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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Its not just "Faster Than Light..."

A while back I posted "Faster Than Light" about the supposed discovery of particles (neutrinos) that traveled faster than light.  In that article I pointed out how the laws of science, while powerful, may not be "complete" in the sense that they explain everything: Newton's laws of physics were subsumed by Einstein's because Einstein had more of a knowledge base to work with.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman shows yet another example of how mathematical models of the physical world do not explain everything completely.

In April 1982 while Shechtman was working at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Washington he combined molten aluminum and manganese and rapidly chilled them.  Examining the result with X-ray diffraction yielded a 5-fold structure (like pentagons).

Normally crystals are made up of atoms arranged in neat, orderly rows and columns.

Traditionally crystals are described by straightforward mathematics (see this in Wikipedia).  The Miller Index describes various orientations and alignments with a simple, three valued notation.

As you can see in the above image all the arrangements are based on cubic structures with various planes and angles withing these cubes determining how the atoms in the crystals are aligned.

Quasicrystals, on the other hand, look much differently.

Here there are no regular cubic arrangements or corresponding planes and angles.  Mathematicians do not yet understand how these structures are organized.

Traditional crystal structures have been known since the 19th century and physical chemists have used X-ray diffraction to examine crystals since the 20th century.

Yet here is a new structure - unpredicted and unknown to science until 1982.

The compounds which caused the original discovery had been around for centuries.  Aluminum was "discovered" in 1808 by Sir Humphy Davis.  Manganese has been known since ancient times and was used commercially in glass making in the 1700's.

Certainly one would imagine that somebody would have figured this out - either physically or mathematically.

But they didn't.

And that's really the point of this post.

The world of science does not offer any sort of "completeness."  It merely provides a systematic or mathematical framework for describing data.  If you don't know about something than there is a priori no data for that thing.

When Newton created his physical laws the theory of electromagnetism was unknown - hence he could not include it in his thinking.

As of today there is no mathematical theory for quasicrystals.

Which means that anything made up of them may have properties which we cannot yet predict in science even though they exist.

Shechtman and his discovery was initially ridiculed by his peers.

"Didn't he know the standard dogma?" they inquired.

"Please re-read your college chemistry text book," they said.

Thirty years later he has a Nobel Prize.

To me science does not have an open mind.

Why?  Because its populated with men and women who's job is to "do" established science.  For example, writing books on the structure of crystals, study how the structure of crystals can be used to make better products, and so on.

And a "day to day" job is much less stressful if it follows standard "dogma."

Its much harder to do your job when the scientific "rug" on which your work stands is pulled out from under you.  (Imagine you are hired to study crystals in LED manufacturing, for example.  You might make statements like "I have studied all the crystalline properties of X and I conclude Y."  But if there are now new crystalline properties of X you didn't know about your work has less validity than it did.)

Yet, as I pointed out in "Faster Than Light" we know that, for mathematics, we an never prove the truth of all the statements mathematics can make; and we humans made mathematics up in the first place.  Mathematics does not require anything to physically exist for us to use it - unlike chemistry.

Science today is a crutch for hammering down unpleasant facts and data that do not correspond with existing dogma.

Science is becoming more and more of a political tools for controlling discovery.

Imagine if you had discovered a simple elixir made up of quasicrystals that has some positive effect on a disease.

Imagine clearing a product made of something science does not recognize through the FDA.

Imagine if the product actually worked...

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