What is the relevance in knowing that the universe for example is expanding?

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Why exactly is it so important to know about the models of the universe(flat/open/closed)? Why is it so important to know that the universe is expanding? What do we benefit from it? what is the relevance of it? Even if we know the "truth", what does it mean to "us"?

I don't really mean these questions in philosophical terms...I just want to know what the relevance of knowing all these stuff is. Can we for example use the information we get from all these things for things on earth? Like for technological developments?
 

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  • #2
Pengwuino
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There is no real benefit to humans in a practical sense. Cosmological scales are so tremendous that they have no impact on us here and now or even in the near future.
 
  • #3
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There is no real benefit to humans in a practical sense. Cosmological scales are so tremendous that they have no impact on us here and now or even in the near future.
Why then is there research done on this area when the information is of no use?
 
  • #4
Drakkith
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Why then is there research done on this area when the information is of no use?
How do we know it is of absolutely no use when we don't know the answer yet? Discoveries can have great ramifications even on areas that were previously thought unrelated. Also, even if there isn't a practical use for it, the knowledge itself can have profound philosophical implications.
 
  • #5
russ_watters
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Why then is there research done on this area when the information is of no use?
Humans are curious and want to know things just to know things.
 
  • #6
russ_watters
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How do we know it is of absolutely no use when we don't know the answer yet? Discoveries can have great ramifications even on areas that were previously thought unrelated.
Granted, but even if we never find a practical use for the information, I'd still like to know.
 
  • #7
Drakkith
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Granted, but even if we never find a practical use for the information, I'd still like to know.
Yep. Alot of the time it's simple curiosity.
 
  • #8
Pengwuino
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Yah, industrialized countries are comfortable enough with their societies that they will invest in knowledge just for knowledge's sake. Present day cosmology really is one of the extremes. However, as already noted, maybe some new discovery will actually have practical benefits! We don't know because we... just don't know.

We do always have the possibility that the study of such problems would involve using software or codes or something that have benefit outside of the area of study. Again, though, cosmology sure is at the extremes of practical use.
 
  • #9
Nabeshin
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Humans are curious and want to know things just to know things.
This is definitely the first and best answer. Simple as that.

If we do want to look at utility though, cosmology is able to probe the earliest moments of the universe's history and in that sense can provide a particle acceleration with infinitely higher energies than we can create today. So cosmology can help us to understand new theories of quantum gravity and whatnot, which most certainly could be applicable to every day life.
 
  • #10
marcus
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There is no real benefit to humans in a practical sense. Cosmological scales are so tremendous that they have no impact on us here and now or even in the near future.
Why then is there research done on this area when the information is of no use?
Sulayman, you are not listening, or else not reasoning. He said no impact now or in near future. He did not say "of no use." There could be a longterm use.

The economic impact of basic research (finding out how the universe works) can be hundreds of times its cost, but the payoff time is hard to predict.

==================

Getting an understanding of some way nature works can turn out to be an extremely good investment (for mankind as a whole, cost-benefit-wise) even though no ordinary intelligent person could have used commonsense ahead of time and guessed how.

==================

Cosmology is not about discovering the age of the universe, or that the universe is expanding. Those are just byproducts that you can pass along to the public, because they like to hear about that kind of thing.

Cosmology is about how the universe works----how matter and geometry interact. In particular how they behave at extremely high temperature and density. How can space expand? How does matter bend space? How did space and matter behave in the early universe. What started the expansion? Are geometry and matter different aspects of the same underlying fundamental stuff?

Nobody, just using common sense, can say how a better understanding of how nature works in this department will benefit us, or enable us to do things we otherwise couldn't. But this has often happened.
 
  • #11
marcus
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I'm not an expert in the history of science and technology. It's a fascinating story how basic curiosity-driven research has unpredictably led to material benefits and capabilities.
Here's a story that comes to mind. Maybe someone will correct me if I get this wrong.

Around 1660-1680 people began to home in on a decent figure for the distance to the sun---like Huygens guessed 24000 earth radii.
Knowing the distance to the sun allowed Römer in 1675 to make the very first measurement of the speed of light.

Well back then you could have said the same thing as Pengwuino about that. It can have no effect on us because the scale is wrong. that distance is much bigger than our practical distances. That speed is much faster than our practical speeds. The information cannot possibly connect with real life. It can have no practical value.

But 200 years later you got Maxwell's equations. Suddenly the speed of light played an active role. Maxwell figured out how elect.mag. waves travel at the speed of light. And you got radio. and television and whole industries based on Maxwell equations.
The roots of both relativity and quantum mechanics (like around 1905) tap down to that earlier discovery of the speed of light in 1675.

So now we have cosmology. It has discovered the existence of dark matter and the positive cosmo constant (which people call dark energy). The big bang. The possibility that there was inflation. The ability of distances to expand---the idea that geometry is not fixed but is dynamically changing. The idea that geometry is influenced by matter---that they influence each other.

So could understanding how geometry and matter interact at extremely high temperature and pressure have any practical use? Could finding what underlies both geometry and matter be of use?

Maybe. One idea has been that if we understood better how nature works in this department we could produce more efficient power sources. I haven't time to finish this, have to go. Maybe we can talk some more tomorrow.

Of course impact is a neutral term---a new technology can have impact but might not be seen as beneficial. A new propulsion technology might be used in weapons etc etc.
One can have impacts one does not like. There's an element of risk in any investment.

But I doubt very much that today's cosmology will be without longterm impact.
 
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  • #12
Chalnoth
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Humans are curious and want to know things just to know things.
And one of the cool things is that in practice, there have proven to be a lot of practical benefits to pursuing this sort of pure science that has no obvious direct applications. One reason this comes about is because pushing the boundaries of science requires the development of new technologies and the construction of new devices, which benefits the rest of the economy in turn. It's almost as if we're rewarded for pursuing our curiosity.

One example of how this has happened in astronomy is CCD's: astronomers were one of the early adopters of CCD camera devices, for use in telescopes (they provide dramatic improvements over the old photographic plates), and in such they helped to bring the price of CCD's down for everybody else, and now we benefit from this by having lots of cheap, high-quality digital cameras.
 
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  • #13
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Are you actually asking what is the point of knowing or understanding something?
If it was how or why lint accumulates in your navel I could understand but something as fundermental as the large scale structure and development of the whole Universe?!
 
  • #14
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Are you actually asking what is the point of knowing or understanding something?
If it was how or why lint accumulates in your navel I could understand but something as fundermental as the large scale structure and development of the whole Universe?!
It's not that I'm asking what the point is. I'm really interested in these subjects and that's why I'm writing a lot of stuff about it. Someone just asked me what actually the relevance of all this was and when I just couldn't give a proper answer I asked here.
 
  • #15
marcus
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If you don't mind saying, I'm curious what cultural context. Usa? Europe? India, SEAsia?
We are talking in part about morality and fundamental values---how to best answer the person might depend on cultural factors.

To a French, I would say that we seek to understand the fundamental nature of the U for the honor of the human mind, and this growing understanding has a long history of benefit to civilization.

But to a Usa, I would put it in terms of competitiveness----of investing resources now for the sake of some future success. And I would point out that the Europeans do it and we should not let them get too far ahead. whatever that means.

There will always be moral issues around the choice to devote resources to satisfying the highest most-informed curiosity-----resources that might otherwise be devoted to other purposes like enabling women to have more babies or enabling men to fight more wars or satisfying the universal need for food and warmth and decent shelter. Whatever people would do with their resources otherwise even if it just have riots and watch television. And there are moral issues around all those things. Should everybody have good health care?

Because it is entangled in moral considerations I would be interested in the culture of the person who asks. What are the habitually accepted ideas. And then we could try to motivate cosmology based on those ideas.
 
  • #16
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If you don't mind saying, I'm curious what cultural context. Usa? Europe? India, SEAsia?
We are talking in part about morality and fundamental values---how to best answer the person might depend on cultural factors.
I live in Europe, in the country where Willem de Sitter lived.
 
  • #17
marcus
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I live in Europe, in the country where Willem de Sitter lived.
Great! Utrecht has some of my favorite physics people.
't Hooft is a hero of mine.
(and of many people)
Have you visited 't Hooft's website. He has lots of stuff aimed at inspiring young people, including pre-university----highschoolers

I would not know how to motivate cosmology to a Dutchman. If he does not already understand the adventure of it, I would be inclined to just give up on him. Suggest going for a beer somewhere and watch football.
 
  • #18
Chalnoth
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A very simple, pragmatic argument is just that experience has shown that there are economic rewards for pursuing pure science. There are many other reasons to do it, but the fact that there is economic benefit means that there is no reason not to.
 
  • #19
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Great! Utrecht has some of my favorite physics people.
't Hooft is a hero of mine.
(and of many people)
Have you visited 't Hooft's website. He has lots of stuff aimed at inspiring young people, including pre-university----highschoolers

I would not know how to motivate cosmology to a Dutchman. If he does not already understand the adventure of it, I would be inclined to just give up on him. Suggest going for a beer somewhere and watch football.
In that case there is no need to motivate me. Just as I said earlier, I was wondering what exactly the relevance of knowing things like this was, I don't for a second doubt the adventure of it.
(By the way, I'm a she not he.)
 
  • #20
marcus
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Hello she Sulayman! You ask entertaining questions of us.
I got an idea of how to motivate cosmo to a Dutch!
It is a crowded country that has had to make artificial place to live, using (wind) power sources to pump water out, etc. Historically it has "engineered" places to live.

Assume that humans will want to find habitat off-planet. In other parts of the solar system. So they will need compact efficient sources of power.

Particularly if say underground on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where the surface sunlight is not so intense, or in the asteroid belt. One cannot always use solar cells everywhere.

One wants to understand cosmo, because one wants to understand how geometry and matter work, so that one can produce small safe black holes!

Small black holes radiate at very high temperature and will evaporate if you do not keep feeding them matter. Any kind of matter will do, and they convert the matter into radiant energy with perfect efficiency.

Tell the Dutchman that his descendants could be living on Europa in a subsurface icecave and they could be enjoying abundant inexpensive energy from several very hot little black holes. Made possible by a better understanding of how the universe works. :biggrin:

Sulayman She, you said someone else asked you why do cosmo. A friend or family perhaps. To pursue the culture idea. Is the questioner longtime Dutch or instead, say, former Indonesian or colonial Dutch East India roots? It could make a difference in how we explain.

Many people might not like the vision of people living in a subsurface icepalace hollowed out by melting, say, with its own small chilly lakes or ocean.

When we are talking about a compact efficient powersource we may need to translate that into some kind of visual result. The visual result should appeal to the taste of the person. You may need to help me, because you know the person who asked the question---you would know what might appeal to their imagination.
 
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  • #21
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I got an idea of how to motivate cosmo to a Dutch!
It is a crowded country that has had to make artificial place to live, using (wind) power sources to pump water out, etc. Historically it has "engineered" places to live.

Assume that humans will want to find habitat off-planet. In other parts of the solar system. So they will need compact efficient sources of power.

Particularly if say underground on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where the surface sunlight is not so intense, or in the asteroid belt. One cannot always use solar cells everywhere.

One wants to understand cosmo, because one wants to understand how geometry and matter work, so that one can produce small safe black holes!

Small black holes radiate at very high temperature and will evaporate if you do not keep feeding them matter. Any kind of matter will do, and they convert the matter into radiant energy with perfect efficiency.

Tell the Dutchman that his descendants could be living on Europa in a subsurface icecave and they could be enjoying abundant inexpensive energy from several very hot little black holes. Made possible by a better understanding of how the universe works. :biggrin:
I understand, but If I told this to a fellow Dutchman he'd probably even be more confused and just say: "You can't live on a moon, can you?"
 
  • #22
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I am Welsh, but have lived in England, Sweden, Turkey, Canada and USA and have travelled to yet more countries and I would say that national trends are not real at least in science. If you are interested in science you know the value of these fundermental questions without asking and regardless of nationality.


As I become older and come to terms with the thought of leaving this place, Cosmology and high energy Physics has become the focal point of my scientific efforts. A more complete understanding of this Universe and how it began, works and ends, may shed light on the truth of our existence and what we are and our part in it.
 
  • #23
Chalnoth
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I understand, but If I told this to a fellow Dutchman he'd probably even be more confused and just say: "You can't live on a moon, can you?"
Well, you'd need a habitat, but sure, why not?
 
  • #24
marcus
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Well, you'd need a habitat, but sure, why not?
Yes! And Sulayman She don't forget that in an underground cavern with earth-normal atmosphere density you personally would be able to fly by your own musclepower.

That is because with less weight a smaller wing-surface is needed for flying.

Perhaps some kind of aerobatic bicycle. The Dutch like bicycles. Maybe this would appeal.
 
  • #25
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Tell the Dutchman that his descendants could be living on Europa in a subsurface icecave and they could be enjoying abundant inexpensive energy from several very hot little black holes. Made possible by a better understanding of how the universe works.



Marcus you should have patented that!
 

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