Monday, December 29, 2008

Lurking in the Dark

The wonders of life on Earth are much more interesting than "dark energy." The "Dumbo" squid, so named for its big ears, caught by another of our Oceaneering ROV's. With this year's movies, perhaps they will call it the "Despereaux" squid. Amazing things really do lurk in the dark.

We live in an age when massive amounts of information, virtually the sum of human knowledge, are available on a desktop. As a scientist I must deal with huge databases full of information. All the technology in the world can not overcome human error. Human beings are still too often guided by fear, prejudice, and mob rule. Like the Earth circling the Sun, old ideas take time to be replaced.

Over the weekend I heard a non-scientist boast proudly of what he knew about cosmology. The man was certain that the Universe was accelerating. He was smart enough to know that acceleration violates Conservation of Energy, but believed it was due to some unseen force. This man has not seen any "dark" energies, for no one has. He relied on the scientists who claimed evidence of acceleration, then breathlessly report it to the popular press.

As the year 2009 approaches, we can look forward to another International Astronomical Union meeting. Of the many symposia, none are devoted to "dark energy." However, Joint Discussion 9 will ask: Are the fundamental constants varying with Space/Time?How the world has changed in our favour!

As an example, does anyone out there remember Osama Bin Laden? At one time the press breathlessly amplified his every alleged word and videotape. The press had not seen OBL in person; no one has seen him alive since his death was reported in 2001. All that we have are suspicious recordings of his voice and transparently crude videos. As time has passed we find even Dick Cheney not sure if Bin Laden still alive. Someday the world may find that the OBL stopped breathing on December 15, 2001.

Consider the other man with a beard, St. Nicholas. Every year at this time we see many high-quality movies and video of jolly St. Nick. Many people claim to have seen him firsthand, holding court in the mall. There is much more reason to believe in St. Nicholas than to believe in Osama bin Laden. (If anyone has seen OBL alive since 2001 please leave comment here and I will happily retract this statement.)

It takes time and patience, but eventually the world will realise that neither Osama nor "dark energy" are around to bother us. That will take time, for billions of minds must change. The speed of light will continue to slow whether humans realise it or not. Despite all the challenges, science somehow advances. Like St. Nicholas, good ideas last forever.

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