11 July 2006

I will be performing a crucial experiment this weekend. I will be traveling to the North Pole with a 10,000,000 watt electromagnet to test a theory of my late uncle's. A crucial experiment is one that tests a "novel prediction" and can, if the results turn out differently than predicted, immediately falsify the "bold conjecture," or new theory, that lead to it. A novel prediction is one that very probably won't come true if what we currently believe is accurate, but can come true if the new theory is; while a bold conjecture simply gives a novel prediction: it claims that something will happen which background knowledge says is very unlikely.

My uncle believed that the present understanding of magnetic currents and attractions in the Earth itself is wrong. His bold conjecture was that the Earth should behave just like any other magnet: the North pole should be attracted to a Southern charge, and repelled by another North, just like all other magnets. His novel prediction, based on this theory, is that if a Northern current of sufficient wattage is applied to the magnetic North pole, the Earth will spin its axis, just like any other magnet, to line up a Southern current with the Northern one. It is novel because it doesn't fit into what we believe about magnetics or the Earth. So far, there is no reason(other than his theory) to believe that this will really happen. If the world actually does shift its axis over the weekend, that will offer pretty strong corroboration for Unc's theory–– I mean, the world hasn't shifted its axis for quite a while, and there is no reason to expect it to now except the one he describes. By strong corroboration, I mean that this experiment, if these results occur, will convince most people that I am right. It is much more convincing than, say, watching two little bar magnets spin when they are introduced to opposite poles: we already know that this happens, but don't believe that the Earth will respond in the same way. If my experiment goes as planned, there should be no doubt that the Earth also spins in response to magnetic charges. And one spin should be enough to convince them: the shift will be very dramatic and its effects should be both widespread and pronounced.

Yet the degree of corroboration this will provide is inversely proportionate to the probability of its occurrence. If other experiments that I don't know about have been done and Unc's theory isn't really new, then I'm just playing with the Earth, not contributing to science.


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