Invisible (Dark Matter) (Non-Empirical Science)

dark matter

I think this article is charming. It’s about the failure of a big-science apparatus to detect invisible dark matter. It’s called the Large Underground Xenon dark matter experiment. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/science/space/dark-matter-experiment-has-found-nothing-scientists-say-proudly.html?hpw

Dark matter, the object which the machine failed to capture, may not even be given to sense experience.  “As has become de rigueur for such occasions, the scientists took pride and hope in how clearly they did not see anything. “In 25 years of searching, this is the cleanest signal I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Gaitskell said in an interview.”

It used to be that science was an empirical discourse, and if not purely empirical than at least mathematical. That’s what we wooly humanists were taught to think. I guess what drew my attention to the article was this notion: the clarity of not seeing anything. At some point, empirical science slips into the language of negative theology.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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3 Responses to Invisible (Dark Matter) (Non-Empirical Science)

  1. Jon-Erik says:

    This is a fair objection, but as some point the method of exhaustion comes into place. When you run out of other alternatives, the best you can probably do is rely on dark matter. I can’t say what any of the scientists working on that experiment would say if you got into a methodological debate with them, but at this point I think many would concede that “dark matter” is a linguistic placeholder for what accounts for the observations about the expansion of the universe given the other things we know about it. As long as the observations match the inferences, I’m not sure what’s not empirical about it.

    • zjb says:

      thanks, Jon. but no objection or debate on my part was intended as i have no problem with linguistic placeholders. it’s just interesting for me as a layperson to see them at work in the natural sciences. art historian and critic James Elkins has a wonderful book about scientific images and the limits of representation that touches upon these kinds of questions.

      • Jon-Erik says:

        It’s still a fair objection and touches on an issue I’ve dedicated a lot of bandwidth to. Thanks for the reference to the Elkins book. Sounds interesting!

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