Sunday, 29 March 2009

A limit to scientific knowledge?

I just paid a visit to The Random Fish and found a link to a BBC news article that's well worth a read.

What do you get if you divide science by God?

It's an interesting article about the 2009 winner of the Templeton Prize, Bernard d’Espagnat. The prize is awarded to honour:

"a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works."
From the article at Templeton:
"...d’Espagnat has written and lectured extensively on the philosophical significance of the universal truths of quantum mechanics. He notes, however, that quantum physics merely predicts observational results. As far as describing reality, it suggests that not only our plain, everyday concepts of objects but also our scientific concepts refer only to phenomena – that is, to mere appearances common to all.

Still, d’Espagnat warns, experiments often falsify theories and so there must exist, beyond mere appearances, something that resists us and lies beyond the phenomena, a “veiled reality” that science does not describe but only glimpses uncertainly. In turn, contrary to those who claim that matter is the only reality, the possibility that other means, including spirituality, may also provide a window on ultimate reality cannot be ruled out, d’Espagnat insists, by cogent scientific arguments. Although he concedes the theological implications of the term “veiled reality,” he guards against using it as justification for specific religious doctrines which can be falsified by reason and fact."
My feelings are more in line with Steven Weinberg and Martin Rees in the BBC report above. Physics can seem 'chillingly impersonal' (so can biology, just watch a wildlife documentary). Does it matter if we can't conceptualise where quantum theory is leading? I think not. The theory works exquisitely. Scientific hypothesis and experiment can still continue even if no one currently understands the contortions and ramifications of, say, a super-dimensional space (though they try). So long as there is a chain of logic to be followed then holding a mental picture, as of a 3d object, is not important. An underlying 'veiled reality', as d’Espagnat postulates, could be shattered tomorrow by one person's insight. Or the universe might get more interesting by becoming even less intuitive. Who knows? It's still today. Science offers hope; 'veiled reality', like religion, is a closing door to inquiry.

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Bonus thought for a Sunday:
"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand."
Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986)

and a previous TFAS:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, 'hmm.... that's funny...'.
Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992)

2 comments:

mmfiore said...

We are a group that is challenging the current paradigm in physics which is Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. There is a new Theory of Everything Breakthrough. It exposes the flaws in both Quantum Theory and String Theory. Please Help us set the physics community back on the right course and prove that Einstein was right! Visit our site The Theory of Super Relativity: Super Relativity

Andy Holroyd said...

Hi mmfiore

I have been looking at Super Relativity. but there is a lot to read and think about. I've got up to (your first mention of?) Kaluza–Klein so far. As I read I was hoping for a little more math development to help the out-of-practice like myself, but if it is your intention to publish these ideas then I can fully understand the omission.

My current difficulty with your idea is trying to apply/derive a de Broglie wavelength to/for concealed mass as your theory implies. I guess the results should 'fall out' of the math, in a Kaluza–Klein way, to give a Maxwell-like electromagnetism but with the added bonus of deriving the finite value of the speed of light, across all the spectrum, for any observer within any medium. Something which Einstein only accepted to be true so he could use Lorentz transformations in special relativity.

I will keep reading your ideas and post any further thoughts here.
Any other readers with a bit of physics? Please chip-in your ideas.

Cheers
Andy.