Scientific Tracts

Summary

These pages will describe the most important scientific theories, in a concise format. A lot of information on scientific theories (and arguments attempting to dismiss them) can be found on the Internet. Those pages are often very thorough. However, we feel that there is a place for brief descriptions of the theories, that emphasize some key points. We feel that a key step in solidifying one's understanding of an idea is to be able to explain it concisely.

Summarizing a theory concisely is particularly important because many key points, even in such well-established theories as quantum mechanics and general relativity, remain to be understood. These gaps in knowledge do not prevent scientists from accepting theories as working models for the physical world, because learning is the key part of scientific inquiry.

Therefore, these pages are designed to summarize why scientists believe the theories, how theories are connected to other ideas, and what big questions remain unanswered. Each page will start with a summary, like this one.

Evidence

We will then describe what observations and experiments led scientists to develop a theory. This section will focus on facts that theories attempt to explain, such as the diversity of Galapagos finches that was featured in Darwin's explanation of the theory of evolution, or the explanation by quantum mechanics of the discrete wavelengths of light radiated by a hydrogen atom.

Predictions

After scientists meet initial success in explaining natural phenomena with a scientific theory, the next important step is to search for predictions that the theory makes of new phenomena.

Technology

With an understanding of the natural world, it may become possible to develop new technologies. Technology is really what has given science its enormous status in modern society. In a philosophical sense, it is also the most dramatic verification that our scientific understanding of the physical world corresponds to some aspect of reality.

Connections

All modern scientific theories are now connected with each other. The extensiveness of those connections reinforces scientist's belief that they are coming to better understandings of how the universe works.

The Unknown

The theories in these pages represent the best explanations for natural phenomena that scientists have developed. However, none of these theories is complete; there is always a lot left to be learned. These gaps do not undermine the theories, because they cannot nullify the successful predictions that have already been made. Much less can the gaps make technology stop working. Instead, scientists generally find the things still-unknown in a field to be the most exciting part, because unraveling the remaining mysteries provides the best way to develop better, more comprehensive theories for the future.

References

The American Institute of Physics has some excellent background on historical scientific discoveries.

The images at the top of these pages are: a transmission electron micgrograph of the Evola virus (from the Center for Disease Control, created by F. A. Murphy); a photograph of the Mount Palomar 200 inch telescope that I took; and a scan of a glass slide of data from a rocket flight that a friend found at the MIT Center for Space Research.

Like science itself, these pages are under construction. Honestly, they are in a lot worse shape than science. I could do a lot more to provide useful links and references, and I probably will eventually. I welcome your comments.


Michael Muno: mtspaceblog at gmail
Last modified: Mon May 17 20:14:20 EDT 2010