Sunday, March 25, 2007

The science of the unknowable

I’ve always liked science, real science, the kind of science where things actually happen, where things are discovered. What sometimes strikes me as odd, is that discoveries are often named after the discoverers, as though they had really invented what they found and hadn’t just found it. I don’t have a big problem with that, but I think that much of the time properties of the occurrence or phenomenon could be used instead. Of course we wouldn’t want that name to be too long.

I appreciate theoretical science because most of my science has been done hypothetically or even rhetorically. I have some ideas for room temperature superconductors that I wrote up when I was a kid, but I’ve never been able to test them because I can’t afford the equipment. I rarely take things at face value without doing some research, although I used to think that Einstein was an idiot, until I realized that Nigel Calder (whose writings about Einstein, I read before I read Einstein’s writings) was probably just a poor communicator or misinformed. That misunderstanding was a lesson to me, that many scientists don’t get what other scientists are saying. And just as they misinterpret words of others, they often misread obvious data within the framework of their own experiments.

Scientific research is a daunting task for the dedicated truth seeker, possibly even more so for the tried and true fact checker. The fact that every answer tends to generate at least 10 more questions often seems to make pseudo scientists feel free to comment on items that stretch deep into the unknowable. I think that the frustration of taking ten steps back for each step forward eventually wears down many real scientists as well, until they become the very thing they despised in the beginning, a prophet for a false god. They start to talk about the distant unknowable past or the distant unknowable future more than the here and now that can be recorded, observed, and commented upon.

This is how I see it, If cold fusion can’t be proven (or even disproved) to have occurred in a reasonably well monitored lab in 1989, how can anyone expect to have more reliable data than that on the lineage of Zygoticus Rex 20,000,000 years ago? Of course that is exactly why some of these guys who want a hypothetical process or modern fairy tale named after them reach so far back to grab data. It is so hazy and distant that they can make up any old crap and no one can refute it. If they want to refute it they will need to wade through data for generations, and the grudge will die long before the answer is won. Other questions requiring more immediate attention will take its place in the queue.

Let’s consider a scenario, a scientist says that pies made on the moon are nowhere near as tasty as pies made on mars. It will be so many years before there will be coordinated space bake-offs that we can’t discount that possibility. Perhaps the bold theorist will be long dead by the time the hypothesis can be tested. We are required to accept that there is some slight possibility that the same ingredients prepared in the same way on mars vs. the moon would taste much different, and we may speculate that it may be due to the limited gravitational pull of the moon vs. mars. Of course, one day we will be able to test the tastiness of moon pie vs. mars pie, if he is still alive when this happens, and it becomes clear that moon pie is better, he will simply say, “You did it on earths moon?”

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