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The Illusion of Knowldge

I just watched a fascinating show on the National Geographic Channel about dark matter and dark energy. 

Here is a quick synopsis:  The standard theory of gravity predicts that the further an object is away from a massive object, the smaller the gravitational effect the massive object will have on the object.  In the solar system this means that the distant planets will orbit the sun much more slowly then the closer planets, and sure enough empirical observations confirm the theory.

Problem 1:  In the 1970’s it was observed that the theory does not work at the level of galaxies.  The stars and gas at the outer edge of galaxies orbit at the same rate as the ones closer in. 

Solution 1:  The concept of dark matter (objects with mass that do not consist of atoms) was developed to account for this.

Problem 2:  Experiments to measure the amount of dark matter revealed there was not nearly enough to account for the data.

Solution 2:  Observations designed to find out how much the expansion of the universe is slowing found out just the opposite.  The universe is expanding at an increasing rate.  The concept of dark energy was developed to account for this, and it turned out that the amount of dark energy was exactly the right amount to account for the “missing” dark matter.

From these observations came the so-called “standard model” of cosmology.  The universe consists of 4% regular atoms, 21% dark matter, and 75% dark energy.

Note:  A small minority of scientists believe that the dark matter and dark energy theory is not necessary.  They believe that the data can be explained by “variable gravity,” the notion that gravitational force is not constant throughout the universe.

If I got this wrong, I’m sure one of our cosmologist readers will set me straight. 

The part of the show that I found most interesting was an interview with Professor Mike Disney, the longest serving member of the Hubble Space Telescope advisory committee.

Professor Disney is skeptical of the standard model, and he says something very profound:  “The greatest obstacle to progress in science is the illusion of knowledge, the illusion that we know what’s going on when we really don’t.”

Disney is also unimpressed by computer models that purport to prove the standard model.  He says, “Let’s suppose I say I saw a pink elephant.  If someone does a computer simulation showing a pink elephant, no one will believe it, because he could have just as easily twisted a few knobs and demonstrated a green elephant.”

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29 Responses to The Illusion of Knowldge

  1. Good post, Barry.

  2. Take a look a list of others who dissent from the standard model:

    http://www.cosmologystatement.org/

    The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed– inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples. Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory. In no other field of physics would this continual recourse to new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap between theory and observation. It would, at the least, raise serious questions about the validity of the underlying theory.

    But the big bang theory can’t survive without these fudge factors. Without the hypothetical inflation field, the big bang does not predict the smooth, isotropic cosmic background radiation that is observed, because there would be no way for parts of the universe that are now more than a few degrees away in the sky to come to the same temperature and thus emit the same amount of microwave radiation.

    Without some kind of dark matter, unlike any that we have observed on Earth despite 20 years of experiments, big-bang theory makes contradictory predictions for the density of matter in the universe. Inflation requires a density 20 times larger than that implied by big bang nucleosynthesis, the theory’s explanation of the origin of the light elements. And without dark energy, the theory predicts that the universe is only about 8 billion years old, which is billions of years younger than the age of many stars in our galaxy.

    What is more, the big bang theory can boast of no quantitative predictions that have subsequently been validated by observation. The successes claimed by the theory’s supporters consist of its ability to retrospectively fit observations with a steadily increasing array of adjustable parameters, just as the old Earth-centered cosmology of Ptolemy needed layer upon layer of epicycles.

    Even observations are now interpreted through this biased filter, judged right or wrong depending on whether or not they support the big bang. So discordant data on red shifts, lithium and helium abundances, and galaxy distribution, among other topics, are ignored or ridiculed. This reflects a growing dogmatic mindset that is alien to the spirit of free scientific inquiry.

    Today, virtually all financial and experimental resources in cosmology are devoted to big bang studies. Funding comes from only a few sources, and all the peer-review committees that control them are dominated by supporters of the big bang. As a result, the dominance of the big bang within the field has become self-sustaining, irrespective of the scientific validity of the theory.

    Giving support only to projects within the big bang framework undermines a fundamental element of the scientific method — the constant testing of theory against observation. Such a restriction makes unbiased discussion and research impossible. To redress this, we urge those agencies that fund work in cosmology to set aside a significant fraction of their funding for investigations into alternative theories and observational contradictions of the big bang. To avoid bias, the peer review committee that allocates such funds could be composed of astronomers and physicists from outside the field of cosmology.

    Allocating funding to investigations into the big bang’s validity, and its alternatives, would allow the scientific process to determine our most accurate model of the history of the universe.

    Salvador

    PS
    You’ll see three names from my school. Must be something in the water at that school which has cranked out so many heretics… :-)

  3. I have absolutely no qualifications to judge between competing explanations, but on an intuitive level whenever I hear things like “dark matter” and “dark energy” I think of “ether.”

  4. Science should cherish skepticism, not suppress it. No one at this time should, from a scientific standpoint, consider the case closed on any theory….

    An interesting parallel is happening with another theory in geology. The reason I bring it up is, like the quote above from http://www.cosmologystatement.org, we have a rukus being raised over another sacred cow in geology.

    What is happening in biology/ID debate echoes what is happening in cosmology and geology:
    The Smoking Gun

    The recent exchange supports the view of critics of Popper’s falsification scheme. Scientists are unable to abandon a paradigm simply because its empiric base has crumbled. Denial (“None of the observations listed…were ‘modified’ to fit the plume model… the anti-plume groups have not convinced us that their models are valid.”) then anger (“We hear plenty of aggressive nihilistic attacking of the plume model”) is evident, just as in other bereavements [acceptance usually comes with the next generation, after a period of bargaining (ad hoc adjustments, rationalisations…

    According to philosophers of science a research program is progressing if it displays the power to anticipate and accommodate additional data . Otherwise the program is called degenerating. A sign of an impending crisis in a paradigm is the number of times the words anomaly, paradox, unexpected, dilemma, counterintuitive, not understood, and problem appear in papers defending a hypothesis, or the number of rationalizations and additional assumptions made for failed predictions.

    Sound familiar?

    Salvador

  5. When I first heard the news that the universe’s expansion seemed to be accelerating, I remembered reading all those books and articles full of confident, breezy, and incredibly precise statements about the history of the universe and thought: “Wow, those guys have just been talking out their asses the entire time, haven’t they?” It contributed greatly to my current attitude toward the theoretical and historical “sciences”: if you can’t show it to me, repeatably, in a lab, it might be interesting cocktail party conversation but I;m not goning to take it seriously as “science”…

  6. BarryA wrote:
    “I have absolutely no qualifications to judge between competing explanations, but on an intuitive level whenever I hear things like “dark matter” and “dark energy” I think of “ether.””

    Barry,
    The jury’s still out on dark energy, but you can stop thinking “ether” when you hear about dark matter. Just last month a team of astronomers found direct proof of dark matter using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory:

    http://chandra.harvard.edu/pre.....82106.html
    http://cosmicvariance.com/2006.....ter-exists

  7. 7

    There is interesting name on the list of standard model dissenters: Touho Ankka, independent researcher, Finland. Touho Ankka is Finnish name for Disney character Fethry Duck(http://stp.ling.uu.se/~starbac.....ethry.html). Now I know why he is called Donald’s wierd cousin.

  8. That’s not “proof” of dark matter unless you accept the various hypothetical events and causes that are being promoted as being verified by actual data. Which they aren’t. It’s just another attempt at bolstering big bang cosmology by the big bang community in the face of a mountain of actual proofs against them. They are assuming what they see is the result of a collision, they assume that what they see are effects of “dark matter”, they then call that assumption “proof”, but the “proof” for that is non existent, and in fact there is proof that it is something else i.e not a collision and not dark matter. The whole thing is pathetic. Real proof is a bit more involved then that. see http://www.holoscience.com/new.....e=stb9s0ye

  9. “The greatest obstacle to progress in science is the illusion of knowledge, the illusion that we know what’s going on when we really don’t.”

    Isn’t that what happened when people tried to build a silicon eye? They came to the Darwinian biologists assuming that they know how it works, when in fact the eye’s functioning system is for now beyond our complete understanding. Basically, with the directions given to them by Darwinists, they realized that they could not build the silicon eye.
    (Please correct me if I am wrong)

  10. Karl Pfluger writes: “The jury’s still out on dark energy, but you can stop thinking “ether” when you hear about dark matter. Just last month a team of astronomers found direct proof of dark matter using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory”

    I agree with mentok. The proof described in your links is not direct but circumstantial.

    By the way, as I mentioned above, I take no position on the controversy. The point of my post was the Disney quote. The greatest obstacle to knowledge in origins science is the illusion of so many adherents to NDE that they “know,” when what they have really done is infer.

    Epistemology is tricky stuff. But there there is clearly a difference between direct observation of a phenomenon and inferring the existence of the phenomenon based on observations of something else.

  11. Sal

    The cosmology letter was very disturbing. I accepted the big bang theory the way I used to accept neo-darwinian evolution. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I hope I haven’t been suckered again by dogma pretending to be science.

  12. Karl

    Actually “ether” is making a comeback. Light waves in a vacuum behave as sound waves in a fluid. There are some interesting experiments being done using waves in a fluid to model what happens near the event horizon of a black hole:

    http://sciam.com/article.cfm?c.....414B7F0000

    Also in QM the vacuum isn’t empty – it has a zero point energy whose effects can be observed. Don’t miss the section on gravitation and cosmology which includes a compact explanation of why QM and GR are incompatible.

  13. What you must admit, however, is that at least the astrphysics community regularly and openly acknowledges that these grand questions exist. I, at least, had heard these issues from dozens, even hundreds, of other sources.

    In the field of biology, the only question which is acknowledged is the question of abiogenesis, and even with this question the issue is minimized. After all, a few months and a few million dollars will crach the abiogenesis question wide open.

  14. DaveScot,

    I have my reservations about the Big Bang, although I don’t place it at the bottom of the heap of ideas like Darwinian evolution. The Big Bang is an ID-friendly theory, and it succeeded in putting ID back on the table (it has strong theistic implications).

    That said, it may eventually get supplanted.

    Here is Discovery Institute fellow David Berlinski questioning the Big Bang: Was there a Big Bang

    Here is more. A Yale PhD and physicist at the US Naval Observatory by the name of Tom van Flandern eventually got canned for blowing the whistle. I do NOT agree with everything he says. Here is van Flandern’s site:

    http://metaresearch.org/cosmol.....allyExpand

    my personal favorite cosmology model is the Setterfield-Brown cosmology:

    http://www.setterfield.org (setterfield)
    http://www.creationscience.com (brown)

    Salvador

  15. Einstein reluctantly assited in the formulation of the Big Bang theory, as well as many other first rate scientists. The Aether was formulated by Maxwell who probably is one of the top 10 scientists in history. Thus the Big Bang and Aether at least had contributions by real scientists who made contributions in other fields. I don’t hold Darwinian evolution in the same high regard. Like Jerry Coyne, I put it down there with phrenology….

    I hold no malice toward the Big Bang theory. It is ID-friendly, theistic, and has serious thought behind it by well-meaning and brilliant minds. Even if it turns out to be wrong, I consider it a courageous and honorable attempt which precipitated discussion of better theories and put the Design hypothesis back on the table.

    As BarryA pointed out, we know so little, so perhaps conclusions by anyone at this point are a bit pre-mature…..

    Salvador

  16. BarryA wrote:
    “I agree with mentok. The proof described in your links is not direct but circumstantial… Epistemology is tricky stuff. But there there is clearly a difference between direct observation of a phenomenon and inferring the existence of the phenomenon based on observations of something else.”

    Every empirical statement is “circumstantial” and depends on “assumptions”. Every observation is indirect, in that it is mediated by our senses. If I see my cat walk across the room, I am assuming that:

    1. She exists.
    2. She reflects photons in a particular way.
    3. The photons travel in a straight line from her to my eyes.
    4. The photons are refracted by my lenses according to the laws of optics.
    5. My retinas correctly register the photons, sending signals down my optic nerves.
    6. My visual cortex processes these signals correctly.
    7. Etc.

    I have no way of “directly” experiencing my cat, but I am nevertheless highly confident that I am correct when I see her cross the room. Why? My past experience validates the assumptions underlying my observation.

    The assumptions that the dark matter observation rests on are similarly well established.

  17. Karl Pfluger wrote: Barry,
    The jury’s still out on dark energy, but you can stop thinking “ether” when you hear about dark matter. Just last month a team of astronomers found direct proof of dark matter using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory:

    Seconds ago, I was reading the latest issue of New Scientist. There’s an article (at least part of it) that says the group who are promoting variable gravity is now questioning the findings you’ve linked to above. So, this is becoming a very interesting topic, no?

  18. Karl Pfluger,

    As soon as I wrote my comment I knew that someone would respond with some version of radical Cartesian skepticism. I disagree with that approach. Indeed, I believe it is sophistry.

    Here is one of my favorite passages from Boswell’s “Life of Johnson:”

    “After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it – ‘I refute it thus.’”

    If you and I were together discussing whether there is a difference between direct and circumstantial/inferential proof, I would kick a rock and say, “I refute your position thus.”

  19. Halton Arp proved that redshift is not affected by distance which is a primary plank of the BB theory, yet even though he proved it his work has been ignored. see
    http://metaresearch.org/public.....ed-Arp.asp
    http://www.electric-cosmos.org/arp.htm
    http://www.bigbangneverhappened.org/

  20. Someone mentioned that the BB theory somehow supports ID. Well that is debatable. ID is not about the method of how the cosmos came to be as they are, so in fact ID has nothing to with the big bang or any other cosmological creation story. The idea I guess is that people think that because the Big Bang supposedly happened all of a sudden, creating a universe from a non universe state, that that is somehow cognate to some degree with the biblical account in genesis (other religions have very different creation accounts). But in reality the biblical account can be cited for support of the steady state universe as well.

    The biblical account has no mention of how creation took place. For instance if the creator exists everywhere then the matter/energy in the universe could have come into existence everywhere at the same time. There is no special need to explain the biblical account from a single point which expanded. David Bohm talked about the quantum potential i.e an all pervading sub quantum substratum of matter/energy. Imagine if the universe is pervaded by a subquantum field which is cognate with the creator/designer. Matter/energy can appear anywhere seemingly out of thin air from that field. In tests neutrinos seem to have been observed to seemingly pop into and out of existence. There is no need for a Big Bang to explain biblical accounts. The biblical account merely states that the matter/energy in the universe was created, not how.

  21. BarryA quotes Boswell:
    “I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it – ‘I refute it thus.’””

    And I would ask, “How is that a refutation?” If I were a powerful Cartesian “evil demon” creating the visual impression of a stone in Johnson’s mind, why would I not also give the stone an illusory solidity? When Johnson kicked it, why would I not induce an illusory stab of pain in his illusory toe?

    Johnson’s kick does not prove the reality of the stone. It merely demonstrates that if the stone is illusory, it is a coordinated multisensory illusion.

  22. Karl, and yet, most of us live our whole lives without ever having to resort to the evil demon hypothesis.

  23. Mentok:
    Someone mentioned that the BB theory somehow supports ID.

    Only in that it posits a beginning and that which has a beginning requires a cause. Robert Jastrow comments on this in the video “The Privileged Planet”.

  24. BarryA wrote:
    “Karl, and yet, most of us live our whole lives without ever having to resort to the evil demon hypothesis.”

    That’s the point. We assume, as a pragmatic matter, that the Cartesian evil demon does not exist, even though we can’t prove it. We assume that we are not “brains in vats”, with sensory input being fed to us, despite not being able to prove it. It works pretty well for us, even though it might not be true.

    Every “direct” observation rests on these unprovable assumptions. The dark matter finding requires some additional well-validated assumptions, like the existence of gravitational lensing, which is both predicted by general relativity and confirmed by scores of astronomical observations.

    It is simply perverse to say that direct observations, which rest on unprovable assumptions, are trustworthy, while claiming that an astronomical observation which depends on a few additional but well-validated assumptions is not.

    Even our direct observations rest on the assumption that our sensory input is trustworthy, that evil demons are not spoofing us and that we are not “brains in a vat”, having sensory input fed into us.

    Every

  25. Oops. Disregard the last paragraph — I left it in by mistake (or perhaps the Cartesian evil demon made me do it). :-)

  26. “It is simply perverse to say that direct observations, which rest on unprovable assumptions, are trustworthy, while claiming that an astronomical observation which depends on a few additional but well-validated assumptions is not.”

    Sorry Pfluger-miester. What you say is not so. Conclusions based on direct observations are, from an epistemological point of view, not different in degree from inferences. They are different in kind.

    My point and Johnson’s point is that as a matter of strict logic we cannot prove our direct observations are not an illusion. That is why the movie “Matrix” is so mind-blowing. Nevertheless, as a practical matter, we live our lives as if our direct observations are trustworthy.

    Our inferences, on the other hand, may well be wrong even though at a certain level they seem to “work.” Turning back to cosmology, we should always keep in mind that Ptolemy’s inferences worked very well within a certain range. But as we all know he was wrong.

  27. By the way, everyone knows that posting errors are caused by gremlins, not demons. Duh.

  28. BarryA wrote:
    “Conclusions based on direct observations are, from an epistemological point of view, not different in degree from inferences. They are different in kind.”

    And your argument for this position is…?

    “My point and Johnson’s point is that as a matter of strict logic we cannot prove our direct observations are not an illusion. That is why the movie “Matrix” is so mind-blowing. Nevertheless, as a practical matter, we live our lives as if our direct observations are trustworthy.”

    First of all, Johnson was trying to make the opposite point: that the stone was not illusory. Otherwise, why would he claim to be refuting Berkeley? Secondly, how does what you wrote contradict this paragraph from my previous comment:

    I wrote:
    “That’s the point. We assume, as a pragmatic matter, that the Cartesian evil demon does not exist, even though we can’t prove it. We assume that we are not “brains in vats”, with sensory input being fed to us, despite not being able to prove it. It works pretty well for us, even though it might not be true.”

    I stand by my original assertion: The Chandra team’s observation of dark matter is not rendered suspect simply because it depends on assumptions. All of our observations, including direct observations, depend on assumptions. The real question is whether the assumptions are warranted, and whether the chain of logic leading to the conclusion, whether short or long, is valid.

    A simple example drives the point home. Bring someone from the 13th century to my house, point him to my clean kitchen table, and ask him whether anything is living on it. He will say no. Do the same thing with a scanning electron microscopist, and with the aid of his equipment he will show you an entire ecosystem of microfauna thriving on my tabletop.

    The 13th century observer makese a direct observation of my tabletop and sees nothing living on it. His tacit assumption of course, is that there are no invisible, microscopic forms of life.

    Our microscopist, on the other hand, depends on many assumptions: 1) that certain processes produce electron beams, 2) that electron beams are waves, just like light, and can be used to form images, 3) that magnetic fields can be used to focus electron beams, 4) that detectors can be used to register the images created by the electron beams, 5) that these images can be made visible without garbling them, and many others.

    Our 13th century observer shows us that a “direct” observation plus one bad assumption leads us to a totally incorrect conclusion.

    Our microscopist shows us that a long inferential chain can lead to the correct conclusion, provided that the assumptions it is based on are valid.

    To summarize, even “direct” observations depend on assumptions, and it’s the quality of the assumptions, not their number, which determines whether an inference is less trustworthy than a direct observation.

  29. Karl is not addressing the facts presented by Wallace Thornhill; he doesn’t address Arp’s observations. He is arguing, as Thornhill writes, using emotion and analogy that is not relevant and does not address the mathematics or science. If he cannot rebut the argument on its merits, then his belief in dark energy is merely that, something that appeals either to the emotions or the culture.

    The Einstein cross issues kill “gravitational lensing”.

    Again, I don’t understand those, whether pro ID or anti ID, or pro Big Bang, who think “emotionally”.

    Thornhill wrote on the following:

    “Evidently a PhD and a large number of published papers do not signify an individual’s intelligence. The techniques we use to judge intelligence are skewed toward cleverness, conformity and a good memory. But there is one important facet that is never considered—emotional intelligence. Yet it requires a high degree of emotional intelligence to respond rationally to information that threatens our sense of personal power or of how things are. Judging from the rejection of Halton Arp’s discoveries, it is a crucial lesson we are missing. Irritation or dismissal in response to a well-argued case is a signal that emotion has overruled reason.”

    If any supporter of gravity can refute, using mathematics and the language of science, fine and well. But the analogies offered above on observers are totally irrelevant to the issues raised. Recall Einsein wrote a paper that said black holes were not possibile. See Metaresearch above.

    Thornhill writes:

    The Hubble site reports, “Most of the galaxies are so faint (nearly 30th magnitude or about four-billion times fainter than can be seen by the human eye) they have never before been seen by even the largest telescopes. Some fraction of the galaxies in this menagerie probably date back to nearly the beginning of the universe.”

    From Arp’s point of view, the notion that we are looking back in time to “nearly the beginning of the universe” is wrong on two counts. First, the highly redshifted objects in this view are close and faint. They originated at various times from various parent galaxies. Second, therefore, we can say nothing about the beginning of the universe or when it happened.

    As the leading authority on peculiar galaxies, Arp was ideally placed to recognize “that while 95% of the nearby galaxies have normal, regular morphologies, only 11% of the Deep Field galaxies could be considered normal in appearance…. My friend and classification expert, Sydney van den Bergh, added another important result, namely that there were almost no normal, grand design spirals in the deep field…. We would generally expect the most luminous objects to be the most massive and therefore the most relaxed, equilibrium forms. This is one thing the Hubble Deep Field objects are not.” Arp notes that “the tendency for young, nearby, low luminosity objects to break up, eject material, show jets and disturbances could explain the prevalence of linear, knotty objects and multiple objects as shown in the Hubble Deep Field.” The evidence suggests “…that all objects we can be sure of are within the rough confines of the Local Super Cluster.”

    Arp’s perspective of the universe must be investigated before cosmology can claim to be a science.

    Just like biological systems, the energy source to “grow” galaxies cannot be internal. It must be supplied from outside. Here, Arp’s universe meets plasma cosmology. Plasma cosmology shows empirically and experimentally that the energy required to form galaxies and light the stars comes from intergalactic power transmission lines in the form of cosmic Birkeland current filaments. That is why the universe has a “stringy” appearance, with galaxies arranged like beads on a necklace. And the engine at the center of galaxies is a simple “plasma focus” or “plasma gun” effect. No incredible black holes are required.

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