Category: philosophy

Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.

Niels Bohr

Carl Jung

Ask Ethan: How Sure Are We That The Universe Is 13.8 Billion Years Old?

“Lord Kelvin estimated the age of the Sun between 20 and 40 million years because his model didn’t (couldn’t) include quantum mechanics and relativity. How probable is it we’re doing a similar mistake when looking at the universe at large?”

For all of human history, the biggest questions have fascinated us. Where did the Universe come from? How old is it? And what is its ultimate fate? Once relegated to the realm of theologians, poets, and philosophers, science has brought us closer than ever to the answers. But scientific revolutions have occurred before, in many cases significantly changing the answers to these and other inquiries. How certain are we that this won’t happen again? When it comes to the question of the age of the Universe, presently estimated at 13.8 billion years, there are many uncertainties that could come into play. Dark energy could evolve over time, fundamental constants might not be constant, or today’s fundamental particles might be broken up into smaller components. Additionally, we could have flaws in the expansion rate or composition of our Universe, or even alter General Relativity.

But it really looks like 13.8 billion years is safe, to within perhaps 2% at most. How can we be so confident? Find out on this week’s Ask Ethan!

“If one is a research worker, one mustn’t believe in anything too strongly; one must always be prepared that various beliefs one has had for a long time may be overthrown.”

Paul Dirac, quoted in The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, p. 376. Graham Farmelo, Basic Books, 2009.

“Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.”

The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell,  Bertrand Russell

A previous post updated 🙂

“It is usual to call an inference ‘inductive’ if it passes from singular statements (sometimes also called ‘particular’ statements), such as accounts of the results of observations or experiments, to universal statements, such as hypotheses or theories.
Now it is far from obvious, from a logical point of view, that we are justified in inferring universal statements from singular ones, no matter how numerous; for any conclusion drawn in this way may always turn out to be false: no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.”

Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery