The big dilemma at the heart of modern science

If you had to answer this question: “Among Science, religion and politics, which has contributed most to human advancement in the past 1,000 years?” Many people in the western world (including me, most likely, including you too) would readily answer- Science! And we would all be right. Science has been responsible for a great percentage of human progress. Science has given us vaccines and drugs to combat diseases that were once incurable. Science has given us the knowledge for developing technology to make our work easier. Technology again with the backing of science has given us tools to travel more easily over vast distances.

modern scienceScience has helped us solve many problems. It has equally given us the confidence that we can solve whatever problems remain unsolved. As a race, we have come to strongly believe in science and the potential it holds. In short, science is perfect!

Hang on, did I just say science is perfect? Wrong! Science isn’t. At the heart of this efficient system lies a very significant inconsistency. Here’s the inconsistency; The two pillars that uphold modern science do not agree. We shall explain shortly.

Albert Einstein- heard that name before? Of course you have. Einstein’s name is synonymous with genius and that is because he totally revolutionized the classic scientific views about concepts like space and time. He also came up with some really amazing theories of his own. One of those theories is general relativity. General relativity is one of the two major pillars of science that we mentioned earlier. It basically describes how mass interacts with space-time. This theory was accurately able to describe the motion of black holes, planets, stars, and other massive and dense bodies in the universe.

Let’s leave Einstein for a while and talk about a field in physics called quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics describes the universe at the infinitesimally small level. Know what an atom is? Now divide an atom into say a million pieces. There, you’ve arrived at the quantum mechanical scale. Strange things happen here. Quantum mechanics was so weird that Einstein described it as “Spooky action at distance”. Strange as it is however, it perfectly describes matter at the infinitesimal level and has helped to fill in some particles in the standard model.

Perfect! You would say. A theory for the very large scale and one for the very small scale. But here’s exactly where the problem arises. When the equations of quantum mechanics and general relativity are combined together. They result in infinity. And infinity is an ugly answer in math. It means something is not right.

There you have the dilemma. The two theories at the heart of science do not agree. We do not have a unified theory that perfectly describes the universe we live in. String theory, M-theory and others are efforts to help develop a quantum gravitational theory to describe our world accurately. However for now, we will have to be content with the imperfection of science while enjoying the goods it has brought us.

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