Monday, May 2, 2011

Time’s up, Einstein: The Legal Watchdog wrestles with dark matter and the theory of general relativity

If anyone is wondering why I'm delving into physics, it's because I was to be in trial all week, but the case settled last Friday.  Therefore, I decided to dedicate a few days to solving the mysteries of the universe.  True, I've only begun exploring the relevant issues, but the week is young. 

Have you ever heard of dark matter and wondered what it was?  It turns out that we can't verify its existence, and the only reason we created it—that’s right, we created it—is to allow us to cling to Einstein's theory of general relativity.  More specifically, when we use Einstein's equations (built on Newton's laws) to back into a measurement of "mass" by first looking at orbital speeds of the planets outside of our solar system, the equations produce more mass than we can actually observe.  So, observational mass and computational mass just don't match up.  Therefore, to make the two balance we created dark matter, i.e., matter that we can't see, but that must be there in order to make Einstein's equations work.  If Einstein’s theories weren’t already so well accepted in the physics community, this would be like assuming the very thing that we are trying to prove.  But because Einstein is a—or the—physics god, most physicists seem to try and substantiate, rather than question, his work.

But contrarian physicist Lee Smolin offers this account in his book The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next:  "Today most astronomers and physicists believe that [dark matter] is the right answer to the puzzle.  There is missing matter, which is actually there but which we don't see.  This mysterious missing matter is referred to as the dark matter.  The dark matter hypothesis is preferred mostly because the only other possibility -- that we are wrong about Newton's laws, and by extension general relativity -- is too scary to contemplate."

The “other possibility”—that Einstein was wrong—means that the theory of general relativity works only within a limited range, i.e., certainly not on the quantum scale, and not even on scales that are larger than our own solar system.  To me, this option seems far more reasonable than the wish-thinking that created dark matter.  And it also seems consistent with my own study of mathematics: when applying calculus to business problems, the equations only worked within a given range, e.g., a numerical range of production volume.  Outside of that given range, the math was useless and all bets were off.   

In any case, Lee Smolin argues that much of today’s physics—including the above-mentioned dark matter, as well as dark energy and especially the highly popular “string theory”—is untestable speculation that has high-jacked physics and set it back several decades. 

And another contrarian, Peter Lynds, disagrees with Einsten on an even more fundamental level: Time itself, much like dark energy, is a man-made convention.  In other words, “reality is merely sequences of events that happen relative to one another; time is an illusion.” 

Time’s up, Einstein. 

1 comment:

  1. Cathy RitterbuschMay 2, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    Of course time is a man-made convention. If a scientist hadn't come up with it, a lawyer would have: how else could we justify metering out wisdom in 6-minute increments?