170: Wrong! On the Joys of Discovery, Holes and Incompleteness.

This post was inspired by a recent article in the New York Times, “A Black Hole Mystery Wrapped in a Firewall Paradox.

The article starts with “This time, they say, Einstein might really be wrong” and goes on to discuss recent calculations about blackholes that indicate that there might be a hole in our understanding of reality. Einstein might not be wrong, but something is a bit off or incomplete that becomes apparent when dealing with crazy intensity of a black hole.

“I was a yo-yo on this,” said one of the more prolific authors in the field, Leonard Susskind of Stanford. He paused and added, “I haven’t changed my mind in a few months now.”

So much for the perception that scientists are rigid thinkers, this is one of several quotes from scientists marveling in what they don’t know and how confusing it all is. I’ve never met Leonard Susskind, though I hope to carve out the time to hang out with his Theoretical Minimum course materials. The impression I get from him and other scientists is confusion yes, but also delight. There is a hole in our understanding! Things don’t add up and that gives us something to explore! Just when we thought we had it all figured out we found out there are more spaces for discovery.

I should add, most of physics is still ok. Newtonian physics aren’t a complete picture, but it’s very handy for dealing with most of the stuff that happens on earth. “Wrong” these days in physics seems to mean, amazingly close, but we keep discovering even weirder stuff so we have to keep looking, rather than “Oh no! Heavy objects do fall faster than light objects!” kind of wrongness.