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I am having a crisis in faith

  1. Jul 5, 2015 #1

    wolram

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    Let me start by saying i am only a layman in cosmology but i am an avid reader on the subject, my crisis is about the maths in cosmology, i am sure it is correct but i am not sure it describer the real world.

    Starting with Dark matter, to date the maths works out fine, but in the real world there is no particle evidence for it, there is only the bullet cluster,i suspect we will soon have to resort to SUSY witch is another as yet another unproven theory, and will take a life time to disprove

    The Singularity; again the maths works out fine, but no one has observed one and probably never will.

    Gravitational Radiation; again the maths works out fine but we have not observed or detected it and i suspect that we will build ever and ever better detectors to find it but will fail, i suspect that space does not ring like a bell.

    so you see my crisis is profound i can not believe in the maths alone i need other evidence, tell me off if you want call me a nutter, but it is my crisis and not yours
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
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  3. Jul 5, 2015 #2

    marcus

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    What's wrong with being skeptical, Wooly, and living with doubt? In one sense what you are describing is a good scientist's state of mind.

    You aren't supposed to believe mathematical theories until plenty of physical evidence confirming them has accumulated. If your interests lead you to engage with plausible unproven theories then you can use them, on a conditional, provisional basis, test them, try to improve on them, try to find alternatives, but alway maintain a certain detachment ... That is not being a "nutter". It is a classic scientific attitude.

    The problem might instead be with the details of how you express your skepticism and the need to have a thick skin. There could be people who want to beat up on you because they take issue with how you criticize a theory or the reasons you give for being skeptical about some hypothesis.

    I don't mean dogmatic "believers" ---you could just ignore them. But there could be others who, while they accept that certain hypotheses (e.g. dark matter, gravitational waves...) require more physical proof, feel called on to fault you for the way you express your doubt. It's good to have reservations, they would say, but you are doubting for the wrong reasons, at the level of detail.

    I don't know if you have met with that reception, but it's a mix of good and bad. They could be talking sense at the level of detail, so you might be able to learn something from them about what are the right reasons to be skeptical. But on the other hand it means you need to have a thick skin and not get hurt feelings if a few beat up on you about the details of an argument.

    I can't tell what you are dealing with specifically because I haven't been watching closely. Over the years I have liked your posts partly for the very reason that you express doubts, although sometimes for reasons that are only too obvious.
    Like, who really believes in the cosmological singularity. Nobody, basically. The burning question is what to replace it with.

    Anyway I don't know specifically what you are dealing with but as another old member I can only commend your stubborn skepticism and urge continued detachment about unproven hypotheses.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  4. Jul 5, 2015 #3

    wolram

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    What's wrong with being skeptical and living with doubt?

    It is against the main stream, and i do not want to be an outsider, but my concerns are earnest.
     
  5. Jul 5, 2015 #4
    I too have merely a passing fancy of the subject, so I take solace in the fact that the universe is here and it seems oblivious to our lack of complete systematic understanding. It's all the pieces which are probable on their own fitting into a complete "picture" of galactic physics which is amazing and awe inspiring. The minor details that aren't currently refinable or observable don't leave much room for "cracks" in the picture.
     
  6. Jul 5, 2015 #5
    I don't think the reality of the cosmic singularity is currently accepted. People are just waiting for the development of a quantum gravitational alternative to it. As far as black hole singularities are concerned, they seem to be treated more and more as "singularly inaccessible regions", but more and more means of reconstructing the information they swallow are being hypothesized,.
     
  7. Jul 5, 2015 #6

    ShayanJ

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    The assumption that we can trust math in such issues, is not at all trivial. But people accept it because of the huge amount of evidence in its favour. So if you can't trust math, it means you should just learn enough physics so that you see enough evidence to persuade you to trust math in these issues. If this doesn't work for you, then you can't pursue science because accepting scientific facts is based on observing evidence and nothing else.
     
  8. Jul 5, 2015 #7
    In physics we use mathematical models to make predictions about the real world. These predictions can be astongishingly accurate if we isolate our real world experiements well enough, but our models fail all the time. When they're shown to fail either from a theoretical or experimental perspective, we change the models, or wait for some idea or some evidence to show us how to change the models. This is the method which we have faith in. Not the models themselves. We know that they don't give a complete description of nature.

    Is our faith in this method misplaced? It's a method which has been incredibly productive and I find it difficult to even imagine another way of understanding the universe, but in the interests of open-mindedness, I'd say that we haven't proven that it is the only, or best, way to understand nature.
     
  9. Jul 5, 2015 #8

    phinds

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    I don't think that being skeptical and having doubt are at all outside the mainstream. I agree w/ Marcus that you need to have some care in how you express that doubt, lest you DO come across as too much of a skeptic and for the wrong reasons, but at this point anyone who believes that any of the topics you mention are an iron-clad certainty is not a good scientist.

    As to the "singularity" I don't know what you mean by "observe" one since "singularity" does not refer to any specific physical object, it just means "the place where the math gives unphysical results".
     
  10. Jul 5, 2015 #9

    wolram

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    Thank you for your replies and honest views.
     
  11. Jul 5, 2015 #10

    atyy

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    Regarding dark matter, I think many don't exclude that it is something else, possibly an error in the current theory of gravity. I think Schutz was writing before the bullet cluster evidence, but he certainly doesn't rule out that an error in GR might contribute to the discrepancy between theory and observation: http://www.gravityfromthegroundup.org/.

    As I understand it, the maths in fact does not work out. The singularity is not compatible with current quantum theories, so a major aim of both strings and LQG is to understand what might replace it. http://whystringtheory.com/research/quantum-gravity/.

    How about the evidence from binary pulsars?

    So far the lack of direct detection of gravity waves is consistent with other observations and current theory: http://stuver.blogspot.com/2012/06/null-result-not-finding-what-you-were.html.

    I largely agree with marcus. Maybe you had too much faith to start with. :oldtongue:
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  12. Jul 5, 2015 #11

    ShayanJ

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    To be honest, I didn't read the starting post carefully. Now that I read parts of it in atyy's reply, I'm really confused about OP's problem.
    Who told you to accept something only because a theory predicts it and the math works fine?! Of course it doesn't work that way. There is no faith in physics. We don't "believe" in a theory even one as successful as GR. We're not going to take gravitational waves for granted only because GR is very successful in other areas.
    If we build a detector with an accuracy which GR says is enough for detecting gravitational waves but we don't detect them, this will be a failure of GR and we should change things to account for this non-observation(which we should actually call an observation!).
    If you're worried about the fact that all people seem so confident about detecting gravitational waves and you are not, then its only because the large amount of evidence in favour of GR makes people think that its really improbable that its wrong in this one particular aspect. Also there are some indirect evidence in favour of gravitational waves so it seems very plausible to think that we will observe them directly. But if we don't, it will be a very interesting and exciting "observation". Not only because we will be amazed that what kind of a theory can be so much like GR and explain the indirect evidence for gravitational waves but exclude them, but also because it may be an experimental signal from a quantum theory of gravity which is very precious for physicists.

    And about my last post about trusting math. I still support that. For example here, humans can't perceive gravitational waves directly for themselves. The observation will be via a large amount of numbers coming from detectors. Then it will be the math that tells us there was a detection or not. Also all this experiment is based on the calculations done in GR.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  13. Jul 5, 2015 #12

    Chalnoth

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    The CMB offers better evidence. And additional particles are a generic prediction of essentially every GUT theory. To put it simply, current high-energy physics is described by the symmetry group SU(3) x SU(2) x U(1). GUT theories tend to use a single higher-order symmetry group (such as SO(10)), with our current physics being the result of spontaneous symmetry breaking within this higher-order symmetry group. SUSY is just one popular method of producing a higher-order symmetry group.

    I think we can be pretty sure that the various singularities in GR are mathematical fiction.

    We've detected the expected energy loss due to gravitational radiation in binary pulsars, and it matches the prediction very precisely. There would have to be a lot wrong with physics as we know it for gravitational radiation to not exist. Ground-based gravitational radiation detectors are rapidly approaching sensitivity levels that will be able to detect radiation from known objects.
     
  14. Jul 5, 2015 #13
    Not outside the main stream in science. It's the essence of science. As others have stated, Science isn't about 'belief'. It's about theory based on best evidence to date.

    I am extremely skeptical of our interpretation of reality but admit it's just educated 'speculation' on my part. I 'think' based on just odds, that there are quintillions of other intelligences, some billions of years in advance of us and what we see as reality is some simulation.

    However, later today I'll fiddle with my geology research in which 2 plus 2 equals 4 and chemistry and physics explains most things nicely. I have a love/hate relation with mathematics on the larger cosmological scale...I love that it works but hate that it works only because we aren't even seeing the other 99% of existence that (maybe) doesn't lend itself to measurement or mathematical logic.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  15. Jul 5, 2015 #14

    Chronos

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    Language is the culprit here. Math is the preferred language of science because it strips away the vaguity of words. Let's just say, for example, we defined dark matter as 'An entity which is gravitationally equivalent to matter, but, fails to exhibit electromagnetic interactions'; or black hole as 'the radius of a sphere such that, if all the mass of an object were to be compressed within that sphere, the escape velocity from the surface of the sphere would equal the speed of light'.and a 'singularity' as 'the geometric center of such a sphere'. These are mathematically equivalent to their shorter common language versions. If you adopt these more awkward terms, the confusion between languaqe and math vanishes.
     
  16. Jul 5, 2015 #15
    Sort of. The issue is that everyone of those terms is still, itself, based on reducible mathematical logic. Math determined what is acceptable. We don't have any better tool than mathematics. The language of math sets the agenda. Measure, quantify, equate, verify...the math makes sense. Build science upon whatever is previously logical mathematically. It's like a game or a sport...all makes sense only within the rules of the game (mathematics).

    Math is all we have but it really is 'the only game in town'.
     
  17. Jul 5, 2015 #16

    DaveC426913

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    Frankly, I find it wonderful that there are still profound mysteries, the answers to which we do not have. It would be so dull to live in a time where we're just crossing the i's and dotting the t's, don't you think? We are in an age of great discovery! We recently realized that 75% of the physical universe is a frontier, just waiting to be explored. We are in the childhood of exoplanetary discovery! The world of science is fresh and new.
     
  18. Jul 5, 2015 #17

    OCR

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  19. Jul 6, 2015 #18
    True.
    We are on the frontier of knowing whether or not our physics is even taking us in the right direction. Even more excitingly I personally think with advancement in technologies we are on the frontier of some tangible evidence of life, maybe even intelligent life, elsewhere.
     
  20. Jul 6, 2015 #19

    Chronos

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    Our science is quite advanced and exquisite, IMO. We have made extraordinary progress with things like GR and QFT. They have opened new routes to aid our underfstanding of the rules under which our universe operates. I view that as a perpetually unfinished task we pass to our descendants..
     
  21. Jul 7, 2015 #20
    Sounds like good science to me. Science is the tool we use to move the boundary between ignorance and knowledge. In all of history, the current science of the day was not complete, it simply was the best explanation with what they knew at the time and it's the job of scientists to make our collective explanation of the universe better than it was before them, not complete it.

    "Captain, the most elementary and valuable statement in science, the beginning of wisdom, is 'I do not know.'" - Data
     
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