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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Exact Science

As a child, the thing that initially attracted me most to Science and math was that they were exact. History was always written by the victorious. Language had too many nuances in both the usage and pronounciation that I find hard to comprehend even today. Civics was a study too far removed from the reality and geography seemed too backward (Who wants to dig when one could fly out to space and beyond)

However, as I grew up, the same exactness of science and math became too predictable and monotonous. The periodic table listed all the elements discovered and also had slots for the ones to be discovered. The speed of light was defined and constant. A star's life was reduced to a choice between being blown up, being crunched to a dot or flicker away into non-existence. Big pregnant bang gave birth to the universe which was again pre-destined to either continue expanding or oscillate between expanding/contracting. It seemed that our predecessors were too selfish and had discovered everything by themselves leaving us with no mystery.

How wrong was I? Over the past years, science is no longer as exact as it used to be. Some examples:

Blackholes are'nt entirely black any more.

The smallest particle is not an electron but it is a quark and that too because a smaller one is yet to be discovered.

The uncertainty principle states that at a given time, one can either know the velocity or the location of a particle, but not both.

Speed of light may be a constant at a given point of time but there are indications that it was much faster to begin with and has slowed down over time. Seems, it is tiring down.

The big pregnant bang theory still holds its fort but further research is on to identify the father.

When I came across the above, I presumed that all this must have been discovered only in the recent years. But that was'nt the case. Some of the above is recent but a lot was known as early as seventies and eighties. It turns out that my curriculum was behind time. Infact, it was so behind time that time would have been a speck on the horizon. Too bad, the world lost out on another Einstein.

Nonetheless, all this has made Science interesting once again, even in this old age. I can hardly follow much of the recent theories but it is a pleasure in looking at these immense puzzles that nobody knows how to solve, for sure. Infact, with each small step towards the solution, the puzzle becomes even more complicated. May be Scott Adams was right when he said that as soon as a theory to explain the universe and everything is found, the universe will immediately transform itself into even more complicated form. Spooky, well, this puzzle is definitely better than a crossword or a sudoku.


Trishanku said...

Nature is not bound by the scientifc laws, its the scientific laws that try to impersonate nature.

The father asks the son in "The art of motor...", did law of gravity exist before newton discovered it? Son,"I presume so". Father sounds intriguing while never existed till newton "coined" it.

If it was not for Newton, some one else would have coined it differently. All scientic laws are sitting in our heads and not in the nature.

God didnt do the complex mathematical calculation to set things in place. Newton developed calculus to explain theories. God couldnt have bothered with that before placing planets at respective places.

So we are limited by our own discovery...and any of the puzzles are only a limitation of our explanation. And not the anamoly of nature.

The famous story of five blind men's explanation of elephant is apt in the way we are trying to explain nature. Our explanations are true in our pockets but not necessarily in entirety!

Hence all the unexplained puzzles- food for growth of our understanding I presume!

Beta said...

Trishanku - Agree with you and thanks for bringing in this different angle.

Something that I read recently about Euclidian Geometry also goes well with what you mentioned. One of the two fundamental assumptions in Euclidian geometry is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When Einstein proved that shortest distance between two lines may not always be a straight line, somebody went back and created a whole new self-sufficient geometry without that particular fundamental assumption. This alternate geometry did sound very complicated to understand but if it was the accepted first theory to begin with, I would have found Euclidian Geometry too difficult to understand. This, I guess, is the exact point you are trying to make.

Nonetheless, any theory, as long as it explains bits of nature, is a step forward. Larger the explanation, the better it is.