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Michio Kaku

Reading "Physics of the Impossible" by Michio Kaku. So started out talking about how many times people who've said something was impossible have been proven wrong, historically, but then just now he had the audacity to say "there's a fundamental difference" between our time and Jules Verne's time, that "the basic laws of physics are now understood." HA! I laugh! Many minutes of pointing out how many times people in history have thought they knew the laws of physics, immediately followed by that statement? Mr. Kaku, you're being just as silly as those naysayers of the past. We *think* we know the basic laws of physics. But just 100 years ago, the method of communication I'm using now would have seemed like magic. In 100, a thousand, or a million years our descendants will no doubt find it absurd that we thought we knew how the universe works. Just 100 years from now, we will have technology that will make our current technology look primitive in comparison. I'm writing science fiction stories set 7000 years in the future but with technology inspired by what this book thinks is possible eventually, but in 100 years it might be hopelessly dated.

On the other hand, my Traipah novels have in them races with such advanced technology that I'd be surprised if the tech in them dates them too soon. Quantum Manipulation Technology, for an example, looks like magic.

*Sigh* Mr. Kaku, I love this book, but even you seem to suffer from the mistaken notion that we understand the way the universe works. *That* is the truly absurd thing: that one can live in 2009, be aware of scientific and technological breakthroughs and trends, and think for even a minute that we understand even 1% of how the universe works.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
kengr
Dec. 21st, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
You are confusing science and engineering/technology.

We actually *do* understand quite a bit. And by the very nature of the scientific method, once a field *becomes* a science (that is, once observed facts are used to create hypotheses that check out often enough to be elevated to "theory") any new discoveries will be *necessarily* be ones that involve behavior under previously unfamiliar circumstances. And ythe new rules will be ones that *simplify* to something almost identical to the old rules under the previously known circumstances.

That's because the old rules are based on what *actually happens* under those circumstances. So any difference between the old and new rules under the "old" conditions *has* to be virtually un-noticeable.

That's who the change from Newton to Einstein went. Ditto for the changre from Newton to quantum physics.

New observations *can't* invalidate the old ones. In some cases, you *might* re-interpret things a bit. But in the *vast* majority of cases, things will look exactly the same.

That's because of the way the scientific method works.

New "laws" of physics will have to cover areas not currently explained, or situations not previously encountered.

And as noted above, if they *didn't* give the same answers as the old laws *for the circumstances/situations that the old laws were derived from, then they *wouldn't* be a valid law because they give answers contrary to *reality*.

That doesn't mean we know everything. Just that we *can* state with some certainty that we *do* know about some things, and define many of the areas we *don't* yet know about.

Physics and chemistry are quite rigorous (ie we can predict a lot and *know* that things will turn out very close to the predictions).

Other sciences aren't that good. A few, like meteorolgy have limited ability to predict due to chaos (ie to make longer range predictions, we'd have to know more about the starting conditions than we *can* know)

Some biological stuff is fairly rigorous. Some isn't. And when you get to stuff like psychology and sociology, it gets really bad.
christinaathena
Dec. 22nd, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)
And by the very nature of the scientific method, once a field *becomes* a science (that is, once observed facts are used to create hypotheses that check out often enough to be elevated to "theory") any new discoveries will be *necessarily* be ones that involve behavior under previously unfamiliar circumstances. And the new rules will be ones that *simplify* to something almost identical to the old rules under the previously known circumstances.

Asimov made a great point about that with his essay The Relativity of Wrong. It contains the classic line "when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

Another example - Take Einstein's physics, plug in velocities low relative to the speed of light (which can still be very fast by human standards, of course), relatively low mass, etc., and you get results that are extremely near Newton's physics. Far below the level of precision of pre-20th century instruments (or even modern instruments in some cases). Thus, even today, Newton's formulas are still useful under many circumstances. IIRC, the Voyager probes' trajectories were planned out under purely Newtonian calculations, and were so accurate that the they were only a few hours off by the time they reached Saturn.

Edited at 2009-12-22 12:42 pm (UTC)
kengr
Dec. 22nd, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I keep pushing Fay to check out the collections of Asimov's science articles and read them.
underlankers
Dec. 21st, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
There's a problem with this analysis of inevitable technological progress. Rome in the 200s AD was much more technologically advanced than the future Papal states of the 9th Century AD. Progress is never inevitable. After all, again, the Papal states were the future the inhabitants of Imperial Rome under the Five Good Emperors had to look forward to and the Age of Faith had vastly lesser technology and population than what had existed 600 years prior.
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