Friday, January 13, 2012

Are Scientific Proofs Really Proofs?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts a website that's not to be missed if you are interested in science but, like me, you are not formally educated in scientific principles.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

This man's TV presentations on PBS and other media are fascinating. I can't help thinking that his apparent solid understanding of science is phenomenal, and I try to never miss his latest offerings.

I subscribe to official announcements from NASA and receive via email three or four of these memos each day. The latest, RELEASE: 12-007 was titled:


Now I have to admit that sometimes the information I receive nearly overwhelms my ability to (blindly) accept what is presented as absolute fact. Such as this excerpt from RELEASE: 12-007:

In a random sky survey made in near-infrared light, Hubble found five tiny galaxies clustered together 13.1 billion light-years away. They are among the brightest galaxies at that epoch and very young -- existing just 600 million years after the big bang. (huh? 5 tiny galaxies?)

Wow! How mind-bending is that? The light from this galaxy cluster left the cluster and traveled toward Earth at approximately 186,000 miles per second for 13,100,000,000 years -- that's a LONG distance to travel and it took a LONG time to reach the Earth. And you know what? I, as a non-scientist, find it hard to believe that such a specific measurement is even possible, no matter how sophisticated the measuring instruments.

But then, I'm just an average non-scientific guy who in his average gut suspects that the fields of mathematics, physics, and astronomy are themselves probably being misused by overly confident, overly arrogant scientists who are after all only human and therefore perpetually prone to error.

Yes, I realize that a scientist must trust his instruments, but I know from personal experience that this trust (faith?) is at times inappropriately applied.

Another NASA memo, RELEASE 12-008 contains this paragraph:

Dark matter is material that can be inferred to exist through its gravitational effects, but does not emit and absorb detectable amounts of light. Dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all space and exerts a negative pressure that causes the universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate.

Does this mean that some scientific theories are nothing more than educated guesses?

More about Chandra X-Ray Observatory


The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny..."
--Isaac Asimov

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