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Comment Dated Apr 26, 2010


INTERPRETING IS BELIEVING


"When the fundamental concepts are false, technological progress merely provides science with a more efficient means for going backwards."
     -- Wallace Thornhill

"It is not ignorance that menaces scientific advancement, but the illusion of knowledge."
     -- Daniel Boorstin

The last half century has seen some magnificent achievements in the field of space engineering and instrumentation. Not least among the resultant benefits has been the acquisition of data concerning the nature and structure of the cosmos that was unimaginable only a short time ago. Scientific theories, however, depend on the interpretation of data, and it seems to me that much of today's generally accepted science of cosmology and astronomy has failed to keep pace with the quality of the engineering. On the contrary, through its insistence on gravity as the dominant influence in forming and shaping the universe, it remains tied to assumptions that trace back to the mechanical sciences of the eighteenth century. Since then, an enormous amount has been learned about the vastly more powerful and complex forces of electromagnetism, from which our whole world of electrical engineering and electronics is a result. Over 99% of the observed universe exists in the form of "plasma"--a gas-ike state of matter consisting all or in part of charged particles that respond to electrical and magnetic forces. Yet theories that attempt to explain the workings of the cosmos take little or no account of them.

Gravity is the weakest force known to physics. A tiny magnet can snap a nail up effortlessly against the gravitational pull of the entire Earth. If the Sun were reduced to the size of a dust grain, the next nearest star would be about four miles away. On the same scale, the galaxy would be a disk 100,000 miles across made up of 200 billion specks of dust, all miles apart. Present theory looks to a force spread this diffusely to account for events, often of colossal violence and energies, taking place not only in our galaxy but also across all the other countless galaxies scattered over immensely greater distances.

The law of gravitation that emerged from the work of Newton and his predecessors works well enough to describe the motions of bodies in our own Solar System at the present time. Its success was so great that early astronomers were confident that they had discovered principles that could be extended indefinitely and universally. But when attempts were made to explain such recent observations as the way galaxies as a whole rotate, or structures and behavior at the largest scales of existence, the amount of matter in the universe--and hence the gravitational effects that it was capable of producing--turned out to be woefully inadequate. But the commitment to a gravity-based model had become so ingrained that the response, instead of a willingness to re-examine the theory, was to postulate the presence of invisible "dark matter" to make up the difference--now extended to the notion of "dark energy" to account for enormous forces evidently at work that the observed amount of matter can't account for. Things have now reached the bizarre stage where no less than 96% of the universe has to be there in forms unseen in order to explain the behavior of the 4% that is seen.

Inventing unobservables to explain away failed predictions is usually the sign of a theory that's in trouble. An alternative paradigm known as the Electric Universe model is emerging that recognizes the vital role played by electricity, and is able to interpret, and in many cases predict, cosmological phenomena in terms of principles that are well understood and can be demonstrated in electrical and plasma laboratories. It deals purely in tangibles and the universe that we see, without recourse to any of the speculative abstractions that the conventional model has been forced to resort to when new observations failed to match expectations, or were never anticipated in the first place. My own prediction would be that the decades ahead will see a virtual revolution in this area of science, which is already long past overdue.