Could All Our Scientific Knowledge Come Tumbling Down Like A House Of Cards?
“Now, think about what would be required to do today to tear down one of our leading scientific theories. It’s not as complicated as you might imagine: all it would take is a single observation of any phenomenon that contradicted the Big Bang’s predictions. Within the context of General Relativity, if you could find a theoretical consequence of the Big Bang that didn’t match up with our observations, we’d truly be in store for a revolution.
But here’s the important part: that won’t mean that everything about the Big Bang is wrong. General Relativity didn’t mean everything about Newtonian gravity was wrong; it simply exposed the limit of where and how Newtonian gravity was successful. It will still be accurate to describe the Universe as having originated from a hot, dense, expanding state; it will still be accurate to describe our observable Universe as being many billions of years old (but not infinite in age); it will still be accurate to talk about the first stars and galaxies, the first neutral atoms, and the first stable atomic nuclei.”
There are a great many people out there who absolutely cannot wait for the day where one of our greatest scientific theories is demonstrated to be wrong. Where an experiment or observation comes in that cannot be reconciled with our leading ideas of how the Universe works. At last, perhaps an unintuitive part of our existence, like relativity or quantum mechanics, might be replaced with something that’s a closer approximation of our actual reality. But that won’t invalidate what we already know; it will merely extend it.
Scientific revolutions aren’t what most people think, but they are going to come, eventually. Here’s what the revolution will actually look like.
How To Overthrow A Scientific Theory In Three Easy Steps
“As science becomes a more developed, evidence-rich enterprise, it becomes a more herculean task to create a single theory that explains the full suite of data. Yet that’s exactly what the most successful theories do. No matter how successful an idea has been in the past, all it takes is one inconsistent observation to throw the whole thing into doubt. Our greatest scientific theories of today will most likely all fall in the future as new and superior evidence is gathered.
Massive neutrinos are a hint of physics beyond the Standard Model; the black hole information paradox is a hint of gravity beyond General Relativity; the fact that sexual reproduction exists is undeniable, but how it arose is still unknown. These puzzles, and many others, may serve as harbingers of a monumental scientific advance. Until then, we can only speculate at the frontiers of science, in our attempts to take these three massive steps towards a better understanding of the Universe.”
In practice, coming up with a new scientific theory that’s better than the best ones we have today is a monumental task. It’s an achievement that very few scientists ever succeed at. And yet, once you recognize the successes and failures of the prevailing theory under question, your new theory needs to only take the following three steps to get there:
1.) Reproduce all the successes of the pre-existing theory.
2.) Solve a problem that the pre-existing theory couldn’t.
3.) Make a new, testable prediction that differs from the pre-existing theory’s prediction.
That’s it! Get there, and you’ll have crafted a new, superior scientific theory. Here’s how it’s happened, and where it might happen again. (Hopefully, soon!)