Saturday, December 19, 2009

In case you're feeling particularly self-important today . . . this from the New York Times Magazine, March 11, 2007

It’s “Dark” Out There

George Smoot’s (2006 Nobel Prize winner in physics) and Saul Perlmutter’s (Berkeley, likely future Nobel Physics prize-winner) work is part of a revolution that has forced their colleagues to confront a universe wholly unlike any they have ever known, one that is made of only 4 percent of the kind of matter we have always assumed it to be — the material that makes up you and me and this magazine and all the planets and stars in our galaxy and in all 125 billion galaxies beyond. The rest — 96 percent of the universe — is . . . who knows?

“Dark,” cosmologists call it, in what could go down in history as the ultimate semantic surrender. This is not “dark” as in distant or invisible. This is “dark” as in unknown for now, and possibly forever.

If so, such a development would presumably not be without philosophical consequences of the civilization-altering variety. Cosmologists often refer to this possibility as “the ultimate Copernican revolution”: not only are we not at the center of anything; we’re not even made of the same stuff as almost all of the rest of everything.

“We’re just a bit of pollution,” Lawrence M. Krauss, a theorist at Case Western Reserve, said not long ago at a public panel on cosmology in Chicago. “If you got rid of us, and all the stars and all the galaxies and all the planets and all the aliens and everybody, the remaining universe would be largely the same. We are completely irrelevant.”
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