Sunday, February 03, 2019

Pseudoscience, physics, and what matters

Science at its best is gloriously counter-intuitive, resolutely anti-tribalist, splendidly oblivious to our opinions and our allegiances. It's a profoundly challenging discipline.

Not everyone wants that, so there will always be plenty of alternatives to genuine science available. But if the way we're talking about the Universe isn't transcending our preferences then we're missing the point.

This video is very useful if you don't feel sure. And if you do.

Here's the kind of physics I enjoy (starts at 9:40):

If you want to know about the fundamental nature of the universe, here's where the physics lives, and here's a great place to learn about it.

But seriously, if you're interested in physics that is beautiful, complex, transcendent and is guaranteed to have a huge impact on the rest of our lives – or even if you're not – perhaps what should matter most of all is that we're sharing a thin film of atmosphere on the surface of a tiny ball that we're rapidly pushing towards uninhabitability.

It's a crucial time right now for us to either face the physics of how climate systems work, or descend into fantasy and commit ourselves and our descendants to a deeply impoverished world. 

Here's a brilliant tour of how our planet's climate has changed over billions of years, as context for what is happening now.

The global climate crisis we are experiencing now is real, it is human-caused, it is serious, it is mitigable, and every major scientific organisation has been in astonishing agreement on this for a long time, among scientists of all political inclinations and all cultures in every region of the world. Not because they like to agree, but because scientific competence compels them to.

There's no ambiguity about what we need to do. We've just continually chosen not to do it.

It's understandable that some people deeply want to believe otherwise, and of course there are powerful individuals and institutions who are very well-placed to capitalise on that, often by tapping into our weakness for intuitive factoids and tribalism.

Science would go nowhere if there were no brave souls pushing against the mainstream, and we all love a charismatic outsider. But this leaves us with the task of figuring out how to distinguish between scientific dissent and scientific incompetence without fooling ourselves. Our future is going to depend on how well we do.

Good luck.