Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Truth is stranger than fiction

“Space flights are merely an escape, a fleeing away from oneself, because it is easier to go to Mars or to the moon than it is to penetrate one's own being” - Carl Jung
Here are two pictures from one of my favorite websites, Astronomy Picture of the Day. What is it about orbiting particles that they flatten out and form a disk? Consider the solar system - the planets, asteroids, and most comets all lie in the same flat plane aligned with the equator of the sun. Why not spin about the sun at all angles? Two other examples are easier to visualize. The rings of Saturn are very thin as show in this photo. Note also the cool shadow of the rings on the planet.

Here's a photo of a distant galaxy that we see exactly on edge instead of the typical view from above with spirals. Observe how thin the galaxy is with a thin ribbon of bright stars.

Bottom Line

In college I studied mathematics up to a Doctoral Candidate level. (I did not complete a thesis, though I tried twice over two years. Both times another university disproved what I was asked to prove by my advisor.)  And yet the hardest "math" classes I attended were physics classes. One class used tensor (i.e. 3-D) calculus to study the curvature of space about black holes. Reality can get very weird when gravity and spinning are combined.

Last night I saw a film clip of the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, who was asked "why" magnets push on each other. He said he could not explain it unless you already had a solid grounding of physics. Not because he was a poor teacher but because the magnetic force is so fundamentally an aspect of the universe that there was nothing to compare it to as an example. One could compare it to the push/pull of the electrical force but physicists now know that magnets and electricity are the same force so this is merely comparing magnets to itself. He could over-simplify and say the force was like rubber bands. But then if you were to ask him why rubber bands snap back he'd have to admit that, at the lowest level, it was the electrical force behind the pull so we're back to explaining in circles.

This reminds me of the conundrum, how do you explain the taste of salt? What can you compare it to? 

Often we paint Science and Religion as opposites but as Feynman observed, science is built upon basic principles, statements of reality that must be accepted in order to work at higher levels of reality. One could think of these principles as a type of "faith". For example, do we really know that quarks exist? By theory they can never be observed in isolation only through their interaction. How different is this from Faith when defined as belief in something unseen (but felt)? Believers will say they have felt the interaction of God.

I was going to appease scientists by saying that Science differs from Religion in that the fundamental principles change over time as we learn more about reality through experiments and observations. We no longer believe that everything is made of earth, fire, air and water. We've moved from a particle theory of atoms to wave-particle duality. There is some evidence that the physical constants of the universe may not be constant after all but change over time or space. Scientists see themselves as willing to change theories when presented with the "facts".

But what is truth? Science, like Religion, can be influenced by majority opinions - is global warming real? If real is it man made? Scientists argue over this just like theologians with conflicting evidence and with as much venom and anger and emotions. Is string theory real? Is the universe 11 dimensions? What exactly is gravity? We don't really know how the universe works at its lowest levels but one can pick a theory and choose to believe it. Much like picking a Church to follow with its own unique rules and explanations for reality.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home