First of all, to be clear, this post does not express an opinion on the validity of claims of anthropomorphically caused climate change or global warming. What I wish to discuss is actually more important than that. When I heard the President of the United States claim during his State of the Union address that climate change was “settled science”, I almost fell off the couch.
Perhaps the President and other laypeople can be forgiven for their lack of understanding of how science works, but using the bully pulpit to say such things should make you squirm in your chair. The idea that anything in science is settled contradicts the very nature of scientific experimentation. Many progressives talk about the fallacy of religion, and yet, thousands of years ago when those faiths were beginning, they were the highest state of knowledge. When Isaac Newton discovered the laws of thermodynamics and physics, that was the state of the art for its time, even though the works of Einstein and others have shown Newton’s laws are approximations that work well within the macroscopic confines of our existence on Earth. Now, physicists know there is much more to science that what Newton knew, and that is fantastic. We live and we learn.
What does science know today? Probably a lot more than I can imagine, but let me share a few things I learned from reading and watching science television. First, we know that matter acts very differently on the quantum level than it does on a larger scale. The computer I’m typing on and all modern electronics rely on how things happen on the quantum level. Our machines work because those tiny bits that make up atoms and everything else act like both waves and particles and can be in many places at the same time. It is one of the great challenges facing science today to link quantum mechanics and macro-scale physics into a grand unified theory. So far, no luck on that one, which means we know how big stuff works, and we’re glad the small stuff does what it does, but we don’t know how to reconcile the two. In other words, there are two types of physics out there.
Then there is dark matter, which accounts for roughly 25% of everything in the universe. Without it, the galaxies would spin apart, since there is not enough mass in them to hold their lovely spiral (and other) shapes. What is it? Who knows? And don’t forget dark energy, my personal favorite, which makes up 70% over everything there is. When you ignite a firecracker, there is a big pop as energy is released, and then it’s over. Using that logic, after the Big Bang, the universe should have expanded very fast until the energy of the explosion dissipated and then start to slow down. Perhaps due to the vacuum of space, that could take a long time. Well, to our surprise, after 13.8 billion years, the expansion is accelerating! Imagine lighting a firecracker a billion years ago, and the explosion is still going and getting bigger. How can this happen? Dark energy. What is it? Don’t know.
So, science knows a lot about the quantum and large-scale action of 5% of the universe, but not why the two are different. While science is amazing and I love it, for a school child, that’s like getting an A in kindergarten. There is so much more to know than we can possibly imagine. Nothing in science is settled.
By the way, I love the Morgan Freeman series “Through the Wormhole” and “Beyond the Wormhole”. Those programs showcase real scientists working on some of the anomalies of science. Over the last two weeks, some pretty outrageous ideas have been floated. During one program, scientists were explaining their experiments that “prove” there is no such thing as free will. Wow! That’s really bad news for Al Gore. If that is true, there is nothing we can do about global warming, since we do not make choices. We are just going through the motions. I do not believe that, but I am no scientist.
Last week, it was suggested that existence is an illusion. I have heard that before, with scientists speculating that reality is on a sphere at the edge of the universe, and our reality is just a hologram. It all seems very unlikely, but it did remind me of my favorite book ever, Illusions by Richard Bach. After hearing those discussions, my head was spinning, but the one thing I realized is that nothing in science is settled.
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