“The physicist is like someone who’s watching people playing chess and, after watching a few games, he may have worked out what the moves in the game are. But understanding the rules is just a trivial preliminary on the long route from being a novice to being a grand master. So even if we understand all the laws of physics, then exploring their consequences in the everyday world where complex structures can exist is a far more daunting task, and that’s an inexhaustible one I’m sure.” -Martin Rees
It’s all too easy to take a look at a prediction that’s about something yet unproven and dismiss it as mere speculation. But in science, it’s the ability to predict the unknown accurately that’s at the core of what it means to have a successful scientific theory. Our best theoretical frameworks, laws, and models enable us to not only predict what should happen in familiar circumstances, but in unfamiliar ones as well. When we first looked into the distant Universe, at a patch of pure darkness, many were uncertain of whether we’d find anything at all.
When we were rewarded with thousands of galaxies in the Hubble Deep Field, it was no surprise; it was a consequence of well-established theories like the Big Bang and General Relativity. Signals from merging black holes, the discovery of the Higgs boson, and many other instances across many scientific fields validate this approach. And when a theoretical model makes failed predictions, that doesn’t necessarily mean the theory is a failure, but rather that there’s another important contributing factor to include in the future.