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Et tu, Brian

I’ve lived as long as it takes Uranus to complete one of its revolutions around the sun. Its run is equal to eighty-four of mine.  When I was an infant, Uranus was known as the seventh planet from the sun in the solar system within our galaxy, then thought to be the universe.

In 1927, the year of my birth, Georges Lemaitre proposed the Big Bang theory.  Hubble elevated the theory of ‘island universes’ to the reality of multiple galaxies.  Einstein had proved that space and time are not absolute.  Despite his somewhat rattling discovery of a fourth dimension and the prospect of a universe that came out of ‘nothing,’ classic science was at its peak.  Modern cosmology was born.

When, in my birth-year, the Copenhagen convention convened with the principles of ‘uncertainty’ and ‘complimentarity,’ classic science was severely jolted.  The universe below the atomic level was found to differ radically from the macrocosmic world.  When physicists probed as deep into the microcosmic world as cosmologists had probed into the cosmos, it became increasingly clear that there is an incompatible conceptual split between Classical and Quantum Physics-at least, for now, perhaps forever.

Even so, the macrocosmic and sub-atomic domains, each in their own way, are well within the parameters of valid scientific disciplines. However, by the time Uranus and I were almost halfway around our respective orbs, many scientists proposed ‘theories’ that resembled flights of fancy rather than plausible hypotheses.  That trend is growing  exponentially.

During the final lap of my journey with Uranus, I’ve found myself skipping article after article in issue after issue of Discover magazine, now packed with speculative cosmology that has no chance of being proved-ever.

In the June, 2011 edition of Discover magazine, there is an excerpt from Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality, apparently a plug for his latest book.  As I read it, I heard echoes of Plato’s ‘ideal abstract forms.’  Referring to a host of ‘unknowable realities,’ Greene writes:

With its hegemony diminished, universe has given way to other terms that capture the wider canvas on which the totality of reality may be painted. Parallel worlds of parallel universes or multiple universes or alternative universes or the metaverse, megaverse or multiverse-they’re all synonymous, and they’re all among the words used to embrace not just our universe but a spectrum of others that may be out there.

He legitimizes those concepts by enlisting the established major developments in thermo dynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, and black hole research as portals to a hidden reality of which the universe is a ‘holographic movie.’ His premise appears to be generated by the theories about black holes posited by the physicists, Beckenstein and Hawking.  He synthesizes the proposed hidden realities as ‘Holographic Parallel Universes.‘

Plato’s cosmic description and a holographic universe share the same fatal flaw: they are abstractions that by definition can never be proved, i.e., they are ‘unknowable.’ Making no distinction between valid hypotheses and pure speculation is not science.

Because of my exceptional respect for Brian Greene, brilliant author of The Elegant Universe, I should mention that the excerpt quoted above refers to trends in current cosmology and does not necessarily mirror his own cosmological concepts.  Not having read all of The Hidden Reality, I’ve cited the promotional magazine article only because it contains so many of today’s typical buzz concepts whirling around in popular cosmology. So far, what I’ve read in The Hidden Reality is not ambivalent.  Long before reading the Discover magazine article, I intended to protest the ubiquitous blurring of speculation with scientific hypotheses. Counterintuitive hypotheses are meaningless when it’s impossible to ever prove them.

Having briefly described the theory of black holes posited by Beckenstein and Hawking, Greene goes on to say:

 If this line of reasoning [about black holes] is correct… Holographic Parallel Universes…would be as connected as me and my shadow.

His Platonic allusion is exalted prose, but speculation is not a substitute for vision.  I am not a hologram-neither is the universe.

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