Brain Makeover: #1. The Universe is Regular and Predictable

The Universe is Regular and Predictable

Professor James Trefil (author of Science Matters, Why Science?, and 30 other books on science literacy) identified 18 key science concepts every adult should know to be a science literate. We’re here to help make this FUN! It’s all part of our Brain Makover project to increase adult science literacy. Here’s concept #1, explained by Professor James Trefil.  We’ll post one each week (more or less).

Professor James Trefil explains:

Drop a ball and it falls. Drop a pencil and it falls. Drop a book and it falls. When you let something go, you expect it to fall, and would be amazed if it didn’t. This is an example of a very deep truth about the universe—that it behaves in regular and predictable ways. It is this fact that makes science possible.

One of the oldest sciences—astronomy—was developed when our ancestors realized that the movements of objects in the sky would repeat themselves over time. The same constellations would be in the sky every spring, the sun would come up behind a particular hill on the shortest day of the year, and so on. The construction of monuments like Stonehenge are embodiments in stone of the principle of regularity.

Discovering regularities in nature requires that we observe the phenomena around us. This is the beginning of science, the first step in the scientific method. Once we understand what the regularities are, we can think about what the universe must be like for us to see those regularities (i.e. we can build theories). We can then use those theories to make predictions about what will happen, then observe nature again to see if the theories are correct. Science begins and ends with observation.

  • Harvey

    It would be better if Professor James Trefil had said that the universe as we know it (and see it) is Regular and Predictable. It may very well be that outside the limit of observation (limited by the speed of light) there may be things and laws we know nothing about (and may very well never know anything about).

  • Harvey

    It would be better if Professor James Trefil had said that the universe as we know it (and see it) is Regular and Predictable. It may very well be that outside the limit of observation (limited by the speed of light) there may be things and laws we know nothing about (and may very well never know anything about).

  • Rosalind

    I was thinking that since God is the creator/designer of the universe, and since He is a God of order, that science would as it observes the universe, discover orderly laws that govern. Science isn’t finding answers that don’t include God, but rather science will reveil God. Psalm 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” But I agree with Harvey that there is much we don’t know, which can hamper the conclusions our observations draw us to conclude.

  • Rosalind

    I was thinking that since God is the creator/designer of the universe, and since He is a God of order, that science would as it observes the universe, discover orderly laws that govern. Science isn’t finding answers that don’t include God, but rather science will reveil God. Psalm 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” But I agree with Harvey that there is much we don’t know, which can hamper the conclusions our observations draw us to conclude.

  • I find this an excellent way to focus on my studies, thanks!

  • I find this an excellent way to focus on my studies, thanks!

  • JT Lewis

    It is man’s nature to observe and wonder. Thus both Science and Religion flow inextricably from Man’s nature. I myself do not find them mutually exclusive. Through Science we observe, predict, and measure the observable world. (And through technology, more in observable every day.) Religion? To use scientific terms, it is more a descriptive ‘science’ than an ‘exact’ science. Faith bridges the gap between what we can see, prove, and what we believe, or ‘know’ to be true. But faith is rooted in this same visceral drive to observe and wonder; to seek revelation (or theories) about what we see, and predict outcomes.

    Consistent through mans’ evolution (yes, there’s that word) has been our ability to get things wrong, to form theories that seem immutable one moment, but are discredited—even rendered absurd- the next. It seems probable, then, that theories and ideologies we hold dear today, may be debunked tomorrow. I accept that there is much we don’t know, much we may never know. Let’s keep looking! Let’s welcome the wonder, hit the lab, and may God bless our efforts.

  • JT Lewis

    It is man’s nature to observe and wonder. Thus both Science and Religion flow inextricably from Man’s nature. I myself do not find them mutually exclusive. Through Science we observe, predict, and measure the observable world. (And through technology, more in observable every day.) Religion? To use scientific terms, it is more a descriptive ‘science’ than an ‘exact’ science. Faith bridges the gap between what we can see, prove, and what we believe, or ‘know’ to be true. But faith is rooted in this same visceral drive to observe and wonder; to seek revelation (or theories) about what we see, and predict outcomes.

    Consistent through mans’ evolution (yes, there’s that word) has been our ability to get things wrong, to form theories that seem immutable one moment, but are discredited—even rendered absurd- the next. It seems probable, then, that theories and ideologies we hold dear today, may be debunked tomorrow. I accept that there is much we don’t know, much we may never know. Let’s keep looking! Let’s welcome the wonder, hit the lab, and may God bless our efforts.

  • JT Lewis

    Er, and may God bless our funding sources.

  • JT Lewis

    Er, and may God bless our funding sources.

  • Kirk; Are you sure you won’t change your mind?
    Spock: Why? Is there something wrong with the one I already have…?
    (Star Trek III: The Journey Home)

    Sometimes I feel a need to change my mind more and more these days…!

    Seriously though, one thing we all forget to do, especially we scientists, is to make observations without bias! Just noting what it s front of you without bringing in any preconceived notions or bias is an art that few have perfected, but it’s really critical to true scientific observation. Children have this ability because they can look at something and marvel in its wonder without built in bias from earlier experiences. Some of the greatest scientists, IMHO, have been and are those who have a childlike approach to science.

  • Kirk; Are you sure you won’t change your mind?
    Spock: Why? Is there something wrong with the one I already have…?
    (Star Trek III: The Journey Home)

    Sometimes I feel a need to change my mind more and more these days…!

    Seriously though, one thing we all forget to do, especially we scientists, is to make observations without bias! Just noting what it s front of you without bringing in any preconceived notions or bias is an art that few have perfected, but it’s really critical to true scientific observation. Children have this ability because they can look at something and marvel in its wonder without built in bias from earlier experiences. Some of the greatest scientists, IMHO, have been and are those who have a childlike approach to science.

  • Pingback: the good old days » Blog Archive » Way to make science look even dumber()

  • Einar coutin

    I was hoping to find some Chaos Theory related materials here. Meh. Good for starters I guess.

  • Einar coutin

    I was hoping to find some Chaos Theory related materials here. Meh. Good for starters I guess.

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