From _The Science Gap: Dispelling the Myths and Understanding the Reality of Science_, by
From _The Science Gap: Dispelling the Myths and Understanding the Reality of
Science_, by Dr. Milton A. Rothman (former professor of physics at Trenton
State College and former research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics
If you suggest that stories about faster-than-light travel to distant stars are
pure fantasy, their stock answer is: "Everything we thought we knew in the past
has been overturned, so how do we know the theories of today will not be
replaced by different theories in the future?"
According to the idea that theories are but temporary abstractions, the
principle of relativity now in fashion will undoubtedly turn out to be wrong in
the future. Somehow a way will be found to get around the part of the theory
that says you can't travel faster than light. Look at history.
Heavier-than-air flight was once believed to be impossible. See how silly
those unbelievers turned out to be. Therefore, scientists are just as wrong
when they say that faster-than-light travel is impossible. Although argument-
by-analogy is indefensible in any kind of science, I have heard this kind of
logic proposed by some well-known science fiction writers whose reputations are
based on writing "hard science."
. . .
What makes this argument invalid is the fact that it is based upon a myth. The
idea that all theories are temporary is simply not true, even though it is
believed by a great many people. The reason is, as we have shown, that we do
know some things for a certainty.
Even though the history of science is filled with examples of scientists
changing their minds about the nature of things, does it necessarily follow
that they will continue to change their minds about all presently accepted
ideas? The truth is that many of the theories of the past were primitive,
tentative, and either incorrect or incomplete. When they changed, they changed
to theories that were more correct and more complete. This change took place
because as laboratory techniques improved, experimental evidence got better.
. . .
Some historians and philosophers of science try to claim that scientific
knowledge is nothing more than the consensus of the scientific community.
According to this notion, scientists need only change their consensus and
knowledge changes accordingly.
. . .
In the physical sciences the consensus theory of knowledge simply does not
take the facts into account. Much of the conventional wisdom of nineteenth-
century physics consisted of a variety of conjectures believed to be true by a
number of scientists and accepted on faith by others without close examination.
It did not conform to our present standards of "knowledge." . . . To reduce
scientific knowledge to "consensus" ignores the contribution of empirical
evidence--evidence based on observation.
From p. 117, after a long chapter on why we cannot expect to find new forces in
nature to help us make anti-gravity and the like:
The conclusion to which we are forced--unsatisfactory as it might be to
many--is that we cannot depend on the discovery of new and radically different
kinds of forces in the future to help us go faster than light, to hold vehicles
suspended in midair, to make objects move by directing thoughts at them, or to
transmit messages telepathically. We must make do with the forces that exist.
And finally, from p. 235-6:
Here is a review of some of the predictions we have made in this book:
. . .
* Nobody is going to travel the distant stars at speeds faster than that
of light. (Principle of relativity; Poincare' symmetry)
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