Dark and Other Matter(s) 12/17/18

By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.

My friend posted a comment about “Dark Matter” on his social media account. This blog will discuss dark matter, but first, let me begin with a general discussion of the laws of physics.

There are really two sets of laws that govern behavior of matter. We, you and I, follow the laws of classical (or Newtonian) physics. We know these laws because we live them. We know, for example, that if we’re laying in a warm bed, we don’t want to get out into a cold room (a body at rest remains at rest). These laws tell us that we are allowed to know, exactly and simultaneously, both where something is, its direction, and how fast it is going. Think about, for example, crossing a street. If a car is coming towards us, we can still estimate if we have time to cross the street, which requires knowledge of all three.

There was a time that we believed these laws covered everything. Then we discovered that the laws of Newtonian physics fail at the sub-atomic level. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle basically proved this. The interesting thing is that he never really tried to explain subatomic behavior. He just provided a mathematical proof that these laws fail as sufficiently small scales (i.e. subatomic scales and smaller). This realization caused a radical shift in science, yielding quantum physics. These laws dictate behavior at these subatomic levels. We, you and I, could never fully understand these laws, because we have no frame of reference. For example, electrons can pass through regions where they are forbidden by simply ceasing to exist in one region, and beginning to exist in another. It would be like crossing an ocean without actually traveling through it.

A little known field of science (the one in which I received my degree) that bridges these two disciplines is called “Statistical Thermodynamics”. When we put all of these little particles, behaving according to laws that seem contrary to ours, they must add up (when in sufficient numbers) to a behavior that we do understand. In other words, enough quantum particles must behave like a classical Newtonian mass. Statistical Thermodynamics proves that this is the case.

This brings us to dark matter. A number of years ago, astrophysicists noticed that the acceleration of the universe does not fit the model of physics based on the amount of matter thought to exist. The problem with this is that, throughout the years, there are many examples of scientists of the day creating some form of particle or matter to explain things that they could not, at the time, understand. The ancient Greek philosophers, who called themselves the Atomists, postulated that the world was made of a limited number of elemental particles (they called them Earth, Wind, Fire [which was a great band] and Water). What they couldn’t understand is what held the elements together, so they postulated “Phlogiston”, which permeates all space and holds the elements together. Ironically, the science that proved that an invisible material like Phlogiston that permeates all space cannot possibly exist later postulated dark matter which is an invisible material that permeates all space.

By now, I’m sure that you are aware, that I do not believe in Dark Matter (or its newest relative, Dark Energy). It’s ridiculous to assume that we know everything about the laws of physics that there is to know. It’s kind of the lazy scientists’ thinking to create magical matter to fit the laws as we understand them, rather than to figure out how to improve the laws. What would have happened if, thanks to Heisenberg, we began believing in magical material that hides subatomic phenomena that we cannot understand, rather than to understand the laws that explains it?

If you think I’m a fool, that’s fair. The beauty of science is its openness to discussion and debate. To tell you the truth, I kind of hope somebody does manage to find the proof of dark matter. Imagine how hilarious my retraction will be!

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