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B Is What we Know for Now Certain?

  1. Mar 8, 2016 #1
    So my question delves more into the metaphysical and philosophical than super scientific, but it relates back to what we know about physics and science. Recently a friend and I had a mentally stimulating conversation and it got me wondering about something.

    Since the beginning of time, people have said they can do something, and the general public has denied that said person would be able to do it. The Wright brothers with flying, someone probably told Magellan he couldn't circumnavigate the world, and plenty have times has the mass public denied scientific postulates and theories that either later turned out to be true after refinement, or turned out to be true from the beginning.

    We now live in an age where we know more than ever before, there's so much to learn out there about ourselves, the Universe, the laws that bind us. We can use the internet, go to College, research, visit the library, there's so many ways to learn new things.

    My question comes back to this, now, I haven't delved much into physics yet. I am a physics major, but I have yet to take a physics class because of a few prerequisite conflicts and all that, but I'm highly interested in the subject.

    Certain scientific theories pose that certain things are impossible, Special Relativity says an object can not accelerate to the speed of light, right? Laws of thermodynamics state that as time goes on, entropy increases, the law of conservation of energy and mass says that mass nor energy can be created or destroyed.

    The scientists who came up with these laws are clearly not your basic nay sayers on the side of the street saying it's impossible because they don't believe it's possible, they're saying it because there is evidence and scientific proof. But as we all know, sometimes theories turn out to be wrong, or need to be adjusted, as we gain more information and insight.

    Are these laid out theories and laws set in stone? Excluding loop-holes like the theoretical Alcubierre drive which would bend space for transportation at "FTL" speeds, even though it's not technically travelling at the speed of light but bending space around it, will these theories and laws always be there for us to fall back on? Or will we someday learn that Einstein was wrong? That maybe there's a way to reverse entropy, that matter or energy could possibly be created? As impossible as these things sound, I would like intelligent individuals with an open mind to share their thoughts on this matter. Am I crazy, or will these theories and laws forever be in place and we will never actually be able to directly break or ignore them?

    I apologize if my basic understanding of Physics and Science isn't enough to articulate what I'm trying to ask. Hopefully if it's not, you guys can extrapolate.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 8, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Consider what happened to Newtonian gravity after Einstein. Is Newtonian gravity still taught in schools? Why or why not?

    Be advised that philosophical discussions are often curtailed or deleted. We can discuss the philosophy of science from a mainstream professional viewpoint only.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
  4. Mar 8, 2016 #3


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    No, they are not!

    As scientists, ALL of us are aware that our understanding, as reflected in the accepted theories and ideas, are, in some ways, provisional. However, when we say that, we mean it in terms of scientific certainty, which is MORE certain than any other aspect of human life. After all, if our ideas are "set in stone", then how do you explain the fact that science have gone through several major "revolutions" and "paradigm shifts" through its history, and several major ones just in the last century alone!

    Our understanding and ideas continue to improve, to encompass larger boundaries, and to be refined to even higher precision. That has been going on throughout the history of science, and continues to this present day. That is not a characteristics of something "set in stone".

  5. Mar 8, 2016 #4
    Physical theories are not meant to live forever. I think that if we wait long enough, any physical theory will be broken somehow. That includes modern theories like relativity or quantum theory. That doesn't mean these theories are wrong, it means that they are very accurate approximations of certain realities.

    Many newcomes say that Newton's theory has been disproven by Einstein. I think that is wrong. It is more accurate to say that Einstein found certain boundaries for Newton's theory. The classical mechanics theory is still heavily used in science and physics. It's just that when we use it, we need to be sure that it's applicable. In the same way, GR or QM should be used whenever it is applicable.

    I don't think it is the goal of science to come up with a theory that is true. I think the goal of science is to approximate reality and to give better numerical answers to problems. In that sense, no theory is correct or incorrect.

    Anyway, could we ever go faster than light? Sure, it's not set in stone that we cannot.
  6. Mar 8, 2016 #5
    @ZapperZ is completely correct. Just to add, for a theory to be set in stone, it must experimentally be proven to not break down at any level and it can't conflict with other accepted theories that don't, at least to our knowledge, break down at any level. How do you prove this? You can't. There always will be a bigger scale to test he theory out on. Think about all the current theories. Are there any that are even in contention to be "set in stone"? Maybe special relativity, but nothing else. General relativity and quantum mechanics have limitations that we actually know of, let alone being each other's limitations (they conflict with each other at certain levels). They both have been more or less proven to be incomplete. Many of Newton's laws, including F=ma, have been found to break down at very large or very small scales, and they were once "set in stone". Studying these incomplete theories, however, is essential to trying to complete them, and studying theories we think to be complete is essential to finding their boundaries. Also, even the incomplete theories are true at some level. Newtonian mechanics is a very good approximation of relativity and quantum mechanics when dealing with regular masses, regular sizes and regular velocities. Any new theory that wishes to be considered to be accurate needs to simplify basically to Newtonian mechanics for regular masses, sizes, velociteis, etc.
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