Plausibility, possibility, and paradigms

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Essays

I watched Interstellar over the weekend. It’s a fantastic movie, and I highly recommend it. As a sucker for film scores and dramatic filmmaking, the quality of those two alone made it fun to watch. But my favorite part was ultimately the exploration of the different aspects of theoretical physics and astrophysics. 

Without too many spoilers, it visually represents event horizons of wormholes/blackholes, pushing our imagination along the way. I was thinking, after the movie, about how plausible the more, err, fantastic elements of the movie were, and I realized that I had no idea. While some light reading of Kip Thorne’s more accessible publications and an enduring faith in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweets helped, I was still stuck. And then I caught Chris Dixon’s tweet, which helped me:

Thomas Kuhn wrote a book in 1962 about the history of science, where he introduced the concept of the ‘paradigm shift’. While it’s a commonly used phrase today, its introduction, and the philosophy of science around it, was quite innovative at the time, and is still very important to understand. Let me explain:

Galilean model for the solar system wasn’t an extension on previous models. It utterly invalidated them. Newtonian mechanics, and its model of gravity, wasn’t *expanded upon* by Einstenian mechanics and that model for gravity. It was debunked – proven *wrong*. f=ma (only at low speeds) means f != ma. Plain and simple.

A paradigm shift, then, is when a new integrated system of thinking *replaces* the prior one, thereby introducing a new theory of everything. This is especially relevant in physics, where axioms are applicable to all motion, or all matter, or all time. And the history of science is *filled* with examples of paradigm shifts.

To that point, the fact that an idea that seems stupid, even those that are met with: ‘this is actually scientifically impossible’ does not have any positive correlation with the likelihood that it is *actually* a bad idea. In fact, there is likely a slight negative correlation.

Just a nice reminder: for those who wants to find *true innovation* to embrace the ridiculous.

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