We were wrong about gravity...what do we have wrong today?
June 7, 2016 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Chuck Klosterman on our misguided certainty.

“There is a very, very good chance that our understanding of gravity will not be the same in five hundred years. In fact, that’s the one arena where I would think that most of our contemporary evidence is circumstantial, and that the way we think about gravity will be very different.”
posted by holmesian (63 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, man. I like this a bundle.

Chuck Klosterman is a popular pincushion for people who've read more "serious" writers, but I've loved his work from Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs on, and he's gotten better with every new release. His willingness to play the fool, asking questions or bringing up concepts that he knows are wrong or shallow or ridiculous, in order to provide a vantage point for a more serious idea, is not only enjoyable, but brings him to vantage points from which he can delve into ideas which're usually hard to approach with a decent formal grounding.

I genuinely have no idea how well he knows literary/social deconstructive theory; I'd buy that he stumbles upon the shit he stumbles upon through first principles alone, and I'd buy that he knew all his shit from the start, and spent his career trying to find better ways of getting into things.

His articles on Seinfeld and the Unabomber are both really fun/outlandish/provocative, for people who're new to him but liked this article. The further back you go, the more his stuff skews towards ridiculous navelgazing and cultural inquiry; Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs is a frustrating book on a lot of levels, but Eating the Dinosaur and I Wear the Black Hat both contain some genuinely provocative pieces.
posted by rorgy at 7:43 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Einstein's theory of General Relatively is one of the most precisely tested theories in the history of science, having been shown to be correct to 12 or 13 decimal places. The only other theory that has been so precisely measured is Quantum Electrodynamics, which is correct to maybe 14 decimal places.

Oh, and those two theories are incompatible with each other; they both can't be correct.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2016 [49 favorites]


He had me until Moby Dick. Wrong on Moby Dick, wrong for America.
posted by Behemoth at 8:15 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Meh? It's a stone cold given that our understanding of the natural world is incomplete, but all evidence suggests that today we are less wrong than we've ever been. Our current understanding of gravity, even if eventually shown to be flawed, has allowed some pretty amazing feats that mean the implications of our current model are correct.

No one with any long view would take the position that we're completely right about any fundamental theory, I don't think. We're constantly probing these areas of science, trying to refine our understanding. That we do this shows that we (or at least the scientific community portion of we) absolutely are NOT complacent as a people about what we know.

So I guess I'm not really sure what the hell his point is, but then again I find Klosterman to be pretty pointless 99% of the time anyway. To a point, this piece reminds me of what often happens when you try to explain special relativity to a lay person, and they insist it can't be right. "We must not understand it, because that makes no sense" is a pretty common reaction, but it's a reaction that's rooted in a lack of understanding. As noted, the theories have been tested pretty rigorously, and underlie no small number of practical applications.
posted by uberchet at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2016 [15 favorites]


On some level, it is hard to argue with a statement like "while it seems unrealistic to seriously consider the prospect of life after death, it seems equally naïve to assume that our contemporary understanding of this phenomenon is remotely complete." I think that most scientists would probably agree that phenomena like consciousness or high-temperature superconductivity are not fully understood. But if I (or Sean Carroll, from whom I'm adapting this example) were asked to choose between "brains are complicated objects, but when & if we figure it out we won't need any new physical laws to explain it" and "we understand consciousness well enough to know that there is something fundamentally different from known physics underlying it", I'll go for the first option every time.

The other point where Klosterman loses me is where he talks about scientific models as being "right" and "wrong". No scientist would describe current knowledge as "right". Every scientific model has a realm of applicability where it explains matters "well enough", and a realm where it's not applicable; the goal of science is to create new models that explain phenomena (and, again, explain them "well enough") in realms where we don't yet have good explanations.

Gravity is a perfect example of this. Sure, Einstein came up with a new model of gravity that explained some cool new phenomena like black holes and the bending of light. But it didn't immediately become "wrong" that everyday gravitational phenomena can be neatly explained, to a high degree of accuracy, by Newton's laws of gravity. Fifty-odd years after Einstein "radically changed" our notions of the nature of gravity, we sent 18 men to the Moon's surface and returned them safely home using laws of gravity that Newton would have recognized. And five hundred years from now, should Mr. Klosterman live that long, his hypothetical corpse, thrown out of a window, will almost certainly still fall downwards at 9.8 m/s2.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:21 AM on June 7, 2016 [31 favorites]


That's how I feel about this stuff as well, uberchet.

Like, yeah, relativistic gravity is probably "wrong". But it's an accurate enough approximation of reality for a huge variety of practical situations.

Just like Newtonian gravity turned out to be "wrong" but is still an accurate enough approximation of reality for a huge variety of practical situations.

Just like the pre-Newtonian understanding of gravity turned out to be "wrong" but is still an accurate enough approximation of reality for a huge variety of practical situations.

I don't know who Klosterman is actually scolding here, unless maybe it's the FUCKINGLOVESCIENCE crowd? He certainly can't be scolding actual scientists, who damn well know our models are wrong and are actively working to improve them.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:22 AM on June 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


It's too bad this article is not a book for sale on Amazon, so I could go there and give a 1-star review - "Doesn't stick to the point ... digressions about whales!"

[Author's note- whenever I read a statement that begins 'It seems to me...', I always assume it's wrong.]
It seems to me that gravity is not a force but an effect. I have read some things since I formed that opinion that seem to agree with that, but I'm nowhere near understanding them.
It also seems to me that 'gravitons' were invented (like the aether) in order to satisfy a requirement- It's a force, so it must have a mediating particle.
posted by MtDewd at 8:23 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reading this part:
Here’s an extreme example: the possibility of life after death. When considered rationally, there is no justification for believing that anything happens to anyone upon the moment of his or her death. There is no reasonable counter to the prospect of nothingness. Any anecdotal story about “floating toward a white light” or Shirley MacLaine’s past life on Atlantis or the details in Heaven Is for Real are automatically (and justifiably) dismissed by any secular intellectual. Yet this wholly logical position discounts the overwhelming likelihood that we currently don’t know something critical about the experience of life, much less the ultimate conclusion to that experience. There are so many things we don’t know about energy, or the way energy is transferred, or why energy (which can’t be created or destroyed) exists at all. We can’t truly conceive the conditions of a multidimensional reality, even though we’re (probably) already living inside one. We have a limited understanding of consciousness. We have a limited understanding of time, and of the perception of time, and of the possibility that all time is happening at once. So while it seems unrealistic to seriously consider the prospect of life after death, it seems equally naïve to assume that our contemporary understanding of this phenomenon is remotely complete. We have no idea what we don’t know, or what we’ll eventually learn, or what might be true despite our perpetual inability to comprehend what that truth is.
it seems like the entire thing is really just a roundabout way for a 44 year old "secular intellectual" to start convincing himself that there is life after death because that is something he wants to believe in. Is there a German word for someone doing something so similar to something you might do that you find it annoying?
posted by ND¢ at 8:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [18 favorites]


tl;dr the responses to this can be distilled to "All models are wrong; but some are useful", George Box.
posted by lalochezia at 8:32 AM on June 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't think his point about our current conception of gravity being wrong, but more generally about people's comfort with uncertainty and how even intelligent people can cling to wrong ideas because it is better than admitting that they don't know. Which, I think, is pretty relevant to, well everything.
posted by dudemanlives at 8:33 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah. Buying into Chuck Klosterman's various "what if X is secretly true?" makes this article way less interesting than it ought to be. Which isn't to say Klosterman doesn't actually wonder that—I bet he does. But he also know that him thinking that is some kind of ridiculous, and uses that ridiculousness to accentuate the article's central point, which isn't that everything we know is wrong—it's that it is very, very difficult to tell what discoveries or knowledges are genuinely the end of a millennia-long attempt to understand reality, and which ones are mere stopgaps which we might discover are wrong in hundreds of years.

Which, where science is concerned, maybe doesn't matter a whole lot, as far as everyday life is concerned. But learning how to doubt oneself is an important part of growing up (and, ironically, is basically what makes faith in the spiritual sense so important—a distinction which you miss if you think the point of faith is blindly trusting shit, and which invalidates about 85% of all significant religious teachings and parables). Asking yourself the question "What would it mean if I was wrong about this?" can frequently lead you to discovering ways of being less of a piece of shit, if you don't immediately answer with "Wait, I don't have to answer this, because I'm clearly not wrong."

That Klosterman roots this in science, rather than in things like, I dunno, LGBT tolerance, both makes this a far less controversial article that's likelier to get shared amongst diverse social circles, and also makes total sense, given that so-called Engineer's Disease is the opposite of the value he's trying to promote hear, and is named that because of how many popular scientists (Dawkins, Hawking, Nye, Tyson) seem to invariably dissolve into saying really stupid bullshitty bullshit about things which they barely understand. All despite Knowing Everything.
posted by rorgy at 8:43 AM on June 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah, no, the bright-line scientific atheism you adopted as a teenager is still true: you die and that's it. No meaning or purpose. Oh, and Science says everything ever will die and be forgotten, because entropy.

This sucks, of course, but the answer isn't to try to redefine truth and reality - Newton didn't know it all, therefore I won't really end when I die! - but to either (1) own it, and Do As Thou Wilt (2) adopt a religion (non-theistic ones are available) and use it as a crutch, because religions have been giving hope and philosophic justifications to the hopeless for millenia.

Or what NDcent said better.
posted by alasdair at 8:55 AM on June 7, 2016


The notion that the presence of death precludes all possible philosophical arguments and definitions about the concept of meaning or purpose is precisely the stupid fucking bullshit that makes me avoid inviting teenagers, and certain scientists, to all my funky parties.
posted by rorgy at 9:04 AM on June 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Apropos of nothing, this is my favorite piece on Chuck Klosterman.
posted by slogger at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


The writer is confusing two meanings of the word "wrong" here:

1. Newtonian gravity is wrong in the sense that it is an approximation of reality. I suppose it is possible we might find the same is true of relativity some day. Most scientific models are approximations of reality. They are useful because the approximation is good enough for our purposes in various contexts.

2. Barack Obama failing to become president is not an approximation of Barack Obama becoming president. It is not a useful model.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


the first two sentences of the article:

I’ve spent most of my life being wrong.
Not about everything. Just about most things.


Just once, I'd to hear a candidate (for anything) step up and say this in public.

Johnny Assay: asked to choose between "brains are complicated objects, but when & if we figure it out we won't need any new physical laws to explain it" and "we understand consciousness well enough to know that there is something fundamentally different from known physics underlying it", I'll go for the first option every time.

based on genuinely weird experience, I would take the opposite choice -- paradoxically, the same genuinely weird experience that informs my feelings about generally being wrong about most things.
posted by philip-random at 9:07 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's too bad this article is not a book for sale on Amazon

Well, I mean, it's an excerpt from a book available on Amazon, so have at it?

(I don't think this piece quite comes together as an essay, but then that's not really what it is; it's a book trailer. If it makes you want to read the book and find out how he develops this argument further, it's succeeded. If not, not so much.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:09 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


also, this is good, funny writing, particularly if you're a poet, or know poets:

The failure ruins Melville’s life: He becomes an alcoholic and a poet,
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Chuck Klosterman is a popular pincushion for people who've read more 'serious' writers, but I've loved his work..."

Klosterman is really frustrating for me, because I want to like him. He writes about interesting topics in a highly readable voice. But it's like he doesn't take those topics seriously. He's more interested in being funny and twee than in really probing deeply into something. Sometimes, it works - the non-academic tone is helpful for dilettante readers. Other times, it just leaves you feeling like he didn't really care about the topic. I'd like him more if he took things more seriously. He's a smart enough guy that he doesn't have to rely on crappy humor to be readable.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:17 AM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


you die and that's it. No meaning or purpose

I never got how making lives infinitely long renders them meaningful or purposeful somehow
posted by thelonius at 9:18 AM on June 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


What Shmuel510 said. I found myself thinking, "Jeez, I usually like Klosterman, but I think he needed an editor for this one," before I realized it was a book excerpt. It does not lure me into thinking that I might like the book. If you haven't read this long piece, I'd suggest you leave it alone and wait till the reviews start coming in, because it doesn't make enough sense as it stands.
posted by kozad at 9:18 AM on June 7, 2016


We appear to have broken Lithub so I will just assume this is about Pink Floyd. Shut up Klosterman, Ummagumma is their last good record.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:24 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm not really sure what the hell his point is, but then again I find Klosterman to be pretty pointless 99% of the time anyway.

I'm pretty sure that's the whole point of Chuck Klosterman. His success at making a career out of stoned undergrad bull sessions is unrivaled.

but to either (1) own it, and Do As Thou Wilt (2) adopt a religion (non-theistic ones are available) and use it as a crutch

Or 3) own it, acknowledge that life is a rigged game of pain, suffering, and inevitable tragedy, but still, after all, the best gig in town, and to try to get through it as peacefully and as meaningfully (for whatever value of "meaningfully") as you can.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:28 AM on June 7, 2016


No scientist would describe current knowledge as "right". Every scientific model has a realm of applicability where it explains matters "well enough", and a realm where it's not applicable; the goal of science is to create new models that explain phenomena (and, again, explain them "well enough") in realms where we don't yet have good explanations.

that's just... like, your opinion, man. saying science is modelling just ends up being a reassuring tautology for people who want to be empiricists but not read Hume or, god forbid, Kant. believe it or not, making more and more accurate predictions is a terrible metric to impose on scientific work, as if science itself were some sort of crude AI experiment. there are so many local min/max you can get trapped at and never know it.

the thesis of Einstein's theory of gravity is that the concept of 'force' itself is wrong. the failure to similarly geometrize electrodynamics makes it unsurprising that GR and QED are incompatible, regardless of accuracy of experiments.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:31 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


He lists his "three-week obsession over the looming Y2K crisis" as a time when he was wrong. During Y2K I was (and continue to be) a professional programmer, and Y2K was a legitimate threat to many systems. The only reason computer calendars' transition to 2000 occurred so smoothly was because of a herculean effort by programmers worldwide. Would airplanes have fallen from the sky? Doubtful. But unaddressed bugs would have affected credit card processing, travel, shipping, infrastructure, and all sorts of things. And it didn't pass entirely without incident. I, for one, am glad that the world worried.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 9:51 AM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well, in Klosterman's defense, he probably spent those three weeks trying to decide which records to take with him into the post-Y2K apocalypse.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:00 AM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]




No scientist would describe current knowledge as "right".

We must work in different fields. The paradigm shift that's being forced, slowly, in my field right now is a crystal clear reflection of scientists really holding fast to current concepts of what is "right".

"But then World War I happens, and—somehow, and for reasons that can’t be totally explained [2]—modernists living in postwar America start to view literature through a different lens. There is a Melville revival. The concept of what a novel is supposed to accomplish shifts in his direction and amplifies with each passing generation..."


My emphasis on the part that modern scientists most struggle with, in my field and in others. THe simple idea that explanations aren't predictably complete drives professionals nuts, especially ones who grew up and trained and matriculated in the previous era in which concluding certainty from limited evidence wasn't a big deal.

It's the difference between experts willingness to differentiate between can't-be-explained-right-now and can't-be-totally-explained that I find the most fascinating. We really have no idea how to predictably place current problems in either grouping, and scientists love to pretend to have the correct rubric for doing this kind of sorting. It's a fascinating little domain to write about (and read about).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:24 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


The 2008 edge.org question, "What Have You Changed Your Mind About," is more interesting on an individual level, and the 2014 question, "What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement" is more interesting at the intellectual field of inquiry level. imho.
posted by PandaMomentum at 10:51 AM on June 7, 2016


I like Closterman, didn't like this article, and feel like people are willfully misreading this article and hating it for the wrong reasons. Chuck is not here on Earth to be a Great Philosopher. He is clearly a bright, jack-of-all-intellectual-trades guy with a good flow to his writing who has a track record of illuminating interesting portions of the zeitgeist. He sits exactly halfway on the spectrum that runs from Dave Barry to David Foster Wallace and shares the quality with them of being people I don't think I want to live with on a desert island. Science is anathema to him because his job is not to ask questions that can reasonably be answered but to dwell in hypotheticals and contradictory statements.
posted by Dmenet at 11:24 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I liked this article!

I was chatting with a coworker yesterday over lunch and through that conversation I came to the realization that a big turning point in my life was when I went from being a religious true believer, to an atheist. That experience changed my world view from "I know" to "Maybe I know - after all, I've been wrong in the past."

If we are wrong about gravity, so what? If one person learns the truth about gravity and can use that to create faster internet or something, hey that's pretty cool. But what's the point of everyone learning about gravity? Or rather, what's the point of making everyone be a skeptic of science?

Science after all is not a thing that is, but a thing that does. And it is done by actors, who have funding, who have agendas, who have a perspective on the world that drives their behavior. Those perspectives are what should be challenged.
posted by rebent at 11:36 AM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's really embarrassing that no one in this thread knows it's spelled 'grabbity.'
posted by beerperson at 12:01 PM on June 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Relating to naive realism, there's some research that suggests highly educated classes--of which Ph.D.-level scientists are a subgroup of--tend to be better at balancing absolutist versus relativistic (or closed-minded vs open-minded) thinking. I'd add that having this ability is an educational privilege. Moreover, the researchers also say there's significant variance within this group. And that nuance is interesting, since it can point to how dogma operates for knowledge workers and their communities.
posted by polymodus at 12:06 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


even intelligent people can cling to wrong ideas because it is better than admitting that they don't know.

I think intelligent people can easily accommodate these two ideas simultaneously: a) all knowledge is provisional; b) using knowledge as if it weren't is a practical way to get shit done.

You don't really have to posit an ego problem where there (usually) isn't one.
posted by klanawa at 12:08 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


If mankind could believe something false was objectively true for two thousand years, why do we reflexively assume that our current understanding of gravity—which we’ve embraced for a mere three hundred fifty years—will somehow exist forever?

Because we have to. Gravity isn't (just) some airy principle, it is something we must, practically, depend on in order to operate in our world. We can't go outside and worry about falling up into the sky. We must make an assumption.

People should live their lives with the knowledge that they could very well be wrong about lots of things, and in a fundamental sense are wrong, to some number of decimal places, about everything, but they still must pick some assumptions to be able to operate. Some of those assumptions will be unexamined; part of the path to becoming a better person (in a variety of ways) is coming to see them, and learning to examine them too.
posted by JHarris at 12:13 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ok but to deny an ego problem is exactly what Lacan theorized scientists of doing; of a process of sublimation that is parallel to Art or Religion.

The concern is that science--big science for instance--is political, but we're so busy doing, that we pretend it isn't. My own advisors admitted as much to me, always unintentionally so.
posted by polymodus at 12:17 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


"But then World War I happens, and—somehow, and for reasons that can’t be totally explained [2]—modernists living in postwar America start to view literature through a different lens. There is a Melville revival ...

[2] The qualities that spurred this rediscovery can, arguably, be quantified ... But the fact that these details can be quantified is still not a satisfactory explanation as to why Moby-Dick became the specific novel that was selected and elevated. It’s not like Moby-Dick is the only book that could have served this role.
Being Klosterman, it isn't real clear what larger point this example serves, but I'll note anyway what a lot of work "totally" is doing in that sentence. Because even without recourse to intangibles like "greatness" or "taste," the Melville Revival is one of the better documented episodes in American literary history. We know how he was rediscovered and who championed his books. We can chart the growth of a critical industry and, by tracing the Melville (re-)publishing history, watch the works move into school and university classes. And if we can't totally explain the vigor of Melville's post-revival appeal or why he was revived and, say, Simms, wasn't, without recourse to judgements like "better," we can be pretty damn certain of how it happened.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:22 PM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Johnny Assay: asked to choose between "brains are complicated objects, but when & if we figure it out we won't need any new physical laws to explain it" and "we understand consciousness well enough to know that there is something fundamentally different from known physics underlying it", I'll go for the first option every time.

based on genuinely weird experience, I would take the opposite choice -- paradoxically, the same genuinely weird experience that informs my feelings about generally being wrong about most things.

posted by philip-random at 6:07 PM on June 7

As I understand what Johnny Assay/Sean Carroll mean is that we don't understand all of the emergent properties of systems which are underpinned by physical laws, but we do understand those physical laws. So in the arbitrary case of consciousness, of course we don't fully understand how it, as a complex emergent property of a biological system, works, but that doesn't mean it operates on different or special physics. Or another example, we don't fully understand how epigenetics works, but the forces that hold DNA molecules together (pi-pi stacking) and wrapped around histones (electrostatic & van der waals forces) didn't involve inventing new chemical phenomena or laws to understand how they happen, mechanistically.

Going back to TFA, it's important to note that while Aristotle sought to explain why gravity manifested (because objects crave their natural place, and so the apple falls to earth, etc, which is really a tautology), Newton was extremely strict about Hypotheses Non Fingo- "I contrive no hypotheses". In other words, he sought to explain the physical mechanisms of how gravity worked, which he did, but the why was (at that point) a question of metaphysics, not physics; the scientists of the 17th century lacking the tools to gather the data that would allow them to probe that question.
posted by zingiberene at 12:36 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


To the extent that scientists are egotistical (in my experience), it has more to do with careerism, and less to do with "truth." They want to publish first and get promoted and recognized. They're human, after all. (I don't actually know what you mean by "big science.")

If they turn out to be wrong about something, so much the better -- it hurts to have been going down the wrong path for however many years, but gives them something new to write about. But if one is going to be wrong, it's better that the current state of knowledge be proved wrong, than to be wrong relative to the current state of knowledge (which isn't necessarily unified, in any case.) And anyway, pretty much all "wrongness" is incremental -- tiny steps in the wrong direction. Revolutions in scientific knowledge are incredibly rare. Most scientists don't get the opportunity to be that wrong about anything.

As for Lacan, I'd never heard of him, but looking over the Wiki on him, I'm not seeing much to recommend his opinions on anything.
posted by klanawa at 12:41 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


yo polymodus I agree, all science (in the sense of scientific practice more than scientific knowledge, but trickling down to what scientific knowledge in particular actually exists) is inherently political. Knowledge derives from experimentation which necessarily derives from a line of questioning—and which question is being asked and investigated has not very much at all to do with what is, in the strictly literal sense, but what is considered worthwhile to be asking about in the first place, or possible to investigate.
posted by zingiberene at 12:49 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


you die and that's it. No meaning or purpose

Personally, I repeat once every 1010^115 meters. But I agree about the meaninglessness and purposelessness thing.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:22 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


If I had to guess at salient features of a coming 'intellectual revolution', I'd say we're likely to see a partial rehabilitation of final causes.

Harbingers abound, really, such as the Anthropic principle in cosmology; the almost neo-Anselmian use of multiverse theory to account for the life-enabling values of fundamental constants we observe; the 'cosmic censorship' approach to black holes; and many more -- the most recent of which I've seen is a very appealing (and daring) attempt to use the relativity principle as applied to rotational motion to explain the existence of and derive a numerical value for dark energy:
It has been one hundred years since the publication of Einstein's general theory of relativity in May 1916. In a paper recently published in EPJ Plus, Norwegian physicist Øyvind Grøn from the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences and his co-author Torkild Jemterud demonstrate that the rotational motion in the universe is also subject to the theory of relativity.

Imagine a person at the North pole who doesn't believe the Earth rotates. As she holds a pendulum and can observe the stars in her telescope, she remarks that the swinging plane of the pendulum and the stars rotate together. Newton, who saw the world as a classical physicist, would have pointed out that it is the Earth that rotates. However, if we assume the general principle of relativity is valid, the Earth can be considered as being at rest while the swinging plane of the pendulum and the night sky are rotating.

In fact, the rotating mass of the observable part of the universe causes the river of space—which is made up of free particles following the universe's expansion—to rotate together with the stars in the sky. And the swinging plane of the pendulum moves together with the river of space.

Until now, no-one has considered a possible connection between the general principle of relativity and the amount of dark energy in the universe, which is associated with the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, discovered in 1998. This connection can be established, Grøn argues, by using the phenomenon of inertial dragging.

When formalised in mathematical terms, the condition for inertial dragging yields an equation for calculating the amount of dark energy. The solution of that equation is that 73.7 % of the present content of the universe is in the form of dark energy. This prediction, derived from the theory of general relativity, is remarkably close to the values arrived at by different types of observations
This won't offer affirmation to established religion however; just the opposite: an incursion of science will suddenly seize swaths of phenomena formerly explained only by religion, and which by their very existence have supported and seemed to necessitate religion.
posted by jamjam at 1:43 PM on June 7, 2016


And five hundred years from now, should Mr. Klosterman live that long, his hypothetical corpse, thrown out of a window,

Should he live that long, he won't have a corpse. Answer me that, science guy!
posted by kenko at 4:47 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


As for Lacan, I'd never heard of him, but looking over the Wiki on him, I'm not seeing much to recommend his opinions on anything

Science, philosophy, history, mathematics? A series of corrupt masks employed by the power structure to manufacture consent to the "real". The increasingly frenetic speculations of some guy riding around Paris analyzing people in taxicabs? You can take that to the bank.
posted by thelonius at 5:22 PM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


The whole "curvature of space" thing ...

I know what a curve in a rail is. But how can *nothing* be "curved"?

Not that long ago, Black Holes were very solid, according to that model. Now ... maybe they're just 2-dimensional holograms.

Cosmology today is riddled with problems. Will gravity get a new face in 500 years? Let's hope it's not that long.
posted by Twang at 6:07 PM on June 7, 2016


Space isn't nothing, it's space.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:17 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can take that to the bank.

As a grad student in SCIENCE! I'll take whatever I can get :(
posted by klanawa at 6:41 PM on June 7, 2016


ChuckK is glib and funny and somewhat full of crap. When he writes non-fiction he just randomly makes shit up that sounds kinda interesting and is not meant to be taken seriously. But when he writes fiction he can be good. 'Downtown Owl' is a fairly insightful look at small-town life.

(I know everyone wants to hear my random layperson predictions on the future of major scientific theories mostly relating to cosmology: Gravity isn't going anywhere in a hurry. String Theory will be hung out to dry. The Big Bang is due for a major shift or refinement sooner or later. There will never be conclusive proof of human consciousness after death, not counting loosely metaphoric representations of a person's ideas;)
posted by ovvl at 8:56 PM on June 7, 2016


If the universe of all true knowledge were a shoreline, the things we know presently would fit on a grain of sand.

Okay, you got me, I don't even know what that meant, I just made that shit up. But it sounded really deep.
posted by bologna on wry at 9:14 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


"science is anathema to him" because his job is to "dwell in hypotheticals"?

as a writer i love that people let us get away with that, but it's not accurate. science IS hypotheticals, and sometimes you DO need to know how something actually works before you start using as a metaphor or whatever.
posted by listen, lady at 9:59 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


also, as an academic, come on, dudes! bashing lacan is the oldest trick in the book, and even he has useful models.
posted by listen, lady at 10:01 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


If the universe of all true knowledge were a shoreline, the things we know presently would fit on a grain of sand.

Okay, you got me, I don't even know what that meant, I just made that shit up. But it sounded really deep.


Well, it puts you in reasonably good company, at least, because when little Isaac wasn't pestering giants for an uppy, he liked hanging around on the same beach:
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
posted by jamjam at 10:44 PM on June 7, 2016


Loved the Seinfeld piece someone linked to above. But the essay grated. Not least because the phenomenon of gravity, what we observe about the behaviour of objects, has been more or less constant in human experience. You let go of a thing, it falls. And we are not wrong about that. To the extent that we are, nothing at all that we observe is reliable. Am not getting any great insight from this.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:28 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


You let go of a thing, it falls.

Although, since "falling" is defined as moving downwards and "Down" is defined as "The direction in which things move when you let go of them", that's kind of tautological. But, yes, tautological with a huge amount of consistency.
posted by Grangousier at 3:35 AM on June 8, 2016


Not that long ago, Black Holes were very solid, according to that model. Now ... maybe they're just 2-dimensional holograms.

From the headline that promises "New Evidence That Black Holes May Actually Be 2D Holograms" to the conclusion that cautions that "there is currently no way to definitely prove (or disprove) the idea" to the plea to put a mind-blowing infographic in my inbox, that piece is a black hole of click-bait suck.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:12 AM on June 8, 2016


More Klosterman book excerpts here: What is the future of TV?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 10:29 AM on June 8, 2016


What about ideas that are so accepted and internalized that we’re not even in a position to question their fallibility?

If you really want to call yourself a scientist, then the answer to this is, "there are no ideas who's fallibility cannot be questioned ever."

It mostly just a matter of allocating resources. We develop a model and try to understand the variables until that model is useful. When it stops being useful, we start digging some more until we come up with a new model that is. Newton's model of gravity is plenty useful at most of the scales we work in so 9.8m/s/s is just fine. But there are applications where that falls apart so we have general relativity. When we start discovering areas where that model doesn't work, we'll deliver a new one that's better.
posted by VTX at 11:32 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: As for Lacan, I'd never heard of him, but looking over the Wiki on him, I'm not seeing much to recommend his opinions on anything.
posted by biogeo at 2:33 PM on June 8, 2016


Alternatively,

Metafilter: Tautological with a huge amount of consistency.
posted by biogeo at 2:35 PM on June 8, 2016



More Klosterman book excerpts here: What is the future of TV?


More: Why No One Will Remember John Lennon, The Who or Queen in 50 Years
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:19 AM on June 9, 2016


More: Why No One Will Remember John Lennon, The Who or Queen in 50 Years

Agree on The Who, Elton John, Bowie, more or less, but fuck him on Janis Joplin, The Beatles, and Dylan. If they are forgotten, no way Berry won't be also. Basically, though, we have no way of predicting what in music now will resonate with distant future listeners, I believe.


... ok, it will be The Trashmen's immortal "Surfin' Bird".
posted by Chitownfats at 12:37 PM on June 9, 2016


It's obviously going to be "Wooly Bully", I mean come on.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:57 PM on June 9, 2016


If you want a vision of the future of music, imagine a man shouting "WATCH IT NOW WATCH IT NOW HERE IT COMES" - forever.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:00 PM on June 9, 2016


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