblick glauben.“
    Translation: "It seems hard to look into Gods cards. But I do not believe for a second that he rolls dice and makes use of telepathic measures (as current quantum theory expects from him)."

    Maybe it's just a habit of people who grew up in a more or less religious environment to use such terms, and he may not even have put too much thought into using a formulation like this, but to me this wording is a very strong indication that he was definitely dismissing the idea that the universe could exist without some sort of "master plan" setting the rules.

    You wrote: "Physicists are looking for the rules that are underlying our universe, but they didn't find it yet." To this I say (being a physicist myself): No, I am not looking for rules that are underlying our universe, and it is no wonder others did not find them yet, because there is no set of rules underlying our universe. Refined models and new theories can be valuable because they allow better predictions of what happenes in reality, but since there is no core of all things, there is no getting closer to it. The journey (if meant to be the ongoing efforts in science) will not end. (At least not because of finding the universal rule set, it may of course end with the dead of the last life form in the universe capable or willing to do research.)

    So I am all for trying and using different theories and models at the same time. Discard the ones that turn out to contradict reality too much or which have no practical use - and keep the rest around as good tools. And tools are all they are, not master plans.

  • After reading through all posts, I am in shock of how many people here are scientifically illiterate and think of themselves as the complete opposite. So far @karl seems to be the most knowledgeable.

    @svart No, just no.

  • @karl

    Einstein uses the term "god" here to express what he thinks how nature works - don't take it to literally (it is clear to me from the german original, I don't know how the translation sounds to a native english speaker?). I'm a physicist myselfe and I did read some of his original works - he used the term "god" in his letters to other scientists often to talk about the universe as a whole - just some kind of economic wording, but I did never come across a section where his religious believe was ruling his reasoning.

    Especially when talking about quantum mechanics, he used the term "god" opposed to the "observer". The observer was used by later physicists to put human beeings at the top of the universe - only what we observe is real - which is one of the most stupid things that ever happend in the history of physics. His god here, was just the rest of the universe excluding human beeings (think about his famous question: "Is the moon still there, even when nobody is looking at it?")

    I don't think he believed in a made up masterplan, I think he just believed that a full describtion of the universe with the language of physics is possible - an idea that I share. We have learned a lot about our universe by now - as it follows some rules - but this set of insights are not complete. Can we ever get to the "theorie of everything" (I really do hate those marketing terms) ? I believe, if we have enough time, we might get there.

    And sorry, but physics is not about making some modells - thats a wide spread missunderstanding and one reason why we are not getting anywhere at the moment. Modells are a tool in physics, not its core idea. Physics is about finding and understanding those "rules" that are giving our universe its structure. (Words, like "rules", are a bit missleading, but I can't come up with something better at the moment - my native language is german not english;-) Physics originates from philosophy, not engineering - but at the moment its taught the other way round.

    Some examples for those "rules":

    • constant speed of light (in flat spacetime) / the Lorentz transformations

    • quantum correlation / Bell inequality

    Both are found as the core of there respective theory and later proven by experiment. (Both are not fully understood till now.)

  • @Psyco: I hope my translation is as accurate as possible, but being a native German speaker myself, I cannot be sure it does not skew the intended message of the original author.

    I agree that postulating the existence of things depends on the presence of a human observer is somewhat absurd - this theory easily falls vicitim to Ockham's razor, IMHO.

    Regarding the goal setting of physical sciences, we probably have to agree that we disagree. Whether you call it a masterplan or a fundamental set of rules, I am convinced that no such thing exists, and hunting for it just distracts from creating useful models and theories. It's like if chemists would still hunt for the Philisopher's stone. Such a hunt may yield a useful result from time to time, but filling in the gaps of nearby unanswered scientific questions is much more productive.

    Regarding your examples: Theories like the speed of light being a constant cannot be proven. Mathmatical propositions can be proven (their logical correctness, not the axioms they start from). Physical theories can just be tested, and falsified if observations of reality don't fit, or confirmed if they do. But even if not a single observation contradicts the theory, that is not a logical proof that would be immune to later revision.

    Regarding the speed of light, for example, there is currently a lot of confirmation and no substantial contradicting observation available that "c" might, indeed, be constant. Within a vacuum. But what is a vacuum? Is a space already a vacuum if it is free of any particles that have a mass? Or does it have to be of free of any fields, too - because virtual particles can be formed by the interaction of fields? But then a space with a photon in it would already not qualify as a vacuum. And given that many scientists today, in absence of a better theory, assume that most of the mass of the universe exists in the form of mysterious "dark matter", how can one be sure that any space is without mass in it? Imagine if there was a way to clean a piece of space from "dark matter" that today taints all experimenting rooms - maybe suddenly a ray of light will pass faster through it?

    I for one do not expect to experience the finding of a contradiction to the constantness of the speed of light, in general, but it is not quite impossible that some aspect of reality has not yet been considered in the theories that would make higher speeds possible. There is not and there cannot be a proof for the "c" constantness, there is just strong indication.

    BTW: I like the way that the Loop Quantum Gravity explains the existence of an upper speed limit "c" - sounded more plausible than every other theory to me. But I have neither the time nor the expertise to check all the other aspects of the theory for plausiblity.

  • @p4inkiller yes, just yes! I see sarcasm isn't necessarily easy to understand over the internet so I'll explain.

    We humans tend to think of ourselves as special and tend to believe our own theories. Early humans didn't understand thunder/lightning but knew that other humans could make such noise so therefor there must be a "being" that is like humans that makes these noises, and we'll call him God. From then on, God was the explanation for everything that humans didn't understand. Bad weather? god did it. Disease? God did it. etc.

    With the invention of science, we start to realize that there are real, observable, causes for things we don't understand and we reveal that the world works the same no matter how small or large you look. Everything is made of the same atomic soup and therefor everything must work the exact same way once you get down to the smallest level. It doesn't mean that we can't/won't stop looking, but it means that when people can't understand something, they invoke the God principle, only this time they call it theory. Oh, you can't explain how gravity works? Then we'll create a theory that fits! Someone else comes along and pokes a hole in that theory with another theory, and so forth. The problem is that this is essentially people making things up to explain something, much like making up God to explain thunder or famine. You start to get into paradox territory when you start looking at these things from a higher viewpoint, and realize that people are trying to explain something that another person created. It's like asking what time it is. People created time. It could be any time that we choose it to be! /sarcasm

    I've spent many years in the academic realm and many more in the engineering world. I've come to one conclusion. People are full of shit. They want to make their mark on the world and will stop at nothing to do so. I've watched people claim false findings for money, I've been asked to change my stance on a subject to make it more "marketable" and many times I've seen modern science ruin people just because the status quo wouldn't accept that it was wrong even though it truly was. People will always think they know more than they do, (called illusory superiority) some of which are posting in this thread. :)

    I don't knock people for trying, but people who have a need to restate a theory as fact, really need to understand that we'll never know the truth if we keep trying to prove that they are right(confirmation bias). It obfuscates the actual data observations and biases the learners into believing something that may not even be true.

  • @karl

    How can the universe and everything we "see" be so regular without any pattern underlying it? And don't forget, that quantum mechanics can be completed to an absolut deterministic theory! (Bohmian mechanics)

    The speed of light is not the important part, its the transformations that can be derived from the idea. The Lorentz transformations have to be applied, otherwise we get the incorrect, big deal? Yes, because there are only two transformations that satisfy the symmetries of space and time. The Galilei transformations or the Lorentz transformations. Its quite interesting what we learn about our universe from the simple experimental result, that the speed of light is (more) constant (than not). And thats something that goes beyond a simple model or a theory.

    Its the same with the Bell inequality. Its derived only using simple statistics, yet by doing the experiment it clearly shows if our universe is of "type A" or "type B" - there are no shades inbetween. So, in this cases we get definit answers - something that is very rare, I have to admit.

    Every theory should formulate "first principles", the base (a bit like the axioms in math) the rest of the theory can be derived from. The best example is the theory of general relativity - its one of the most beautyfull ideas ever. On the other hand is (orthodox/textbook) quantum mechanics and all theorys that built on it - its a cooking recipe, nothing else. There are atempts to get a real physical foundation into quantum mechanics, e.g. Bohmian mechanics, many worlds (its not as stupid as one things at first glance),... but none looks better than the others. And here I think lies the core of theoretical physics - its not only about models or theorys and there is more to it than only trying to mimic some experimental results.

    By the way, I don't think there is dark matter - its was invented as a placeholder to apply an old theory to new observations. The physicists "inventing" dark matter were stating this fact explicit in there publications. Idiots made this NEVER observable thing more real than it was ever intended to be. I think the problem here is, that dark matter just sounds very cool ;-)

    One thing to keep in mind:

    Math is a product of our brain -> our brain is a physical system following the same "rules" as the universe (as it is part of the universe) -> Math is a product of this "rules" -> thats why (part of) the universe can be described so well with Math. What we call logic seems to be itselfe an important property of our universe. If it would be totally different, we would have a really hard time describing even the simplest things (but thats ofcourse no proof of that idea).

  • As an Astrophysics graduate and there in the middle of string theorys birth etc yawn - as my lecturer said on the first day of Uni - everything youve learned is bollocks everything im going to teach ou is bollocks - ok lets begin

  • @svart I don't quite agree, makeing science the same as a religion. A lot of people like to do that, but that are normally the ones that don't really understand what they are talking about.

    Religion = shut up and believe what you were told! Science = ask nature if your ideas are right.

    But I do agree that money and ego is quite a problem in the academic realm - thats why I turned my back to the universitys - you run with the mob or you don't get a job/money/... (my physics professor was working in the math departement because his ideas are not fancy enough for the physics department).

    (I didn't miss the sarcasm - its just some times to close to the truth to be funny.)

    And the reason why I'm bitching on quantum mechanics is exactly because (as it has no real foundation) we were told to learn it as it is written in the bocks and shut up. Asking "why" or "how" things work were considered as unscientific even by nobel price winners! But as far as I know, things are changing - very slowly - and now even very popular physicists start to think about alternatives to the "orthodox" version.

  • @soundgh2 Sounds like that your lecturer doesn't like his job ;-)

    But he is right about string theory :-P

  • Reality is complicated

    Scientists try

  • What are Keppler's Laws then? Guidelines, speculation? Conjecture? Fancy?

  • @brianluce The are important relativistic corrections to the Kepler's "laws", which have to be applied, for example, in order to describe pulsars (a type of the binary stars). This is because these very compact objects may not be adequately described by Newtonian gravity. Observations of some of the binary pulsars, such as PSR 1923+16, indicate that their orbit about a secondary companion precesses considerably, in violation of Kepler's first law, and also indicates that the pulsar is slowly spiraling into its companion, seemingly in violation of the law of conservation of energy. A relativistic description of this pulsar's orbit (and of various other binary systems) is required to account for these effects.

    This is a thing about the nature, nothing is really a universal law, "laws" are correct only within a certain boundary conditions. Another example is the infamous Big Bang, a singular region in space-time out of which our universe was born, which is a point where the density and curvature of spacetime become infinite, and our equations (gravity described by Einstein's general relativity, and other fields described by the Standard Model of particle physics) cease to make sense.


    If the observable universe is 1,000 parsecs, and you shrink a parsec down to half size, the observable universe will be 2,000 parsecs.

    I assume you didn't really mean that our universe is only 1 kpc (1,000 parsecs), since you would not even leave our Milky Way galaxy by traveling only 1kpc. The Solar system is about 8 kpc away from the Galaxy center. One can play with the numbers here to estimate our space-time uncertainties (for example, change Ho from 71 to 50 or 100, or hit Open, Flat, General models of the universe expansion):

    My point was actually the following. While in appearance many cosmological theories are to be purely unverifiable speculations, the confronting tests may come from various global- (astronomical observations) and local- (general and particle physics experiments) data sets.

  • The danger with Modern Science is the way it is perceived.

    Asking why, why, why is a healthy process. It allows people to think for themselves, and in many cases answers can be found.

    Danger creeps in when theories are presented in such a fashion as being absolute certainties. When this occurs the general public are quick to believe and certainly any shred of evidence that may disprove the existence of God is readily snapped up by the media. In a short space of time, theories like the Big Bang have become street terminology and the vast majority of people, who do not do any research into life beyond their own existence, believe it. Why? Human's like the idea of things fitting into models, it helps them to cope with the insecurities of life. Human's are also generally quite lazy, we like to accept whatever is going so long as everyone else believes it.

    Now the problem that we have is that theories like the Big Bang are readily accepted and yet the scientific community is rejecting it as it does not fit. So what damage has this created? Is this not just a simple exercise of finding the truth? Who exactly is hurt through this process?

    A generation has now grown up believing that God does not exist, period, the world and the universe as we know it was created by some mistake of an explosion, and science can answer everything. Dangerous ideas built upon one theory after another and not waiting for facts to be established leads to destruction.

    References on this topic have been made to Human's way of thinking from many years ago. Explaining the likes of thunder away as an act of God as being somehow inferior thinking, and my o my how we have evolved since then. Really? You think things are clearer now? Do we really believe that when we look up at the stars at night we can answer all the questions there are to ask? Scientists can't even agree if the Earth is moving or not, in fact both models can be used for the projection of satellites.

    Humans from days gone by had an appreciation that they were only Human, they had limitations in what they could answer, but ultimately they appreciated the existence of God and his power. I'm not saying that all people bowed the knee and believed in God, but generally people respected at least the idea of God. How far we have fallen, when somebody tries to bring God into the conversation it is immediately discounted as Religious babble, then closely followed by "they don't know what they are talking about anyway..... scoff scoff o how enlightened i am"

    God has created a universe full of majesty and beauty, one that can leave a person breathless at how amazing and truly intricate it is. Designed by a loving father who wants us to ask why He made it, not how it was made. Now when we gaze upon the beauty of the heavens, we argue about how it works and ultimately every argument is replaced by the next one that pushes God further and further away from the center of it. When will we return to that "inferior" thinking of respect for a truly amazing creator who has made all things?

    “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)