Vanity thought #1773. VC – dark times of science

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

This entire section is going through various problems in science and the author is just getting started. So far we’ve covered the basics of the Big Bang and now got to the current and future states of the universe. Big Bang was an “explosion” where massive amount of energy overcame gravitation of highly condensed matter and sent it flowing into space. There are four possible ways the balance between this energy and gravitation can go. Gravitation might overcome and force the universe to collapse again, or the energy can speed up the runaway movement of stars and galaxies, or they might reach some sort of equilibrium and the universe would stay flat, or it might continue expansion at a steady rate.

In the 20th century we built radio telescopes and were able to measure radiation from stars on all frequencies, not just visible light, like normal telescopes do. If the stars were approaching or flying away it would affect the frequency of their light and soon enough “red shift” was discovered, meaning the universe was expanding. That settled the debate but then in the late 90s new data came in and it appeared that it’s expanding at a faster rate than that dictated by the known amount of energy. Scientists couldn’t attribute this energy to any sources and so they called it “dark energy”. The amount of it is not trivial either – by modern calculations it accounts for over two thirds of all energy in the universe.

This “dark energy” comes on top of much older “dark matter” phenomenon that has been discovered almost a hundred years ago. Typically, stars further away from galaxy center would rotate slower than stars in the middle. We know it from how planets rotate around Sun in the solar system. Turns out that this is not what happens in real life of stars and the only reason for this science has, a hundred years on, is existence of some “dark matter” which we can’t see. It doesn’t emit any radiation and does not respond to any force other than gravity. Dark matter makes up almost a third of the known stuff.

In modern theories matter and energy are interchangeable, that is one can be converted into other and vice versa, so in the end it means that non-dark matter and energy, the observable universe, comprises less than 5% of everything that is out there. And it’s not that this stuff is too far for us to see but that we can’t observe it in principle, we only observe effects of its presence.

This covers two chapters in the book and I didn’t go through it in detail because that would require corroboration with other sources and unnecessarily expand the volume of the post.

Next the book goes into problems with measuring distances in the universe. There’s actually a “ladder” of the methods, depending on scale and other things, but one of the most common is calculating distance from luminosity. I should probably remind that stars are too far from us to use radars like we use to track aircraft. We’d have to wait for thousands of years before signal comes back. Anyway, the same 60W light bulb would appear 1/4 of its brightness if it is placed twice as far from the observer. This method is reliable (in science, not in Sāṅkhya, of course) as long as we know luminosity and distance of some starting point and relative luminosity of different stars. None of it is given, however, and the first “hook” was found by a woman, of all genders.

A couple of years ago there was a TV show Cosmos that I covered in this blog in detail and this woman was a star of one of the episodes. Her job was a “computer”, meaning she was given a bunch of photographs taken through a telescope and she was supposed to compute some stuff from them. There were dozens of ladies doing this job but she was the [only] smart one there and discovered that over time some stars’ luminosity changes in patterns. Scientists [other than women] figured out the reason for this pulsation, worked out masses, gravitation, and other related phenomena, and so a “standard candle” with known luminosity was born. Be measuring luminosity of other stars compared to this “standard candle” we figured out how far they were.

I pick on this “woman” part because her example is used to promote gender equality for all females but all females do not display the same scientific prowess. I mean we should judge people on merit, not on gender. Why should we promote those who have “correct” set of genitals instead of those who have correct set of brains? The question of whether we should encourage women to become successful outside of their family roles is also at play here but I don’t want to go into it now.

Anyway, the problem that the author sees here is that we are still talking about observed luminosity, not the actual one. He compares it to the sound of a plucked string. If you pluck it softly and close by it might sound the same as if you plucked it harder but in the distance. This sounds like a reasonable objection but the method in question doesn’t work like that in real life and faces rather different problems. If we bring this objection to actual astronomy forum they’ll tear us to shreds, I expect.

First of all, using the light bulb example above, scientists need to make sure they are looking at stars of the same actual luminosity. If the other “bulb” was 100W but we thought it was 60 then our calculations would become useless. Needless to say, it’s impossible to know exact luminosity of any given star. To deal with this problem scientists use star classification where luminosity can be figured out from the type of the star and type of chemical and thermonuclear reactions inside it. Coupled with mass and probably some other properties they can give an estimate of how luminous the star must be in real life.

Over the time they perfected this classification method and also noticed that some of the known stars were classified wrong, leading to corrections in calculating distances to them. I don’t know how the author’s objection even fits here.

I also thought of an objection that we must know not only brightness of a “standard candle” but the distance to it, too. How can we start comparing distances otherwise? On second though, however, astrophysicists determine star’s brightness from its own properties – mass, the type of reactions, the stage in its life cycle etc. Knowing this absolute brightness they can compare it to observed brightness of the standard candle and get distance from that.

This method is problematic but probably not for the reason mentioned by the author. How can we be sure we know what happens in the star exactly? What if our understanding of star physics is all wrong? Then this entire method would collapse. How do we know we are right? We can’t get samples of star material and we can’t even see them up close. Perhaps we build out theories of what happens based on luminosity and then calculate luminosity based on these theories. A lot of things can go wrong here.

In the end I’d like to remind that the notion of the real world outside that we discover through our senses is not supported in Sāṅkhya in the first place. This section deals with problems within scientific framework itself but reading through it might make us feel that the framework is valid but we use it the wrong way. Nope, the framework is wrong on principle and there’s no right way to use it because it’s built on false premises.

Also we should never forget that science postulates “facts” about reality when it can observe only less than 5% of it and has absolutely no idea what the rest of it is. Even though they all know it they don’t acknowledge this darkness of ignorance in their real communications. It’s the failure of their minds and display of cognitive bias – two things that should disqualify them from doing science right away. Luminosity or not, there’s plenty of darkness and not enough enlightenment there.

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