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November 27, 2010 9:39 AM   Subscribe

to talk about the concept of "time" before the big bang; the Cyclic Universe Theory proposes an alternative to the predominant Inflation Theory that led to this intuition. Now Gurzadyan and Penrose have observed low-variance rings in the CMB, supporting the notion that it makes sense
posted by jjray (41 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
The more we discover the less we know about what the hell is our universe.
posted by Max Power at 9:51 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have pretty much the exact same ideas whenever I am really really high. (Except with less math, and more intuition)
posted by Theta States at 10:00 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


If there were an Intelligent Designer, don't you think the universe would make a little bit more damn sense?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:01 AM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


BBC's Horizon did a pretty good program on this a few weeks ago
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:02 AM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


If there were an Intelligent Designer, don't you think the universe would make a little bit more damn sense?

Or, there is an Intelligent Designer, and he's been hitting the "delete" button a lot.

"I think I'll try something in red this time...yes, red...."
posted by digitalprimate at 10:03 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there were an Intelligent Designer, don't you think the universe would make a little bit more damn sense?

this presumes that all sense is human sense.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Great post, introducing me to interesting theories I hadn't been aware of. And I'm pleased to see Turok finds the "anthropic principle" as useless as I do:
It's a very flaky argument. Because it doesn't predict anything. It's a classic example of postdiction: its just saying, oh well, it has to be this way, because otherwise we wouldn't be here talking about it. There are many other logical flaws in the argument which I could point to, but the basic point is that this argument doesn't really get you anywhere. Its not predictive and it isn't testable.
posted by languagehat at 10:26 AM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I forgot to say: great formatting!
posted by languagehat at 10:27 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Revolutionary, if accurate.

I have to wonder how they ruled out local or post-big-bang effects, though - Yes, we think the CMB represents the last trace of the opaque-plasma phase of the early universe, but why couldn't a pair of on-axis shockwaves long after that era have caused the same pattern?

Yes, it would take just the right conditions, in just the right direction from Earth - But that takes a far shorter leap of faith than attributing it to a pre-big-bang event (not the least reason of which, as I understand it, "time" also started at the big bang - Making the idea of "before" not just unlikely, but meaningless).
posted by pla at 10:35 AM on November 27, 2010


YOU ARE EDUCATED STUPID. UNIVERSE HAS 4 CORNER SIMULTANEOUS TIME CUBE CYCLE.
posted by cleancut at 10:35 AM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's not fair to say the anthropic principle is not predictive: It predicts that a universe significantly different from our own will not develop intelligent life, although testing this hypothesis is somewhat nontrivial.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:39 AM on November 27, 2010


It doesn't have to make sense, it just has to work.
posted by tommasz at 11:08 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's another group of scientists working on this, although they're a little hard to get ahold of at the moment.
posted by scalefree at 11:16 AM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


It gave me a sense of wonder. A quick scan of the paper shows that it is mostly
prose, with a few informative pictures and not much in the way of equations
(it's downloadable from the provided link in arxiv). I'm glad its online, but why
isn't this published in a dead-tree journal?

In last article I read on the Gurzadyan and Penrose paper, a commenter piped
up that it was proof that there was an intelligence involved in the creation of
the universe. Here, some commenters are on it even faster, only they assert that
it is a sign that an intelligence is un-involved.

I don't want to read about either party's certainties about god, or their certainties
about the other party's certainties about god. The immediate delivery of both party
lines seems to indicate a defensive, preemptive polarization that I'm just tired of
reading.

Theists looking for proof in science to support their belief is an indication of how
far they have strayed from their canon. Atheists citing a new piece of evidence as
proof of what I still understand to be unprovable shows how far they have strayed
from reason.

I'm glad to see the anthropic principle cast into the untestable and non-predictive
abyss. Science has got to live by science alone (um. yeah).
posted by the Real Dan at 11:18 AM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Its [the anthropic principle] not predictive and it isn't testable.

Actually...
Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle used the fact that carbon-12 is abundant in the universe as evidence for the existence of the carbon-12 resonance, in what is arguably the only case of success of the application of the Anthropic Principle ... triple alpha processes that requires the existence of a resonance in a given very specific location in the spectra of carbon-12 nuclei.
posted by 7-7 at 11:47 AM on November 27, 2010


I'm glad its online, but why isn't this published in a dead-tree journal?

Virtually every new paper in theoretical physics these days appears on the arXiv first. Some of those papers then get submitted to journals. Some of those papers then get published (after delay ranging from a few months to years).

So one can't infer anything about the quality of a relatively-new paper from the fact that it hasn't yet been published in a journal.
posted by em at 11:54 AM on November 27, 2010


> If there were an Intelligent Designer, don't you think the universe would make a little bit
> more damn sense

Probably, if the Designer happened to be just about exactly as smart as one of us jumped-up monkeys. OTOH if the hypothetical Designer happened to be a great deal smarter than one of us, D. might whip up something easy that we could understand or something not so easy that we couldn't grasp in a month of Sundays (or an infinite number of these.)

That we have minds adequate to nature is one of those comforting assertions many people (especially, one notes, scientists) accept without having the remotest hope of proof.
posted by jfuller at 12:16 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Intelligent Design

Mud puddle in a hole: "Look at this perfect receptacle that was designed for me! It is exactly the same shape I am! What are the odds of this? Astronomical. It's obvious that only a brilliant designer could have come up with such a perfect hole for me."
posted by mullingitover at 12:27 PM on November 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was just reading about this recently. It seems to jive with a bunch of other theories I've read about the possible cyclic nature of the universe.
posted by Relay at 12:53 PM on November 27, 2010


Deja vu.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:10 PM on November 27, 2010


The more we discover the less we know about what the hell is our universe.

Or more precisely, the more we discover, the more we know in absolute terms, but the less we may* know in proportion to what we continually discover it is that we don't know, but didn't know, prior to each new discovery, that we didn't know.

I prefer Bucky Fuller's version: "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know." A nice balance of his acknowledgement of his accumulated knowledge with his acknowledgement that there's always more to learn. No implication of "I don't know shit!"

(It's just that I've heard too many people say, whenever some scientific discovery blows people's minds, that it shows we can't trust what science had said earlier, and that it means we really don't know anything. From there it's a short distance to go for some people to embrace Deepak Chopra, etc.)

(*I say may only because it's a probably unverifiable assumption that the sum total of what we don't know - that is, that which comes into our awareness as "things unknown" - "grows" at some faster rate that the sum total of the things we do know. This assumption incorporates further assumptions that both what we know and what we don't know are quantifiable entities. The possibly infinite scope of what we can and/or can't know makes quantifying it probably impossible.)

New, paradigm-shifting discoveries don't necessarily (and most frequently don't) negate the validity of prior discoveries. (I shouldn't have to state this obvious thing, but yet I hear the "science contradicts itself, can't trust it" attitude frequently expressed, implicitly or explicitly.) Yes, we've discarded Ptolemaic astronomy & geocentrism, the four humours, etc., but the history of empirical, experimental science (as opposed to the mostly theory-based Platonic/Pythagorean/Ptolemaic tradition which accommodated religious and societal dogma - the Christian philosophers adored Plato, for instance) is far more one of building on prior foundations of the house of knowledge than of razing the house to the ground upon a new discovery.

A fairly simple example is the relationship of Einstein's Relativity to Newtonian physics. We didn't throw out the Laws of Thermodynamics and the equations, which we still use; it's just that one assumption of Newton's - the existence of absolute space against which everything could be measured - turned out to be wrong, and Relativity showed how and why, and provided verifiable predictions, successfully tested. The rocket that puts a GPS satellite into orbit is guided by using Newtonian mechanical calculations; the equations used to accurately fix GPS positions incorporate relativistic factors. Relativity encompasses Newtonian physics, and explains aspects of spacetime which Newtonian physics didn't, rather than replacing it.
posted by Philofacts at 1:16 PM on November 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


"If there were an Intelligent Designer, don't you think the universe would make a little bit more damn sense?"
Only if there were an intelligent enough observer.
posted by benjonson at 1:58 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

I muss Douglas Adams.
posted by Decani at 2:29 PM on November 27, 2010


I not only muss him, I miss him. I could muss him because we were quite close.
posted by Decani at 2:29 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Max Power: "The more we discover the less we know about what the hell is our universe"

As Carl Sagan said: We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.

But he didn't say that that knowledge would come quickly.
posted by bwg at 3:32 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


jfuller:"That we have minds adequate to nature is one of those comforting assertions many people (especially, one notes, scientists) accept without having the remotest hope of proof"

Any scientist worth their salt knows that we may just not be smart enough to figure a bunch of this stuff out. That shouldn't stop people trying to figure out as much as possible.
posted by markr at 5:48 PM on November 27, 2010


As Carl Sagan said: We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.

There is more genuine spirituality expressed in one one-hundredth of your (his) phrase than in the entire theological heft that the god-became-man-became-wafer-and-or-metaphysical-scapegoat narrative could ever hope to capture. Merry Thanksmas, everyone.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:52 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


This speaks to a lot of the problems that I have with the theory of dark matter/dark energy. It's one thing to create a theory that tries to explain a lack of data. It's another to place it in the consciousness of people who just don't know, and call it done.

I have watched many cable "science" shows that pretty much consider it fait accompli. And I've always balked at that. Because to me it smacked of faith. Even blind faith.

I'd rather that it was made clear that it's more "We don't really know" than "This is the way it is right now" because that's not the truth.

As well, the Big Bang has gotten a lot of criticism lately, yet certain TV programs (NatGeo, Discovery et. al.) pretty much consider it a done deal. I am not a physicist (astro or otherwise) but I have questions that aren't answered by these shows that just gloss over the problems.

The thing is, if scientists on these shows were more willing to just say, "I don't know", I'd have more respect for them than if they just posited dark matter, or the Big Bang and said, "This is how it is."

An article like this makes me feel better. Because I Don't Know is quite acceptable in science. Pretending to know or even insisting that you know, even when you don't...

Well, that's religion.
posted by Splunge at 8:36 PM on November 27, 2010


Turok finds the "anthropic principle" as useless as I do

Man, was I confused for a second.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:31 PM on November 27, 2010


I wish to reject this because I refuse to believe that the second and third Matrix films could in any way explain our universe.
posted by Sutekh at 10:23 PM on November 27, 2010


That we have minds adequate to nature is one of those comforting assertions many people (especially, one notes, scientists) accept without having the remotest hope of proof.
posted by jfuller at 8:16 PM on November 27


Personally I have never met, read or heard a single scientist claim that we definitely have minds "adequate to nature", if what you mean by that rather odd phrase is "minds capable of fully understanding everything about nature". Every scientist I've talked to about these things quite freely admits that the full subtleties of reality may very likely be beyond our grasp. But that doesn't mean they stop trying to push the boundary back as far as they can.

No, the only people I have head claiming access to "ultimate truth" are religious people.
posted by Decani at 2:46 AM on November 28, 2010


Every scientist I've talked to about these things quite freely admits that the full subtleties of reality may very likely be beyond our grasp. But that doesn't mean they stop trying to push the boundary back as far as they can.

No, the only people I have heard claiming access to "ultimate truth" are religious people.


Yes, religion, motivated by fear and anxiety, is in the business of peddling absolute certainty; science is not: it deals with approximation, provisional truths, degrees of certainty.

A book I read this year, A Tear at the Edge of Creation, by the physicist Marcelo Gleiser, proposes among other points the idea that even the search for the ultimate unified field theory (uniting gravity with the other three forces that have already been linked) may be tainted with a residual quasi-religious urge for absolute certainty, absolute knowledge, perfect symmetry… He's not proposing that scientists stop looking, stop trying; he's just asking whether there might not be limits to what we can know about even that. (It's pertinent that the search for the unified theory is sometimes referred to as the Holy Grail of physics. Perhaps that should give us pause.)

Religious people often fail to distinguish between epistemic range (the limits of what we can know) and ontic range (the full extent of reality), and where they do recognize that there's a difference, they engage in the really rather hubristic attempt to make up the difference with faith. Good scientists don't. They're "not frightened by not knowing things", as Richard Feynman once put it.
posted by Philofacts at 8:06 AM on November 28, 2010


And yet another thread (with no apparent connection to religion) degenerates into yet another comforting RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE DUMB AMIRITE circle jerk. Well done, MetaFilter.
posted by languagehat at 8:19 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, resorting to caricature...

Not dumb, necessarily; many are quite smart, and have contributed to human understanding, in the sciences as well as elsewhere, to varying degrees, but in the end the yearnings for absolutes, and the emotions which drive those yearnings, tend to undermine critical thinking, encourage wishful thinking, and so sabotage the quest for a clear understanding of the universe, to the extent that understanding is possible. This tendency isn't just found among those holding religious beliefs; we all have it to some degree, but religion by its very nature gives it free rein.

The contrast between religion and science is quite relevant to any discussion of our epistemic limits, and thus to this particular discussion of what we can know about the universe's pre-Big Bang "past", of whether it's cyclic (Big Bang/Big Crunch accordion universe? all eventually disappears down black holes to be "reborn" as new universes? other means of "recycling"?) or whether it's a one-off, some version of steady-state, or whatever. Whenever we start asking questions about things for which we may not ever be able to find direct evidence, that's the time to interrogate ourselves as to whether we're indulging the tendency to reach for unwarranted certainties. This is the curious yet cautious balance essential to science.
posted by Philofacts at 10:44 AM on November 28, 2010


> Ah yes, resorting to caricature...

Ah yes...

> There is more genuine spirituality expressed in one one-hundredth of your (his) phrase than in the entire theological heft that the god-became-man-became-wafer-and-or-metaphysical-scapegoat narrative could ever hope to capture. Merry Thanksmas, everyone.

> religion, motivated by fear and anxiety, is in the business of peddling absolute certainty

...you're so right.
posted by languagehat at 11:12 AM on November 28, 2010


bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!
posted by ergomatic at 1:49 PM on November 29, 2010


the rings suggest thunder is indeed what
posted by jjray at 11:13 PM on November 29, 2010


The thing is, if scientists on these shows were more willing to just say, "I don't know", I'd have more respect for them

These scientists don't know. Or, to be more precise, their confidence varies from theory to theory. But that's not a story that the media want to peddle. Our knowledge of astronomy and cosmology is very crude and these are highly complex topics but that must be concealed behind simple black and white stories.

Part of the reason for scientists playing along is the scientific illiteracy of the general public, and their (justified) fear that equivocal statements would sound wishy-washy compared to the unequivocal beliefs inherent in religion.
posted by bobbyelliott at 2:46 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yet another thread (with no apparent connection to religion) degenerates into yet another comforting RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE DUMB AMIRITE circle jerk. Well done, MetaFilter.

Languagehat, I think the world of you but this is bordering on projection or something. The less anthropomorphic spirituality is, the better.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:56 PM on December 2, 2010


And for the record, I find little if anything quote-unquote comforting in the notion that there is no anthropomorphic creator deity working behind the scenes. If anything, the comfort is found in the opposite camp. Sorry for the projection language, that was uncalled for. Also, religion is one thing, a sense of awe and/or gratitude in the face of brute existence is something else.
posted by joe lisboa at 6:18 PM on December 2, 2010


<Emily Litella>Never mind!</Emily Litella>
posted by scalefree at 11:58 PM on December 12, 2010


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