Freesteel Blog » Galaxy road south
Galaxy road south
Sunday, February 18th, 2007 at 2:18 am
I’ve suddenly wound up in Cambridge for two weeks to keep house for my grandfather as he gets radiotherapy treatment at the large hospital on the other side of town. They send a taxi over every day. If I’m lucky there might be room for me to go in it.
I’ve got limited internet connection here, which is a good thing because I’ll be able to get through to the end of all this drop cutter coding without too much distraction.
I spent all of Thursday ranting about UN documents to an unlucky visitor to Liverpool who probably didn’t know what hit him. Then I went to Manchester to experience the misery of cycling down Oxford Street in the rain, leapfrogging the double-decker busses until I gave up and went on the pavement, before dropping off Becka’s passport at the Chinese consul and getting a blood test on the way back.
Then I had two hours programming the ball-nosed cutter case before going to a public lecture by some nutty particle physicist called Martinus Veltman who believes that the general theory of relativity and our understanding is gravity is all wrong.
He made a reasonable case, beginning with the fact that astrophysicists are full of crap, what with their going on about reading the handwriting of god. Nothing that they’re doing goes anywhere close to the real mystery of life, which is: How do our brains think? Also, they don’t do any experiments, so they can say whatever they like about the existance of a black hole at a certain place in space, and no one can prove them right or wrong.
Particle physicists, on the other hand, do experiments. For many decades they have been having to invent numerous new nuclear forces to explain what they are seeing. These new forces all start out as fudge factors, from which they make predictions that they then test on a particle accelerator. The latest and greatest fudge factor is the Higgs field, against which they’ve bet three billion Swiss francs on building the Large Hadron Collider. Either they’ll see direct evidence of it this year, or they won’t. Nobody really knows. That’s what really makes it interesting.
Meanwhile the cosmologists, who are able to make pretty photographs through their telescopes, have their own fudge factor known as Dark Matter on account of the fact that nobody has ever seen it. It’s only there, according to them, because they believe that even at the super large scales of a galaxy, that familiar law known as gravity must explain everything.
Why should it?
The subatomic physicists have had to invent the strong force, the weak force, the Higgs force, spin, quark, strangeness, and charm; so should we be surprised if the same nonsense of new laws unobservable on a human scale need to be postulated at large scales beyond the level of the solar system?
Of course not. There’s the Pioneer anomaly and the flyby anomaly where man-made objects in space don’t quite go where they ought to. I don’t know what’s special about them, except they have transmitters and we know how heavy they are because we put them there, so we’re not deducing an equally anomalous mass from an anomalous motion in such a way that we don’t notice it.
But worse is the galaxy winding problem where, if gravity was all that’s involved, there would never be any spiral arms because they would rapidly be smoothed into an disk, like the trail of cream on the surface of a stirred cup of coffee. The stars near the centre should go round faster and leave the far tips of the arms many revolutions behind. But because the cosmologists observe that the whole galaxy seems spins as one, they need to invent a huge halo of invisible “dark” matter around the outside to make it so.
This is real science: a model which produces predictions that don’t match observations without faking it, and suggests that there is something big we don’t know. We need to deal with the data and invent new and interesting theories to explain it which, if we’re lucky, we can test with an experiment.
On the other hand, the science of climate change doesn’t have any mysteries left in it; at least not of the sort that makes it worth running this particular excess atmospheric CO2 experiment we are currently conducting on ourselves, because we already know the answer and are not going to like it. Nevertheless, we still pay our politicians to lie about the facts, and put our minds at rest with the proposal that we had managed to weather a similar scare story in the past about global cooling that so convinced the scientific establishment it amounted to two whole articles in Newsweek in 1978.
I’m lucky to have been allotted a life span that fits into the most perfect time slot that a human being could ask for. Presently, medical science is good enough to avoid needless suffering, and we have the internet, and I will be able to watch the world through the most amazing period of transition with a mind is just mature enough to really appreciate it, without being too old and bitter. If I live to be as old as my grandfather, that’ll take me to around 2060, which is not many years short of when our life supporting environment is scheduled to really go tits up.
Of course, I could die young if I don’t stop staying up so late after my bed time. Night night.