Thursday, July 5, 2018

Is Physics science or literature?


Freeman Dyson, who proposed a way
to extract energy from stars
We usually assume that physics is the most rigorous of the experimental sciences, the closest to mathematics, which serve as the fundamental basis for all sciences. However, some recent developments raise doubts about this. In other articles I have spoken of a few: the theories of the multiverse, time travel, that usually provide appealing headers in the media, but cannot be considered scientific theories, not because they cannot be verified, but because they cannot be proved false.
A recent article published in the high-profile journal Science News can be classified within this group, and in my opinion adds fuel to the fire, endangering the prestige of physics as a rigorous science and turning it into science fiction literature. This publication refers to an article recently published in arXiv, whose title is quite indicative: Life versus Dark Energy: How an Advanced Civilization Could Resist the Accelerating Expansion of the Universe. This article has been classified in the category Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics.

In the first place, it should be noted that arXiv is currently the medium with the highest impact index in the category of Cosmology, and that therefore it is very difficult to publish there. Apparently, those responsible for this medium for disseminating scientific information have decided that this article is important enough to be published there.
What is the article in question about? Let us see a brief summary:
Accelerated expansion of the universe
In 1998, clues were discovered that could be interpreted as meaning that the universe seems to be subject to accelerated expansion. To explain this phenomenon, Einstein’s cosmological constant was resurrected, and the name Dark Energy was given to the supposed cause of its existence. (The name means that we don’t know what it is). The article in question argues that a very advanced extraterrestrial intelligence could oppose the accelerated expansion of the universe by collecting stars from other galaxies and transferring them to their own galaxy, thus keeping that galaxy from ending up without stars, and therefore without energy.
The author argues that his theory can be proven, because we could detect the activity of this extraterrestrial civilization if we observe certain indications that would suggest that there are stars that leave that galaxy and go to a different one. But the problem is not to confirm the theory. The problem is it can’t be shown to be false. If we don’t detect anomalous movements of stars, we cannot conclude that these advanced extraterrestrial civilizations do not exist, or that they cannot exist. So this theory is not scientific.
On the other hand, the argument in this article seems futile. In fact, if these ET really existed and were making this effort to increase the number of stars in their galaxy, it wouldn’t do them much good, it would just delay their end, for the accelerated expansion of the universe would continue and those galaxies close to theirs would no longer be within their reach. They could extend their life span, but in the end dark energy would come out victorious, and those imaginary super-beings would eventually become extinct.
I think it can be said that this article provides a good argument for a science fiction novel, but nothing more. In my opinion, it shouldn’t have been published in the Cosmology section of arXiv, and Science News should not have devoted an article to its disclosure. In other words, this is not physics, but literature. Hard science fiction literature, as it contains equations and graphics, but nothing more.


The same post in Spanish
Manuel Alfonseca

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