Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, August 9, 2002 2:39 pm

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 2:39 pm

One of the many things that get my goat is the tendency of people who do not believe in evolution to claim that evolution is “only a theory, yet it’s taught as fact.” That’s because they either don’t know or ignore the fact that “theory” has a specific meaning in science — not just an educated guess (“hypothesis”), but an educated guess that has been tested directly in some way, or has had its logical ramifications tested in some way, and appears — note the verb — to be true. An example, of course, is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (energy = mass times the square of the velocity of light, or E=mc² ), which, believe it or not, is rapidly approaching its 100th anniversary.

One heretofore uncontroversial aspect of this theory was that it presumed that the speed of light is constant. That’s what the “c” in E=mc² means: “constant.” There’s just one problem with this aspect of the theory: It might not be true.

If it’s not, then much of what we think we know about the universe, from huge black holes to the smallest subatomic particles, may be up for grabs, much as it was a century ago when Einstein’s work enlarged upon that of Newton. Of course, it’s hardly clear what, if any, the practical ramifications might be. If the speed of light, normally 300,000 kilometers or about 186,300 miles per second, only varies a little bit, the only things in the universe that might care might be the universe itself. Or it could have ramifications for everything from human evolution to interstellar travel. That’s the beauty of it: All of a sudden, no one knows nearly as much as they thought they did and a whole lot of hypotheses, theories and just plain assumptions must be re-examined in light, if you’ll pardon the pun, of this new information.

Although I’m just an ex-English major, I think that’s way cool. But then I think every time we find a new Jovian moon it oughta be front page news.


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