Why Do We Keep Surprising Ourselves?

Why Do We Keep Surprising Ourselves?

We seem to have a smugness problem that is as old as mankind.  Once we discover a new fact of science our past naiveté on the subject perfectly demonstrates persistent limited thinking and then we do it again.  And again.

The earth was flat, we were the center of the universe, new discoveries, expanded truths and finally we know it all.  Most would say we don’t know it all and I suppose that was a blanket statement but even people who realize there are so many new things to be learned sometimes make statements that make no sense to me.

I read an article the other day and wish I had saved it, in which an ‘expert’ said that scientists accepted the premise that nothing can ever travel faster than the speed of light.  My immediate thought was how could anyone be so smug in that belief?  You would think that the debunking of past beliefs would be proof enough that we can never declare absolutes, we can only state that ‘at this time we believe’.

http://www.Sciencedaily.com posted this today:

“This result comes as a complete surprise,” said OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern.

” The OPERA result is based on the observation of over 15000 neutrino events measured at Gran Sasso, and appears to indicate that the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit.”

My point is not that we should be surprised, my point is that we should expect to be surprised.

These thoughts were inspired by Bob Vardeman’s blog at http://robertvardeman.wordpress.com

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24 thoughts on “Why Do We Keep Surprising Ourselves?”

  1. I loved that story and you’re so right – why would a scientist be so daft as to proclaim something absolute and final when so many have been proved so wrong before? I believe every time a scientist proclaims something is impossible the universe goes off and manifests something on purpose just to prove him wrong!!

  2. Your title says it all, Chris! Good work putting this together. It is so true…what absolutes of any significance have not been proven otherwise. And I think we’ll be seeing a whole bunch more of this… Thanks for a great post.

  3. ” The OPERA result is based on the observation of over 15000 neutrino events measured at Gran Sasso, and appears to indicate that the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit.”

    ….. huh? OMG I am such an idiot…. I have no earthly clue what any of this means….. I recognized SPEED LIMIT and that was about it…… I really need to start reading something other than Entertainment Weekly….. 🙂

  4. I’d like to know what we are going to do with this new discovery. Is it going to change the world, will it bring peace? Is it going to feed the srtarving people? If not ..then why bother! I do not need to know….

  5. I like to go back to Arthur Koestler’s book, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe where he points our scientists are too rational, they must behave like sleepwalkers. The scientists/astronomers in the case of AK’s book, that made truly great discoveries did not fully understand what they had uncovered and it’s only later…posthumously the pieces come together, only to yield to other discoveries. The big picture is not for us to fully comprehend, just marvel at and in its journey.

  6. Just so happens, as it so often does in blogworld, that I read an article on this just minutes before hopping here. What I like about this story is that the folks at CERN are asking, begging that other scientists replicate and validate the experiment as soon as possible. That is what I love about the scientific method and the core integrity of science (if not, always, every single scientist every time, since narcissism knows no boundaries). There’s a rigor that we’d do well to sip from in our own pedestrian thinking: “This could be wrong. It could be a fluke, an error. It’s an isolated piece of data until it joins enough other pieces to be taken seriously. And it’s just so freakin’ COOL!”

    You gotta love that part.

  7. Oh i read that too somewhere and my first reaction was not surprise but I really am having trouble caring about that right at the moment as i juggled seventeen things and the pot boiled over. And I love that you read stuff then bring it to me for more reading thank you c

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