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Doughnutty Universe
March 10, 2003 11:05 PM   Subscribe

MMmmm, doughnut. (NYT link, reg. req'd) Lots of great philosophical answers to the old universe question, like our galaxy is in some giant's fingernail, and others. How about this one? Our universe is the shape of a doughnut! (more inside)
posted by msacheson (14 comments total)

 
I know we've got some smart people here who can understand this better than me, but I just love some of these quotes from scientists cited in the article:

Nature, they contend, might have had an easier time making a small "compact" universe than an infinite one, and they assume Nature would take the easy way out.

"The basic idea is that God's on a budget," said Dr. George Smoot, a physicist at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and a leader on the COBE team.


Besides being difficult to create, an infinite universe is philosophically unattractive. In an infinite volume, he pointed out, anything that can happen will happen.

"Somewhere there are two guys having this same conversation," Dr. Starkman said in a telephone interview, "except that one of them has a purple phone."


"I tried on the idea that we were really and truly seeing the finite extent of space and I was filled with dread.

"But I'm enjoying it too."


So, we're in the middle of a big doughnut, but the question remains: what kind of doughnut?
posted by msacheson at 11:11 PM on March 10, 2003


>Besides being difficult to create, an infinite universe is philosophically unattractive. In an infinite volume, he pointed out, anything that can happen will happen.

Huh? I _like_ that idea! It means anything is possible! Seems philosophically attractive to me! :-)
posted by shepd at 11:28 PM on March 10, 2003


There is a Simpsons where Stephen Hawking says to Homer: "Homer, your theory of a donut-shaped universe is intriguing." Maybe Homer was right. He was right about the comet (it burned up until all that was left was the size of a chihuahua's head), so maybe he's an astronomical savant.
posted by condour75 at 11:29 PM on March 10, 2003


subscription-free link
posted by andrew cooke at 2:26 AM on March 11, 2003


An infinite universe would contain an infinite number of mad scientists bent on destroying the universe by creating a rift in the space-time continuum.

I'm happy here in the donut, thanks.
and if that doesn't rate a tagline callout, well I don't know what.
posted by ook at 5:07 AM on March 11, 2003


An infinite universe would contain an infinite number of mad scientists bent on destroying the universe by creating a rift in the space-time continuum.

even an infinite universe has to be bound by the laws of physics. if it is possible for some mad scientist somewhere in the future to somehow destroy space and time then it would "already" have happened (if time is destroyed there is no now). since it hasn't happened, then either the universe is finite or, more interestingly, the infinite number of mad scientists that are out there are unable to destroy the universe because it's simply not possible (unphysical).

either way, you can now relax.

i'm ashamed to admit to having supported, yesterday, in a moment of weakness, horrible american imperialist multinational megacorp dunkin donuts - they seem to be the only source of doughnuts here. a veritable doughnut monopoly of evil capitalism. damn!
posted by andrew cooke at 5:29 AM on March 11, 2003


and where's the jam?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:32 AM on March 11, 2003


Andrew - Both you and the physicists seem to have missed a crucial possibility:

The universe is a bagel

But your 5:29 comment has partially reassured me about that particluar avenue of doom, thanks.....

Load off my mind. One more cup of coffee, and a bagel, then I'm down to the basement. This is GREAT!...I had decided that my home cyclotron project was a damn waste of time because of the "universe-destruction" potential....now I can resume my scalar-field experiments....schweeet!....*kneads hands in eager anticipation*
posted by troutfishing at 6:18 AM on March 11, 2003


Besides being difficult to create, an infinite universe is philosophically unattractive. In an infinite volume, he pointed out, anything that can happen will happen.

It means even more than that. Not only will anything happen that can happen, it will also happen an infinite time over and over again for the rest of eternity. Kinda like Nietzsches "Ewige Wiederkehr"...
posted by zerofoks at 6:42 AM on March 11, 2003


Besides being difficult to create, an infinite universe is philosophically unattractive. In an infinite volume, he pointed out, anything that can happen will happen.

I don't see why this follows. Why can't it just be all empty space beyond the extent of the few hundred million galaxies we think there are out there? Or, if you like stuff out there, why can't there just be no left-handed version of me in the entire universe? I don't see that there is a law requiring it.

The decimal representation of 1/3 also goes on forever, but you'll never find a 4 in it.
posted by tss at 6:58 AM on March 11, 2003


In an infinite universe (time & space), the probability of anything possible happening approaches 1, though doesn't neccesarily reach it.
posted by signal at 7:19 AM on March 11, 2003


tss (if you were looking for a vaguely serious answer) - there are a bunch of (usually) unwritten assumptions in cosmology. that the universe is the same in all directions, that there's no special "point", that physics doesn't vary etc (i'm not even trying to make those orthogonal - some may imply others). these latest results question some of these (although i'd bet an awful lot on someone finding a solution that doesn't break them and which comes to be accepted as the standard model). what you're seeing in that article is the fall-out from a bunch of (gleeful) theoreticians suddenly being given free rein to start throwing away some assumptions. but the rules of the game mean you should throw away as little as possible (a lot of thought will be going into just what is the smallest amount of "generality" that you need to lose to fit the data). your examples all throw away a tad more... although it would obviously be very gratifying for you personally if the whole structure of the universe reflected the position of your left hand ;o)

and no, there's no firm justification for those assumptions, except that they reflect the modern post-galilean zeitgeist and, until (maybe) now, haven't been (unexplainably) inconsistent with the data.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:32 AM on March 11, 2003


For the love of god, somebody stop troutfishing! What he doesn't realize is if that the universe is finite, he may be the first to do this experiment... and he may destroy us all!
posted by languagehat at 7:54 AM on March 11, 2003


In an infinite universe (time & space), the probability of anything possible happening approaches 1, though doesn't neccesarily reach it.

With this, God realizes that universe must have been godwinned billions of times by now, and accuses signal of universejacking.
posted by condour75 at 8:23 AM on March 11, 2003


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