There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now…

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.

The Laws of Physics Are Completely Understood

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Quotes

As always, many hat tips to Greg Taylor’s Daily Grail.

3 responses

  1. I just want someone to explain the relationship between dark matter and gravity, and why the universe seems to be speeding up instead of slowing down.

  2. Y’know, me too James and I guess that is one of the questions the LHC in Europe is supposed to answer.
    But I don’t think the physicists are getting the answers they thought they would get:

  3. I can only assume that your annoyance at what Sean has said is linked to some insult of a belief system you have

    If he had said that humans current exploration of the land on this earth clearly shows it is highly unlikely and in fact dismissable that unicorns exist…. i am sure you would have no grievance with this statement even though it would of course be impossible to prove 100% that they don’t exist

    Sean is perfectly valid in what he says, whilst we are lucky enough to live in the wake of quantum mechanics and the exciting knowledge that there is definitely far more to come than has been before that doesn’t mean we have to dismiss or even diminish that which we have already strived so hard to successfully understand. My understanding of the laws of physics, the well studied properties of the human brain and the billions of case studies that have lived on this earth tell me that telekinesis is not something that is worth me spending what precious little time i have on this planet looking into…. because it’s bollocks 🙂

    And as for the links….

    The first one seems like a clever and funny satire of a thankfully small part of the scientific community, firstly (and i can’t believe this isn’t the first thing that strikes people a few lines into this) he is writing a “science” paper that offers explanations for things that HAVE NOT BEEN PROVEN TO EXIST!!! can’t you see how silly that is?
    I can write a paper to show how it would be possible that we are all just figments of kermit the frogs dreams but unless i give some evidence to suggest my premise may actually be plausible it is of no interest to anyone!

    The second guy is just out of date, the collapse of the wave function is now known to exist without a conscious observer, it simply appears to be the physical setup of the experiment that causes the admittedly amazing and still surprising results.

    The ever larger stride of the scientific giants will increasingly engulf and destroy pseudo science and unproven claims, i for one welcome this age of reason and accountability for our claims beyond such classics as “i know in my heart of hearts” or “science doesn’t know everything…” or “because the magic man in the sky told me to do it!”

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