Physics professor Brian Greene of Columbia University printed an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times recently. In an article entitled “Darkness on the Edge of the Universe,” the esteemed scientist and mathematician made an admission so startling that it caused me to do a double take. According to Greene, the space between scientific theory and observed data can be mind-numbingly huge. Since Einstein, science has attempted to account for and understand dark energy. Greene confesses that the “most refined attempts to calculate the amount of dark energy suffusing space miss the measured value by a gargantuan factor of 10123 (that is, a 1 followed by 123 zeroes) — the single greatest mismatch between theory and observation in the history of science.”

If science can be so wrong, where does that leave History? After all, science is performed in a laboratory with gizmos and high-tech measuring devices. The mindscape is History’s laboratory: not a Bunsen burner in sight. Where science can be recreated no matter the location upon our tiny planet, the recreation of History can never occur, no matter how hard Civil War re-enactors try.

Yet science and History have two commonalities: one, they both seek “the truth,” and two, they are both human creations and therefore sufferable to the human habit of error.

I pulled my daughter Liz to the side. She’s a budding scientist only five-months away from high school graduation and her college applications already in. Her major? Microbiology or Bio-Infomatics, i.e., “science.”

I shared with her Greene’s admission and the overall article whereupon we ruminated, “Which is closer to the truth – science or History?” Of course she chose science, and of course I chose History.

But in the end, I think she conceded. History, because (as post modernists like to remind us) it is so subjective, often has different approaches. History allows many points of view, or as Jeffery Perl once put it a “multiplex” of views. Therefore, one event from several different angles creates a history filled with depth, intrigue, somehow almost three-dimensional. Science, on the other hand, is not as multiplexed as History. Though peer reviewed, science is often surrounded by a monolithic point of view with one or two other upstart schools of thought nibbling at the periphery. History, in stark contrast, is less centered on one mode of monolithic thought. Several schools of thoughts compete simultaneously, and within each school are those rogue historians that refuse to be bound by a single school and jump from among many thoughts to complete their research.

Greene’s article also presented a moral – all good stories have them. But the moral of the story involved Albert Einstein who produced the famed “theory of relativity.” But the theory presented a problem: when Einstein reviewed his own mathematical formulas they proved that the universe – along with time – can be shaped, twisted, bent, and warped. Einstein, according to Greene, refused to believe the universe’s malleability and wrestled with this problem for ten years. Einstein responded by reshuffling some of the numbers in his original theory by introducing the mathematical existence of a “cosmological constant,” otherwise known as dark energy. Einstein felt certain that this constant held the universe in check – equal amounts of energy (dark and light, gravity and anti-gravity) that existed to cancel each other out. But in 1929, an American astronomer knows as Edwin Hubble, proved that the universe was expanding, that distant galaxies were moving away from us and at ever faster and increasing speeds. Einstein was crushed. Hubble used the original math from Einstein’s initial theory of relativity to prove the red-shift, blue-shift “relative” movement of distant galaxies. Einstein’s creation of “dark energy” appeared flawed.

But wait, says Greene, fast-forward to the 1990s where astronomers scrambled to explain why distant supernovae were speeding up rather than slowing down. Two teams came up with the same answer, the only way these massive exploding stars can be accelerating was to reintroduce Einstein’s flawed “cosmological constant.” Einstein’s dark energy filled the explanation perfectly. If Einstein had been alive, another Noble prize would have been awarded to him.

I tell my daughter, always question…always. It’s what historians do, it’s what scientist ought to do. Until then, History will be closer to the truth than science.

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