Structuring the invisible

[Image: Courtesy of NASA/ESA/MASSEY, via the BBC].

“Astronomers have mapped the cosmic ‘scaffold’ of dark matter upon which stars and galaxies are assembled,” the BBC reports. Producing the map “involved nearly 1,000 hours of observations with the Hubble Space Telescope.” But it was time well-spent: the map now “confirms that galaxy clusters are located within clumps of this invisible material. These clumps are connected via bridges of dark matter called filaments. The clumps and filaments form a loose network – like a web.”
We are thus surrounded by structures of the invisible.
In an interesting analogy, we read that “the challenge of mapping the Universe has been described as similar to mapping a city from night-time aerial snapshots showing only street lights.” But now they have the actual physical layout of the streets – or something like that.
Having said all this, let me admit to an outsider’s sense that either 1) the astronomers are wrong: there is no dark matter; dark matter is just a calculational artifact of the current model used to represent universal space (and, thus, this map actually shows something else); or 2) they’re right about all of it – except the use of the word matter, which is referentially misleading; it is not matter at all.

(Earlier: See Filaments of space-time, where you can read about “huge arc-bubbles of light colliding with themselves in glowing, superskeletal networks, filling space like translucent caulk”).

11 thoughts on “Structuring the invisible”

  1. I am reminded of Feynman’s famous quote that if you think you understand quantum physics then you don’t understand quantum physics. He went on at length in QED about the failure of metaphor or analogy in physics. If we are honest with ourselves we will see that the universe does not need to make it self understandable or analogous. Analogy leads to mis-understandings of the real world (I am talking science here not art) more than it leads to understanding. Energy or matter, probably at the scale and temperature we are talking about these things don’t exist at all.

    I suspect the physicists know this. It is the poor schlub stuck with explaining it to us who has the problem. Can’t you imagine the guy who gave the interview to the writer scratching his head and sharing a few choice words with his cat after reading the resulting article. “The f-ing moron got it completely backwards.”

    I want to recommend a lecture I watched on Google video the other night of Stephen Wolfram explaining his book and theory A New Kind of Science. He posits that the underlying structure of creation is a network of relationships. Physics arises from a simple set of replacement rules where certain types of relationships evolve to certain other types. He can show the origin of gravity and time using this method. He is a remarkably lucid speaker and knows his shit.

    I wont put the link here, it is easy to find and too long to paste well.

  2. There were some opposing theories to dark matter a while ago but as much as I don’t really think dark matter is fact It really is supported by smart people and has a lot of evidence. Remember that black holes seemed very odd at the time as well.

    Also a lot of opposing theories are alternative to the big bang, which is very hard to run with, but in turn explain some of the anomalies associated with dark matter.

    One notable opposing theory I remember reading about though is plasma cosmology.

    It’s probably all wrong?

  3. “The map stretches halfway back to the beginning of the Universe”?

    beautiful… (for amateur cartographers, if noone else)

  4. The universe — at least the portion we’ve seen thus far — is countless times larger than the surface of the Earth. Yet we map the Cosmos as if it will fit onto a blueprint (or within the bezel of a computer screen.)

    Taking the same tack, Magellan could have saved himself a lot of trouble: just stand on the beach in Seville and look around a bit.

    We won’t know until we go.

  5. I guess it would be more exact to say that trying to map out the large-scale structure of the Universe is like trying to map out a country where the cities are well-lit, but the roads in between them are quite sparsely or not lit at all.

    As for the dark matter, let’s not forget that neutrinoes, which we now know to exist, were also postulated before they could be “seen”. So the concept of “dark matter” is not as absurd as it seems.

  6. I’m not so much saying that the idea of dark matter is so avant-garde or so physically counter-intuitive that I can’t comprehend it; I’m really just admitting to a sense that dark matter is more of a structural necessity within the terms of a specific cosmological model – and that the tests now being run to confirm the existence of dark matter are, in fact, discovering something else. In other words, I suspect that dark matter will be revealed to be nothing more than a kind of epicycle tacked on to the current way of representing the universe, so that the representation it’s added to can still make sense, and that what we discover whilst looking for dark matter will turn out to be something else entirely.

    Obviously, I could be 100% wrong and just stuck in a science-fiction fantasy – but I just mean that it’s not an issue of my denying that the earth goes round the sun, or something like that.

    I don’t know what it is, but I just get the feeling that dark matter is too neat an explanation, or too clean a way, to resolve larger cosmological problems. That, or it just shouldn’t be called “matter.” This may just be my problem, but I get suspicious when something – matter – gets trotted out with its opposite – dark matter – and everything is then supposed to make sense.

    Though perhaps it’s not a relationship of opposition at all – and I should just admit that I don’t know what I’m talking about…

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