Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I control the top line . . .

So I might as well use it. Yes Rachel, I do support space exploration, although for the time being I favor only robotic exploration. The cost is trivial compared to the money we squander on war and preparation for war; and the rewards it brings in understanding our world are immeasurable. Ultimately, once we have gotten our problems here on earth under control, then indeed I think it will be a profoundly rewarding new stage in our development as a species for us to establish ourselves beyond the home planet. That may have to wait until after our own lifetimes, but I kind of hope to live to see it.

(And I hope you'll start up your own blog, since you now have an account.)

As for Mr. Hardy, I'm sure he is very committed to his ideas so I don't expect to dissuade him. Nevertheless I think his comments are interesting for a number of reasons which I will, for now, allow to speak for themselves. Based on my cursory look at Mr. Hardy's web site, it appears he is a proponent of what we call a "steady state" theory of the universe, which maintains that the universe has always existed in essentially its present form. This was quite the controversy in my youth, but ultimately the so-called Big Bang theory, which I prefer to call Initial Singularity, won out.

Mr. Hardy is quite correct that as we look out into space, we look back into time, and therefore the galaxies we see in the distance are long gone from their apparent locations. Cosmologists obviously understand this, in fact its an essential component of their understanding, so I'm not sure what the intention is in raising it.

As for the other assertion, that according to the consensus theory the light of distant galaxies must shine out beyond the boundaries of the universe into nothing, that is actually a common misconception. Modern cosmology is difficult to understand, but I tried to address this very confusion with the balloon analogy. The universe may be finite, but it has no boundary. It is fundamentally wrong to think that we are somewhere near the center and so distant objects must therefore be near the edge. There isn't any edge, except in time, i.e. the beginning, the IS. And there is no center either. As I said, all observers perceive themselves as being at the center, including those on the edge of our observable universe, which perceive us as being on the edge. Again, think of the two dimensional creatures on the balloon. They see a circular universe, but they are really on a sphere. Within their two dimensional world, the sphere has no boundary, you just go around and around.

So, one reason that people deny some scientific findings is that they are simply counterintuitive. Evolution has equipped us with some intuitive physics which work well for hunting and gathering on the African savannah but which turn out not to be quite accurate when we do sophisticated experiments or study conditions normally inaccessible to our experience, such as very small, very large, very hot, very cold, etc. It may require some long, deep study to understand how scientists arrive at conclusions which they then present to the general public in simplified or even somewhat allegorical form. It does require a certain trust of the whole enterprise to be persuaded, and I agree that is trust the scientific establishment does not earn 100% of the time. This is why the democratization of science is so important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Discussing space and the universe makes my head reel.

So I too support investigating it for the rather small amount of money spent.

Moreover, the satellites in space fulfill a lot of functions for the ppl right down here on earth.