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Readers reply: in 500 years’ time, which current scientific theories will be as discredited as flat Earth theory? | Life and style


Five hundred years or so ago, a significant number of people thought the world was flat. In 500 years’ time, which current scientific theories will be relegated to the same level as the flat Earth theory is now? Richard Cutsforth, Chichester

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Readers reply

String theory. Too weird and inelegant to possibly be right. PrincessWhatever

I would say “dark matter”. Science can’t possibly measure the mass of all the matter, or the various forms of energy present in the visible universe, so they invented a “magic matter” to fill in the blanks. reinhardpolley

How about the big bang theory? It’s just a theory, is it not? The universe might just as well have been created by a burp from an ancient intergalactic hedgehog. UnironicBeard

Trickle-down economics. Mikes005

I have a sneaking suspicion that, in 500 years, humans will have proved that intelligence does not reside in us.

We have a planet tailor-made for the survival of all life on the planet, including ours. Despite that, we have humans destroying ecosystems in search of wealth and humans killing humans in search of control.

I think Crocodile Dundee said it best: “See that rock over there? It’s been there for thousands of years. Arguing about who owns it is stupid.”

That’s the metaphor that describes humanity today, as smart as that rock is. Rcamejo

We must dismiss the idea there was a widespread belief in a flat Earth 500 years ago. An interesting and sometimes surprising window on educated medieval perspectives on the cosmos is provided by Dante’s The Divine Comedy, written during the early years of the 14th century and entirely conceived within a spherical-Earth model of the universe.

Hell is a huge funnel-shaped structure, centred under Jerusalem, descending tier by tier to its deepest point, which is located at the centre of the planet. Purgatory is an oceanic island in the southern hemisphere, at the antipodes of Jerusalem.

Dante frequently makes reference to, for example, how midday on the Tiber equals sunset on the Ganges. Most remarkable of all, when Dante and his guide, Virgil, descend to the deepest pit of the inferno, where Satan stands waist-deep in a frozen lake, and they continue their journey by climbing down Satan’s shaggy pelt into a cavern below the lake, Dante is dumbstruck suddenly to find himself alongside Satan’s gigantic legs, which are now upside-down.

Virgil patiently explains to him that he should not be surprised, as they have passed the centre of the Earth, to which all objects are drawn by gravity. Uppsalaman

Neoliberalism is a theory well beyond its use-by date now, never mind in 500 years’ time! DiogenesPithos

Materialism: the weird idea that consciousness somehow emerges from matter. PlatonicThoughts

It’s not so much a matter of what will be (dis)proved, but what will be acceptable. Back in 500BC, Pythagoras postulated that the moon and the Earth were spherical, based on observation and logic. Then, in 240BC Eratosthenes noted that, at midday in one town in Egypt, the sun shone directly down into a well, whereas, at a distant town, at the same time of day, the light arrived at an angle. He used this, and the distance between the two towns, to calculate the diameter of the Earth – and made a pretty good fist of it, too.

How did he measure the distance between the towns? This was in the days before Google Maps, so he paid somebody to walk between the two towns and count how many paces it took. That is the painstaking attention to detail, and the endless quest for truth, that epitomise the scientific method.

Did the wider world pay any attention? No, because it didn’t fit in with the extant received wisdom that the Earth was flat, a “fact” that was obvious to anyone who looked at the horizon.

Then along came Copernicus and, of course, Galileo, whose heliocentric models contravened the doctrine (and dogma) of the all-powerful church. The church ignored their postulations and proofs and insisted on its own – totally unproved – “model”. That is the painstaking attention to superstition and control of the masses, and the endless quest to suppress inconvenient facts, that epitomises virtually all major religions.

So, it’s not a matter of being right; it’s a matter of being accepted. Maybe the best we can hope for is that, long before 2521, humankind (if it still exists) will have outgrown the need for religions. LewisWinders

Almost none of the above is actually true. In rejecting Galileo’s model, the church was siding with the majority scientific opinion of the day. There was not, as yet, sufficient evidence for heliocentrism. Geocentrism wasn’t a simple superstition, but a well-established system that was able to predict astronomical events quite accurately. The Catholic authorities believed, quite reasonably, that as long as it did that then there was no reason to reject it. Galileo’s own definitive proof of heliocentrism – that the tides are caused by the Earth sloshing about in its orbit around the sun – was, of course, not only unconvincing but flat-out wrong.

Moreover, much of the evidence supporting heliocentrism was gathered over the course of the 17th century by Catholic astronomers, particularly Jesuits, who were as committed to evidence-based science as any hard-nosed atheist. JonathanCR

Science cannot find a proof for time; there is no experiment that shows that time exists. As a fairly rudimentary aspect of our lives and a fundamental aspect of all applied mathematics and sciences, it might be nice to solve that one.

I’m working on a theory that a fitted sheet obeys neither Euclidean or non-Euclidean geometry. Here’s looking at Euclid. flinders

1) That capitalism is a valid – and in any way morally acceptable – way of structuring our economic activity and distribution of resources. To paraphrase Captain Picard: “Our 20th-century ancestors, with their primitive economic systems!”

2) That nation states are a reasonable structure in which to invest sovereignty.

3) This one may be wishful thinking – the idea that the speed of light is unable to be exceeded. If the idea is sound, I hope the Alcubierre drive or something similar is plausible. The idea that we will never be able to explore the rest of the universe is one I find crushingly depressing. BostonMatt

The theory that time travel is impossible. I’ve just nipped back 500 years from a post-Covid world to post this comment. FYI, the scientists ran out of Greek letters before we got to the “new normal” in the 2030s. galvinonthewing

Five hundred years? By then, I suspect there will be a plethora of theories about the ancients (or aliens) who built cities and mastered arcane sciences such as manufacturing glass, flying machines and creating artificial light, along with generating and transmitting energy. Then there will be the inevitable fables about what happened to them. AwakenstoEmptiness



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