The Case Against Dark Matter

The Case Against Dark Matter: A proposed theory of gravity does away with dark matter, even as new astrophysical findings challenge the need for galaxies full of the invisible mystery particles.| Quanta Magazine

Once upon a time, we attributed fire to a mysterious substance called phlogiston — literally, Greek for “that which burns” — because we couldn’t explain how otherwise inert matter, like wood, could suddenly explode in heat and light. And if that seems silly to you, you really haven’t thought it through from the standpoint of someone who doesn’t already have the benefit of the last 300 years of discovery. A substance like phogiston would explain why, for example, some kinds of matter aren’t burnable at all, like water and rock: low phlogiston content.

When we developed a proper chemistry of fire, phlogiston disappeared from reality. But not the phenomenon we were trying to explain. And to a certain degree, we still believe in phlogiston, sort of… if you are generous and recognize that it was just a shorthand model for what turned out to be a certain kind of potential energy, which stuff that burns really does have more of than water or stone. Wood, for example, literally stores sun-energy in its carbon bonds.

I’ve always suspect dark matter was something like that. It’s not like we believe it exists because we’ve ever observed it. We haven’t. We simply infer its existence from observations of effects that we attribute to it. But if we only know it by what it does, then there’s really no evidence for dark matter specifically over any other phenomenon that explains the same observations. And once we no longer need it, it will disappear from reality and becomes something silly that dumb people a long time ago used to believe because they didn’t know better like us smart people living in the present.

Don’t get me wrong. It will be a LONG time before anything like the theory in this article achieves consensus, even if it is true, and it very much may not be. This is just a proposal. A tragic flaw might arise next week. Or maybe it has already and I just haven’t heard. And certainly right now, the consensus view among astrophysicists is that there’s a thing called dark matter out there doing its best to hold our universe together. Only crackpot amateurs like me, and mavericks like Verlinde, think that’s nutty.

However, whether this theory is true or something else, I still suspect dark matter is a fiction, the phlogiston of our time. And the same goes for the new kind of “dark energy” this theory proposes (which is embedded in space-time itself). It’s probably shorthand for a variety of phenomena that we’re lumping together because we don’t understand what causes it and which will be given a proper name once it’s, ahem, no longer dark.


(EDIT: since otherwise smart people whiz through life, and especially the internet, at 90mph looking for porn and something to argue about, reading comprehension suffers universally, as evidenced by the comments on this article. And it’s not even like Quanta is Reddit! The article isn’t summarizing the case against dark matter. It isn’t even trying. Nor is it saying there’s a strong case. It’s just letting us know that there is one, and it got three separate boosts in the last couple months. If anyone wants to argue the merits of the theory, go read the primary literature first and then come back and let me know.)


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