February 28, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Is Cosmology Getting Wimp-y?

Physics and astronomy are usually thought of as the “hard” sciences, where empiricism is king.  Read the following excerpts from a story on the BBC News science page with that in mind (suggestion: replace “dark matter” with “mysterious unknown stuff”).

The first stars to appear in the Universe may have been powered by dark matter, according to US scientists….
   when the Universe was still young, there would have been abundant dark matter, made of particles called Wimps: Weakly Interacting Massive Particles.
    These would have fused together and obliterated each other long before nuclear fusion had the chance to start.
    As a result, the first stars would have looked quite different from the ones we see today, and they may have changed the course of the Universe’s evolution – or at least held it up.
    The theory, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, depends on particles that astronomers can’t see, but are certain exist, and physicists have never detected.  But the indirect evidence for their existence is overwhelming.

Let’s take stock so far.  Some kind of mysterious unknown stuff has never been detected, but it determined the fate of the universe and all that it contains.  The mysterious unknown stuff, remember, has never been detected, but it has a name: Wimps.  Even though never detected, scientists are certain there was a lot of the mysterious unknown stuff at the beginning, colliding, fusing and obliterating itself, and forming the first stars, which would have looked quite different from the stars we see, even though they have never been detected, either.
    Now to the indirect evidence that is overwhelming.  The article continues:

Dark matter particles make up more than three-quarters of the mass of the Universe,” says theoretical physicist Katherine Freese from the University of Michigan.
    “In fact, billions of them are passing through each of us every second.
    In the early Universe, there would have been even more.

It seems that this indirect evidence for the mysterious unknown stuff that has never been detected is an artifact of a popular current theory that postulates its existence (06/20/2003, esp. bullet 5).  Our problem is that we cannot detect the billions of Wimps that MUST (Mysterious Unknown STuff) be passing through our bodies every second.
    So let’s turn our most powerful space telescope to the edge of the universe, and learn if it sees what MUST be there:

The nature of the first stars has long puzzled astronomers.  Immediately after the Big Bang, the Universe expanded and cooled, so that for millions of years it was filled with dark, featureless hydrogen and helium – and perhaps Wimps.
    Astronomers can see that there were normal stars 700 million years after the Big Bang – the Hubble Telescope looking to the edges of the Universe, which is like looking back billions of years in time, can see whole galaxies of them.

So far, we have only observed KS (Known Stuff), not Mysterious Unknown STuff.  The article gets even stranger.  Scientists have figured out what MUST have occurred: to get from darkness to light, it MUST have pulled the universe together, causing it to “change course” on a path to stars, planets and life.  Stranger still, the old story about mysterious unknown stuff has been replaced by a new one creating exotic new structures out of exotic unknown ingredients:

It had been thought the hydrogen brought together by these dark matter haloes would collapse to make the first small stars, and would start to make inside themselves the first new elements – carbon, oxygen, silicon and other materials needed by planets and life.
    But the new paper says reactions between the Wimps, colliding and annihilating each other, would have generated enough heat to keep the protostars inflated – like hot air balloons.  And as more Wimps rained down on them the heating would have kept going.

Naturally, “The details of what the stars would have looked like have yet to be worked out,” since they cannot be observed.
    A good deal of effort and money is being expended to try to create some linkage between theory and observation.  For instance, Science Daily described sophisticated new dark matter detectors being readied by Fermilab.  One experiment described in another article on Science Daily failed to detect Wimps, the leading candidate for the mysterious unknown stuff.  Astronomers have been looking for it for years (07/23/2007) but recently, the race to be first to detect it is picking up steam.  Maybe the new Large Hadron Collider coming online this fall at CERN will help discover the mysterious unknown stuff that makes up the universe and determines its fate.

One would almost think we are back in the dark ages, listening to wizards peep and mutter about mysterious vapors and essences and emanations that control our fate.  They haven’t found Wimps yet but are already talking about Super-Wimps (07/02/2003).  If the intellectually-wimpy believers in Wimpy dark matter don’t find it soon, or if new theories gain ground that don’t need it, these searchers are going to look very silly for having said 80% of reality consisted of superfluous nonexistent stuff.
    One would think they would look silly; actually, they will probably relish the Progress Of SciencE (POSE).  Ever since Charlie welcomed fantasy into science, all branches of modern investigation have loosened the restrictions on empiricism.  Now, it is quite fashionable to postulate mysterious unknown stuff if it MUST keep your materialistic story going.  Geology set the stage before Darwin by envisioning vast ages of unobservable prehistory.  Psychology imported mysterious unknown stuff like the Unconscious, the Id, the Ego and Superego, and Archetypes.  Political Science imported it in the form of Utopian visions that would be realized by the Class Struggle and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat over the Bourgeoisie and the mysterious Kulaks (you could be one yourself).  Physical Chemistry imported Charmed Quarks and other exotic things that are almost indistinguishable from the theories that require them.  And evolutionary biology is loaded with mysterious unknown stuff: mystical “selection forces” that cause wondrous organs and complex structures to “emerge” and “arise” and “appear” shedding light on modern man’s dark understanding.  In fact, much of the heritage of Charles Darwin is a vision of getting Known Stuff from Mysterious Unknown Stuff by a long, gradual, unobservable process called Emergence.
    If this all sounds like some ancient mystery religion, you got it.  Mysterious Unknown STuff, also known as snake oil, is rampant in science these days.  We’re long past the modern science era.  Now we are living in the era of what Francis Schaeffer called “modern modern science” – a fantasy cosmos of self-actualizing miracles.  Anything goes – except a miracle Worker.

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