How long until 'Peak Science'?

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How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby sociotard » Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:30 am UTC

How long until we reach "Peak Science"?

Think of the analogy to peak oil, and parallels start to pop out.

Oil is supposed to get harder and harder to drill for (read: more and more expensive)? Just look at physics. A few hundred years ago a great mind could make huge contributions with nothing but a little telescope they made themselves at home. (expensive, but not out of the range of the well-to-do.) Look at the tab for today's equipment designed to push the envelope. The LHC is $10.3 billion so far. How about the IceCube Neutrino Telescope? $271 million. The only 'cheap' thing pushing the boundary in any of the more mature sciences AFAIK is computer simulation.

We expect the quality of oil to go down. The sweet crude is gone, so whats left requires a lot of processing. Likewise, look at our modern journals. "In 2005, John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina in Greece examined the 45 most prominent studies published since 1990 in the top medical journals and found that about one-third of them were ultimately refuted. If one were to look at all medical studies, it would be more like two-thirds, he says. And for some kinds of leading-edge studies, like those linking a disease to a specific gene, wrongness infects 90 percent or more." link. So we're still producing good science, but it's heavy crude mixed with a bunch of junk we have to filter out.

Then there are things that, I suspect, we just can't seem to get a handle on, like climate, weather, cognition, economics, or any of the social sciences. We'll get a few useful barrels out of these shale oil deposits, but it'll likely not be enough to satisfy our wants or needs. For example, I knew a guy who lived near the Great Lakes. He was no climate change denier (and neither am I), and he wanted to know what kind of trees to plant. He found manymanymany studies showing that yes, the climate was changing. But where were the useful forecasts? Eventually he found two. One said the area would be a desert, the other said it would get more boggy. Wow. Thanks science.

So, science advancement will either start to be prohibitively expensive or hit problems that tiny human brains just aren't equipped for. What do you think?

Anyway, that's my take. Science is advancing into areas that are either so hard to get to that funding will become impossible or areas so complex and nuanced that human beings will never be able to really understand or predict.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby ++$_ » Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:47 am UTC

We actually have a really good understanding of weather. That doesn't mean we can predict the weather 8 days from now, because that requires too much data. But we know why weather works the way it does. So in a sense it's true that we have exhausted most of the easy questions about weather, but that's good. That's what science is supposed to do.

If you're looking at the studies published in major journals, you need to compare against studies published in major journals in the past (say, 1900). I don't know if they ended up being refuted 1/3 to 2/3 of the time, but I suspect they did.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby sociotard » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:20 am UTC

Weather science is terrible. Beyond two days out it is a joke. Even at one day out it isn't very good.

Stations get their precipitation predictions correct about 85 percent of the time one day out and decline to about 73 percent seven days out.

On the surface, that would not seem too bad. But consider that if a meteorologist always predicted that it would never rain, they would be right 86.3 percent of the time. So if a viewer was looking for more certainty than just assuming it will not rain, a successful meteorologist would have to be better than 86.3 percent. Three of the forecasters were about 87 percent at one day out — a hair over the threshold for success. link
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby ++$_ » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:29 am UTC

What I'm saying is that there's a difference between the science of weather and predicting weather. We know an awful lot about influenza, but that doesn't mean that a virologist can go into a room and predict who is going to come down with influenza in the next week, just by looking around.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Carnildo » Thu Mar 22, 2012 7:45 am UTC

sociotard wrote:On the surface, that would not seem too bad. But consider that if a meteorologist always predicted that it would never rain, they would be right 86.3 percent of the time.

If the meteorologist was in Seattle at the time, they'd be far less accurate.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby mfb » Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:11 pm UTC

sociotard wrote:But consider that if a meteorologist always predicted that it would never rain, they would be right 86.3 percent of the time.

And he would do worse than other meteorologists. Because the prediction "it will rain tomorrow" is much stronger than "it will not rain", if you happen to live in an area where it rains only on 13.7% of the days (where does this number come from by the way?).


Science output is still increasing - and it is likely that this trend will continue for a while. The scientists just tend to get more and more specialized in some areas and the research often requires better equipment. Well, that is the natural way: Do the easy stuff first, and when you can handle this, use the easy stuff to explore new areas. The LHC uses many parts and techniques developed in the last 10 years. It was just impossible to build it with this quality 20 years ago.
Unlike oil, sciencific knowledge is not a limited resource (or we are so far away from the limits that they are not recognizable yet). There might be some point in the future where a theory of everything is known, but this still leaves the possibility to explore the behavior of complex systems. Quantum field theory is not really useful for biology, even if every part of any living object follows the rules of physics.


Considering economics: I think that our knowledge is much better now than it was n years before. But at the same time, the economic system became more complex. I think this is not by chance, but a direct consequence of the better knowledge...
The weather and climate predictions are tricky, but they are getting better too.
Cognition: Well, that is a really tricky question (and still there is some progress here and there)
Social science: I won't comment that.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby sociotard » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:14 pm UTC

mfb wrote: The scientists just tend to get more and more specialized in some areas and the research often requires better equipment. Well, that is the natural way: Do the easy stuff first, and when you can handle this, use the easy stuff to explore new areas. The LHC uses many parts and techniques developed in the last 10 years. It was just impossible to build it with this quality 20 years ago.
That's part of my point. As the quest for knowledge continues, the cost of necessary equipment goes up. Eventually, a given field (perhaps physics or astronomy) will need a piece of equipment to move forward, and that piece will be too costly to build, and then that field will stagnate.

I do not claim that science will stagnate because we learned everything! I claim that it will stagnate for one of two reasons:
A) Tiny ape brains of finite lifespan cannot comprehend the answers, and maybe can't even ask the right questions
B) The cost of the next experiment will exceed ability/willingness of civilization to pay for it.

See the highly entertaining blog "Too hard for science" for some examples.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby ahammel » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:26 pm UTC

sociotard wrote:Oil is supposed to get harder and harder to drill for (read: more and more expensive)? Just look at physics. A few hundred years ago a great mind could make huge contributions with nothing but a little telescope they made themselves at home. (expensive, but not out of the range of the well-to-do.) Look at the tab for today's equipment designed to push the envelope. The LHC is $10.3 billion so far. How about the IceCube Neutrino Telescope? $271 million. The only 'cheap' thing pushing the boundary in any of the more mature sciences AFAIK is computer simulation.

I think these are cherry-picked examples. I would be surprised if science in general was getting more expensive. Biological data is getting cheaper at ridiculous rate, for example. Large scale sequencing now costs about half of what it did twelve months ago.

Large-scale experimental physics is expensive, but when last I heard there was still lots of interesting math to work out. All that costs is a grad student and a laptop.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:39 pm UTC

mfb wrote:There might be some point in the future where a theory of everything is known, but this still leaves the possibility to explore the behavior of complex systems. Quantum field theory is not really useful for biology, even if every part of any living object follows the rules of physics.
Yeah, I predict that science will be done when we have a theory of everything to about the same extent that mathematics were done when the axioms of ZF(C) set theory were first formulated rigorously.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:43 pm UTC

sociotard wrote:Weather science is terrible. Beyond two days out it is a joke. Even at one day out it isn't very good.


It seems most likely that this comes down to the fact that the weather is a chaotic system and the instruments used to measure the relevant variables are pretty crap (e.g. I believe that many of the weather stations used by the met office have a mercury/ethanol in glass thermometer read by a human to determine the temperature (admittedly, they have 3 in different orientations and the average is taken, but that's still going to have fairly large errors)).

Maritime forecasts (even the outlook) is generally pretty damn accurate. They're issued every morning (so must actually be made the night before) and predict the weather that day and the day after and they almost always seem to get the wind speed, direction, which way it will change and even when right most of the time.

...

On to the main point. Philosophically, whilst the universe must function according to some laws, I do not believe any human will ever know that fundamental theory. All science will ever give us is a better and better approximation in more and more cases.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Mar 22, 2012 7:10 pm UTC

Harder scientific questions typically lead to more fundamental answers. It's not always the case, but a lot of the science expected from projects like the LHC are expected to have major applications down the line.

Also, I seriously doubt that the rate of refuted studies now is significantly, if at all, higher than it has been in the past. And much of the time, studies that ultimately turn out to be wrong or faulty still prove to be useful in better understanding the phenomena or field being examined.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Sockmonkey » Thu Mar 22, 2012 9:07 pm UTC

The advancement of science also gives us better tools and often makes them cheaper and more widely available. This is especially true of computers.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Thu Mar 22, 2012 9:51 pm UTC

Your analogy is flawed- 'peak oil' happens because oil is scarce. Ideas are not scarce in the same way.

That being said, quality output in physics may well be declining- but thats not because of 'peak science' but because since the end of the cold-war we've stopped doing as much science. What is this generation's bell labs? A generation ago, the normal path for a physicist was to get the phd, then move into industrial science or a tenure track research position. NOW, the normal path for a physicist is to get a phd, spend a year or two in a postdoc and then leave science entirely to work for a bank, insurance company, or in management consulting. If we aren't utilizing our trained scientists to do science/if we aren't creating actual jobs in science, it should be no surprise that the quality of our scientific output suffers.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Dark Avorian » Thu Mar 22, 2012 10:16 pm UTC

Arguably, if we were to study everything to a degree of rigor that we'd reached peak science, we'd have created a meta-structure worthy of study in and of itself.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby WarDaft » Fri Mar 23, 2012 12:34 am UTC

Dark Avorian wrote:Arguably, if we were to study everything to a degree of rigor that we'd reached peak science, we'd have created a meta-structure worthy of study in and of itself.


I think it's called Philosophy of Science.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Username4242 » Fri Mar 23, 2012 2:44 am UTC

As a wildlife biologist and ecologist, I can say... we've got a long while, if such a thing is possible in systems as stochastic, dynamic, and complex as ours.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby sociotard » Fri Mar 23, 2012 2:34 pm UTC

Dark Avorian wrote:Arguably, if we were to study everything to a degree of rigor that we'd reached peak science, we'd have created a meta-structure worthy of study in and of itself.
Ah, Scientometrics.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Angua » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:07 pm UTC

I had an argument with someone (unsurprisingly a physicist) who said that physics was the only true science because they were now taking a bottom-up approach, and that everything in biology and physiology was merely 'labeling animals in a zoo' and that unless you have a mathematical formula to tell you stuff, you don't have science. I kind of got the idea that he had no clue about how physiologists and biologists spend time working out the mechanistics behind their systems and how everything fits together.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby qetzal » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:22 pm UTC

High-energy physics, and it's dependence on enormously expensive equipment, is an outlier. Most scientific fields aren't like that. Even in physics, look at such fundamental, revolutionary discoveries as transitors, superconductors, buckyballs, nanomaterials, etc. Sure, they all required special equipment, some of which was expensive, but nothing on a scale like LHC.

Furthermore, things that start off extremely expensive and difficult to produce always get cheaper, enabling much new science even without building the next enormous thing. (DNA sequencing was already mentioned as an excellent example.)

IMO, the only reason we'd be likely to see "Peak Science" over the next few 100K years is if there's a substantial decline in human civilization (or simply outright extinction).
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby qetzal » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:25 pm UTC

Angua wrote:I had an argument with someone (unsurprisingly a physicist) who said that physics was the only true science because they were now taking a bottom-up approach, and that everything in biology and physiology was merely 'labeling animals in a zoo' and that unless you have a mathematical formula to tell you stuff, you don't have science. I kind of got the idea that he had no clue about how physiologists and biologists spend time working out the mechanistics behind their systems and how everything fits together.


Sounds to me more like he was just trolling.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Angua » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:26 pm UTC

No, I know him, and he really wasn't.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:05 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:High-energy physics, and it's dependence on enormously expensive equipment, is an outlier. Most scientific fields aren't like that. Even in physics, look at such fundamental, revolutionary discoveries as transitors, superconductors, buckyballs, nanomaterials, etc. Sure, they all required special equipment, some of which was expensive, but nothing on a scale like LHC.


A lot of technology used in computers depends on the results of early advanced particle physics experiments. Predecessors to modern particle physics such as the LHC.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:14 pm UTC

Angua wrote:I had an argument with someone (unsurprisingly a physicist) who said that physics was the only true science because they were now taking a bottom-up approach, and that everything in biology and physiology was merely 'labeling animals in a zoo' and that unless you have a mathematical formula to tell you stuff, you don't have science. I kind of got the idea that he had no clue about how physiologists and biologists spend time working out the mechanistics behind their systems and how everything fits together.


He might have been referencing Bertrand Russel's quote about how "all science is either physics or stamp collecting". And, to a certain extent, he does have a point. In general physics does tend to be more quantitative and really, without quantitative predictions it's hard to judge the relative merits of two theories. Of course, there's now a growing area of biology (I forgot its name) which is devoted to trying to be more quantitative (and is apparently quite a common destination for physics postgrads).
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby ahammel » Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:27 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
Angua wrote:I had an argument with someone (unsurprisingly a physicist) who said that physics was the only true science because they were now taking a bottom-up approach, and that everything in biology and physiology was merely 'labeling animals in a zoo' and that unless you have a mathematical formula to tell you stuff, you don't have science. I kind of got the idea that he had no clue about how physiologists and biologists spend time working out the mechanistics behind their systems and how everything fits together.


He might have been referencing Bertrand Russel's quote about how "all science is either physics or stamp collecting".

Bertrand Russell certainly said some silly things, but that wasn't one of them. It was Ernest Rutherford.
And, to a certain extent, he does have a point. In general physics does tend to be more quantitative and really, without quantitative predictions it's hard to judge the relative merits of two theories. Of course, there's now a growing area of biology (I forgot its name) which is devoted to trying to be more quantitative (and is apparently quite a common destination for physics postgrads).

It's called biology. We're expected to make testable predictions too, guys. We don't just sit around smoking pot and thinking up Latinate names for organisms.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Dthen » Fri Mar 23, 2012 5:25 pm UTC

sociotard wrote:On the surface, that would not seem too bad. But consider that if a meteorologist always predicted that it would never rain, they would be right 86.3 percent of the time.

Not where I live, sadly.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Mar 23, 2012 11:14 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:
Angua wrote:I had an argument with someone (unsurprisingly a physicist) who said that physics was the only true science because they were now taking a bottom-up approach, and that everything in biology and physiology was merely 'labeling animals in a zoo' and that unless you have a mathematical formula to tell you stuff, you don't have science. I kind of got the idea that he had no clue about how physiologists and biologists spend time working out the mechanistics behind their systems and how everything fits together.


He might have been referencing Bertrand Russel's quote about how "all science is either physics or stamp collecting".

Bertrand Russell certainly said some silly things, but that wasn't one of them. It was Ernest Rutherford.


*facepalm* thanks.

ahammel wrote:
And, to a certain extent, he does have a point. In general physics does tend to be more quantitative and really, without quantitative predictions it's hard to judge the relative merits of two theories. Of course, there's now a growing area of biology (I forgot its name) which is devoted to trying to be more quantitative (and is apparently quite a common destination for physics postgrads).

It's called biology. We're expected to make testable predictions too, guys. We don't just sit around smoking pot and thinking up Latinate names for organisms.


Touché.

There was a specific name for it though. I think it was something like "soft systems" or something along those lines.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby ahammel » Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:11 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Touché.

There was a specific name for it though. I think it was something like "soft systems" or something along those lines.

You mean systems biology? That's not so much an attempt to be more qualitative as it is about studying the properties large, interacting networks of biological stuff (usually genes, sometimes neurons). So instead of figuring out how $gene works, you figure out how $gene_regulatory_network works. Which is all well and good (it's what I do), but you should probably stop listening if the systems biologist starts using words like "paradigm", "emergence", or—God help us—"holistic". I didn't know that physicists are particularly attracted to that field, but that makes sense: it's usually a bit more mathematical and amenable to computer simulation than other biology subdisciplines.

Biophysics is also a thing, but that's not so much a field as a collection of things a physicist might do if she accidentally wandered into the biology department and was awarded a postdoc fellowship.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Dopefish » Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:29 am UTC

ahammel wrote:Biophysics is also a thing, but that's not so much a field as a collection of things a physicist might do if she accidentally wandered into the biology department and was awarded a postdoc fellowship.


All the biophysicists I know are pretty big on running simulations, and figuring out how cells react to being poked by different forces. I was actually at a biophysics seminar last week* which was fairly digestable considering I know essentially 0 biology, so that description seems about right.

*=I didn't realise it at first as I was just told there was a physics seminar and there was free pizza, but I knew something was up since there was more females there then in the whole physics department (>5), as the bio folks attended as well. :P
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Mar 24, 2012 7:59 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Philosophically, whilst the universe must function according to some laws,

While I believe that to be the case, I don't think that it can be proven.

eSOANEM wrote:I do not believe any human will ever know that fundamental theory. All science will ever give us is a better and better approximation in more and more cases.

Perhaps there are aspects of the universe that will forever remain beyond the grasp of science because they aren't amenable to finitistic modeling. But even if we do achieve the True Fundamental Theory of the universe, that won't be the end of science. Deriving stuff totally from first principles becomes computationally unfeasible for any decent sized complex systems. So we use higher-order theories to be able to derive useful approximations, and to study real-world complex systems we generally need to use many layers of higher-order theories.

Even in the exceedingly simple universe of Conway's Life, it gets really hard to predict the ultimate behaviour of systems with quite modest starting states. For example, if the twin prime conjecture (that there are an infinite number of twin primes) is false, then Dean Hickerson's Twin prime calculator, which has an initial bounding box of 440×294, will eventually stop shooting out lightweight spaceships. So until the twin prime conjecture is resolved we can't predict the ultimate fate of this pattern. Of course, this is a contrived example, but it is tiny compared to some of the patterns that have been built in Life. And the rules of Conway's Life are much simpler than the rules of particle physics.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby eSOANEM » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:07 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Touché.

There was a specific name for it though. I think it was something like "soft systems" or something along those lines.

You mean systems biology? That's not so much an attempt to be more qualitative as it is about studying the properties large, interacting networks of biological stuff (usually genes, sometimes neurons). So instead of figuring out how $gene works, you figure out how $gene_regulatory_network works. Which is all well and good (it's what I do), but you should probably stop listening if the systems biologist starts using words like "paradigm", "emergence", or—God help us—"holistic". I didn't know that physicists are particularly attracted to that field, but that makes sense: it's usually a bit more mathematical and amenable to computer simulation than other biology subdisciplines.

Biophysics is also a thing, but that's not so much a field as a collection of things a physicist might do if she accidentally wandered into the biology department and was awarded a postdoc fellowship.


Yeah, that's it. I only really heard about because this student (going on to do his PhD) was trying to explain to us (a group of potential physics undergrads) what his PhD was going to be in. The way he described it sounded very much as if it was bringing maths to biology but he may have been jokingly playing to our prejudices.

PM 2Ring wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Philosophically, whilst the universe must function according to some laws,

While I believe that to be the case, I don't think that it can be proven.

eSOANEM wrote:I do not believe any human will ever know that fundamental theory. All science will ever give us is a better and better approximation in more and more cases.

Perhaps there are aspects of the universe that will forever remain beyond the grasp of science because they aren't amenable to finitistic modeling. But even if we do achieve the True Fundamental Theory of the universe, that won't be the end of science. Deriving stuff totally from first principles becomes computationally unfeasible for any decent sized complex systems. So we use higher-order theories to be able to derive useful approximations, and to study real-world complex systems we generally need to use many layers of higher-order theories.


Agreed on both accounts.

My main argument for the first would be that if the universe doesn't function according to any laws it does a damn good job of looking like it does.

For the second, well, that's just my opinion, it would seem too easy if we eventually found the ultimate theory of everything (although, as you say, that still wouldn't be the end of science).
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby mfb » Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:01 am UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Philosophically, whilst the universe must function according to some laws,

While I believe that to be the case, I don't think that it can be proven.

Well, this is a question of definition. How complex are these laws allowed to be? The worst law just includes everything which ever happened anywhere - in that case, the "law" is basically a perfect description of the universe. Or, in other words, the universe itself could be considered the law. It is right by definition, it cannot predict anything, therefore you cannot call it a theory.

If you get a smaller set of rules, you cannot prove that these rules are right without observing everything in the universe at all times. Otherwise, you cannot rule out that the universe behaves according to your rules except in the year 2435422351455 after the Big Bang, in star 356387124 in galaxy 675357532, where one particle might just disappear and violate these laws.
However, you can try to test these rules in as many ways as possible. If you cannot find any deviation and tried really hard, you can claim that it looks like these rules can predict the result of (all?) experiments. Science, as it is written in books :D.


>> High-energy physics, and it's dependence on enormously expensive equipment, is an outlier.
And even there, no "peak science" is in view. The TeV-scale machines are so expensive and complex that only one or two of them are operational at the same time, but at the same time these machines produce so much data to analyse that an accelerator is not a single experiment, but a machine where thousands of scientists can perform their experiments.
And we should not forget all the "low-energy" experiments, for example at the SPS or the planned FAIR facility.

Fusion research has a similar structure, with ITER as the most expensive experiment.
And some parts of space exploration and astronomy are really expensive, too.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby deep9 » Sun Apr 01, 2012 9:44 am UTC

Peak science, if it exists, is far over the horizon. Here’s why.

It costs less ad less for electronic circuits to do more and more, so it gets cheaper and cheaper to do science. And it is not just getting cheaper, the amount to do is enlarging.

Our species is made of Byronic matter, and so are our research tools. 4% of the universe is made of Byronic matter, leaving 96% of the universe we just discovered in the last decade. Our knowledge here will expand just as our knowledge of electronic circuits did. We are nowhere near knowledgeable enough to even have a basic symbol here like the arrow in electronics. We are just getting started here.

The US (both political parties) is committed to commercial space flight. We are just getting started here. This will drive costs down.

We haven’t traveled to the stars yet. The universe is a big place. We are just barely getting started here.

Our planet is 4 billion years old. The universe is 14 billion years old. The odds have it that other intelligent forms are out there with at least a 2 billion year head start in their technology. We can’t even get started here until we meet them. We don’t even know if we have or haven’t met them.

We have just decoded our genome. We don’t have a clue what most of it means yet. We are a long way from being able to re-write ourselves so we are smarter and have more forms of intelligence than we have now. We are just getting started here.

In religion, we have clues thousands of years old about lost knowledge we will continue to relearn. We are just getting started here.

Peak science requires these seven areas as well as others I haven’t listed to all simultaneously become more and more expensive while it is clear that the expense to do science rises and falls chaotically. The expense to do science is rising faster than a rocket in one lab, but down the hall there is another lab where the expense to do science is falling faster than a submarine with a screen door.

What may bring peak science is an extinction event or a near extinction event, not expense. Even a little gentle 30 foot rise in sea level could bring peak science. Even the Bush banking deregulation crash in 2008 hit the global economy like a tsunami and nearly caused a global economic collapse with nothing more than derivatives that exist in computers driving it. Science could be getting cheaper and still become a luxury in a global economic collapse. You should look to a global economic collapse, not expense.

Also, our species mental limits means we are stuck with nibbling rather than taking big bites, not that we will take no bites. Ruling out the wrong bites are nearly as important as finding the right bites. With the truly large subjects barely touched, slow progress puts peak science farther away. You should look to an extinction event or a near extinction event, not expense or mental limits. But what mental limits clearly can do (and nearly have done) is precipitate an extinction event and / or a global economic collapse.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Apr 02, 2012 9:33 am UTC

deep9 wrote:Our species is made of Byronic matter, and so are our research tools.

Now there's a poetic view of life.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby thc » Mon Apr 09, 2012 10:42 pm UTC

deep9 wrote:It costs less ad less for electronic circuits to do more and more, so it gets cheaper and cheaper to do science. And it is not just getting cheaper, the amount to do is enlarging.

And yet we are still so far off from being able to solve hard problems, like chess, by brute force. What important problems have been able to be solved by the increase in computation power in recent years? Sudoku?

Our species is made of Byronic matter, and so are our research tools. 4% of the universe is made of Byronic matter, leaving 96% of the universe we just discovered in the last decade.
And since dark matter doesn't interact with baryonic matter, it might simply be impossible to probe 96% of the matter in the universe.

The US (both political parties) is committed to commercial space flight. We are just getting started here. This will drive costs down.
And touristic space flights will improve society and/or understanding of the universe how?

We haven’t traveled to the stars yet. The universe is a big place. We are just barely getting started here.

The closest star is approximately 39,924,282,594,290,976 m away. We may never get there.

Our planet is 4 billion years old. The universe is 14 billion years old. The odds have it that other intelligent forms are out there with at least a 2 billion year head start in their technology. We can’t even get started here until we meet them. We don’t even know if we have or haven’t met them.

It could also imply that no civilization has been able to last more than the a few thousands of years.

We have just decoded our genome. We don’t have a clue what most of it means yet. We are a long way from being able to re-write ourselves so we are smarter and have more forms of intelligence than we have now. We are just getting started here.

And we are just learning that having massive amounts of sequence data isn't actually helpful.

In religion, we have clues thousands of years old about lost knowledge we will continue to relearn. We are just getting started here.

Hmm?
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby mfb » Tue Apr 10, 2012 12:29 pm UTC

thc wrote:And touristic space flights will improve society and/or understanding of the universe how?

Touristic space flights increase the market for bringing stuff into space, which reduces the costs for scientific missions as well.
Building some large rocket which can bring humans from low earth orbit (LEO) to mars and back is relatively easy, if you don't have to care about each kg of mass (because it is easy to bring the rocket to LEO). Easy as in "some billions" (maybe less), not "some tens of billions".

We haven’t traveled to the stars yet. The universe is a big place. We are just barely getting started here.

The closest star is approximately 39,924,282,594,290,976 m away. We may never get there.

Maybe, maybe not. But I am sure that we will never get there if we never try to.
I like all those digits (except the first ~3). Do they come from a random number generator? ;)

And we are just learning that having massive amounts of sequence data isn't actually helpful.

Oh, it can help a lot. But the idea that the sequence is everything is an illusion.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:52 pm UTC

mfb wrote:
The closest star is approximately 39,924,282,594,290,976 m away. We may never get there.
I like all those digits (except the first ~3). Do they come from a random number generator?
Yeah, I love when someone bothers with 17 significant figures after the word "approximately". Pi is approximately 3.12345678910111213, after all.
Treatid basically wrote:widdout elephants deh be no starting points. deh be no ZFC.


(If this post has math that doesn't work for you, use TeX the World for Firefox or Chrome)
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Yakk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 2:15 pm UTC

One small ladder for man.
One giant meter closer for man kind in space.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Diemo » Tue Apr 10, 2012 3:00 pm UTC

It could also imply that no civilization has been able to last more than the a few thousands of years.


This always gets me. Take a look at a scale model of the milky way and input the distance (roughly70-80lightyears) that we have managed to send communications (first one was Hitler in the 1936 olympics). Of course, to do this proberly you have to have a 3d version of the model. Now zoom out to see the entire Milky Way. See how tiny our sphere of influence is? Now realise that the milky way is a tiny pinprick compared to the universe.

(As an aside, the Andromeda is the furthest thing you can see with the naked eye, and it is roughly 2.6 million years away. This means that if a civilisation evolved in the andromeda galaxy, it would take 2.6 million years for the radiation it outputs to reach us. And that is close in terms of astronomy. For those interested, I advise using the Digital Universe, which works on all types of computer systems, is free, and provides a good view of the size of the universe. For best effects use two big projectors with circular polarisers in front of each, and wear polarised glasses.)
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Yakk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 3:03 pm UTC

2.6 million years is 1/5000th the lifetime of the universe. It corresponds to about 5 days of time in the life of a human being.

While life like us probably requires a population3 type star and some time for life to evolve, 2.6 million years is still a relative eyeblink.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby thc » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:37 pm UTC

mfb wrote:
We haven’t traveled to the stars yet. The universe is a big place. We are just barely getting started here.

The closest star is approximately 39,924,282,594,290,976 m away. We may never get there.

Maybe, maybe not. But I am sure that we will never get there if we never try to.
I like all those digits (except the first ~3). Do they come from a random number generator? ;)

They come from multiplying numbers together. I realize that the precision is not that high, but 39,924,282,594,290,976 looks a lot more mindbogglingly large than 39,900,000,000,000,000 (to me at least) so I didn't bother rounding despite the pendants. ;)

Your point about cheaper space travel is interesting, but I have a hard time imagining how it could be ever useful in a practical sense. Mining asteroids or colonizing the moon and mars seems to me like a science fiction fantasy. There is more than enough raw material here on earth for any purpose.

While of course there is tons of progress every day (being in the natural sciences, I do know this) I don't see any sort of revolutions that happened in yesteryears. Imagine sailing off into the vast blue horizon, totally unknowing of what lies beyond. Imagine hearing someone's voice coming out of this black box for the first time, even knowing that that person was thousands of miles away. Imagine being the first person to take to the skies in the same way that birds do. Imagine seeing the sky itself turn green as the first atom bombs were tested. I don't see any such revolutions happening now. In the 20 or so years that I've been sentient, the only thing I can fathom that has drastically changed in my everyday life, is that movies and video games have gotten a lot prettier. (Of course RPGs still use the same dialogue tree AI they used 20 years ago). Progress has become very incremental.
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