Quantum Mechanics: wrong! General Relativity: wrong! The standard model of particle physics: wrong, wrong, wrong.

All physics (actually, science in general) is wrong—to some extent. And scientists know about it, too! Here’s the thing: science has to be wrong. Because it doesn’t find The Truth, instead it explains what we see around us as well as possible.

Even when we have an explanation for what we see, there might be a better one we missed.

Newton thought gravity was a force between objects with mass. That’s pretty much right. Enough to get you to the Moon at least. He never thought of mass warping spacetime. But he also never saw gravity bending light (which has no mass), or affect the passing of time. Einstein, with his General Relativity explained everything, including these things, which he never even observed!

You can describe the motion of all planets, perfectly, keeping Earth at the center. It’s just very complicated and more wrong than Newton’s gravity. credit: wikimedia

Indeed, a good theory must predict new stuff, stuff we haven’t seen. Before Newton, people described the motion of stars and planets as circles moving around circles, around circles. Whenever something didn’t fit, they’d add a circle. It perfectly described, everything we could see, but couldn’t predict anything new. Newton’s laws told astronomers where to find a new planet: Neptune.

Whenever a prediction turns out wrong, scientists find out a new way to explain the new facts, then move to new prediction, and the cycle restarts.

Soner or later, something will come along and prove General Relativity wrong. Personally, I think dark matter (an invisible, untouchable substance that just has to be there) will be the next battleground. Challengers are stepping up.

What our universe is made of (according to current theories): 95% is “dark” stuff (a fancy way to say we have no clue what it is). credit:nasa.gov

Just like Relativity, all other theories will eventually fall. No theory is perfect, but each newly-accepted one is better than the last. At any time in history (well, at least since we’ve had the scientific method at least), scientific facts were the best explanations of the world. Ever. And that’s still true now.

It’s good to keep an open mind, but also to keep in mind why facts are considered facts. If you open your mind too much, you risk your brain falling out.

If you want more
  • You can literally write books on all the stuff we don’t know. Jorge Cham did.
  • A detailed explanation of what works and what doesn’t around dark matter on PBS Spacetime:


Cover photo: Facepalm, CC-BY Brandon Grasley/flickr

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