Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Luminiferous Ether and other such things

​​As always, the ex-Archdruid has caused a couple of my neurons to fire.

This time it was kicked off by his use of the quaint phrase "Luminiferous Ether".  Man, started me laughing, because along with phlogiston and phrenology, you have yourself a blast from the past that is truly hard to beat.

But then, as I continued to think about these ​​​​things, I also started thinking about the science that is going down in our time.  How much of what is passed of in the "scientific" journal industry today will be in same category as luminiferous ether fifty years from now?

I spent years in the nether regions of science.  Was I a top-flight tech?  Was I an slightly below average scientist?  Who knows?  The point here is that I was a part of that particular argumentative collective for years.  The group

think and arrogance is astonishing.  They are certain that anything done in the past has no merit whatsoever and only current methodology and theory yield "truth".

B​ut, on the other side, they hold up the "miracles" and saints bones of earlier enshrined experiments.  Michelson-Morley is one of these.  My experience with physics explanations for this experiment is "Nice".  But when you hear the experiment discussed by serious physics types, it gains the stuff of religion.  It proved the issue, discussion is done, full stop.

But the trouble is that the game of "science" is beginning to unwind.  We have established a set of theorems that give us stuff.  But how much of what we know has taken everything into consideration?

Now Ugo should know about work not being appreciated.  To be honest, people comparing Malthus to the Club of Rome is not an under-performed bit of art.  But, as Ugo says, not 
​a rigorous piece of art, but a carefully crafted partial reading of the corpus.

How much of our science is that way?  It gives us certain things, some of which we treasure greatly.  But how does the limited reading of the world around us and the subsequent enshrining the current mental model of the universe lead us to a dead end in our knowledge.

​Consider a moment this excerpt from Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" trilogy.

"What weapon could Leibniz possibly have that would do injury to Sir Isaac?"
"To begin with, a refusal to be over-awed, and a willingness, not shared at this time by any Englishman, to ask awkward questions."
"What sort of awkward questions?"
"Such as I've already asked: how does the water know where the moon is? How can it perceive the Moon through the entire thickness of the Earth?"
"Gravity goes through the earth, like light through a pane of glass."
"And what form does Gravity take, that gives it this astonishing power of streaming through the solid earth?"
"I've no idea."
"Neither does Sir Isaac." Barnes was stopped in his tracks for a few moments.
"Does Leibniz?"
"Leibniz has a completely different way of thinking about it, so different as to seem perverse to some. It has the great advantage that it avoids having to talk rubbish about Gravity streaming through Earth like light through glass."
"Then it must have as great disadvantages, or else he, and not Sir Isaac, would be the world's foremost Natural Philosopher."
"Perhaps he is, and no one knows it," Daniel said. "But you are right. Leibniz's philosophy has the disadvantage that no one knows, yet, how to express it mathematically. And so he cannot predict tides and eclipses, as Sir Isaac can."
"Then what good is Leibniz's philosophy?"
"It might be the truth," Daniel answered.


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