Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Ontology of Nebulae

Mel Acheson: Which Nebula is Real?

What is a theory? What is science? What is reality?

Doing philosophy is like sculpting fog. The abstractions to be investigated have ambiguous and shifting forms, and their traces are the vortices left by human thought in evening mists. Most scientists most of the time are well-advised to eschew it. It has little relevance for working within the boundaries of accepted theories.

However, the history of science shows that progress involves long stretches of development couched within boundaries that are interrupted by episodes of theory change. During the quiet times, accumulating data and modified ideas, along with new instruments and many other influences, push scientists toward the boundaries. They begin to trespass beyond them.

Outside the boundaries, the fog sculptures come alive and bite. Some theories go extinct; others proliferate and come to dominate the scientific ecosystem. Careers change. Textbooks are replaced. Grants go to other projects.

For the astrophysicist, an electron is a particle of matter with momentum that is described in part by Newton’s laws. It goes “bump” in the night sky and causes shock waves and hot gas in planetary nebulae. The nebulae are explosions of stars that are burning themselves up with internal fusion fires.

For the plasma physicist, an electron is a unit of charge in an electrical current that is described in part by Maxwell’s equations. It is part of an electrical circuit that causes planetary nebulae to emit synchrotron radiation, to show bipolar symmetry, to have hourglass shapes, to develop toroidal currents around the central star, to display polar jets, and to oscillate in energy output. The nebulae are z-pinches in galactic electrical circuits.

So what is an electron, really? What is a planetary nebula, really? As long as the two physicists stay inside the boundaries of their respective theories, the questions don’t arise. The answers are presumed by each theory’s axioms of what is real. The criteria of acceptability for each theory (What constitutes evidence? What constitutes an explanation?) don’t apply to the other theory. Cross-theory debates can only end in pleonastic proclamations of what is “really real”: “Is not!” “Is too!”

Outside the boundaries, the two theories meet in an evolutionary survival landscape: It’s a jungle out there. Criteria of selection are extra-scientific. The question becomes one of market share. How many people are attracted by the promise of a new theory? How many become curious about things that a new theory might enable them to do? How many are bored with the old one and feel that its labyrinthine adjustments to novel data and ideas are a nuisance?

Philosophers worry about how there can be progress toward understanding a hypothetical ultimate reality when the history of science is a succession of contradictory theories, each of which was considered “real” in its heyday.

Progress can be understood in other than teleological terms: Biologists understand evolution as a bush that grows bigger at each season but has no “final form” that predetermines each season’s growth. In the same way, the progress of science doesn’t need the hypothesis of ultimate reality.

Each theory can have its time to be real, to be a “best fit” within a larger intellectual ecosystem, without having to live forever. The electron as particle and the nebula as explosion have been useful theories. Eventually, there comes a time when it’s just time to die.


Anaconda said...

A beautiful set of pictures.

Immanuel Kant first proposed the nebular hypothesis back in the 1755.

Well, can't win 'em all :-)

But this raises a serious issue: So-called "modern" astronomy isn't so modern after all.

Nebular hypothesis 1755

Black hole hypothesis 1783, put forward by geologist John Michell in a letter written to Henry Cavendish in 1783 to the Royal Society.

Gravity "only" model of astronomy, early 20th century, probably earlier than that.

Big bang in 1927 by a Catholic priest before nearly any deep-space telescope visualization had been made at all because he wanted to resolve the conflict between his faith and his science -- something out of nothing or in Latin, ex nihilo.

Magnetic reconnection 1961 James Dungey. This before the 'electro-' part of the 'magnetic' was identified in space. In fact, electric currents were actively denied in the astrophysical community in 1961.

"Frozen in" magnetic field lines 1960's Hannes Alfven who later identified his error and publically rejected the idea, but still "modern" astronomy clings to the idea because it allows the avoidance of dealing with electric current in space.

I could go on, but the point is simple: So-called "modern" astronomy has clung onto almost every initial idea ever accepted by it.

Rarely, if ever, does it consider new observation & measurement and reconsider and replace its antiquated dogma, rather, it clings to its dogma by layering ever more complex ad hoc modifications as an exercise in self-justification.

Or it simply puts down the memory hole prior descriptions and predictions that don't fit the current observations & measurements.

Prior descriptions and predictions that are completely at odds with current observations & measurements, in fact, many seem ludicrous given the current set of observations.

Is this responsible science or the actions of a group of true believers on par with the behavior of numerous cult religions?

Public tax dollars need to be cut off for this shaman dominated cult.

Quantum_Flux said...

An electron is a electron, it is the same entity regardless of whether we speak of it in terms of chemistry, electronics, or in terms of atomic or plasma physics.

OilIsMastery said...


Gravitation is a 17th century hypothesis. It is antiquated, outmoded, and archaic. But age in itself isn't enough to discredit a hypothesis. Rather, it's observation that refutes gravitation. Electricity and magnetism have been known for millions of years.

OilIsMastery said...


If electrons are electrons then how come mainstreamers are blind to them and obssessed with mythological gravitons?

OilIsMastery said...

"An atom differs from the solar system by the fact that it is not gravitation that makes the electrons go round the nucleus, but electricity." -- Bertrand Russell, physicist/philosopher, 1924

OilIsMastery said...

"According to our present view every atom consists of a small heavy nucleus approximately 1O^-12 cm in diameter sur-rounded by a largely empty region 1O^-8 cm in diameter in which electrons move somewhat like planets about the sun." -- Hendy D. Smyth, physicist, 1945

Jeffery Keown said...

Electricity and magnetism have been known for millions of years.

By whom? Millions of years ago, our ancestors were cowering from lightning strikes (or perhaps worshipping them). If that's what you meant, cool. If not, then what?

If you meant "By aliens" that's unprovable. Likely, but not provable.

Jeffery Keown said...

The nebular hypothesis is the best explanation yet. Do you have another? I've read the EU one... it's not right.

OilIsMastery said...

Homo sapiens observed lightning millions of years ago and have harnessed electricity for tens of thousands of years if not longer.

Anaconda said...

@ OilIsMastery:

You are right. The nebular hypothesis, itself, is a gravity "only" hypothesis, and, of course, Newton's orbital mechanics of planetary motion is a gravity "only" model.

Jeffery Keown: "The nebular hypothesis is the best explanation yet. Do you have another? I've read the EU one... it's not right."

The EU hypothesis has more observation & measurement backing it than the nebular hypothesis.

Magnetism has been identified as an important force in the star formation process, and we know that electrical current causes magnetism.

There are issues of gravitational attraction and angular momentum that suggest the nebular hypothsis is well nigh impossible.

So, Jeffery, you cling to a theory that is 255 years old?

A hypothesis made before ANY detailed imagery beyond our solar system, and quite limited imagery within our solar system when astronomy wasn't much removed from astrology (although, Kant with his idea based soley on the force of gravity did attempt to move astronomy beyond astrology).

Jeffery, I suggest you need to revisit your assumptions.

Jeffery Keown said...

Homo sapiens observed lightning millions of years ago and have harnessed electricity for tens of thousands of years if not longer.

Quick! Spot the History Denial in this italized sentence.

Homo Sapiens haven't been around for millions of years. Homo, yes. Homo Sapiens, no.

KV said...


It is the Hubble telescope in the orbit under gravitational laws that took these pictures - using photons, moving at speed of light in a spacetime continum formed by the Universe.

Except the pics, the whole article is written as probably a special assignment for extra credit in first/second year high school science class.

Anaconda said...

KV wrote: "Except the pics, the whole article is written as probably a special assignment for extra credit in first/second year high school science class."

Please, what we know about magnetism and star formation suggests the nebular hypothesis shouldn't even be taught in kindergarten let alone high school.

Observations of the Magnetic Fields Inside and Outside the Solar System: From Meteorites (~ 10 attoparsecs), Asteroids, Planets, Stars, Pulsars, Masers, To Protostellar Cloudlets (< 1 parsec)

While I don't agree with portions of this paper, it does suggest that magnetism is ubiquitous at all scales of the Universe.

And magnetism is caused by electric current, isn't that right KV?

KV wrote: "So magnetism is an effect and motion of the charge is the cause..."

Here is another paper on magnetism in deep-space:


"Abstract: Recent advances in observational techniques reveal the widespread existence of magnetic fields in the Universe, and produce much firmer estimates of magnetic field strengths in interstellar and intergalactic space. Ordered, microgauss-level fields are common in spiral galaxy disks and halos, and appear to be a common property of the intra-cluster medium of clusters of galaxies, indeed well beyond the cluster core regions. Strengths of ordered magnetic fields in the intracluster medium of cooling flow clusters exceed those which are typical of the interstellar medium of the Milky Way, suggesting that galaxy formation, and even cluster dynamics are, at least in some circumstances influenced by magnetic forces..."

Here's a good one: ( - 29 September 2009 - Magnetic Fields Guide Star Birth:

"The magnetic fields tended to line up in the same direction, even though the relative size scales (1 light-year cores versus 1,000 light-year nebulas) and densities were different by orders of magnitude. Since turbulence would tend to churn the nebula and mix up magnetic field directions, their findings show that magnetic fields dominate turbulence in influencing star birth."

"Our result shows that molecular cloud cores located near each other are connected not only by gravity but also by magnetic fields," Li said. "This shows that computer simulations modeling star formation must take strong magnetic fields into account."

"The study will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal."

Astrophysical Journal?

Yes, that's right, Astrophysical Journal.

KV, say again?

Quantum_Flux said...

Perhaps you are blind to gravitons, OIM.

Anaconda said...

Quantum_Flux: "Perhaps you are blind to gravitons, OIM."

Perhaps you are ignoring that tiny little FACT that "gravitons" have NEVER been observed & measured, directly, or indirectly.

It's strictly a theoretical construct.

And sure six billion bucks have been spent on that super collider in Europe to find "gravitrons", but I got a sneaky suspicion they're going to come up empty...that is...if they can ever get the damn thing to work right...

OilIsMastery said...


The whole world is blind to gravitons. Gravitons only exist in Meinong's Jungle with the invisible pink unicorns.

Anaconda said...

@ OilIsMastery:

You got to remember with Quantum_Flux, he is a slave to quantum mechanics, he follows whatever QM says, and right now they talk "gravitrons", so that's the drivel that quantum_Flux spits out.

When it comes to mathematics, Quantum_Flux is strictly a herd animal, an acolyte sucking up what the shamans crap out.

Quantum_Flux said...

I havem't seem any valid disproofs of gravitons