By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Robert Blumenfeld
Science returns to its roots in David Lindley’s book, “Uncertainty”. Before science became known as science, it was called natural philosophy; in part, because measurement lagged behind observable facts.
As technology of measurement improved, the idea of proof evolved into reproducible results from experimentation. Philosophical prognostication went beyond personal seeing, feeling, and hearing to scientific investigation.
With Newton’s laws of motion, science became a search for cause-and-effect for all things in nature. Science still relied on human senses but, rather than philosophical prognostication, reproducible scientific experimentation became the standard of truth. In every sense, philosophy and science were one; i.e. philosophy and science were explanations of the cause and effect of nature.
Lindley shows that Einstein monumentally improved science in the early 20th century. Einstein opened a crack in Newton’s world of cause-and-effect. Einstein stretches Newton’s laws of motion with belief in special relativity. Einstein postulated that Newton’s classic mechanics of motion would not precisely explain motion in space because of the nature of the speed of light.
Lindley’s book is not suggesting Einstein is radically departing from Newton; i.e. Einstein adds to Newton’s laws with a more comprehensive understanding of the laws of motion. To the end of his life, Einstein is shown to believe in classical physics which rely on cause and effect. Einstein argues that cause-and-effect fails only because science has not discovered the truth. However, the door is opened to a different theory of physics (other than cause-and-effect) by Einstein’s insight to the nature of energy, mass, and the speed of light.
Lindley argues that the “…Soul of Science” is challenged in the roaring 20s and dismal 30s by a young physicist named Werner Heisenberg. In collaboration with the great physicist, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg develops the argument that uncertainty is a fundamental law of physics, at an atomic level. A principal of Heisenberg’s theory is that there is no direct line between cause-and-effect; i.e. there is only probability of outcome. This is revolutionary. It throws certainty into doubt. It infers that every apple does not-necessarily fall to the ground when loosed from a tree.
The apple falling is an exaggeration but the point is–at an atomic level, nature is unpredictable. Just as Newton did not conceive of the variability of time with the speed of light, Einstein would not acknowledge the experimental confirmation of what became known as quantum mechanics in quantum theory. Einstein insists that quantum theory is unfinished because it does not conform to a cause-and-effect world. Einstein believed that there is a physics theory that will return science to certainty because “God does not play dice”.
Lindley’s book is a primer on the beginning history of an outwardly appearing revolution in science. Science seems to be returning to philosophy. Science is going backward, as it goes forward.
In the late 20th and 21st century, it appears string theory is the closest anyone has come to suggesting Heisenberg and Bohr were on the right track. However, string theory is, at least presently, experimentally unprovable—sounds like philosophy more than science.