Thursday, November 27, 2008

Known Unknowns

First, from the world of astronomy and astrophysics - my other great interest, rekindled by something on ABC radio this afternoon while I drove home:

  • Only 4% of the Universe is made up of 'normal', baryonic matter that interacts with electromagnetic radiation (a.k.a. light) and can be seen with telescopes sensitive to whatever wavelength - and even 9/10 thereof is intergalactic gas, not stars or planets or beings like us;
  • 26% of the Universe is composed of the mysterious "dark matter", material whose presence is inferred by its gravitational effects, most notably on the rotation curve of galaxies and on the clumping of galaxies into clusters and larger structures;
  • 70% of the Universe - the vast majority, therefore - is the enigmatic "dark energy", first dimly foreshadowed in Einstein's "cosmological constant", Λ, and inferred to be responsible for the observed accelerating expansion of the Universe as a cause of cosmic repulsion.

This curious state of affairs - that 96% of the Universe is said to consist of a quintessence or two of which we and all modern physics knows nothing - reminds me of the much-maligned Ptolemaic cosmology and the philosophers attached to it, or again of late nineteenth-century physicists who thought all was just about understood and explained (excepting pesky radioactivity...).  

How rude, then, of scientists who are atheists (especially in cosmology, a good number tend to be theists) to attack religion as proposing obscure dogmas!  True scientists are open to the quest for truth, unlike closeminded bigots such as that dreadful Dawkins (a biologist, not a hard scientist).


Second, from the equally recondite and perplexing realm of economics (labelled, Here be dragons):

Three brokers discuss their recent careers...

  • The first said, "I sold financial instruments so arcane, no one could calculate their value - not even me."
  • The second: "I sold financial instruments so arcane, no one could comprehend them - not even me."
  • The third, smugly: "I sold financial instruments so arcane, no one knew if they existed - not even me!"

All of which goes to shew, a fool and his money are soon parted.  It's the South Sea Bubble and Tulip Mania all over again - nothing ever changes: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Again, how perverse is human nature: for a mirage, men will do anything, however nonsensical, deceived and deceiving; yet we flee the apprehension of Truth, and for eternal salvation, in the words of the Imitatio, we will scarce lift a foot from the ground.

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