“I canny change the laws of physics.” It’s a clearly apocryphal quote from Scotty there.
Why? Because by the 23rd century, a starship chief engineer would know very full well that you certainly can change the laws of physics. If you’re a theoretical physicist you can make up whatever the heck you fancy.
While artworking something lastnight, I watched a programme on the telly viewer gizmo that I was clearly never going to understand much of. Horizon: Is everything we know about the universe wrong may have spent a very great deal of its screen time cutting away to boffins slo-mo drawing inexplicable Greek hieroglyphic maths on blackboards, but I came away from it with a very clear understanding. Namely, that I am a dumbo of amoebal proportions and theoretical physicists are brilliantly clever.
They are. If nothing else, they have invented a way to simply invent stuff they can’t find but really need. How Star Trek is that?
You can make up whole chunks of stuff apparently – but the trick is, I’ve learned, to make up stuff that can’t be disproved – because it can’t be proved. Genius, eh? And believe, me, dirty great swathes of the universe are, it turns out, totally made up. Like gobbledigook is made up. Like blehbleblehbleblehbleribblesnood is made up. There. Just like that.
Well I mean, really.
There in the theoretical physics canteen it’s all: “Ooh, we have a great mathematical model of the universe” one minute and then: “But we kind of need, like, WAY more gravity to make it work so we’ll, um… just, like, make up some – some invisible undetectable, ah, ‘dark’ matter that will balance the books. Sweet.”
But then it’s: “Ah. Oh. Er. So we also don’t really know why the universe is, er, not expanding and moving quite as it should be, according to our really great model of the universe. It should be slowing it’s expansion. Like a normal bang, only bigger. It’s, er, not. It shouldn’t be doing that. ..So we’ll have to… ah, make up some more stuff. Some undetectable, invisible, unknowable stuff… Stuff in the gaps. Stuff that IS the gaps – which, as those gaps grow, it grows (obviously) and so keeps feeding the expansion. Like a kind of… ‘dark energy’. (Phew. That oughta do it. Yeah. Dark energy. Nothing is nothing, baby – nothing is always something! Little physicist’s joke there, doll).”
…And THEN it’s suddenly: “Sh**. We need a whole ‘nother universe.”
What? Do we know anything anymore?
Right. So it’s ‘dark flow’ now, is it? Rummaging in our pocket universe and making our galaxies spin very unscientifically, apparently. Like the laws-of-physics-and-the-whole-theory-of-the-big-bang-model-of-the-universe says they shouldn’t be. But are.
Oh, which means there are inestimable numbers of other universes out there in the multiverse, by the way. Just so you know. So the very end of Men in black was right.
Sheeesh. Theoretical physicists. Wish I could just make up stuff for a living.
As I climb down from my soapmox in reverence for the fine minds and likable people I saw on this little foray into the far reaches of reality, I am reminded by a chum on Facebook that theoretical physics demands the same levels of faith in bald-faced absurdity as any religion you care to name. Which gets us nowhere practical but I guess at least proves that humans rely on their imaginations to map out the universe. We’re all people of faith and we’re all heretics, you might say.
Of course, in answer to this, I’m sure a benevolent theoretical physicist would adopt a kindly tone when pointing out that he and his colleagues are not falling prostrate before golden calf statuettes in the desert and praying for rain but in fact feeding spectacularly complex and brilliant mathematical models of otherwise ineffable things in order to arrive at sound scientific theories of how stuff works.
..To which, I suppose, a person of strong faith might kindly add: “Don’t worry, mate – you’ll catch up.”
I really have no idea how people do the maths to work out the universe. Or how just about anything around me works – if I hadn’t been taught to expect the iPhone from an infancy in front of science fiction, I might be persuadable that it’s fallen from heaven.
All I know is, these guys keep us all dreaming as much as they keep our feet on the ground. As one of them said with a grin: “I dreamed of going into space when I was a kid. Other worlds and far flung adventures. It lead me to do this job at a desk.”
Damn right, mate. An act of service and faith.
It may not be the job of theoretical physicists to help us find the light, but they’re certainly doing something rather more inspiring than just scratching about in the dark.