Big Bang

February 2, 2014


“In the beginning there was nothing at all. To the north and south of the nothingness lay regions of fire and frost.” ~ Snorri Sturluson 1220 CE

Snorri sounds like a real hoot. If the 13th century Vikings had a dictionary, and looked up the word “hoot” I bet Snorri’s image would be sketched right there next to the definition. Imagine Snorri sitting by an open fireplace with a couple of over-sized wolfhounds sacked out at his feet. He downs one horn of mead after another and advises the world on blondes, braids, and the nuances of Nordic cosmology. Just a little to the north of the nothingness you say?

The thing with every cultural cosmology is that people feel compelled to begin by getting something from nothing. Once you have at least something, it is easy to come up with a colorful narrative that develops into the things around us. Once something or other existed, the something or other turned suddenly into so-and-so, who boinked whats-her-name, who begat this other idiot. Even Snorri himself did this sort of progression when he explained further that the fire caused the ice to drip some water into the nothing where it formed the world, including a big guy with a cow that ate grass as the sun shined and I think at this point he is basically just looking out the window and listing all of the stuff he sees.

“The creator, Awonawilona, thought himself into being.” ~ Zuni Indian

Many of our cultural cosmologies (religions) do the same thing as Snorri. Some of them start by insisting that everything must have a cause, and in the same exact breath insist that their creator doesn’t have a cause. I’m not terribly impressed by their lack of commitment to their axiom. Snorri at least attempts to combine thermodynamics with the nothingness. There is entropic potential from the temperature differential involved with the Viking version, it’s actually insightful on some level.

Lawrence Krauss recently published a fascinating book (A Universe from Nothing) about his latest scientific theory explaining cosmological data. It does away with the “what-started-what” problem by fundamentally changing the definition of nothingness. Essentially he says that it is quite possible that we have always had a primitive and indefensible opinion of what nothingness is really like. Perhaps nothingness has always been an inherently unstable and unsustainable condition. Like the Snorri story, Krauss depends heavily on thermodynamics but it is a lot more complicated because you know, math and stuff.

CreationismPosterHere is our problem. Edwin Hubble compared the galaxies’ distances to their redshifts in 1929 and found a relationship. He interpreted the redshifts as being caused by the velocities of the galaxies as they move away from us. Although the explanation is widely accepted by astronomers today, at the time Hubble proposed it there were harsh critics of this interpretation and it was one of those guys (Fred Hoyle) who coined the name Big Bang in an effort to make it sound stupid. It’s often the case that your adversaries get to choose your nickname and they don’t have to be nice about it.

Ironically the Big Bang theory suggests that the Universe in the beginning was very tiny, not “big” at all, and it didn’t “bang” so much as it grew. It grew quickly, sure, but an acorn doesn’t explode into a tree. Each part of the acorn is involved in the growth and is evolving over time, not being blasted away from some central point. Nevertheless the name stuck because to a bunch of horny old geeky dudes Big Bang sounded way more fun than A Tiny Growth.

“In the beginning there was only Tirawahat, which is the Universe and everything in it.” ~ Skidi Pawnee Indian

1970S Teen Boy And Girl Walking Down Suburban Street Carrying School BooksHubble explained that his discovery likened the Universe to raisin pudding. I’m not sure exactly what raisin pudding is but to hear Hubble talk about it makes me think of raisin bread. It’s a loaf of dough with raisins, you put it in the oven, and it rises as it cooks. Sounds like bread to me. Anyway, as it rises the individual raisins get lonelier and lonelier as they get farther and farther apart. It doesn’t matter which raisin you choose to be our own galaxy, all of the others are moving away. More importantly, the speed at which they recede depends on their distance. The close ones move away slowly and the far ones move away quickly.

If you do enough four-dimensional math you will probably come to the conclusion that the Universe isn’t expanding into anything and that it is finite with no edges. This is where Einstein weighed in. The 3D projection of a 4D space-time continuum has geometrical implications in common with the surface of a sphere. In other words, the center is everywhere, the edge is nowhere, and as the area increases, nothing has to get out of its way. It’s not expanding into anything. But even stranger, it’s not expanding into nothing either. There is no such thing as nothing. Maybe.

“You cannot make a big mistake about nothing.” ~ John Dobson

turtlegodAsk yourself this, if you imagine yourself looking down on the Universe as space itself expands, where the hell are you standing? And since the Universe is made of both space and “time,” exactly WHEN are you out there in the non-space? Before you answer I’ll pour us some more mead.

If you want to develop your own modern cosmology, and you want it to be considered by lots of scientists instead of just your psychiatrist, then you need your theory to at least address these four well-known facts.

  1. The Universe appears to be expanding, as if it started super hot, and spread out.
  2. The current cosmic background radiation temperature of the Universe is precisely what we expect if it started super hot, and spread out.
  3. The abundance of the lighter elements in the Universe is precisely what we expect if it started super hot, and spread out. Strangely enough this was discovered thanks to some of the math models of Fred Hoyle, enemy of the big bang theory. That must have really pissed him off.
  4. Long ago (far away) galaxies are more like mere galaxy-wannabees. Their parts look much younger, slimmer, more attractive, more sexy. It’s as if the Universe started off super hot and then spread out. It’s a common problem that a lot of us have experienced personally.

Consider this basic principle. Over time, simple systems tend to develop into more complex systems. We see that in the biological fossil record and we call it evolution. We see a type of evolution in the cosmological record of galaxies as well.

“Darkness was at first by darkness hidden.” ~ Hindu creation hymn

Here’s a generally accepted timeline of the history of the Universe which is based on a crap-load of math.
10-35 seconds after whatever was before.
The Universe initiates a cataclysm that generates all of our current versions of space and time, as well as all the energy the Universe currently has. For an incomprehensibly small fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second, the Universe is infinitely dense, more dense even than the meatballs at Olive Garden. Then a peculiar force (dark energy) pushes out the woven fabric of space-time like some stretchy elastic form of cotton-polyester. Then a runaway process causes an even more rapid expansion of all the space, time, and energy. This inflationary expansion is slowed only when some of the dark energy is transformed into regular matter and energy as we know it.

10-6 seconds.
After the inflation, one millionth of a second after all the growing got started, the Universe continues to expand but not nearly so damn quickly. As it expands, it becomes less dense and it cools. The most basic forces in nature become distinct. First gravity forms, then the strong nuclear force which holds the nuclei of atoms together, followed by the weak and electromagnetic forces. By the first second, the Universe is made up of fundamental particles and energy such as quarks, electrons, photons, neutrinos and some less familiar even weirder types. Some of these particles smash themselves together in a neurotic frenzied desire to become the first protons and neutrons.

3 seconds.
At last, the protons and neutrons come together to start forming the nuclei of simple elements like hydrogen, helium, and lithium. But it will take another 300,000 years for electrons to be captured into orbits around these nuclei to form the stable useful atoms that we all know and love.

10 seconds.
Tea Party talking points begin to take shape.
Stars Like Water. Painting by Alicia Austin
10,000 years.
Most of the energy in the Universe is still in the form of wavelengths of light; radio waves, ultraviolet, and X rays. This spicy gravy is the remnant of the primordial fireball. As the Universe expands, those waves of radiation are stretched out and diluted and they keep diluting all the way up to today. They make up the faint glow of microwaves which bathe the whole noisy, hectic, modern Universe. This is the famous background radiation.

300,000 years.
At this moment, the energy in matter and the energy in the radiation are pretty much equals and they are starting to get along with each other pretty good. But as the relentless expansion continues, the waves of light are stretched to lower and lower energy, while the matter travels laughingly onward, largely unaffected. At about this time, neutral atoms are formed as electrons link up with the hydrogen and helium nuclei. The microwave background radiation fingerprint, the one that we’ve been measuring lately, was created at this moment. It gives us a direct and detailed picture of how matter was distributed at this early time.

300 million years.
Gravity amplifies the slight irregularities in the density of the primordial gas. Even as the Universe continues to expand, pockets of the gas become more and more dense due to mutual slutty attraction. Stars ignite within these pockets, and groups of stars form committees and start making plans to become the earliest galaxies. These proto-galaxies appear as tiny blue dots in the Hubble Space Telescope’s deep field images.

starryhug9.25 billion years.
The Sun is born.

13.75 billion years.
Rent prices skyrocket.

Of course you don’t have to include all of these little details of the standard model when you piece together your own personal cosmology, but maybe they will inspire you or at least give you a place to start. If I were you I’d add a frost giant or something.

“What did you see?” I asked, “Before beginning’s Big Bang lights?”
I reviews and interviews, I edits and I writes.
“Before the start of time, before the Universe’s birth?
What did the Hubble show, ten billion years before the Earth?”
He told me. Now I writes no more. I drinks a bit, I edits.
“Right before the beginning, ” he said, “is when they roll the credits!”

~ Jonathan Vos Post

Carpe Noctem.

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