Scientists Need to Throw Out Ideas Like Yesterday's Newspaper

Scientists Need to Throw Out Ideas Like Yesterday's Newspaper

Throughout my career I’ve been surprised. Perhaps the most amazing surprise to me was actually one that I ultimately proposed but it defied everything I'd thought before. And that is this amazing result that empty space has energy.

It is so weird to think that you can get rid of all the particles and all the radiation in space and it still weighs something.  It seems crazy.  And when I was a graduate student, we were all certain that the energy of empty space was zero.  And ultimately we were dragged - in fact, I was dragged, kicking and screaming by the observations - to propose this incredibly crazy idea that empty space has energy.

In fact, it’s been observed to have energy.  In fact, the people who observed it won the Nobel Prize last year.  And I think for me that has changed everything about my understanding of the universe.  Both its past, its present, and its future.  And I think it’s a wonderful example of how scientists are willing to throw out ideas like yesterday’s newspaper.

The idea that empty space has zero energy is beautiful mathematically.  It’s elegant, but beauty and elegance is not important.  What's important is how the world behaves.  And no matter how cherished a notion we have about that, we should be willing to throw it out. 

I had faith that, at some level, the energy of empty space was zero. But when it became clear to me that that was not reconcilable with the evidence, I was willing to throw it out.  What's great is that the rest of the physics community and scientific community has too because we've now discovered that idea was wrong.

And if you had asked anyone 25 years ago if this was likely, everyone would have said no.  

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Stephen Hawking's black hole theory proved right

New study analyzes gravitational waves to confirm the late Stephen Hawking's black hole area theorem.

Model of spiraling black holes that are merging with each other.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Surprising Science
  • A new paper confirms Stephen Hawking's black hole area theorem.
  • The researchers used gravitational wave data to prove the theorem.
  • The data came from Caltech and MIT's Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
Keep reading Show less

Ethical hacking: saving society with computer code

As a form of civil disobedience, hacking can help make the world a better place.

Credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Hackers' motivations range from altruistic to nihilistic.
  • Altruistic hackers expose injustices, while nihilistic ones make society more dangerous.
  • The line between ethical and unethical hacking is not always clear.
Keep reading Show less