The Dark Side Of The Universe

August 27, 2012

Biology (especially evolutionary Biology) and Cosmology have always been interests of mine. My level of understanding in either field is probably best described as “blundering amateur”. I am not able to parse —let alone make use of— equations such as one would find in Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics or Game Theory. I am however a firm believer in the notion that pretty much everything can be explained* through regular language without recourse to mathematics.

I am at the same time disgusted by the sensationalist approach of many documentaries made these days by the likes of Discovery Channel & National Geographic. I switch over almost immediately whenever I’m confronted with a gravelly voice prophesying destruction on a scale hitherto unimagined by scientists ‘when we return after these messages’. Fuck you Discovery Channel for ruining science by removing that which is best about it; knowledge. Even the quality of BBC documentaries has plummeted to lamentable depths over the past decade, which is clearly the most glaring sign of the upcoming apocalypse we could ever hope to get.

At least there is an ever growing number of individuals and small groups who are making quality stuff and distributing it on YouTube and the like. Potholer, Sixty Symbols and Ozmoroid are just a few examples of people who make some excellent content that is free for all. We also see more and more universities recording lectures and putting them on social media for all to see.

Last week I stumbled upon a lecture series by Sean Carroll (from CalTech) about Dark Matter and Dark Energy, two topics about which I knew preciously little. These lectures (24 × half an hour each) are unfortunately not free —they are in fact rather pricey— but they are excellent. Carroll is by far the most intelligible lecturer I know on topics as complicated and unintuitive as Big Bang Cosmology, The Standard Model and Dark Matter/Energy. I have a feeling he pulled as few punches as humanly possible and despite the very high information content, Carroll remains calm and composed. The script is well written (except for a few rather lame jokes) and seems exhaustive in terms of both factual and historic content. I especially liked his treatment of the WMAP data of the Cosmic Background Radiation. It is quite shocking how much information there is embedded in this one image.

Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe data

Carroll explains what we know for sure to be true, what we think might be true, what we suspect could be true, what we know couldn’t possibly be true, what we’ve yet to know and how we came to know these things. I highly recommend this production for those who wish to learn more about the ‘Dark Side of the Universe‘.

* if one wishes to teach rather than merely explain, I concede that mathematics is often unavoidable.

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