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Long Read of the Day: Will we ever understand the beginning of the universe?

The science of cosmology has achieved wonders in recent centuries. It has enlarged the world we can see and think about by ontological orders of magnitude. Cosmology wrenched the Earth from the centre of the Universe, and heaved it, like a discus, into its whirling orbit around one unremarkable star among the billions that speed around the black-hole centre of our galaxy, a galaxy that floats in deep space with billions of others, all of them colliding and combining, before they fly apart from each other for all eternity. Art, literature, religion and philosophy ignore cosmology at their peril.

But cosmology’s hot streak has stalled. Cosmologists have looked deep into time, almost all the way back to the Big Bang itself, but they don’t know what came before it. They don’t know whether the Big Bang was the beginning, or merely one of many beginnings. Something entirely unimaginable might have preceded it. Cosmologists don’t know if the world we see around us is spatially infinite, or if there are other kinds of worlds beyond our horizon, or in other dimensions. And then the big mystery, the one that keeps the priests and the physicists up at night: no cosmologist has a clue why there is something rather than nothing.

To solve these mysteries, cosmologists must make guesses about events that are absurdly remote from us. Guth’s theory of inflation is one such guess. It tells us that our Universe expanded, exponentially, a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. In most models of this process, inflation’s expansive kick is eternal. It might cease in particular parts of the cosmos, as it did in our region, after only a fraction of a second, when inflation’s energy transformed into ordinary matter and radiation, which time would sculpt into galaxies. But somewhere outside our region, inflation continued, generating an infinite number of new regions, including those that are roaring into existence at this very moment.

Not all these regions are alike. Quantum mechanics puts a slot-machine spin on the cosmic conditions of every region, so that each has its own physical peculiarities. Some contain galaxies, stars, planets, and maybe even people. Others are entirely devoid of complex structures. Many are too alien to imagine. The slice of space and time we can see from Earth is 90 billion light years across. Today’s inflationary models tell us that this enormous expanse is only one small section of one tiny bubble that floats along in a frothy sea whose proportions defy comprehension. This vision of the world is wondrous, in its vastness and variety, in the sheer range of possibilities it suggests to the mind. But could it ever be proved?

READ THE WHOLE THING @ Will we ever understand the beginning of the universe? | Aeon Essays HT: Ol’Remus

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper August 19, 2017, 1:51 PM

    There never was a beginning of the universe, it just always was. You know, like god always was but it’s too complicated to comprehend cause people like to have a beginning and an end to everything. All wrapped up with a nice big bow and tissue paper.

    Same with evolution, one of god’s alter-egos. Like that biblical the trifecta, father, son, holy ghost. Universe, evolution, time.

  • Bill Jones August 19, 2017, 2:39 PM


  • Howard Nelson August 19, 2017, 4:53 PM

    I commend to your attention the dozens of YouTube presentations by Hugh Ross, astrophysicist, for example,
    discussing Big Bang, dark energy, fine tuning, expansion, ..
    Ties recent science to biblical indicators of present day discoveries. Easy to follow helluva ride from BB to now.

  • indyjonesouthere August 19, 2017, 5:23 PM

    TENS is a theory that is no longer defended and has been left fallow over that last couple of decades. Cosmology has morphed into a religion since Einstein. A quick way to see its science centered downfall was the uneven presence of material distributed during the big bang. There is a video produced that is presented as a “Journey to the Center of the Universe”. Watch it. The science is never settled and just as AGW isn’t settled neither is Cosmology. “Scientists” have now reverted to the idea of multiple universes in order to try to maintain their human centered view of cosmology and it is still unraveling faster than they can put it together.

  • Patvann August 19, 2017, 6:53 PM

    I loved the time I spent to read every word. Damn that was well done.

  • Howard Nelson August 19, 2017, 7:30 PM

    Indy, I found your suggested “Journey …” video whacko. The 10 dimension cosmos theory you refer to and the 11 dimension theory in play, are not falsifiable for the foreseeable future, and appear to be offered as possibilities versus the heavily and multiply quantified measurements described in the Ross YouTube videos, books, and debates he describes with well known secular astrophysicists.
    The hundreds of existing extremely fine-tuned cosmic variables necessary for life have moved secularists to agnosticism and deism. That is, to accepting an outside our universe agent as creator of our universe, as the most likely cause of our existence.
    Please pursue the Ross YouTube videos on the various subjects he takes on in lecture and Q & A with novices and his scientific peers.
    Try his recent book, “Improbable Planet” to get an idea of how immensely improbable it is that we exist.

  • Walt Erickson August 19, 2017, 11:06 PM


    Are we living in an inflationary universe? Is the universe we see infinite or finite? We don’t know, and possibly will never know, because the answers are unknowable. That the universe is infinite seems reasonable to believe, but an inflationary universe is far more mysterious and exciting than the infinite sameness and seamlessness of a static universe. An inflationary universe creates universes of undreampt wonders, and will continue to do so for eternity.

    Borne before the winds of time
    Radiation coalesced
    Into matter as it cooled
    And then came to rest
    Stars and galaxies were formed
    Flooding light upon the dark
    And in time lifeforms arose
    Fired by a spark
    Static is not nature’s way
    And inflation flowed apace
    All around, creating new
    Universes filling space
    Every one of different hue
    Complex chemicals arrayed
    In arrangements never seen
    Star sung music played
    Life believing it is they
    Who create that which is known
    They who master distant worlds
    They the seedling stars have sown
    What a wonder to behold
    And to think how very odd
    Some would say in earnest tones
    That there is no God

  • indyjonesouthere August 20, 2017, 8:22 AM

    Howard Nelson…Robert Sungenis is an American Catholic apologist and the cosmologist behind “The Principle” and the “Journey to the center of the Universe”. Neither are available free on the internet so I doubt that is the video you saw. His defense of his theory is available on his website as he defends by debate with several who question his theory. There are no 10 or 11 dimension theories that I am familiar with and have not heard of Ross.

  • Mike Ferguson August 20, 2017, 11:13 AM

    …..A trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second? Who reads this tripe and gives it any scientific credibility? Fawning at its best.

  • Howard Nelson August 20, 2017, 3:26 PM

    Walt, thanks for the word world-song you set off in my mind.
    “Static is not nature’s way …” is filled with promise and potential.

    Indy, after about 8 minutes in that Ross link above, Ross gets into the data-driven stuff.
    Free YouTube excerpts are readily available.

    Just Google – Journey to the Center of the Universe. Sungenis is the main author. His Sun rotating around the motionless Earth turned me off.

    Mike, fawning at its best results in lots of deer, even though we don’t understand exactly how. Kinda the same in the first second from the BB.

  • Larry Geiger August 21, 2017, 6:59 AM

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
    A gigantic nuclear furnace
    Where hydrogen is built into helium
    At a temperature of millions of degrees

    Yo ho, it’s hot
    The sun is not
    A place where we could live
    But here on Earth there’d be no life
    Without the light it gives

    We need its light
    We need its heat
    We need its energy
    Without the sun
    Without a doubt
    There’d be no you and me

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
    A gigantic nuclear furnace
    Where hydrogen is built into helium
    At a temperature of millions of degrees

    The sun is hot
    It is so hot that everything on it is a gas
    Iron, copper, aluminum, and many others
    The sun is large
    If the sun were hollow, a million Earths could fit inside
    And yet, the sun is only a middle-sized star
    The sun is far away
    About ninety-three million miles away! And that’s why it looks so small
    And even when it’s out of sight, the sun shines night and day

    The sun gives heat
    The sun gives light
    The sunlight that we see
    The sunlight comes from our own sun’s atomic energy

    Scientists have found that the sun is a huge atom-smashing machine
    The heat and light of the sun come from the nuclear reactions of
    hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and helium

    The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
    A gigantic nuclear furnace
    Where hydrogen is built into helium
    At a temperature of millions of degrees

  • Larry Geiger August 21, 2017, 7:01 AM