Scientists just got a glimpse of what happened a half-second after the Big Bang

Yes, that’s another outside frame of reference. We have a lot of stuff coming OUT of the Universities, but not a lot of fresh thinking going IN. And we don’t have much of a second set of opinions/observations than what the Universities are saying.

Every once in a while you hear about someone with a neat idea on arxiv, but he or she gets shouted down as a miscreant. I mean, take the crystal symmetry guy, Garrett Lisi, who lives in a van and surfs for fun and thinks about physics because he likes it. Whatever happened to him and that theory? That was a fresh idea worth exploring, even if it was in the end, not explanatory enough. But so what. What if particles DO fit into a symetrical model and we can explain the blank spots with it? Who cares if it looks like a snowflake and the guy is a surfer. Maybe he had a new way of explaining things.

Even Hawking is marginalized these days, and he had some fresh ideas. Some people might throw him into the physics ivory towers group now, but I thought he had new stuff to put on the table. What he did with black holes was awesome stuff.

It just seems like we are just fed the same physics drivel over and over, with no fresh ideas and the Feynmans and Einsteins never even get a chance these days.

Anyways, signing off. My brain is about to splode.


What I recommend that people start doing is cataloguing all of the various reasons to believe that scientists might be wrong about astrophysical/cosmological models. This involves actively seeking out reasons to not believe. Honestly, science journalists who consider themselves to be more than just aggregators should be actively questioning the claims for us, but since they are not writing as though they do this, the public is forced to do this on their own.

Those who attempt to be meticulous about this process will notice that their repository of reasons grows over the years. Questions will lead to more questions which will lead to more questions, etc. This is a topic which never stops giving.

I have a very large number of such reasons to disbelieve at this point, and I’ve only been meticulous about this for 3 years now. Here is a very recent example, from just yesterday on NPR at…

PALCA: It’s right. Yeah. So, what does that mean? Why would he be mad if the data is right? Well, here is how Don characterized what Icko had to say.

WINGET: Well, I reproduced your calculations and I completely agree - they’re right. And so I’m going to recommend that you publish this. But I want you to realize that everybody that’s worked in this field are going to hate your guts because you’ve just turned over their entire life’s work.

If you think Physics is bad, try MEDICINE. The very treatments we all rely on for RAW SURVIVAL are mostly untested, or poorly tested, and highly biased. In fact nearly all treatments for diseases in kids… were NOT tested. They were tested on adults and somehow extrapolated to children.

It’s a wonder I’m not afraid to leave the house.

It’s funny that you two (awjt and HannesAlfven who is Chris Reeve) are both still on this. So am I. I had just reached a point that was about objectivity. It’s practical in some areas to use models that are not real, but metaphorical, where agreed upon values may not necessarily be real, but make a given system work. But this is a habit that corrupts what should be the sciences where the real value of something should be available to all, not just an elite. Well really this should not be corrupted in any area but it is, such as, in economics. But science should not be affected by that, but how can science be trusted that makes evidence fit theories, that assumes metaphors are literal or need not be questioned outside of their already established frameworks, or be driven by self-interest or self-importance rather than universal human understanding?

What people will come to see is that thinking like a scientist is something which we all struggle with. Some physics education researchers like David Hestenes and Eric Mazur suggest that only 10% of those who take university physics classes manage to think in terms of models – as opposed to what our human perceptions tell us. This is why I point to Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 - System 2 metaphor – which he does not even attempt to dress up as a model. That set of observations appears to suggest that we all – scientist or not – struggle to be rational. As best we can tell, the switch from rational to irrational happens automatically, and without our awareness. The marketing industry is really enjoying this moment, as Kahneman’s model offers a superior way to explain concepts like branding.

When I started prodding people about the Electric Universe almost a decade ago, I had a vague sense of irrationality in my observations of peoples’ responses. The EU’s central claim is that we should simply contemplate the possibility that the universe is fundamentally electrodynamic, like the plasma we observe within the plasma physics laboratory. In other words, drop the worldview that where we see evidence for electricity & magnetism, that it necessarily must be localized and the effect of other physical phenomena.

That is not exactly the irrational claim which fans of the Astrophysical Journal and the textbooks would have us believe. What we see in space are long, frequently kinked filaments of hydrogen at the interstellar scale. Those filaments exist inside of much larger filamentary structures – like the Magellanic clouds and the arms of spiral galaxies, as well as the jets which emanate from those galaxies. And at the top end of this scale, all of that appears to exist within yet more filaments of galaxies (which is mildly complicated by switching from redshift as a measure of velocity to age, as Arp suggests).

If people were to pay more attention to Gerrit Verschuur’s radio observation publications, the fact that we are looking at a fractal structure here would become more widely accepted. And that raises very serious questions for the established model:

(1) How could either gravity or a Big Bang expansion generate a fractal structure? Self-repeating fractal structures are a central claim of plasma-based cosmologies, and conventional theorists will struggle to explain it – especially when it is considered that we see this fractal repeat downwards as well, within the scales we observe within laboratories.

and (2) Why would we decide to infer the fundamental force for this structure based upon the force which dominates at our own human scale of existence, which is more-or-less in the middle of the scales of observable existence? Isn’t this just humans exhibiting their bias again? A rational approach would be to look at the system as a whole, and consider what dominates at the larger scales. In other words, the fundamental force should be inferred from the top-down, rather than middle-up.

If people will try to open their minds to alternatives, I think they will find that having options for belief, with the reasons to believe and disbelieve categorized and mapped out, is what engages the rational mind. Much of what we see in astrophysics and cosmology today does not engage us in any rational manner, and all we have to go on is this backup, irrational system for belief that Kahneman describes as System 1. And that is based upon believable narratives.

The problem with a believable narrative is that it only takes two details to make something believable, and the fewer details that we know, the more believable that it is. When we hear, for instance, stories about Hitler doing pleasant things, we don’t like such claims, because they break our sense for believable narratives. The idea that the universe had a beginning, by contrast, is quite believable for us – in large part because we struggle with imagining a universe which is possibly infinite in time. These narratives are at play in the social dynamics of our scientific institutions. The only way out of this rabbit hole is to study how humans tend to make decisions, when confronted with “wicked” problems.

So, what I’d like to suggest to people is that the more you question these models, with at least one eye on sociology and psychology, the more you will learn about your own decision-making. It is an incredibly educational experience which I still dream of adapting to a scientific social network.

I think you are really neglecting how long billions of years are, but the universe in this case just all the stuff we could ever affect and that could affect us. There have been lots of discussions about stuff outside that - what physics might have caused a big bang, or happen outside it, and how many such worlds there are, even whether they have been evolving.

You might enjoy some of it. The problem is that none of it can be physics per se, since it’s musing about what is inherently beyond any check of observation. Whether it even makes sense to say that stuff exists or not is a question of your ontology. At any rate: this is the origin our universe seems to have, and if it seems to small for you, the better answer is to look for more universe beyond it.

That’s an odd thing to suppose, though, because it’s not like physicists always insisted on a finite age. The uniformitarian idea things are infinitely old predates the big bang; there are problems with it, such as Olbers’ paradox, but people did propose solutions, notably the Steady State theory. Some people even clung to it for a long time out of dedication to the uniformitarian idea that the universe is not aging.

The reason the big bang ultimately won out is it gave the best account for the evidence: the redshift of galaxies, the cosmic background radiation, and so on. There are some difficulties in expansion rates, which is what inflation was meant to reconcile. But it seems strange to me to claim it is nothing but shoehorning evidence into a poor model, when this whole story is about people working to test a prediction of inflation.

Nothing in inflation or any other versions of the big bang theory necessitates an edge, and most people have not supposed there is one. The explosion is not so much outward movement but one way of distorting spacetime, so that the distance between “non-moving” points increases over time, as described and actually predicted by general relativity.

This could happen to an infinite plane, or a finite but edgeless universe like the surface of a hypersphere, just as easily as it could happen to one with a boundary. The only thing that the Earth is in the center is the portion of the universe observable from Earth, but it is supposed any other point would see something very similar.

It annoys everyone, I expect, but that’s not something particular to talking about the big bang. Physics in general seems to suspend the “normal rules” when you start talking about sufficiently small distances and times. A good theory of quantum mechanics including gravity is still being worked out, but we certainly know that things like well-established relativity stop being good approximations.

Fundamental particles are ones that aren’t themselves made out of smaller pieces, but they might still be able to be converted into ones with less energy. I’m afraid I don’t know the supposed details for Higgs bosons very well.

A more familiar example, though, is the W- boson, one that carries weak charge from particle to particle and so changes their type. So for instance an electron can become a neutrino by emitting one, and combining one with a neutrino gives you an electron. But it is too heavy to be stable on its own.

The reason is absorbing a particle is also the same as emitting an antiparticle, so a W- by itself could turn into an electron and antineutrino. Those aren’t inside it, and in theory it could also decay into other pairs, like a down quark and up antiquark. But they’re the lightest option, so they’re what you tend to get; in fact this is thought to be the basic mechanism of beta decay.

Is that of any help to anyone? I wish I could also address any of the things said by “Hannes Alfven”, but then I have tried before to no avail. He talks a lot about how modern science is all myth or dogma and how useless peer review is; but at the same time he is happy to quote other things with almost no evidence at all, or straight-out wrong, even Velikovsky’s junk-science-supported-by-junk-history.

And for all the complaints about peer review, he has not previously answered any questions about what standards of evidence he would prefer. So he seems to be much less about finding better ideas to avoid dogmatism, and more pretending uncertainty for creationist-style “teaching the controversy”. His history is all the same set of talking points on one topic after another, plus a Gish gallop where one claim is easily replaced by another.

And just as I wouldn’t discuss biology on a board where young-earth creationism comes up each time, it really makes it feel like it isn’t worthwhile to bother with physics here. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s problem but mine, but I thought I ought to say so before giving up. :unamused:


“And just as I wouldn’t discuss biology on a board where young-earth creationism comes up each time, it really makes it feel like it isn’t worthwhile to bother with physics here.”

That has been exactly my reaction to the above comments.

We can’t dismiss the best available scientific explanations just because they don’t “feel” right! This isn’t how it works, folks! We’re not trying on trousers. The universe isn’t there to suit our mental/emotional needs. Nor can we argue for alternative theories on the grounds that they would be easier to study. It’s “not about us”!

It’s hilarious to read people reacting skeptically to all this simplified reporting of a press release about some research, on the basis that it sounds too simple! Or hearing hyped-up “spooky” explanations, and then saying “I smell a rat!” because it all sounds too weird and exotic to be plausible.

The behaviour of electrons is by itself way, way weirder than anything about the Big Bang in that press release, and has been confirmed to incredible degrees of accuracy and certainty.

Of course cosmology is harder, and has far less to go on, but it doesn’t have nothing, and guess what: some things are hard, take years of study to understand, etc. This may afford us the chance to construct amusing metaphors with “priesthoods” and the like, but that doesn’t mean we’re talking about an actual priesthood. It could just be that the subject is full of intricate technical details that just require years of study.


I appreciate that you made that clarification in the thread. Since you were replying to my post in particular, I just want to say that I was pointing out that the theory itself was given an explosive name. Words mean something: there was always an understanding of explosion/expansion in the choice to name it the Big Bang theory. I was noticing the chronology of development through the 20th century from the original theory to the official “prediction” of inflation in 1981.

In fact, I specifically used the term “expansion” in my post, and not “explosion”.

Then what are the alternative explanations? Where are those second and third sources of confirming data?

It seems, more and more, that the theories are here to suit the mental/emotional needs of the THEORIZERS who travel together as a pack. That’s a problem.

If this were a thread about string theory, I’d agree with you. But it isn’t. Recall that throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the universe was widely assumed to be static, eternal, and either infinite or extremely large. When Einstein realized his original derivation of general relativity essentially forbade a static cosmos, he went back and inserted (it was allowed by the math, not any kind of fabrication) the famous “cosmological constant,” a kind of universal antigravity to restore steady state.

It wasn’t until Hubble observed that galaxies are redshifted in proportion to their distance apart that Hubble, Einstein, et all grudgingly accepted universal expansion. And since time exists, current expansion implies everything used to be closer together. Go back far enough, and you get arbitrarily high energy densities. At first glance that should imply a black hole, but clearly expansion happened somehow, and inflation was the best hypothesis anyone had come up with.

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Agreed–I read @HannesAlfven comment a little too soon after reading through the Satanic Ritual Abuse post, and much of the language used in Hannes’ post seemed similar to the conspiracy theorists’ language therein. The Big Bang is the best theory we’ve got at the moment, and maybe tomorrow another chunk of sensor data will be found that will overthrow the BB theory, but if the argument is between one dude posting on BB or practically the entire scientific community, well, my choice is pretty simple. I’ll be going with…

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I don’t disagree that the observations are compelling. But compelling towards what, exactly? My skepticism isn’t unfounded. It should be encouraged. Instead…

The feeling I get from people who want to staunchly defend the Big Bang is the same feeling I get from Creationists: this is OUR BABY and we need to PROTECT it.

To the exclusion of possibly valid alternatives. If your opinion or research doesn’t fall into line with everyone else’s, you are shut out of the conversation.

I don’t have a pet theory. I just have a hunch that all this rah-rah about the Big Bang is a folly that we should be a little less accepting of, and look a little more towards verifiability by multiple means.

Take an article like this… uhhh… what precisely does one do with that information?

Granted, it is alternative

So, what’s interesting here is that you’ve completely ignored the work of Daniel Kahneman that I linked to (which explains why theory can be wrong without a conspiracy), and then you exemplified “associative coherence” by suggesting a believable narrative.

If you watch Kahneman’s lecture, you will observe him lecturing to a Yale hall of what I assume to be academics on how bias creeps into their research.

The believable narratives are the problem. What you are doing right here is exactly what is happening on a very large scale. You’ve unknowingly demonstrated my point. People have a tendency to imagine that there is no harm to these narratives, and that scientists would never do something like this. Actually, the mechanism for these narratives is more-or-less the same for all of us – scientist or layperson.

Understanding how your mind works is the first step to understanding how everybody’s mind works. And that, in turn, is necessary before you can get a feel for how mistakes emerge within our scientific theories. And note that I’ve not even brought up the problems with science education in this thread so much, but the entire university system is in denial about the quality and nature of learning that is happening within our physics classrooms today. There is a large-scale failure to assimilate the models we learn in physics classes into our decision-making.

Everybody arrives at their first physics class with what physics education researchers call “Aristotelian” or intuitive thinking. This is the stuff which we use to stay alive and out of harm’s way. Force concept inventory testing is a way to determine to what extent these intuitive notions dominate a person’s thinking processes. It’s a test of conceptual comprehension which can be given both before and after a semester-long course in order to determine the course’s effectiveness at altering conceptual comprehension. Or, it can even be used as a form of pedagogy itself, in which case it is known as “peer instruction”.

Eric Mazur gives FCI’s to his undergrad Harvard physics med students, and he frequently observes that people who ace the problem sets will commonly fail the conceptual comprehension questions on the same tests. There appears to be a full 40% of his classes who do quite well on the problem sets, but who do not actually know – in the true sense of the word – what they are actually doing when they “solve” those problems. Mazur calls them plug-and-chuggers.

This should alarm people. And honestly, it explains quite a bit about why people rely upon these narratives to formulate beliefs about complex situations: Because they never actually assimilated the models of physics into their thought processes. Rather than modifying their intuitive notions, they just created new knowledge structures alongside those intuitions. So, guess what happens? Once the class is over, the person goes back to using their intuitions. The models, for many students, therefore don’t actually get used, since they have not been assimilated. And over time, as education researcher Joseph Novak has shown, the material learned by rote memorization simply becomes inaccessible to the person.

And what is extraordinary is that if you look at what the physics education researchers – like David Hestenes and Eric Mazur – are saying about intuition, and compare that with Daniel Kahneman’s comments on the role of intuitions to thought as well as Jeff Schmidt’s comments on the physics graduate program, you will see a consensus of critique for all three. Kahneman’s version is probably more accurate than the physics education researchers’ version, insofar as Hestenes and Mazur appear to describe the problem with intuition as simply a knowledge problem. Kahneman shows that associative coherence is actually an active process that at all times is suggesting pre-formed believable narratives which get slipped into our thought processes without our awareness. Marketers actually elicit the process intentionally; it’s how they get you to buy their stuff.

I highly recommend the book Decoded by Phil Barden, which takes Kahneman’s model and shows how it resolves longstanding mysteries in marketing research.

This interaction is very representative of the types of interactions I have encountered for the past ~8 years of prodding people online. I cannot stress enough that people need to be paying attention to Kahneman’s work. My observations perfectly align with his.

Actually, this is a problematic statement for a number of reasons …

(1) There exists debate over the history itself. Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) – which are models used by astrophysicists to model cosmic plasmas – is at the very center of this debate over how to infer causes for our observations of the universe. We can see that space is a plasma; the question is how to model that plasma.

The problems with MHD’s application are widely understood amongst the critics of conventional astrophysical theory, even as the public largely does not understand what a plasma is. The real problem is that these critiques and historical details are not taught to astrophysics and cosmology students – as if none of it ever happened. This is the source of most of the confusion that reigns in cosmology and astrophysics today, and it needs to be the part which people are taking a closer look at, for the way in which you model the universe’s matter – plasma being the dominant form – clearly has a very important effect upon the inferences a person makes about what is happening.

What has happened with the MHD models will one day become a Hollywood film. It’s an extraordinary story which I’ve already quoted within this thread. To be clear, the idealizations which astrophysicists use to this day to model cosmic plasmas are known to be inaccurate and inapplicable to most, if not all, cosmic phenomenon we see. Alfven proposed a few MHD idealizations as a thought experiment at the start of his scientific career, and astrophysicists hijacked what was intended purely as a thought experiment as their primary methodology for modeling cosmic plasmas. They then gave Alfven the Nobel for his creation of MHD, and Alfven used his 1970 Nobel lecture as an opportunity to chastise their application of it.

How can we have a rational discussion about this if the students are not even being taught an accurate version of the history of this discipline?

(2) Astronomers and theorists who disagree with established theory literally fear challenging it. Halton Arp was unable to continue his research here in the States after publishing a paper which contradicted the inference that quasars’ redshifts are necessarily an indication of velocity or distance. Radio astronomer Gerrit Verschuur occasionally discusses his own fears in his books on interstellar matter. The public needs to tune into all of this, instead of just going along with the narratives that scientists are somehow immune to politics and social dynamics.

The public should be paying more attention to the plight of skeptics in the physics discipline. If we value having a conversation rather than a dictated monologue about the universe, then we need to be actively listening to the critics of established theories. When we propose a narrative that they are all crazy, or just misinformed, we are simply making a decision about what to believe by constraining who we will listen to. There is a cultural phenomenon today of debunkery which automatically positions critics as pseudoscientists.

Has anybody else noticed that the phrase “critical thinking” is rarely used online today? What we hear about instead is pseudoscience and trolling. Is it that dogma does not exist, or that it is simply harder to see, without trying?

(3) The Big Bang idea is actually rather old. But, the notion that the universe is a plasma is, by contrast, recent (50’s). We just had no way to know that plasma dominated in space until we sent probes up.

This raises a contradiction, for those who are deeply engaging this subject, because in the midst of the quest to demonstrate this old theory, our awareness of the universe’s composition changed rather dramatically. Notice that this did not alter the intended trajectory of the Big Bang theory. And that is why that debate over the MHD models is so incredibly important: If the cosmic plasmas were modeled as laboratory plasmas, then the Big Bang would run into great troubles accommodating this drastic change. Laboratory plasmas are fundamentally electrodynamic phenomena, and the gravitational constant is at this point the least constant constant known to man. Take a look at the graph in that Nature News article: G is changing, and it seems to be following a curve. It commonly defies former error bounds.

(4) There have always been problems with the Big Bang. Its advocates simply decide to look past them. Keep in mind that we are still talking about a universe which is 96% missing. Astrophysics is the only discipline where the theorizing just continues on in light of such a discrepancy.

In a sense, there is nothing wrong with that. Insofar as paradigms are at this point ad hoc processes, I would suggest that this is a standard by which we should culture additional paradigms. The only problem is the eagerness with which people – even astrophysical experts – will go out of their way to discredit any competing idea, regardless of how much promise it holds to predict.

What we should ask is: To what extent are they simply protecting their research and knowledge? Is disinterestedness truthfully a scientific norm?

From Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds, page 82:

The scientific ideologies, or “paradigms,” that scientists internalize during their training guide their thinking in every important area of their work, determining, for example, the particular abstractions or models they use, the procedures they consider valid and even their notion of what constitutes progress and understanding. But how are the paradigms chosen? As philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn observed, paradigms are incommensurable – that is, there is no transcendent scientific framework in which one can compare paradigms and choose the best, and so such choices are made on the basis of values, or social factors. Since no two paradigms solve the same problems, the choice between them involves deciding which problems it is most important to solve – clearly a question of values. In any historical era the values of those at the top of the social hierarchy dominate: as a result the paradigms that emerge from the scientific competition have a built-in tilt toward establishment priorities. Through the paradigms, then, social forces direct scientific work even in the rare cases when employers or funding agencies do not.

Because they internalize both the paradigms and their employers’ priorities and values, scientists, at least in their own eyes, are completely nonpartisan in their work: They don’t “get political.” They don’t think about, let alone challenge, the ideology built into their techniques. Contrary to popular images of scientists as challengers of established beliefs (like Galileo or Einstein), the vast majority of scientists never seek to test their paradigms and do not participate in paradigm disputes. They don’t waste their employers’ coin by getting caught up in efforts to overthrow existing worldviews or to establish new ones. Instead, they tend to treat the accepted models of reality as reality itself.

From page 129:

Beginning physics graduate students must devote an entire year or two of their lives to homework. Indeed, the first part of physics graduate school is well described as a boot camp based on homework. One characteristic of any boot camp is that the subject matter the instructors present in their day-to-day work is not really the main thing they are teaching. Teaching the subject matter is certainly one goal, but it is not the main one. In military boot camp, for example, drill instructors make recruits spend large amounts of time learning to dress to regulation, march in precise formation, chant ditties, disassemble and reassemble rifles, carry heavy backpacks, and so on, yet the main goal of all this is something much more profound: to create soldiers who will follow orders, even to their deaths. Similarly, the most apparent goal of graduate physics courses is to indoctrinate the students into the dominant paradigms, or theoretical frameworks, of physics. But the primary goal is to train physicists who will maintain tremendous discipline on assigned problems.

Page 134:

At the end of the week the entire physics faculty gathers in a closed meeting to decide the fate of the students. Strange as it may seem, in most physics departments a student’s score on the test is only one factor in the faculty’s decision as to whether or not that student has passed the test. Students are not usually told their scores: this gives faculty members the option of deciding that a student has failed the test even if that student has outscored someone they are going to pass. In arriving at their personal opinions on whether to pass or fail a student, individual faculty members consider anything and everything carried away from informal discussions with the student and with others around the department.

A faculty member who talks informally with a student in the hallway or at the weekly after-colloquium reception inevitably comes away with a feeling about whether or not that student ‘thinks like a physicist.’ The student’s political outlook can easily make a difference in the faculty member’s assessment. For example, in the usual informal discussion of an issue in the news, the student who rails against technical incompetence and confines his thoughts to the search for technical solutions within the given political framework builds a much more credible image as a professional physicist than does the student who emphasizes the need to alter the political framework as part of the solution. Indeed, the latter approach falls outside the work assignments given to professional physicists in industry and academe and so represents thinking unlike a physicist’s.

What I’m getting at here is that the public holds to narratives about how consensus forms today which fails to consider the way in which we train our physicists. The narrative of consensus science is actually quite misleading in light of the fact that students are being trained to avoid questioning the framework that is assigned to them. We do this in order to fit scientists into larger organizations. This is what it means to “professionalize the sciences”. This is what enables rapid technological advancement without the social upheaval that would otherwise occur if scientists were trained to be independent, critical thinkers.

We really need to stop talking about consensus as though this is something which naturally emerges within the minds of individual critical thinkers. Consensus is enforced within the graduate programs through a process of weeding out those who do not conform …


MR: When you first thought of writing this book, you were in graduate school, right?

JS: Yes, that’s right. I got interested int he topic when I was going to professional training myself, getting a PhD in physics at the University of California, Irvine. It seemed like the best of my fellow graduate students were either dropping out or being kicked out. And by ‘best,’ those were the most concerned about other people and seemed less self-centered, less narrowly-focused, most friendly people…they seemed to be handicapped in the competition. They seemed to be at a disadvantage not only because their attention was divided, but because their concerns about big picture issues like justice and the social role of the profession and so on, caused them to stop and think and question, whereas their unquestioning gung-ho classmates just plowed right through with nothing to hold them back. As I mentioned, there’s about a 50% drop-out rate for students entering University programs in all fields; and what I found was that this weeding out is not politically neutral. To put it bluntly, the programs favor ass-kissers. I don’t know if that’s an acceptable term on KFAI, but that’s the fact of the matter….

What is happening within our graduate programs is very alarming. I have been a BoingBoing reader for a long time now. And when BoingBoing started reporting on science issues, and then subsequently updated to Disqus, I was under the impression that this would be a thoughtful audience who would exhibit skepticism of simplistic narratives about how science operates. In sharp contrast to my expectations, I’ve struggled just as much here as elsewhere in getting people to abandon these simplistic narratives.

Boy, that escalated quickly.

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Some people cannot abide uncertainty. These must be the same people who see Jesus in toast and say its a miracle when 5 people died in a tornado not 6.

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Yes, this is a fundamental flaw in the structure of the human mind, and it plagues scientists as much as anyone else. It takes a rare person to notice themselves doing that and actually change it. Conversely, scientists make their careers by constantly challenging each other’s babies, so any theory supported near-unanimously for generations has withstood a lot of testing, and we can reasonably require that to be considered plausible an alternative needs to do just as well in addition to passing tests the current theory fails.

If you’re worried about motives and power structures in funding and overseeing science research departments, and grant agencies, so am I. But the goal has to be to make it better, and that requires that people claiming the title of skeptic point to a specific flaw and, since no one else is going to do it for you, possible paths to improving it.


People have been doing this all throughout the course of the Big Bang’s history. There is no shortage at all of critiques – many of them published within peer-reviewed journals.

There is, however, a real shortage of people reading these critiques and anomalous observations – in part because there is no sense of order today in the arguments against established theory. As is, it can take years to get to the bottom of a single controversy. I chuckle when people think they’ve understood the Electric Universe by simply passing a Tom Bridgman link titled “Creationism in Astronomy”. The people passing this around have clearly not even considered that the EU is a steady-state theory. There is no creation event; Bridgman simply claims that the EU is analogous in certain aspects – except its adherence to an actual creation event – to creationism. People buy this stuff because Bridgman works with NASA. It’s the narrative of his credentials. It’s really that easy to disengage the rational mind.

The Natural Philosophy Alliance has tried to bring some order to the fringes which surround established theory, and I have great respect for Greg Volk’s perseverance. Unfortunately, I would argue that they have so far failed to pull it off. This is not just a problem of creating a platform where against-the-mainstream thinkers can publish and review one another. That is just one single aspect of what is needed. The real problem is that when we are looking at arguments against conventional theory, there is always a problem with engaging the rational mind. When we are looking at a new idea, our System 1 (see prior post) is popping all sorts of questions and pre-formed narratives into our heads. We need a system for cataloging ideas which identifies these inner voices, and responds to them sort of similar to the way that consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers – like Unilever, Clorox and Proctor & Gamble – create product packaging. These two very different subjects are – oddly enough – linked, in that marketing is designed to elicit the irrational. What I suggest needs to be done is to take that body of research, and use it as a starting point for figuring out how to elicit the opposite – rational thought.

I have a good feel for what needs to be created. I could even create a pretty detailed design brief if I found people who were willing to work on this. But it’s taken me 8 years to get to this point. Now what? Nobody seems to care. There are no programmers who want to work on this. It’s quite tricky to come up with a business model which deals with this. And everybody is trying to build sexting apps. There is no awareness that there is any problem. The narratives dominate our realities.

On this specific point, I’d like to suggest that we all should care about having accurate beliefs about the universe. They act as the foundation for our views about our own lives. And even though we may lack the time to dig into every argument, we all have an interest in seeing the best ideas win out. So, this idea that particular individuals should be fully responsible for new ideas in science is perhaps the way things are today – but maybe something which we might culturally question.

Forgetting for a moment about the content of the theory, what is it about having one dominant idea in cosmology which appeals to people? When a person is told one option for belief, all the listener can do is either remember or forget it. When there are two or more options for belief, then the mind goes to work trying to figure out which is better supported by each new observation. The fact that most people today are not going out of their way to expose themselves to competing, divergent theories is really problematic, because one of the first things that happens when you start that important process is that you will observe how easy it is for either paradigm to explain the same observation. Most people do not expect this, and it causes them to take many things for granted in science – like assuming the narrative that when the truth comes, it will be easy to spot. That’s absolutely untrue. The are many truths out there today which are actively being argued against right now by the “experts”. So, the public basically has to make a decision: Do we simply passively absorb whatever it is that the experts tell us? Or, are we active participants in our own beliefs in science?

Now, when it comes to the universe, probably many people will imagine that they don’t actually care. It’s too remote, and irrelevant to our lives. But, if I told you that our beliefs about how the universe works have an indirect influence upon the types of questions people ask in biology and medicine, then probably more ears perk up. Or, if I told you that researchers recently dated the recent Mt St Helens lava flows to millions of years old, then all sorts of questions start popping into peoples’ heads. Or, if I showed you evidence that global catastrophe is a recurring phenomenon here on Earth, then we are getting closer to issues which concern people.

There is a resistance against working on these big problems which seem to us unrelated to our everyday lives. And this is largely why the astrophysicists and cosmologists are basically free to say whatever it is they wish: Because our inner narrative is that, whatever they have to say, we are not in any immediate danger. And that will basically seem to be true probably up until the moment that it isn’t.

First, I have to mention one word that will likely help your case: brevity. Second, I did ignore the linked book because frankly I’m not that interested, and also because I’ve kinda already written you off as a mild crank (sorry). Also, I mentioned the language of conspiracy theorists because some of your writing, as I read it, sounds similar to the breathless declarations of conspiracy theorists without regard to the thing they feel is a conspiracy. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and so on.
Finally, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Should a scientist or scientists come forward with reliable and accurate data that refutes the BB theory, then so be it. Until that happens, I’m happy where I stand.