So that’s it, then?

Members of the Year 9 Athenaeum have been considering how some theories which had been accepted for a long time became challenged and how, in other cases, theories emerged where there had been none at all before.

The initial examples were drawn for the world of Geology. The students looked at one of the giants of 19th-century geology, Sir Roderick Murchison. He dominated the Royal Geographical Society and supported the view that when looking at a layer of exposed rocks, the youngest rocks would be found at the top. This view was challenged in a specific case in the Highlands of Scotland, where Charles Lapworth and others showed that a particular layer of rocks was not in its original place but had been caused by a gigantic system of dislocations, whereby successive masses of the oldest rocks, had been exhumed from below and thrust over the younger formations.


The students were amazed to discover that up until the 1960s, there was no coherent theory of “Plate tectonics”, just various speculations about what forces may be at work. Then, the new idea arrived in what philosophers of science like to call a “Paradigm Shift.”


Moving into the world of Physics, the students then learnt about how the laws of Newton, which govern the world of larger objects, seem not to apply in the world of the very small, the world of the quantum particle. The lesson ended with a short video of how quantum computers operate and how different they are from a normal computer. The presenter explained that a quantum computer is not just a more powerful version of a traditional computer, in the same way that a light bulb is not just a more powerful version of a candle; it operates in a fundamentally different way.


All these discussions help the students to see that in their lifetime, new theories will continue to emerge in many areas of life and that some things taken as the “truth” now are likely to be subjected to major review as further paradigm shifts occur.