Saturday, March 08, 2014

A boringly predictable universe

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the universe is how boringly predictable it is.

We keep making movies and writing novels about mysterious forces, super villains with super powers, aliens from distant planets; but in real life no little green martians ever appear. Everything turns out to be predictable, organised, and seems to follow some basic principles which, though hard to find, once grasped are easy to apply.

I'm not suggesting that there is nothing left to discover but that the discoveries turn out to be much less melodramatic than we might secretly be hoping for. There is always an explanation of how new discoveries fit in with existing knowledge, and there is always an element of order in how new phenomena are explained.

Even human behaviour, which appears very erratic on day to day basis is not as random as it seems. Laws of economics, insights of psychology, and statistics can tell us a lot about how people - in aggregate - will react to certain situations.

Now that we have a rover on Mars, pictures from the martian landscape are pretty routine. Once you get over the novelty factor, they are rather unremarkable - rock and dust and sunrises and night falls - just as you would expect.

So while the frontiers of science continue to expand, if we are looking for something truly unexpected we still need to look to fiction.

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