СодержаниеScience → Часть 1

“I see where you’re going with this, ” I said. “You’re an atheist. You think science has the answers and you think religious people are all delusional. ”

“Let’s talk about science for a moment, ” he replied.

I was relieved. I liked science. It was my favorite subject in school. Religion made me uncomfortable. It’s better not to think too much about religion, but science was made for thinking. It was based on facts.

“Do you know a lot about science? ” I asked.

“Almost nothing, ” he said.

I figured this would be a short conversation, and it was just as well because my lunch hour was running out.

“Consider magnets, ” the old man said. “If you hold two magnets near each other, they are attracted. Yet there is nothing material connecting them. ”

“Yes there is, ” I corrected. “There’s a magnetic field. You can see it when you do that experiment with the metal shavings on a piece of paper. You hold a magnet under the paper and the shavings all organize along magnetic lines. That’s the magnetic field. ”

“So you have a word for it. It’s a ‘field, ’ you say. But you can’t get a handful of this thing for which you have a name. You can’t fill a container with a magnetic field and take it with you. You can’t cut it in pieces. You can’t block its power. ”

“You can’t block it? I didn’t know that. ”

“You can alter a magnetic field by adding other magnetic material, but there is no non-magnetic material you can put between two magnets to block them. This ‘field’ of yours is strange stuff. We can see its effect, and we can invent a name for it, but it doesn’t exist in any physical form. How can something that doesn’t exist in physical form have influence over the things that do? ”

“Maybe it has physical form but it’s small and we can’t see it. That’s possible. Maybe there are tiny magnetrons or something, ” I said, making up a word.

“Consider gravity, ” the old man continued, oblivious to my creative answer. “Gravity is also an unseen force that cannot be blocked by any object. It reaches across the entire universe and connects all things, yet it has no physical form. ”

“I think Einstein said it was the warping of space-time by massive objects, ” I said, dredging up a memory of a magazine article I read years ago.

“Indeed, Einstein did say that. And what does that mean? ”

“It means that space is bent, so when objects seem to be attracted to each other, it’s just that they’re traveling in the shortest direction through bent space. ”

“Can you imagine bent space? ” he asked.

“No, but just because I can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it’s not true. You can’t argue with Einstein. ”

He looked away. I figured he was either annoyed at my answer or just resting. It turned out he was pausing to gather energy. He drew a breath into his tiny lungs and began.

“Scientists often invent words to fill the holes in their understanding. These words are meant as conveniences until real understanding can be found. Sometimes understanding comes and the temporary words can be replaced with words that have more meaning. More often, however, the patch words will take on a life of their own and no one will remember that they were only intended to be placeholders.

“For example, some physicists describe gravity in terms of ten dimensions all curled up. But those aren’t real words—just placeholders, used to refer to parts of abstract equations. Even if the equations someday prove useful, it would say nothing about the existence of other dimensions. Words such as dimension and field and infinity are nothing more than conveniences for mathematicians and scientists. They are not descriptions of reality, yet we accept them as such because everyone is sure someone else knows what the words mean. ”

I listened. Rocking, mildly stunned.

“Have you heard of string theory? ” he asked.

“Sort of. ”

“String theory says that all of physical reality—from gravity to magnetism to light—can be explained in one grand theory that involves tiny, string-shaped, vibrating objects. String theory has produced no useful results. It has never been proven by experiment, yet thousands of physicists are dedicating their careers to it on the faith that it smells right. ”

“Maybe it is right. ” It seemed like my turn to say something.

“Every generation of humans believed it had all the answers it needed, except for a few mysteries they assumed would be solved at any moment. And they all believed their ancestors were simplistic and deluded. What are the odds that you are the first generation of humans who will understand reality? ”

“I don’t think the odds are bad. Everything has to happen for a first time. You were around to see computers invented and to see space travel. Maybe we’ll be the first for this string theory. ”

“Computers and rocket ships are examples of inventions, not of understanding, ” he said. “All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It’s an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no ‘why’ in those examples. We don’t understand why electricity travels. We don’t know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns. ”


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