General Page for Rick Doble's Essays


thumbnail cover, Experimental Digital Photography book by Rick DobleNEW BOOK!
Experimental Digital Photography by Rick Doble
A complete illustrated how-to guide (Sterling Publishing)

See Rick Doble's two other books by major publishers on digital photography
Career Building Through Digital Photography for high school students
Everything Digital Photography a general introduction

WHAT DO WE KNOW TODAY?
AND WHAT CAN WE KNOW?
Modern and contemporary scientific, astronomy, astrophysics ignorance By Rick Doble

One of my person definitions of wisdom involves knowing what I do not know. While I am not a scientist and have only a layman's understanding of current cosmology, I still think that it is hard to make predictions when so much is unknown.

While cosmology has made incredible strides in the last 400, 100, and 10 years, we still do not know a lot. So to make doomsday predictions with specific time tables and so on seems a bit premature. I have heard numerous scientists confidently describe the end of the Universe.


Its incredibly interesting that there's a lot more we don't know about the universe than we do, in spite of all we've learned up to today. And therefore some of the wild ideas from science fiction including things like worm holes might or might not be possible; we just don't know at this point.

Lawrence Krauss
CWR University
Universe 2001: Beyond the Millennium, Creation
Science Channel (formerly the Discovery Channel)


More importantly there may be things that we will never know. At the heart of creation is an unfathomable mystery that is beyond and outside of time; before the Big Bang time did not exist. This is a very old idea as the Greek gods existed outside of time for example, as do the Hebrew, Christian and Muslim idea of God. It is a mystery that is unknowable but without which life would not exist.

It is also clear to me that there is a basic human craving for spiritual knowledge. There is a fundamental need to be in touch with the endless mystery that is at the core of life. I see this as a basic drive common to all peoples and cultures. There is virtually no culture that does not have or did not have a mythology or religion that put its people in touch with a higher power that is beyond human understanding.

Spiritual knowledge is quite different than scientific knowledge. Some have defined science as a discipline that requires measurement. Science in its modern arrogance tends to look down on things that cannot be measured but even the most hardcore scientist will admit that the nature of the Universe before the Big Bang cannot be measured and that it is outside the knowledge of science.

This is much more than an academic question. Life would not exist without the Big Bang and what occurred before the Big Bang. But we will not and cannot know what happened before.

Spiritual knowledge deals with timelessness and the infinite which are beyond measurement. The spiritual drive in humans can accept what it cannot know just as long as it can contemplate it and be in touch with it. That is a major function of religion and also art.

Examples of Things We Do Not Know Today About the Universe
Or New Technologies That Most Certainly Will Change Our Understanding

Radio astronomy is in its infancy.
Started roughly fifty years ago, it is the most significant advance since Galileo first used the telescope. Up to the start of radio astronomy, we were only looking at a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, that of visible light. Give radio astronomy a couple of hundred years and I bet many of our ideas about the universe will be quite different. Just about every major advance in astronomy has been the result of more advanced equipment.

Dark matter is not understood
It is much greater than the visible matter which we do know.

Why are there Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs)?
These massive bursts of energy emit as much energy in a few seconds as our sun has done in its entire life time. These are big explosions that are much more common than expected and not understood at all. One theory is that they might be explosions of black holes. If true, it could mean that new matter is being created throughout the Universe.

Where do cosmic rays come from?
These particles should not in theory be doing what they are doing. So clearly the theory is wrong.

Dark energy seems to have taken a foothold as a theory, but is far from proven.
This new theory helps explain the continuing expansion of the Universe. If it is disproven, we are back to square one (almost) in understanding the makeup of the Universe.

The current computer models of the formation of our solar system are incorrect.
They create the inner planets perfectly but do not create the outermost planets. Clearly the model is wrong

There is much basic information we do not know about our own solar system.
For example, we do not know about the makeup of the Kuiper Belt where many comets reside and also the Oort cloud where a lot more of our solar system's real estate exists and which stretches out about a third of the way to the nearest star. We are still discovering new moons around the planets. And we are only just beginning to do a detailed map of the solar system which is not unlike the early maps of the world around 1500 in the early days of Earth exploration. There is so much we have to learn.

The VTL (Very Large Telescope) in Chile will bring a new level of observations
Like all new advances it will change our views, just as the Hubble telescope has done.

The NGST (Next Generation Space Telescope) to be launched around 2010 will probably bring us very surprising findings
It is designed to look at the oldest part of the Universe.

There are two competing theories about the destiny of the universe:
The theories are the big crunch in which all matter is swallowed back into another Big Bang and the "not with a bang but a whimper" theory in which the Universe keeps expanding, burns out and becomes dead. Neither theory has enough evidence as yet so there may be other possibilities.

General Page for Rick Doble's Essays