I have two important life goals. The first is to be happy. The second is to be effective. I don’t need to tell you what effective means because you know exactly what it means. You’re probably going to lose some of you smart-alecky retorts about productivity, but I’m not kidding. In order to be happy, you have to be effective. This isn’t a cop-out. It’s the way things are.
The reason I mention my goals is because I’m convinced that they’re at odds with each other. You have to choose which one you’re going to focus on. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t succeed at being effective and happy at the same time, and you have to make a choice. The choice is entirely up to you. You either want to be happy or you want to be effective. It’s that simple.
What Makes a Good Theory Of The Universe?
Theories are all well and good in their place. The trouble comes when you try to apply them to the real world. Then the whole thing falls apart. That’s why we have experiments. At least that’s my opinion. I like to think that the more we know about the universe, the more we can manipulate it to our advantage. We can make tools to study it. With those tools, we can see how things work and discover new truths about the way the world works. We can’t make any real-world predictions about what will happen because we don’t know enough yet. The only thing we can do is come up with theories and test them.
For example, let’s say we discover that gravity works differently in a vacuum than it does in an atmosphere. We theorize that a person falling off a cliff would freefall for a few seconds before hitting the ground, and then continue falling faster and faster until they’re ultimately pulled apart or killed. We wouldn’t be able to test this theory in real life because we can’t recreate this condition in a lab. We can only take a guess at what would happen if we dropped a heavy object on Mars.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got Einstein’s theory of relativity. Relativity states that gravity and time are inextricably linked. Even now, more than 100 years after its inception, it’s still the most popular theory in the world. It’s constantly being tested and proven right. We know a lot about the universe because of it. It’s given us the ability to travel to the stars and time-travel. It’s even had an indirect impact on everyday life through things like the space shuttle and GPS (Global Positioning System).
How Do You Know Which Theory is The Best One?
There are many valid theories which purport to explain the universe. Every one of them contains some truth and much myth. One of the first things you need to do in order to find the best one is to weed out all the myths. Theories are great when they are presented as an explanation for something, but they’re completely useless if they aren’t actually connected to what you’re trying to explain. This isn’t just a cop-out either. It comes from the very beginning.
In order to explain the evolution of life, Charles Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection. Natural selection states that organisms which are better suited to an environment will have more offspring than those which are not. Over time, this will cause the less fit individuals to be weeded out and the more fit ones to flourish. This is a great theory, but it’s also the most useless theory ever conceived. It’s not that Darwin was a lousy physicist. It’s that he never actually connected his theory to the mechanism which he claimed selected for the fitter organisms. We know this because, until very recently, genetics hadn’t been invented. Even then, people knew that genes didn’t necessarily determine traits and that there were other factors (such as environment) which influenced them. This is one of the many reasons why natural selection is still viewed as a “theory”; no one has ever actually been able to prove it.
The next step is to find the theory which best matches what you know about the universe. This can be hard to do because you don’t know much about the universe. This is why I say you need to start with what you know. Begin by taking a small step back and looking at what you can observe in plain sight. Next, take a bigger step back and look at what you can observe from a distance. Finally, take a third step back and look at what you can observe from space. This is where things get tricky because not all of your observations can be trusted. For example, let’s say your first theory is that dark matter is responsible for the missing mass in our galaxy. You make this observation by standing on a planetarium platform as the night turns into a glorious sunset and watching the sun rise over the horizon. From here, you see that the sun appears to be made up of multiple stars. You theorize that dark matter is responsible for the fact that what you see in the sky is not what you feel beneath your feet. This is a perfectly valid theory. It just happens to be completely useless to anyone trying to figure out how to make the earth a better place. The reason for this is that you cannot see the mass of a star from on earth.
Another great example of a theory which fails because it isn’t based on scientific fact is the Ptolemaic theory of the solar system. Ptolemaic theory states that the earth and all the planets revolve around the sun. This was a perfectly logical theory in the minds of the ancient Greeks. After all, they lived in a part of the world where the sun was the dominant force. It wasn’t until people started leaving trails in the sand that we know the Earth actually moves around the sun. This is why we have seasons and why the night is darker than the day during the day. Thanks to Ptolemaic theory, we now know that the Sun is the center of the solar system. Even then, it took scientists several thousand years to realize the truth.
All of this is to say that no matter what you want to explain, you need to start by asking yourself questions. What makes a good question? Anything which leads you down the right path. Anything which sheds new light on the subject. Anything which opens up new avenues for research. Questions are great because they can lead you to the answers you’re looking for. Without them, you’d be forced to wander around in the dark, groping for objects which resemble the answers you seek. This makes me wonder if all the theories in the universe are worth betting on. Maybe we should just do nothing and observe what happens. This seems like the most valid option. As my good friend Forrest Gump would say, “A girl can’t live on steak alone,” and I’d have to agree with him. We need more than one theory. We need a whole lot more. This is why we have the saying ‘knowledge is power.’ It’s also why I’m constantly in the process of expanding my own knowledge. Never stop learning. Never stop questioning. Never stop searching for the answers…