In a recent article in the New York Times magazine, by Richard Panek, we read a very well written but surprisingly pessimistic assumption about what physicists can learn about the universe:
If so, such a development would presumably not be without philosophical consequences of the civilization-altering variety. Cosmologists often refer to this possibility as “the ultimate Copernican revolution”: not only are we not at the center of anything; weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not even made of the same stuff as most of the rest of everything. “WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re just a bit of pollution,” Lawrence M. Krauss, a theorist at Case Western Reserve, said not long ago at a public panel on cosmology in Chicago. “If you got rid of us, and all the stars and all the galaxies and all the planets and all the aliens and everybody, then the universe would be largely the same. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re completely irrelevant.”
All well and good. Science is full of homo sapiens-humbling insights. But the trade-off for these lessons in insignificance has always been that at least now we would have a deeper Ã¢â‚¬â€ simpler Ã¢â‚¬â€ understanding of the universe. That the more we could observe, the more we would know. But what about the less we could observe? What happens to new knowledge then? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a question cosmologists have been asking themselves lately, and it might well be a question weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll all be asking ourselves soon, because if theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re right, then the time has come to rethink a fundamental assumption: When we look up at the night sky, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re seeing the universe.
The article argues that the universe may well be stranger than scientists can ever hope to understand.
The article is even a bit negative about string theory (we live in one of zillions of meaningless universes connected by strings):
And this [string theory] is just one of a number of theories that have been popping into existence, quantum-particle-like, in the past few years: parallel universes, intersecting universes or, in the case of Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog just last summer, a superposition of universes. But what evidence Ã¢â‚¬â€ extraordinary or otherwise Ã¢â‚¬â€ can anyone offer for such claims?
They want evidence? How extraordinary. Makes a nice change though.
(Note: Yes, in case you noticed, the Lawrence Krauss quoted on the subject of “pollution r’ us” is one of the big anti- intelligent design guys. He is also down on string theory.)
It sounds, from the article, as though concepts like “dark matter” and “dark energy” must become more specific to provide useful information. This article is a must-read, though I don’t go along with the underlying pessimistic assumption that maybe our limited senses prevent us from understanding these things. That sounds like Darwinism talking, actually. You know the sort of thing: We are just evolved apes and can’t understand whatever is not in our genetic program to understand, including this problem.
Just think of all the areas of science that would not have got anywhere if the pioneers had taken such a view. That, incidentally, is why the Uncommon Descent blog’s rationale says
Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins.