Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Scientific Faith Again

I often find myself in the slippery slope to geekdom. This week I was fascinated by an article in Discover magazine about Newton, Einstein and a guy challenging the completeness of their theories named Milgrom. The problem, as my non-rocket-scientist mind understands it, is that Newton’s gravitational laws and Einstein’s speed of light calculations don’t explain what happens in the visible universe. According to Newton and Einstein any planet close to its sun should be rotating around that sun quicker based on the gravitational pull of the sun. We see that in our solar system as Mercury travels the “year” faster than the earth, which is faster than Jupiter, which is faster than Pluto and so on. Now physicists project this theory on the whole galaxy and universe and find some disturbing trends. Things that should be going fast are going slow and things that should be faster aren’t and so on and so on. How do they explain this? Modern day, scientific types have come up with a novel idea on solving this problem; they call it “dark matter.” Something you can’t see, but you know it is there based on their calculations. Some kind of thing that bends light and space but doesn’t emit or reflect any light or seem to take up any space: Dark Matter. Thousands of scientific papers have been written about this Dark Matter, measuring it, describing it, and analyzing its effects on the universe.

Milgrom comes into the picture by saying “Hey, maybe what we see is what actually happens and we need to tweak Newton and Einstein instead of inventing Dark Matter to explain this.” So he takes Newton’s very simple and popular formula F=ma and turned it into some convoluted mess that other physicists scoff at. Most would rather believe that there is some kind of unseen force called Dark Matter than mess with their precious calculations. Many think his theory is interesting but have faith that Dark Matter will win out in the end as we know more and more.

Now, I didn’t just find this article interesting because I am a geek, but I found it interesting because I have been following the leaps of faith made by our modern day scientists. Leaps of FAITH by scientists …. Seems almost oxymoronic doesn’t it? Some believe in a Dark Matter, something they cannot see but believe in. Some have faith that with more time to work out their equations they will be able to explain the universe. Some believe and some have faith.

Ockham’s Razor tells us the simplest solution is very often the best and the convoluted ones fail under time. Very soon, I believe, Ockham will point to a little phrase in an ancient manuscript even older than Newton which says, “In the beginning God…”


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