I already knew many of the facts presented by physicist Brian Greene. Such as:
-- Matter is mostly empty space. Take out the space, and Greene said that the mass of the Empire State Building would condense to the size of a super-heavy grain of rice.
-- Space isn't really empty. It is seething with activity at the quantum level. Particles are continually flashing in and out of existence.
-- TIme and space are intimately intertwined, so much so we can call them space-time. This is shown by the speed of light, which always is constant no matter how a source of light is moving. Meaning, time and space adjust so the speed of light remains unaltered.
-- While Newton considered space to be the solid stage on which events in the universe play out, Einstein showed that space is an ever-changing "rubbery" fabric.
-- In relativity theory, gravity is distended space. The moon orbits the Earth because it is trapped in a "bowl" of warped space-time, kind of like a ball in a roulette wheel spinning around.
-- Space is filled with dark energy that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate (the more it expands, the more space there is, and thus more dark energy). No one knows what dark energy is, but whatever it is, 70% of the universe is it.
One fact, among many, that I didn't know was that a lengthy expensive satellite experiment, Gravity Probe B, recently confirmed Einstein's contention that space-time not only is stretched, but also twisted.
I also wasn't aware that the search for a theorized Higgs boson (which gives mass to particles) involves knocking a tiny chunk out of space-time with a high-energy particle accelerator. Somehow that seemed way cool to me, the way Brian Greene described it.
Watching a recording of "What is Space?" with my wife last night, I was awestruck at how the underpinnings of the universe are so unlike our everyday understanding of reality. The show stretched my imagination in somewhat the same way as a massive object stretches space: mind-bendingly.
You want mystery? Science has it. You want wonder? Science has it. You want infinity? Science has it. You want an ultimate reality far beyond current human understanding? Science has it.
You want definite answers to what the cosmos is all about? Well, science doesn't have it.
For that, embrace religious dogma. It won't be true, almost certainly, but you'll get the illusion of certainty -- which is what most people are after.
I suspect that the talk about an unseen, unknown all-pervading dark energy on "What is Space?" will cause quite a few New Age'y types to proclaim that science has discovered spirit. Not exactly. In fact, not even close.
Physicist Lisa Randall offers up a general explanation of why this is so in her new book, "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Here's some excerpts:
Some critics [of science] go even further, asserting that although scientists can predict a great deal, the reliability of those predictions is invariably suspect. Skeptics insist, notwithstanding scientific evidence, that there could always be a catch or a loophole. Perhaps people could come back from the dead or at the very least enter a portal into the Middle Ages or into Middle earth. These doubters simply don't trust the claims of science that a thing is definitely impossible.
However, despite the wisdom of keeping an open mind and recognizing that new discoveries await, a deep fallacy is buried in this logic. The problem becomes clear when we dissect the meaning of such statements as those above and, in particular, apply the notion of scale. These questions ignore the fact that although there will always exist unexplored distance or energy ranges where the laws of physics might change, we know the laws of physics on human scales extremely well. We have had ample opportunity to test these laws over the centuries.
...When scientists say we know something we mean only that we have certain ideas and theories whose predictions have been well tested over a certain range of distances or energies. These ideas and theories are not necessarily the eternal laws for the ages or the most fundamental of physical laws...Weird things are possible, but the ones non-physicists are understandably most interested in are the ones we can observe.
...Despite this neat separation by distances, people too often take shortcuts when trying to understand difficult science and the world. And that can easily lead to an overzealous application of theories... Today such misguided extrapolations are more likely to be made about quantum mechanics -- as people try to apply it on macroscopic scales where its consequences usually average away and leave no measurable signatures.
...Quantum mechanics has nothing to do with many of the tantalizing ideas people often attribute to it. I cannot affect an experiment by staring at it, quantum mechanics does not mean there are no reliable predictions, and most measurements are constrained by practical limitations and not by the uncertainty principle.