Saturday, November 08, 2008

More on why dark matter matters

As I continue to reflect on Dr. P's lecture, there are several questions and considerations I still want to discuss.  One in particular is WHY? I feel very removed from dark matter--I cannot perceive it in my daily existence--and I don't know what bearing, if any, proving or disproving its existence has on my life.  I feel little compulsion to know more.  What justifications might scientists like Dr. P have for a project that seems so purely "knowledge for knowledge's sake?" Is it mere curiosity? Is it a matter of ethics? Of faith? 

9 comments:

alm said...

I was thinking of posting this very same question since that is exactly what was going through my mind during the presentation. I thought that Mr. P was very passionate during the presentation, and that had a large effect on my perception of dark matter. However, towards the end of it when he was describing the phenomenal costs that go into researching dark matter I was a little put off. We are currently a nation with astronomical debts and many programs which require money. It seems to me that the millions of dollars being spent on dark matter research could be put to better use in our education system or finding means of alternate energy.

I don't mean to offend all of the amazing scientists who are dedicating their time to this cause, but honestly what benefit does it bring? I guess I am looking at this from a purely logical viewpoint and ignoring emotion completely. If it is simply knowledge for knowledge's sake then our pursuit of it is emotionally driven (the want to understand something) and has no real purpose beyond that.

If anyone does know the benefits of dark matter research please let me know, I am extremely curious to find out!

Erin said...

Exactly! What makes the enormous volume of technology involved more than really, really expensive pollution? Clearly intelligent people have deemed dark matter worthy of immense effort and money, so I assume concrete justification exist. I would also be interested to learn about the benefits/ implications of dark matter research.

Spencer_JB_to_the_Don said...

Precisely! I perceived that 90% of the audience had the impression of "hey those are some cool colors." They had absolutely NO CONNECTION to the actual subject that was being addressed. It's such a foreign subject to most people that some inherently find it simply uninteresting.

Taylor G. said...

Well, I would venture to claim that lack of personal relevance does not indicate lack of universal significance. Just because we didn't know about it earlier doesn't mean it wasn't important, and visa versa. So I'm guessing the question is *why* we need to know about dark matter. My answer is that we don't need to know, but we *want* to.

Natural curiosity is, in my mind, the cornerstone for human cultural and intellectual development. Without it, don't we all become atheist existentialists? If we don't need to understand anything because ultimately it does not matter, then many aspects of life are useless. It is essential as humans to define our environments and limitations. And besides, the more we know about dark matter, the more we know about the universe, and no matter how detached we are, aren't we still part of it?

There's a limit to knowledge, but that limit doesn't exist unless we find knowledge not worth knowing.

I don't mean to be cryptic, but that's my take on it. Cheers.

Dr. Polhemus said...

Dark matter research has no practical application. There may be technological spin-offs, and understanding dark matter will help us understand other aspects of our universe, like the origin of matter and the nature of the Big Bang. None of this is going to make your life better unless you find it interesting. Then this stuff is great.

I find it very interesting, but I am sympathetic towards those who do not. I personally do not find sports interesting, and am somewhat shocked by how much money we spend on sports (not just through voluntary spending, like ticket sales, but also through tax dollars). We could use that money for far more practical endeavors.

Most of us spend some of our money on practical needs, and some of it on stuff that is fun. Rather than debating whether we should spend money on basic research (or stadiums), I think it is better to discuss how much we should spend. What percentage of tax dollars do you think should be spent on research? What percentage on sports, arts, parks or other things that are purely for enjoyment with little practical use?

Is there any way that scientists can make their discoveries worth more? Do you like talks about black holes? Would you read a book about the origin of the universe, or a watch a TV show? Do you look up any of this stuff on the internet? Scientists really want to know.

firefeather said...

I have to agree with Erin, that sometimes its hard to understand the purpose of attempting to know more about our universe. But now that i'm thinking about it, its just another area of knowledge...just like any other subject. Doesn't that mean that we need to learn as much as we can about it? Even if it isn't particularly relevant right now, its possible that anything we learn could bring about an extremely important breakthrough in another area. Maybe its a little extreme to think that dark matter can help us in medicine, but it effects us as a planet, and anything we want to do in space.

If you think about a quote that Dr. Polhemus made, about 95% of our universe missing (i think that was it) it seems very crucial. Maybe not to us, but then again we're so incredibly tiny in the big picture.

whitepanda said...

I think that taylor g. hit it right on the spot...saying that we shouldn't spend so many resources (time, money, effort in general) on dark matter because there seems to be no purpose seems similar to saying that we shouldnt' study English or Art because it doesn't seem to bring a bigger purpose than what a nice story/painting. Analyzing/researching art/english will sure enhance my life but why can't dark matter do that? (as indicated by Dr. P). Who cares if Raskolnikov is effected by his society...in the end we walk out of English class and are faced with new challenges/things for our brains to process. And for me personally, I find the emphasis on English as a core subject to be interesting (hopefully Mrs. Hunt isn't reading this...). I understand that we must learn how to write to communicate with our fellow humans, but there is no greater purpose (in terms of how everyone is defining this)in parsing words or analysing the occurence of a comma for meaning. I don't think that because of this, English and research in this area should be completely abolished, like abolishing research in dark matter simply because there seems to be no greater purpose. This, however, is not a good paralell to dark matter (since research in dark matter is infinitely more expensive, but because of this, I think that massive amounts of research should wait until we can afford it...perhaps Europe with its Heydron Collider). One more thing: I think that Dr. P makes a great point about how sports are seemingly completely useless, which they are, but a lot more people pay attention to sports than dark matter, which should be taken into consideration while pondering the meaning of dark matter vs the meaning of other seemingly fruitless endeavors.

Erin said...

I beg to differ on the subject of English. As the product of the human mind, literature addresses some of the most significant questions and and realities of the human condition. Its study broadens our awareness of our immediate existence and of some of the most pressing issues of our world. What could be more relevant. These are my justifications for English. Having little knowledge of dark matter (or much of physics at all) I don't presume to establish or deny the worth of its study. I'm more interested in understanding why its enthusiasts do care. I am beginning to understand some of the fascination though. It appears that there is a certain element of personal relevance, in that we exist in the midst of it all. I suppose in that respect it's more like English and literature than I had thought.

A-Dog said...

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I don't think dark matter particularly matters. I think it is absolutely fantastic that we can explore the theory and gain immense knowledge about our universe, yet, in the grand scheme of things, I don't see how it can really affect life overall. I know that this opinion is largely a product of my strong religious background though. I believe that there is more than just life on earth. Thus, I don't see how knowing everything about our universe now will be at all significant once we are dead and gone. I've always believed that our life in this universe is only a tiny tiny fraction of life overall, and so I've come to think that it's rather insignificant. That's not to say that I think people should just throw their life away and not come to understand where we live, who we are, etc., I just mean that in the grand scheme of things, theories such as dark matter only affect that tiny tiny fraction of our lives and therefore don't particularly matter. Honestly, I think that if the world is about to end as a result of not knowing about dark matter, then so be it. After all, I think that there's much more waiting for us and knowing everything about life now won't do us much good. Yet, on the other hand, I can see how knowing about our universe and things such as dark matter can improve technology and improve the state of life in general, so I find it to be quite fascinating and very beneficial to humanity now while we live in this universe.