Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.

2.12.2008

Dark matter, dark energy...now dark fluid!

For those who may be unaware of my deep and abiding love for advanced physics, please note that you may want to skip this post. I'm gonna ramble for awhile about science geekery.

"The highest form of Human Excellence is to question oneself and others."
- Socrates

I suck at chemistry. I have taken exactly one chem class in my life, and it was the ONLY topic in my entire life that I ever spent more than a few cursory minutes studying. I crammed for chemistry. I reviewed equations and proofs and read chapters over and over. I ran through practice questions until I was certain I knew exactly how things worked. And then I would try balancing a chemical equation, check my answer, and realize that I was fucking clueless. I thought I understood what I was doing, and I was wrong.

I was forced to admit that chemistry is beyond me. I don't know why. It shouldn't be; chemistry is about substances and forces that exist in nature and follow natural law, which is painstakingly bound by specific laws and rules - and yet I just don't get them.

Physics, on the other hand, is completely instinctive to me. I took physics class after physics class, and half the time didn't even crack a book. For some reason, I just intuitively understand physics. Physics makes sense to me intrinsically. I truly believe that someday, scientists will discover a Unifying Theory of Everything that ties all our understanding of the universe - string theory, chaos theory, gravity, relativity, space-time, matter and energy and how they interact, alternate dimensions - into one neatly wrapped package that will enable us to change the way we move through the universe.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think it's going to be some Magic Dust-fueled portal into another dimension from whence cometh all sin (a la The Golden Compass), or anything. I'm just saying we might be able to try intergalactic space travel, or possibly teleportation, or something cool like that.

Anyway. What sparked this little tangent today was this article, talking about the idea of "dark fluid" as a replacement and/or unifier for the dark matter and dark energy that physicists have hypothesized to explain certain features of the landscape of the universe. Fascinating!

First, I love how similar this is to the idea of light acting as both a wave and a particle. I really enjoy when aspects of the universe refuse to be bound by our definitions of them. (Hell, I live my life dedicated to that principle.) I also find it really cool that scientists have put together two of the mysteries of modern physics - dark matter that we assume somehow exists based on our observations of gravitational fields and which apparently makes up most of the mass of the universe (despite our not being able to see it or interact with it - it's kinda like God in that way); and dark energy, that thing we think is somehow speeding up the expansion of the universe and in fact makes up the majority of the energy contained in the universe (even though - again - we can't actually see it or interact with it: still like God!).

In that "the wise man knows that he knows nothing," the (obviously Socratic) philosopher in me adores the fact that we so readily acknowledge that we have no explanation or observation for most of the mass and energy of the universe. This is another area of science where the volume of what we don't know so greatly exceeds what we do, that there are still untouched shores to explore - still vast tracts of understanding waiting, untapped, for us to discover - still so fucking MUCH to learn. That is exciting.

I like the concept of dark fluid more than the individual components, not only because obviously it seems to fit more elegantly with the previously observed data, but also because it makes fewer assumptions about the nature of what we don't yet understand. We don't know what is behind the data we've observed. We don't know if there are two things behind the unexplained phenomena, or two hundred, and at this point, there's no way to figure that out. So, rather than create an equation with a determined number of variables, we simplify to the elegance of just one. Brilliant.

1 comment:

YKhan said...

Hi Tari, was googling "dark fluid" and came across your blog. Don't worry, I wasn't googling that particular combination of words because I needed to get some disgusting stains out of my bathroom floor (HAR!!), I am a fan of the new Dark Fluid physics theory too. I always found Dark Matter to be a lazy theory, since it basically creates a complete class of matter which magically doesn't interact with any other kind of matter except through gravitation attraction. Also this Dark Matter was magically too spread out to affect the motion of the planets around the stars, but quite active against the stars within the galaxies. Too many magic properties to be a valid theory. My feeling for a while has been that the universe we live in, is basically a big ocean -- literally, albeit not with water. All of the galaxies and galaxy clusters are just islands and shoals pockmarking the smooth fluid. And the extra invisible presence of dark matter always reminded me of how submerged parts of islands still affect the current flow of the water around islands even though they can't be seen so easily from above the water level. Scientists have been avoiding calling space a substance because they think it reminds them of an old defunct physics theory called the Theory of Aether, which was supposedly disproven when Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity. Einstein himself never thought of it that way, he said his theory was a simple way to make calculations without thinking of the Aether, but it doesn't mean that the Aether doesn't exist. The Aether does exist, and now it's called Dark Fluid.