Friday, February 12, 2010

The Big Bang, Culture And Our Unique Place In Time.

Lawrence Krauss submitted a paper that is short and should be assessable to all our readers named The Big Bang, Modern Cosmology and the Fate of the Universe: Impacts upon Culture.

The paper raises some interesting ideas.  I will go through some:

1. The question "where did we come from" has been as fundamental in shaping our culture as anything else.  How will our expanding knowledge of the physics behind our origins effect this?
Ever since humans have had the capacity to wonder, they have been inspired by the night sky to wonder about questions such as: Where did we come from?, or, Are we Alone?, or How will the Universe end? These questions and others form the very basis of much of human culture, beginning with myths and religion, and moving, over the past 400 years into the domain of modern science...
Eighty five years ago our universe consisted of a single galaxy, our Milky Way. Now we know there are over 400 billion galaxies in the observable universe! More remarkable still, almost all people now take for granted the fact that our universe had a beginning which occurred a finite time ago... The Big Bang changed everything.
 2. Modern cosmology sometimes hints that the anthropic principle may be right after all.  There may not be a fundamental principle forcing our universe to be as it is.  It could be universes are quantum mechanically generated over and over until finally one with life emerges.

In some sense this spells the end for science as we know it:
As appealing as this [anthropic principle] may seem on the surface, it is rife with problems... If anthropic arguments are correct (while we may never be able to falsify them), it suggests that science as we have known it for the past 400 years is, at a fundamental level, over. The march of physics has constantly been aimed at showing that the universe must be the way it is, based on fundamental principles. If anthropic arguments are correct, physics becomes, at a fundamental level merely an environmental science.
3.  One thing really bizarre is that we are living in one of the only periods in the universe's history where we could ever "see" the Big Bang happened.  Why do we live in such a special time, perhaps the only time in history when we could even know about the Big Bang?
In particular we find that in a time comparable to the age of the longest lived stars all evidence that the Big Bang will disappear–observers will not be able to perform any observation or experiment that infers either the existence of an expanding universe dominated by a cosmological constant, or that there was a hot Big Bang.
Krauss then ends like this:
We appear to live in a very special time: the only time when we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time! Of course, however, it is likely that all observers at all times may feel this is the case... Perhaps observations made in the far future will reveal aspects of the universe we cannot yet measure that will change the current, strange model we have uncovered for the cosmos, or that will reveal aspects of dark energy that we cannot now even imagine.
The last century has clearly changed our understanding of the place of humanity, and the earth, within the cosmos. The revolutions of the past several decades have changed everything about our understanding of the future. Will these revolutions change our cultural perspective in a way that changes behavior?
Any thoughts?


  1. Here we are in the 21st century and people are still ignorant and superstitions about the Big Bang. 2 weeks ago in Gospel Doctrine a well respected member of the ward started ripping on the bing bang as if it were a threat to his beliefs! Very frustrating. There seems to be an anti-science undercurrent in our society that is frustrating and scary. Don't they know how beautiful it is that Einstein predicted the big bang using nothing more than a pencil, paper and his brain? How Hubble confirmed his prediction several years later? One of the most beautiful stories in science and so many people are uncomfortable with it or blow it off completely. Very sad indeed.

  2. Stan,

    I agree that the Big Bang is an extremely beautiful and elegant theory. Moreover, nobody should feel threatened by the Big Bang any more than people in the past should have been threatened by scientists discovering the earth rotated about the sun. (Unfortunately some felt threatened.)

    Note to the world: it is a wonderful thing that we have ways of measuring physical processes during the origins of the observable universe.


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