Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Limitations of the Scientific Method in Probing Truth

Big Bang Cosmology relies on General Relativity. Fine so far. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity illuminates the fact that there can be previously unsuspected interactions between variables, between commodities we had taken to be separate, such as space, time, velocity, gravity, mass and energy. It shows that our day-to-day experience of space, time and matter are merely a parochial, subjective simplification of reality. In addition to those of general relativity, there may be other governing principles, involving interactions of variables, which the experiences of our day-to-day lives do not lead us to expect. We infer reality from the behind the blinkers of our own, parochial, mindset. Our mindset is derived from our own parochial experience. We extrapolate and hypothesize from behind the blinkers. Einstein brought the fact that we have these blinkers into sharp focus. Quantum Mechanics serves to show our blinkers again. It was eventually inferred from observed data, but is most certainly not obvious or intuitive from observed data. The scientific method needs data. It looks for patterns in the evidence, for laws behind events, for processes behind phenomena. However, the data is limited by our ability to perceive it, with and without instrumentation. Our capacity to evaluate patterns and explanations is also limited. It is limited by our best human brainpower and our best ability to perceive and conceptualize. We ourselves are an unavoidable filter on reality itself. The maths we use in day-to-day life, and the physics principles we use to design buildings, cars, boats, planes, etc, even Apollo spacecraft, are those discovered and derived by Sir Isaac Newton. They have served us well and continue to do so. However it turns out that Newtonian mechanics is a simplification of Relativistic 'mechanics'. Newtonian mechanics apply at speeds much lower than that of light. However they remain a simplification of the richness and sophistication of fuller physics models of reality. I say 'fuller' deliberately. It looks increasingly likely that Relativity is itself a simplification of reality which applies only within certain bounds. Can you see where this line of reasoning could take us? The further we step out of our little world, with its variables such as velocity and distance all within certain bounds, and with three-dimensional space and time, the more likely it is that the laws and behaviors we experience here will no longer be sufficient to explain and describe everything. I mention 3 dimensional space because, mathematically, you can have as many dimensions as you like. I mention time because we experience it as an unstoppable, irreversible flow. In maths, we can choose any time we like. It is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that general relativity will turn out to be a simplification itself.

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