The Restless Universe

Often when you study something you can get so lost in the details that you fail to see the connections, the ‘big ideas’. Of how science is a model, driven by observation and experimentation: You observe a pattern in nature, you create a theory to explain the pattern, and you create an experiment to test the theory. Your model, your theory only holds true until an experiment ‘disproves’ it. It’s why science is an approximation. Often theories are not wrong, they just don’t cover all aspects of a phenomenon. They are based on limited observation, and experience. Like trying to extrapolate the world of familiar billiard balls, down through and beyond our direct experience to the scale of sub-atomic particles.

Physics is also a product of people and their times. Their culture, their philosophy, their religion and dogma: Until Copernicus spoke out, people were obliged to believe in a Universe that centred on the Earth, man and God. This is something that science tries to overcome with its ‘truth’ reliant only on observation and experiment. The Scientific Method formalised by Roger Bacon oddly a friar and religious man who is purported to have said “Cease to be ruled by dogmas and authorities; Look at the world!” Look up at the night sky, look at the planets, the ‘wandering stars’, and you will soon realise the simplest explanation for their motion does not have the heavens circling the Earth. Like Galileo, point a telescope at Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, and you will directly see that there are ‘heavenly bodies’ that do not orbit Earth but instead revolve around this gas giant. Even my small binoculars can reveal four small points of light, the Galilean satellites that move each night as they orbit their planet. Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Always to be remembered in my memory as ‘I Eat Green Cabbage’ J

Galileo was also one of the first to see the relationship between natural philosophy and mathematics. The complexity of the reality we see around us seemed to be summed up in simple mathematical relationships. The maths made the understanding simpler! I’ll leave it to you to decide whether nature writes its laws in mathematics, or whether we use our mathematics to understand the nature of nature 😉 However, maths should be seen as a friend who will help you to understand the physical world not as a barrier to understanding. Both Galileo and Newton were fundamentally mathematicians who applied their knowledge to the natural world.

Tycho Brahe was a man who made a great many observations of the night skies, he sounds like a bit of a character, and also refused to believe in the heliocentric Universe. However his observations were used by Johannes Kepler to create laws to predict the orbits of the planets. He found that rather than being the perfect spheres that the stars were assumed to follow, two bodies that orbited each other would instead map out an ellipse.



~ by jamesdow2013 on March 12, 2013.

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