Uncommon Sense

February 4, 2023

Back Up, Maybe We Can Find Where We Made a Wrong Turn

I was reading a post on consciousness and ran across the following quotation:

Einstein claimed that when “the consistent use of traditional fundamental concepts leads us to paradoxes difficult to resolve […] it is necessary over and over again to engage in a critique of fundamental concepts, in order that we may not unconsciously be ruled by them.

I couldn’t find the source of that quotation but I found one that seems equivalent:

Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. Thus they come to be stamped as “necessities of thought,” “a priori givens,” etc. The path of scientific progress is often made impassable for a long time by such errors. Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend, and how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. Thus their excessive authority will be broken. They will be removed if they cannot be properly legitimated, corrected if their correlation with given things be far too superfluous, or replaced if a new system can be established that we prefer for whatever reason. A. Einstein, Phys. Zeitschr. 17, 101 (1916).

There are any number of places in current scientific thinking in which I think a fundamental reassessment of concepts we regard as “settled” should be reexamined. I offer a few of those that come to my mind.

Quantum Mechanics We use this theory very, very successfully but do not understand it. Maybe a fundamental reassessment of our understanding of quantum theory is in order. Maybe a “QM Year” could be designated to work on this problem, giving it emphasis it does not now have. (Remember the International Geophysical Year—1957-58? We were digesting the data from that effort for decades afterward.)

General Relativity GR seems incompatible with quantum theory. A theory of quantum gravity seems to be holding us back from a full understanding of the earliest stages of the Big Bang Theory, for example. Should these theories be compatible? If so, why aren’t they?

Space-Time According to relativity theory, gravity is a manifestation of masses interacting with space-time. Predictions made by this theory check out over and over and over. But some physicists argue that time isn’t real. And how did space, a reference frame for the positions of things become a physical thing itself? It has to be a “thing” to expand or contract and interact with physical objects like stars, planets, and moons, no? (We define things, aka matter, as having mass and occupying space, which is problematic if space is a thing.)

The Strong Nuclear Force This force was predicated upon atomic nuclei being collections of protons and neutrons in close proximity to one another in atomic nuclei, but the existence of mass defects argues that there isn’t enough mass in those nuclei to account for there being such a collection, unless you want to include fractions of protons or neutrons. Once the force was established, a mechanism was developed for it along the same pattern established for other forces. Is this the horizon we are looking at, or the edge of the rut we are in?

The Doppler Effect Between the Stars The original evidence for the universe expanding was provided by Edwin Hubble in 1929. He compared the distances to galaxies to their redshift and found a linear relationship. He interpreted the redshift as being caused by the receding velocity of the galaxies, aka the Doppler Effect. Later Hubble himself gave up on that interpretation, it being too problematic. We are still interpreting the redshifts of stars with their distances and using that data as evidence of an expanding universe. How a reference frame used to describe positions in space could expand has not yet been explained.

Consciousness It seems every “consciousness researcher” defines consciousness differently. Is there any reason for the surprise that we do not yet understand it?

Do you have any favorite topics you think the fundamental underpinnings of which need to be re-examined?



  1. I can give you a list.

    Free speech
    Contemporary educational systems

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by grouchyfarmer — February 4, 2023 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

  2. We still have a major problem (identified by the late Vera Rubin) in that stars in all galaxies rotate at very close to the same speed, no matter what their distance is from the center of the galaxy. Either we don’t understand gravity and the inverse-square law (which would be a major problem in physics) or there is some sort of dark matter — which all of our attempts have so far failed to detect. Dr Rubin, shortly before she became incapacitated, told me that she considered this a completely open question.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by gfbrandenburg — February 4, 2023 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

    • I thing dark energy (causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate) and dark matter (keeping matter from flying apart) are both placeholders for other things because they make no sense at all.


      Comment by Steve Ruis — February 5, 2023 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  3. I’m not qualified to comment very deeply on any of these topics. But that’s not going to stop me from commenting on time.

    In a universe where all remains the same, I could see time in a sense non existant, or at least immaterial.

    Our universe though, everything we can observe, stars, galaxies, planets, and even life itself, everything we are a part of, has an observable lifetime. A lifetime no matter how short or how long, would seem to indicate that time istelf is a something. Whether we know how to accuately measure it or not.

    Also, Hubble might have had reservations about the Doppler Effect, but that has not kept it from being relevant in astronomy. This piece does give mention to the rotational phenomenon you brought up.



    Comment by shelldigger — February 6, 2023 @ 9:03 pm | Reply

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