Science Corner: Name that Everything!

Simulated black hole

Naming the unnamed is an important part of knowing the universe around us. (Public domain)

For this week, I couldn’t choose between a pair of items about science as exploration of the unknown, so I didn’t. First, an essay on the value of pushing past the boundaries of what is known, even when mistakes are made. I’d probably make that point even stronger than the essay did. Negative results are valuable in science, a reality that isn’t always appreciated in a culture where winning and losing is the lens through which we view every endeavor. Even when Eddington and Hoyle were wrong, they were giving us language to describe what the right answer wasn’t, which makes it easier to talk about what the right answer is and which wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

Second is an account of how the upcoming film Interstellar needed simulations that would shed new light on the behavior of wormholes and black holes. It’s another tale of how science benefits when we dare to boldly go where no one has gone before, just with more positive results. Or maybe not; maybe one day we’ll be talking about how Kip Thorne’s simulations failed to be validated empirically. Either way, science wins.

The science/theology intersection has been making headlines again, with the narrative about a creationist conference reiterating the science vs faith warfare model (again, everything has to have winners and losers), while the Pope calls for a collaborative approach. It makes me think about the first human to confront the unknown world around him — Adam. His first order of business was to name the animals. In other words, he invented language to describe reality, a rather scientific activity. Why shouldn’t we follow in his footsteps… and beyond?

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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