The Truth

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Part of the problem that many people have is that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what science and the scientific method is trying to do. There is this notion that science is the search for The Truth®. That’s simply not the case. Science is nothing more than our attempt to understand how the natural world works. That’s all. Nothing more. Unfortunately I think even a lot of scientists forget this, in part because science has been so effective that it’s easy to become overconfident.

Science deals only with what is in some way verifiable. No matter how awesome an idea is, if you can’t verify it in some way shape or form, it’s useless to science. String Theory is a perfect example of this. It’s an awesome theory that elegantly explains a lot of what we see in our universe, and hints at a lot more that we don’t see. Many if not most things explained by current theories are explained by String Theory, in many cases more simply, and it explains many other things that aren’t currently explained by any known theory. It’s everything that scientists love to see in a theory. It is very nearly perfect, except for one crucial detail.

There’s currently no way to verify it.

The predictions of string theory differ from current theory only at scales and energy levels that are unreachable now and for the foreseeable future. As awesome as the theory is in so many ways it is now recognized by most of the scientific community as essentially useless, and it has been abandoned by many for that simple reason. Those scientists who are continuing to work on it are trying desperately to eek out some method by which it could be even potentially falsified.

It looks and acts like science in many fundamental ways, but for now it simply isn’t science because it simply isn’t verifiable.

To summarize my point: Science is not a search for The Truth®. Science is a search for a very narrow subset of the truth known as The Verifiable Truth®. No, less than that it’s a search The Reasonably Verifiable Truth®. Actually, even less than that, it’s a search for The Minimally Verifiable Truth®.

Finding Ass-roids

Okay, that title is unnecessarily crude, but fuck it. What follows is a video showing the number of asteroids that have been discovered since 1980.

Can you figure out which little dot is the earth? Here’s a hint: it’s the one going around the sun (err…which one is the sun, I wonder).

One thing you might notice is the sudden burst of discoveries at right angles to the earth right near the end of the video. I’m guessing those are discoveries made by the WISE satellite, which launched in December of 2009. The WISE satellite (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) is an infrared survey satellite that is always pointed 90 degress from the sun and earth…exactly where all those asteroids are being found.

One thing that might be making you a bit nervous is the sheer number of asteroids that we can see by the end. With so many of ’em, the chances of being hit by one must be really high, right? Well, not really. Here, I’ll let my very close and personal friend whom I’ve never met, Phil Plait, explain why that is (from this post at his blog Bad Astronomy):

The distance between Mars and Jupiter is a bit roomier than depicted in the video. Remember, Mars is about 220 million km (130 million miles) from the Sun, and Jupiter is about 800 million km (480 million miles). That’s a whole lot of real estate: almost 2 quintillion square kilometers (670 quadrillion square miles)! Written out, that’s 2,000,000,000,000,000,000 square kilometers.

Yeah, a whole lot of real estate.

And that assumes those asteroids all lie in the same plane. In fact, many of their orbits are tilted, so we’re really dealing with volume. Even allowing that they may move above or below the plane of the solar system the paltry amount of a million kilometers, that means there’s really 2 septillion cubic kilometers: 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic km! The volume of the Earth is only about a trillion cubic kilometers, so we’re talking a volume of space that could fit a trillion Earths in it!

Methinks we need not worry quite so much.

Monday Science Experiment

Okay, it’s not an experiment that you’d want to go out and actually do on purpose (well maybe you do, but you shouldn’t). But it is fun to watch.

WARNING: Science Content

The branch is burning because the life energy of the branch is being overwhelmed by the electrical energy in the wires. As it tries to get away it begins to compress against the insides of the branch, and with no where else to go it begins to turn from the positive life-given energy that flows from all living things to the evil life-stealing energy that is the cause of all death. As the change occurs, the positive life-giving energy and the evil life-stealing energy begin to battle, causing the branch to burn. The sound that you hear is the dying screams of the gentle wood nymphs that once resided in the tree from which the branch fell. As the battle is won by the life-giving energy you can see the triumphant arc of pure white light being thrown up between the two wires. But alas, though the battle is won, the war is lost. The branch is dead.

I love science!

Bet They Didn’t Ask The Important Questions

Take a look at this new article over at Science Daily about morality and religion.

Here’s a link to the original article which appeared in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences

Citing several studies in moral psychology, the authors highlight the finding that despite differences in, or even an absence of, religious backgrounds, individuals show no difference in moral judgments for unfamiliar moral dilemmas. The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments.

This is obviously false. The fact that you can’t have morality without Jesus proves the morality doesn’t exist without Jesus which proves that this entire study is false.

Maybe you atheists should try using logic for once instead of blindly accepting whatever some scientist says just because he has “evidence”.

Fact v Hypothesis

I’ve been working massive amounts of overtime this week, so I haven’t had a lot of time to post. I’m taking the easy way out and posting a quote without a whole lot of commentary. So…um…here goes:

A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.Edward Teller

Cognitive Disfunction

I really enjoy the show Mythbusters. The science isn’t always as rigorous as I’d like, but the engineering can be really fun to watch.

One show in particular stands out to me because of the audience response. If you go the Mythbusters forums on this topic you’ll see a thread with posts into the thousands. I am, of course, talking about the (in)famous Plane on a Conveyor Belt episode. Here’s Adam Savage describing the problem on the show:

Let me spell it out for you, normally a plane sits on the runway, spins up its engines, moves forwards gets enough air over its wings and takes off. But in this case, the plane is sitting not on the runway, but a huge conveyor belt that is matching the planes forward speed in reverse, and the grand question is can the plane take off? The myth is that it can’t

Just in case you haven’t seen the show I’ll continue below the fold so that I don’t spoil it for you. Continue reading

Logarithmic Universe

I can’t help but love logarithmic scales. Most graphs and images that we see are drawn using a linear scale. By that I mean that the axes (axises? axis’?) count using the basic numbers so that it goes 1, 2, 3, etc… Logarithmic images, on the other hand, have axes that count using the exponents, usually with a common base number like 10. In this way it counts 101, 102, 103 or more commonly (amongst us non-mathematical types) 10, 100, 1000. In this way, things that are of greatly differing size or values can be compared.

One great example of this is the XKCD comic Height. It uses a logarithmic scale with a base of 2 so that every tic represents twice the height of the previous one. I fell in love with that image when I first saw it. But of course, “real” scientists have done him one better. Below is a (slightly and ineptly edited…by me) image of the logarithmic universe which apparently was posted waaaay back in 2005. It shows pretty much the entire universe. I’ve limited this image here to just the area near the earth. Click on it to see the complete image (warning it’s a big image…remember it’s the entire universe).

Logarithmic Universe

Rule of Thumb #1

If you understand something better than everyone else, than chances are pretty good that you don’t understand it at all.

Physicists are often approached by amateurs that claim to have proven that Newtons Laws of Motion are wrong, or that in fact E ≠ mc2. Heck, I’m no physicist and I’ve been approached by other amateur “scientists” who know me as a science buff with similar claims. In the vast majority of cases the person is simply misunderstanding some key point in the science, and in a large portion of those cases any attempt to correct that misunderstanding simply results in the claim that I and the entire scientific community are the ones misunderstanding it.

Yes, it’s theoretically possible that every other human being on the planet somehow missed this idea of yours that completely changes our understanding of the universe. It’s theoretically possible that no one ever considered the physical results of a person throwing a baseball far from any other gravitational body. It’s theoretically possible that every calculation ever done based on the known scientific laws were only right because every scientist before now was willing to “fudge” the result to make it fit with what they already knew to be true anyway. And yes, it’s theoretically possible that you understand something better after a few hours of study than other people do after a lifetime.

It’s just not very likely.