The above title is a quote attributed to William Thomson, Lord Kelvin in the year 1900. But it is not what Thomson said. It really was said by Albert A. Michaelson, another great 19th Century physicist.
So what is the meaning of all this stuff? The fact that whenever a great scientist(s) proclaims that in our reality, there already has been all that has been discovered in Nature? That the self-same scientists are usually wrong when making such claims?
Yes to the above. And here in the early 21st Century, the more things change, the more they stay the same.:
Physicist Sean Carroll, speaking at James Randi’s “The Amazing Meeting”, tells how anomalous phenomenon simply can’t happen because the laws of physics are completely understood:
There are actually three points I try to hit here. The first is that the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood. There is an enormous amount that we don’t know about how the world works, but we actually do know the basic rules underlying atoms and their interactions — enough to rule out telekinesis, life after death, and so on. The second point is that those laws are dysteleological — they describe a universe without intrinsic meaning or purpose, just one that moves from moment to moment.
The third point — the important one, and the most subtle — is that the absence of meaning “out there in the universe” does not mean that people can’t live meaningful lives. Far from it. It simply means that whatever meaning our lives might have must be created by us, not given to us by the natural or supernatural world. There is one world that exists, but many ways to talk about; many stories we can imagine telling about that world and our place within it, without succumbing to the temptation to ignore the laws of nature. That’s the hard part of living life in a natural world, and we need to summon the courage to face up to the challenge.
There’s a lot of elements to like about the talk, and Sean Carroll is no doubt a smarter man than me, but the pre-emptive debunking of apparent anomalies in science (such as parapsychology and the evidence for the survival of consciousness) – in effect, saying that we need not even test these anomalies because the laws of physics are already understood and preclude them – left me thinking of another well-known scientist’s thoughts on the apparent completeness of science. Considering the alternative scientific viewpoints from the likes of physicist Henry Stapp, on theoretical explorations of the possibility of an afterlife, and Dean Radin’s recent work on conscious influence in the famous double-slit experiment, the famous (though possibly apocryphal) fin de siècle quote of Lord Kelvin immediately came to mind when contemplating Carroll’s pronouncements:
There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.
Within a few years, science was turned on its head by relativity, and followed by quantum mechanics. One can only wonder if current-day anomalies, such as those explored by parapsychologiests, might one-day lead to some similar revolution, this time involving consciousness or information as primary elements of the cosmos.
Although Greg is understandably mistaken about Lord Kelvin’s quote, he is spot on about Carroll’s proclamations and I am surprised that Carroll actually made such claims.
Well, maybe not. I guess it just shows the inherent uber-conversatism in science.
But in the general population, not so much.
I think we might be ready for a new physics that breaks Mankind out into the Universe and answers some of our questions about Consciousness, UFOs, ghosts and other paranormal activities.
As always, many hat tips to Greg Taylor’s Daily Grail.