Our 8th grade physical science book has a story in it on scientists theorizing about combustion in the 1700s & before. The true nature of burning, as a chemical reaction with oxygen, was not figured out until late that century. Two fairly smart dudes, Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestley among others, realized that most of the previous evaluations did not measure anything; no weights, no volumes. This oversight by earlier scientists delayed proper discovery by centuries. After this enlightenment and the true nature of burning, chemistry really took off, weaving itself into every area of science.
What struck me about this reading was how firmly the scientific world of the 1600s and early 1700s believed a science about combustion that just wasn’t true. And these were some of the smartest people at the time, surely as smart as scientists of today. It makes me wonder what scientific beliefs of today will look as foolish 200 or 300 years from now. Quite a few I suspect.
One thing space travel has shown us is the here-to-for unknown diversity just within our small solar system. Every time we get a closer or more detailed look at a planet or moon, we are surprised beyond our imagination by what we find. In fact most such discoveries lead to infinitely more new questions than to answers. Likewise we seem to have no clue as to the size of our universe. Every time we look out farther, we see more. And only recently astronomers have theorized that there is a black hole at the center of every galaxy, including our own galaxy the Milky Way. Like the national debt, there are so many galaxies out there, we have a hard time contemplating the number. Or better yet we just cannot. It’s incomprehensible.
We should have no fear that we’ll ever run out of things to investigate. I believe however, that even the most universal theories and laws of science are to be held in suspect. “E” may indeed be equal to mc2 as Albert Einstein proposed 112 years ago (gees has it been that long?). Newton’s theory of calculus and the simple relationship between the slope of a curve and the area underneath it may hold up for another 150 years. Space may indeed be a curved space-time continuum. Worm holes may really exist, even though we’ve never really seen one in outer space. And we may find life on other worlds, Lord knows we’re searching hard enough. These are all ok until something better comes along. But don’t be surprised when it does.
Hey, I know something for sure. We’ve all buteradicated polio from the face of the earth.1 That’s one.