Self-Important Astronomy Deceived the Mayans and May Be Deceiving Us. Avi Loeb, Harvard.



(Photo: Ancient Mayan Astronomy)

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Self-Important Astronomy Deceived the Mayans and May Be Deceiving Us. Avi Loeb, Harvard.


How each culture views the Universe is guided by its beliefs in, for example, math¬ematical beauty or the structure of reality. If these ideas are deeply rooted, people tend to interpret all data as supportive of them — adding parameters or performing math¬ematical gymnastics to force the fit. Recall how the belief that the Sun moves around Earth led to the mathematically beautiful (and incorrect) theory of epicycles advo¬cated by the ancient Greek philosopher Ptolemy.

Similarly, modern cosmology is augmented by unsubstantiated, mathematically sophis¬ticated ideas — of the multiverse, anthropic reasoning and string theory. The multiverse idea postulates the existence of numerous other regions of space-time, to which we have no access and in which the cosmologi¬cal parameters have different values.

The anthropic argument is then often applied. It holds that our own region has the parameters it does (including those of dark energy and dark matter) because other, more likely values would not have allowed life to develop near a star like the Sun in a galaxy such as the Milky Way1–3. An overlooked problem with this argument is that, accord¬ing to one analysis4, life is 1,000 times more likely to exist 10 trillion years from now around stars that weigh one-tenth the mass of the Sun. This means that terrestrial life might be premature and not the most likely form of life, even in our own Universe4.

A vibrant scientific culture encourages many interpretations of evidence, argues Avi Loeb.

Abraham Loeb

Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science, Harvard University

Chair, Harvard Astronomy Department

Director, Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC)

Founding Director, Black Hole Initiative (BHI)

Chair, Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee

Vice Chair, Board on Physics and Astronomy, National Academies!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/539023a.pdf *

4 months ago
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