December 12, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Science Will Never Know Some Things

Working against scientists’ ambitions are hurdles of reality.

One should never say never in science; for instance, MIT scientists found a way to characterize a chemical state that was thought to be unobservable, reports PhysOrg. The following obstacles to scientific knowledge, however, look impregnable, even to scientists themselves.

Planetary models and asteroids: We saw a couple of days ago in the entry about Ceres that planetary models will probably never be able to figure out how asteroids and comets got where they are (12/10/15). That’s not the only hurdle some philosophers and mathematicians say are insurmountable.

You’ll never see an electron decay (Nature): “An underground experiment has yielded the strongest evidence so far that electrons are stable, by showing that they last for at least 66 billion billion billion years before decaying into photons and neutrinos.” Any takers to prove this with a stopwatch? Good luck; it’s about 5 billion billion years longer than the assumed age of the universe.

The universe is dying; now what? ( Paul Sutter, cosmologist at Ohio State, gets a little ridiculous with his prophesying. Here’s his speculation on the heat death of the universe:

For starters, we have at least 2 trillion years until the last sun is born, but the smallest stars will continue to burn slow and steady for another 100 trillion years in a cosmic Children of Men. Our own sun will be long gone by then, heaving off its atmosphere within the next 5 billion years and charcoaling the Earth. Around the same time, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies will collide, making a sorry mess of the local system.

At the end of this 100-trillion-year “stelliferous” era, the universe will only be left with the … well, leftovers: white dwarves [sic] (some cooled to black dwarves), neutron stars and black holes. Lots of black holes.

Fortunately for him, nobody will be available to check his predictions. From there, his perhapsimaybecouldness index skyrockets:

After 10^100 years (but who’s keeping track at this point?), nothing macroscopic remains. Just a weak soup of particles and photons, spread so thin that they hardly ever interact.

And then? Who knows? When you’re contemplating such unfathomable time scales, it’s hard to say. Maybe the universe will just continue cooling off, erasing temperature differences, making engines and computation — and cognition — effectively impossible.

But maybe our universe is just a small patch of a larger framework, and while our branch is dying, another piece of the greater cosmos is just now entering its glorious star-forming days. Not that you’ll ever be able to reach it, but it’s a small comfort. Maybe a chance fluctuation will ignite a new Big Bang. Maybe whatever’s driving Dark Energy will reveal its true nature, decaying into a shower of matter, breathing fresh life into a broken-down cosmos. Maybe … maybe … maybe … Maybe not.

Have a nice day.

Paradox at the heart of mathematics makes physics problem unanswerable (Nature): “Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are connected to unsolvable calculations in quantum physics.” Kurt Gödel put up the first insurmountable hurdle for mathematicians, proving that no system can be proved by elements of the system. This has been extended to computer science by Alan Turing and to certain scientific understanding by David Wolpert (10/16/08). In this article, Davide Castelvecchi says, “A logical paradox at the heart of mathematics and computer science turns out to have implications for the real world, making a basic question about matter fundamentally unanswerable.” This extends the incompleteness theorem to a matter of physics. “I think it’s fair to say that ours is the first undecidability result for a major physics problem that people would really try to solve,” one physicist said.

Of all people today, naturalistic scientists are the most in need of humility. They think they can analyze anything or prophesy anything in the infinite future, laying aside any notion of testability or falsifiability. Because they are “scientists”, they get a pass from the media. Don’t take their bluffing. Take them to a Christmas pageant, and let them see a humble little baby who changed the world.

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