Which it is depends partly on how much a person likes living in a world where scientific knowledge is rapidly changing.
I like it, a lot.
- CERN’s New Omega Baryons
- Gravity Wave Mission Gets Green Light: Maybe
- Looking Beyond the Standard Model
Since this is a “religious” blog, I’ll be discussing — briefly, for me — how my faith relates to experiments using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and science in general.
An ardent Christian once told me that the sun goes around Earth, ‘because the Bible says so.’ He was right: assuming that Joshua 10:12–13 and Job 9:7 are utterly devoid of metaphor and written with a contemporary literalist’s viewpoint.
We’re supposed to be curious. Truth can’t contradict truth, so honest research can’t threaten informed faith. Besides, this universe is filled with opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism, 159, 214–217, 283, 341)
New knowledge sometimes forces us to reevaluate our assumptions. That’s been happening a lot lately.
Maybe it’s easier to decide that the new facts can’t be so because they’re not what we “always” knew. But like I said: that doesn’t make sense. Not to me.
Job was written somewhere after Sennacherib solved his “Babylonian problem” by destroying Babylon, but before Anaxagoras tried squaring the circle. About two dozen centuries later, the Lindemann Weierstrass theorem proved that was impossible, and that’s another topic.
1 Samuel was compiled about the same time.
All of them were written for and by folks living just west of Mesopotamia.
The point is that it’d be surprising if Old Testament imagery didn’t reflect Mesopotamian culture and traditions. It’s what folks living in that part of the world were familiar with.
Aristarchus of Samos suggested that Earth goes around the sun, and suspected that stars were other suns. He lived around Aristotle’s time, but didn’t get listened to nearly as much.
The notion that folks accused Aristarchus of sacrilege got started nearly two millennia later. I’ll get back to that.
Aristotle’s geocentric model held up pretty well, with tweaking by Ptolemey and others, for something like 18 centuries.
One of the cardinals, Nikolaus von Schönberg, urged Copernicus “to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars….”
Copernicus had pretty much finished writing “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” by 1532, but insisted on delaying publication until after his death. There’s a story behind that, it’s not the usual one, and that’s yet another topic, for another day.
Copernicus died in 1542. Pope Gregory XIII used Copernican tables in his calendar reform — there’s a story or two about that — and Galileo got into trouble with an Inquisition. He was convicted of being insufficiently Aristotelian in 1616, and a legend was born.
Ménage messed up the grammar. In his translation the joke was a flat-out accusation. The translation came shortly after the Galileo and Bruno trials. I talked about European politics last week. (March 17, 2017)
They’re “laws” in the sense that they describe how the universe works under specific conditions. Newton didn’t invent motion or gravity, of course. What he did was describe, mathematically, how both work.
Scientific theories can be tested, which brings me to the early 20th century.
He also noticed that estimates of the total mass of our galaxy’s stars, gas, and other observable matter, couldn’t account for the observed rotation speeds. There isn’t enough observable mass, and it’s not in the right places.
One of the less-improbable explanations for Oorts ‘missing mass’ is dark matter.
Neutrinos are subatomic particles with no electric charge. They have mass, probably, but it’s tiny even compared to other subatomic particles. Since they’re electrically neutral, magnetism won’t affect neutrinos.
But the weak subatomic force does affect them, and so does gravity. They’re produced during radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, like what happens in our sun’s core.
So far, scientists are pretty sure many or most dark matter particles are WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Or maybe something else.
We may learn that dark matter isn’t what causes the effects we’ve observed.
Other explanations include mass in other dimensions, with gravity having an effect across all dimensions. This might explain why gravity is such a very weak force. It takes moon- and planet-size concentrations of mass to produce serious gravity fields.
Maybe we’re looking at defects in quantum fields. Or maybe Newton’s and Einstein’s descriptions of gravity need another major tweak, or Unruh radiation horizons generate inertia.
Dark matter is mostly theoretical at this point. Other explanations are even more so.1
“LHC: Five new particles hold clues to sub-atomic glue”
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (March 20, 2017)
“The Large Hadron Collider has discovered new sub-atomic particles that could help to explain how the centres of atoms are held together.
“The particles are all different forms of the so-called Omega-c baryon, whose existence was confirmed in 1994.
“Physicists had always believed the various types existed but had not been able to detect them – until now.
“The discovery will shed light on the operation of the ‘strong force’, which glues the insides of atoms….”
It’s a start, but just a start.
We still don’t know how, or if, they help us understand the strong force.
A whole bunch of scientists published “Observation of a Hyperon with Strangeness Minus Three” in 1964, which apparently is what Omega-c quarks were called then.
Quarks come in six flavors: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. Gell-Mann got the spelling of “quarks” from a line in “Finnegans Wake.” I’m not entirely sure how he got the “kwork” sound. Zweig called the particles “aces,” but hardly anyone calls them that now.
I’m also not sure why many scientists stopped using pretentious names for new stuff in the ’60s, but I rather like the change of style.
If an astronomer says something is a baryon, it’s probably matter that’s not dark matter.
If an physicist says something is a baryon, it’s a hadron that’s not a meson.
The physicist’s baryons have 3 quarks.
Mesons have 2 quarks, more accurately a quark and an antiquark. Squarks are hypothetical particles that may or may not exist. I made an unnecessarily-long but incomplete set of links to more than you need to know about this stuff.2
We’ve learned quite a bit since Empedocles said there are four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. That’s not an entirely-inaccurate way to describe the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.
Then, in the 20th century, scientists learned that at very small scales, matter and energy acts like particles and waves: and started working the bugs out of quantum mechanics.
“Gravity probe exceeds performance goals”
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 18, 2017)
“The long-planned LISA space mission to detect gravitational waves looks as though it will be green lit shortly.
“Scientists working on a demonstration of its key measurement technologies say they have just beaten the sensitivity performance that will be required.
“The European Space Agency (Esa), which will operate the billion-euro mission, is now expected to ‘select’ the project, perhaps as early as June….”
The first indirect evidence of gravity waves came from analysis of the Hulse-Taylor binary’s orbit. That happened in 1974.
The LIGO and Virgo interferometer collaborations announced the first direct observation of gravity waves on February 11, 2016. The signal, GW150914, came from a merging black hole binary. It changed the 4-kilometer-long LIGO arm’s length by a thousandth of the width of a proton.
The second, GW151226, came on December 26, 2015. The the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced it on June 15, 2016.
Detecting gravity waves is as big a step for astronomy as Galileo’s use of the telescope and the first radio telescopes. Depending on who’s talking, that would be the Jansky-Bell Laboratories antenna, built in 1932; or Tesla Experimental Station, built in 1899. (December 16, 2016)
Or maybe Johannes Wilsing and Julius Scheiner’s 1896 efforts, or Oliver Lodge’s between 1897 and 1900.
“LHC scientists to search for ‘fifth force of Nature’”
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (July 10, 2014)
“The next couple of years will be make or break for the next big theory in physics called supersymmetry – SUSY for short. It might make way for a rival idea which predicts the existence of a ‘fifth force’ of nature.
“Next Spring, when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) resumes its experiments, scientists will be looking for evidence of SUSY. It explains an awful lot that the current theory of particle physics does not. But there is a growing problem, provocatively expressed by Nobel Laureate George Smoot: ‘supersymmetry has got symmetry and it’s super but there is no experimental data to suggest it is correct.’
“According to the simplest versions of the theory, supersymmetric particles should have been discovered at the LHC by now. One set of null results prompted Prof Chris Parkes, of the LHCb to quip: ‘Supersymmetry may not be dead but these latest results have certainly put it into hospital‘….”
The Standard Model of particle physics has been around for about a half-century. It does a pretty good job of describing the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, plus subatomic particles like photons, quarks, and neutrinos.
But it doesn’t include gravity, or a dark matter particle that fits what we’ve observed so far.
That’s why scientists are working on Physics beyond the Standard Model.
Physics beyond the Standard Model may explain quite a few things — like where mass comes from, why gravity happens, why half the baryons we observe aren’t antimatter, and what dark matter and dark energy are.
Supersymmetry relates bosons, that have integer-valued spin; and fermions, with half-integer spin. Each particle from one group would be associated with a particle from the other, known as its superpartner. The difference between their spins would be a half-integer.
That’s a huge over-simplification.
Supersymmetry may tie up all the Standard Model’s loose ends.3
Or the Standard Model and Supersymmetry may turn out to be like phlogiston.
Phlogiston was a pretty good way of explaining combustion in 1667.
Around the 1780s, new tech and analysis showed that some metals gain mass when they burn. Phlogiston theory said they should get lighter as the “phlogiston” escapes.
Scientists who liked the phlogiston theory said that phlogiston must have negative mass, or at least was lighter than air.
By the end of that century, only a few chemists still used the term “phlogiston.”
Joseph Priestley, the inventor of soda water and discoverer of oxygen, was one of the phlogiston diehards.
Priestley was sure that a proper understanding of the natural world would promote human progress. I agree that it’ll help.
I’m also sure that respecting humanity’s transcendent dignity and everyone’s well-being4 is an option — and not dependent on our scientific understanding. (February 5, 2017; October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)
Priestley also thought understanding the natural world would bring about the Christian Millennium. I think that’s wildly improbable, at best.
Despite the name, by the way, he wasn’t Catholic. At all.
The point is that the Standard Model may be a pretty good description for how particle physics works.
Or, like phlogiston, new facts may show that it was a good idea that didn’t reflect reality.
Again, I’m quite sure that there’s a great deal left to learn.
- Fast Radio Bursts”
(March 17, 2017)
- Making a Universe: Why Bother?”
(January 29, 2017)
- Alchemy, Science, Life, and Health”
(October 16, 2016)
- Europa, Mars, and Someday the Stars”
(September 30, 2016)
- Faith, the Universe, and Wisdom”
(August 28, 2016)
- Fundamental interaction
- List of particles
- Nuclear force (or nucleon–nucleon interaction or residual strong force)
- Strong interaction
- Subatomic particle
- Weak interaction
More of my take on science, technology, and using our brains:
- “Natural Law, Our Rules” (February 5, 2017)
- “Conservative? Liberal? No: Catholic” (January 22, 2017)
- “Life, Death, and Choices” (January 15, 2017)
- “Satan Didn’t Make Me Do It” (November 13, 2016)
- “Authority, Superstition, Progress” (October 30, 2016)
- “Amos and Social Justice” (September 25, 2016)