Albert Einstein died 57 years ago today. Einstein revisionism has swept America more than once in the past eighty years, but one thing has always been certain: His greatest genius was his ability to throw out old assumptions that get in the way of progress.
Today he would be amused and amazed to see that his "new" assumptions of a century ago have become dogma, protected by the scientific establishment with the same ferocity as the Vatican in its opposition to contraception. Now it is his assumptions that stand in the way of progress in modern physics. Without a post-Einsteinian revolution in modern physics, we will continue to see it decay into a corpse that has the disadvantages of religion its advantages.
Problems with Relativity
The problems are the twin toxins of dark matter and string theory. Each, in its own way, stains and defiles every rational basis for scientific inquiry. I start with dark matter because the scientifically religious belief in this non-existent substance is based in a problem with Einstein's general theory of relativity, which he published in 1916. We will also see parallels between ether and dark matter, both of which cause(d) problems for the rigorous scientist.
Dark Matter and Religious Science
Dark matter is a theoretical construct created for the purpose of explaining a defect in the predictions of general relativity without having to say, hey, Einstei's theory doesn't work after all! In modern physics Einstein is God and disputing him is heresy; few have the guts to do it, especially if grant money is on the line.
General relativity makes a prediction that does not come close to matching our observations. This is ironic because it was originally accepted because it matched early observations so well (such as with the solar eclipse of 1919). Observation and computation tell us that all the matter in the universe combined accounts for only one percent of all the gravity that is observed. Matter causes gravity, so if there is more gravity than expected, there must be more matter than expected, right?
So goes the reasoning of the largest part of the scientific establishment, but the logical flaw is obvious: it might well be our calculations the equations we use that are flawed. This is not mere speculation; there is good reason to suspect it.
Galaxies and Super-Galaxies
Einstein created general relativity at a time when the Milky Way was the only known galaxy. In solving problems of gravity in the universe, his primary concern was with the gravitational effects of stars. Galaxies, however, are composed of milllions and even billions of star systems. The combined gravitational effects of these super-huge constructs cannot be computed by the equations of special relativity, although physicists have been making the attempt for several decades.
Why do we know the gravitational effects cannot be computed at this time? Because the computed results is a mismatch with observation by a factor of 100 to 1.
The physics establishment's failure to deal with this problem threatens to make modern physics as irrelevant as religion in making scientific progress. This sounds like an extreme claim, but when we examine the definitions of science and of religion, it is shocking to see how much the boundaries have blurred, at least in cosmological physics.
Requirements of Science
The goal of the Reformation and the Age of Reason was to replace superstitious thinking with confirmable understanding. Religious leaders made unsupportable claims that were expected to be taken on faith. These claims often resulted in widespread suffering among followers. Science was created for the purpose of establishing realms of knowledge and understanding firmly based in physical reality, as opposed to the seemingly unknowable spiritual realms.
To accomplish this, a method evolved over several centuries that lay out these requirements (among others):
Einstein's Rejected Assumptions
To be accepted as true, a hypothesis must make predictions that can be objectively measured and shown by independent observers to be correct or incorrect.
The method of observation of measurement must be a documented procedure that can be replicated by others, and when so done, reliably produces the same results.
When the predictions of a hypothesis do not match observation, either the observations were made incorrectly, or the hypothesis is invalid and must be modified or discarded.
When he postulated his special theory of relativity in 1905, Einstein dealt head-on with one of the big mistakes of the physics establishment in the nineteenth century: ether. Few scientists of the day were willing to concede that light could pass through the vacuum of deep space without some kind of medium to conduct it. They called this medium ether. Although they were certain ether existed, no one was ever able to prove it.
And oh, did they try. The later efforts were magnificent meticulous and precise, as were the magnitude of the failures.
Light was the primary subject of Einstein's study in at least three of the five major papers he wrote in 1905. He dealt with ether in a summary fashion by saying that if its effects could not be measured or experienced at any level, it was safe to assume it did not exist at all. Perhaps it does he exist, he said, but if its effects are not measurable, it is functionally the same as if they are not true at all. Such thinking was revolutionary and dangerous, largely because it was uncertain. Science is best when it disproves, and ether was not disproven, only unproven.. Observational evidence would be required to prove him right.
Einstein then accepted a controversial theory, postulated by mathematician James Clark Maxwell, that said the speed of light remained constant regardless of the movement of the frame of reference. This was also considered revolutionary by the physics establishment, but within a few years of publishing his special theory of relativity, Einstein was honored worldwide for the insights gained therein.
Parallels to Dark Matter
When we consider the history of ether and of the utility of its rejection, it is stunning to realize that theories of dark matter travel on the same trajectory. It remains for a new genius to come along and say imagine that dark matter does not exist. What are the implications?
This process has already begun. Scientists well enough established that they can take risks, are looking for ways to modify or overthrow Einstein's general theory of relativity. They acknowledge that his predictions about gravity do not match observations that were unavailable a century ago.
Religious Science, Dark Matter, and String Theory
I coined the term religious science to refer to so-called scientific theories that stray from the rigorous requirements of the scientific method. Because they are unattached to observational confirmation, they must be taken on faith, hence are religious. I do not mean this as a judgement or criticism, but as an observation of method.
Since today's essay is mean to honor Einstein, I will not go into the details of string theory. I merely consider string theory to be another example of religious science, because it offers no predictions or ability to establish observational confirmation. String theory is mathematical masturbation. Hence it was and probably always will be a matter of faith, not science.
Nothing I have discussed herein should be construed as a sign that I think I personally have the ability to fill in the gaps left by the shortcomings of Einstein's theories. I have no such ability. All I have is the benefit of a full century of astronomical observation that was unavailable to him; and the insights of experienced, knowledgeable physicists who are grappling with the science. I once thought my destiny was to be a scientist, but at the age of twenty I learned the trick of science, and turned my gaze to other directions. Not a day goes by without my questioning that decision, but it stands.