8. The standard principles of science
Atoms and molecules
The laws of thermodynamics
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?
—C. P. Snow, Rede Lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959).
If [your pet theory of the universe] is found to be contradicted by observation—well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
—Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1928), chapter 4.
Conservation of mass and energy
The law of large numbers
My book (meaning Not Your Usual Rocks, still to be published) is about the facts—though I will later discuss a maverick theory about the origins of oil. I don’t believe it, but it is both entertaining, and instructive to consider as a way of seeing how science works.But the great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact—which is so constantly being enacted under the eyes of philosophers, was played almost immediately, for the benefit of Buffon and Needham.
—T. H. Huxley, Presidential address to the British Association in September, 1870.
By the time you are done, all of these will make perfect sense.