242: Unknown Quantities

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Great Article! It makes me happy to see that The Escapist likes to publish intellectual pieces on Modern Science instead of merely focusing on video games :D.

Thank you Ms. Admire for spending the time and energy to look into these various scientific subjects and bring them to light for the rest of us.

I'm a tad wary of the placebo effect example in this article however. From the description, it sound as if there was a possibility the reduced pain was in the last treatment may not have come from the placebo effect, but from excess morphine present in the body from previous treatments. That said, however, the placebo effect is a very interesting subject for study, and does seem to hold practical uses, especially in the medical field.

I hadn't heard of this "Dark Flow" before either. Wouldn't it be cool if it was so dense it messed with space-time, allowing someone to use it to travel through time? That is, given it doesn't smash you into a human crepe.

..which would then be eaten by space chtulhu. O_o

Dark flow = reapers. They're already the space cthulus of mass effect.


I'm a tad wary of the placebo effect example in this article however. From the description, it sound as if there was a possibility the reduced pain was in the last treatment may not have come from the placebo effect, but from excess morphine present in the body from previous treatments. That said, however, the placebo effect is a very interesting subject for study, and does seem to hold practical uses, especially in the medical field.

Though the placebo study described in the article is a review paper that is not available to read for free, the neurochemical link between the body's natural painkillers (endogenous opioids) and the placebo effect has been demonstrated in many papers. The 1999 article below is one example from the same authors who wrote the aforementioned review (this one you can access for free). You might find it interesting, as it contains details that address your concerns.


I have been knowing for many years that we are far from knowing all we would need to construct matrix even if we had the hardware.

I don't get why would we know what is there, or why do you think of specific things

Good article, liked the Dark Matter on the best.

An apparently unrelated but thoroughly enjoyable article, bookmarked to share with others. Thanks, Lauren =)

We're arguing semantics here, mostly of what "proof" and "Fact" and "knowledge" and "truth" mean, but Lauren is more or less right in the statement that nothing can be ascertained via the scientific method.

Really, your going to say that we've learned nothing over the 600 or so years that natural philosophy(science) has be practiced? The computer that you used to send that post seems to be evidence of an increased understanding of the universe. Cavemen sure as heck didn't have it, so someone must have figured out enough of how the universe works to build one.

Yes, science can't "prove" anything because when people hear the word proof, they want an absolute truth. Science can not provide an absolute truth because it is built on a series of assumptions that are themselves not scientifically testable. But, assuming those assumptions are true and with in a very narrowly defined set of circumstances you can expect the same type of data from any given experiment. That's how scientific knowledge advances. You perform the same experiment over and over again, just slightly tweaking variables until you get a different out come.

Science is an iterative process. You take the same steps over and over gain, comparing data from past experiments with current ones. That's the foundation of our scientific understanding. Theories explain why the data is as it is. The better the explanation, the long the theory lasts with out change or even replacement. Scientific laws are laws because in innumerable experiment there has be not one errant case. Experiments that looked to be violations, simply illustrated a weakness in another theory. Once that weakness was corrected, the data fit the laws. The laws of science have never needed correction nor replacement, and that is why they are laws.

Now for another rant:

The Random One:
Seriously, though, the idea is that science, as opposed to, say, religion or folklore, is not based on irrefutable dogma.

First off, religion and folklore are two separate things. Religion is a type belief system (a way to interpret and interact with the world), and folklore is a collection of stories. You can have folklore as part of a religion, and there can be religious elements in folklore, but they are two district concepts. The comparison is like comparing apples and oranges.

Secondly, a religion makes basic assumptions about the functioning of the world (the same is true for science). "...irrefutable dogma" can result from those assumptions but is necessarily intrinsic to them.

Religion and science have a number of things in common. Both seek to understand existence. Both are iterative processes, with past knowledge shaping future questions. Theologians and Scientists share both curiosity and patience as necessary qualities.

A book that does a better job then I at comparing science and religion is "Quantum Theory and Theology" with compares of the development of Christian trinitarian doctrine with the development of quantum theory.

OK, I'm done ranting now.

I enjoyed the article, and I have especially enjoyed the comments here.

I love this community.

[quote="Jordi" post="6.177005.5096116] Also, I was wondering about the part of the article that mentions that we cannot see X far into space, because light hasn't traveled there yet. Now bear in mind that I only know some high school physics, but isn't that inconsistent with the Big Bang Theory and/or the idea that nothing can travel faster than light? I mean, if everything originated in the same place, than how can some structures (for instance the ones supposedly causing Dark Flow) outrun light?[/quote]

Short answer: no.
Longer Answer: You're wrong and maybe could read that part of the article again. Its not the thing itself that is pulling things so fast that we cant see them, but inflation "pusing them" further away from us (and us further away from them).

Anyway, this article got my guard up a bit at first. Mostly for reasons people already mentioned. Yes, it is an argument of semantics, but while science is a topic that many people dont understand or, in some cases, actively work against, its important that we try to be as clear as we can be. This is, it seems to me, a pretty much universal problem, but it is worse in some areas (for instance, Kansas, USA)

I think one important part of the scientific process that hasnt been mentioned yet is the peer review process. This is the part of science where people who want to publish an article are forced to suffer at times brutal attacks against their work. Everything from the power of the study, sample sizes to how dramatic you tried to make yourself sound in the conclusion. This is what makes the majority of Scientific Journals pretty dry and boring things for the even interested, educated people to read.

This is where people like Lauren Admire come in, with varying degrees of sucess. Because science cant be done in a vacuum (physics pun :P ) someone has to sell it to the public. In doing this they quite often overstate or misrepresent science, just to make it sound more interesting.

Ultimately we have to hope that our science journalists will do a better job than many of than are currently doing, and maybe not be completely wrong an alarming amount of the time. And anyone here who was complaining probably isnt getting their science news from the Escapist anyway.

The sad part of Lauren Admire's job here is that the better a job she does of making science sound fun, the fewer readers she will have, as they outgrow her for more weighty sources.

P.S. whenever i refered to science journalists here, i didnt really mean "science journalists" more journalist talking about science or medicine, many of whom would have little more than a 10-30 year old year 10 background in science.

[quote="Sayvara" post="6.177005.5083725"]

2) Gravity (or pretty much any of the four fundamantal forces): what causes it? The models are few and pretty vague so far.

well, Einstein discovered in his theory of General Relativity that gravity is the warping of Space-time, however, the big question is why it is so much weaker than the other four fundamental forces? String theory/Supersymmetry, or M-Theory postulates that gravity operates over 11-26 dimensions and is weakened by pockets of other dimensions at the planck length. Loop Quantum Gravity asserts that gravity is so weak because at the Planck Length (10^-44 nm) space and time bend and fold over each-other creating a "quantum foam". However neither leads to a macroscopic gravity theory which is effective. The Dark Matter and energy are included because, while they are undetectable, Einstein's gravitational field equations are not accurate for many nebulas and globular clusters (colliding galaxies). John W. Moffat's MOG or modified gravity theory is very effective at creating a functional gravity theory without dark matter or energy. Moffat created a fifth force called the "Phion" which for a variable distance (determined by the mass of the object) makes gravity strengthen and then weaken. Counter-Intuitive but it works.

My number one science mystery

1) What gives a particle mass?

if the Higgs particle is not discovered by the Large Hadron Collider than we will need to come up with a new explanation of what gives a particle mass.

I was thinking on a Cthulhu joke, then I saw the end of the article.

As Eagle Est1986 Dark Flow is a videogame idea. Cheap but good.

Excellent articles as always Lauren. You are one of my faves in the escapist.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." - The Call of Cthulhu

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