Closer To Truth: The Universe

There is an ongoing PBS TV series (also several books and also a website) called “Closer To Truth”. It is hosted by neuroscientist Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He’s featured in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the cream of the cream of today’s cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, etc. on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; Meaning. The trilogy collectively dealt with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few of my comments on one of the universal topics covered: The Universe.

Did our Universe have a Beginning?

Did our Universe have a beginning? Well yes and no. Clearly the observational evidence points to a Big Bang event roughly 13.7 billion years ago – give or take. That Big Bang event was for all practical purposes, the beginning to our Universe. However, just like a person has a beginning, there is such a thing as a ‘before the person’. So too there was a ‘before the Big Bang’ and whatever that ‘before’ was, it had a causality relationship to our Universe, and therefore could be considered part of our universe or the parent to our Universe. A person is caused by those who came before in causality relationships and a new person cannot be considered an island devoid of any connection with their ancestors. Why does there have to be a ‘before the Big Bang’? It is impossible to create time and space since both time and space are concepts, not things with structure and substance. If the Big Bang did not, in fact could not create time and space, and any cosmologist who suggests otherwise should be made to get up in front of an audience of his or her peers and create some time (we could all use a bit of extra time) and space (we could all use a bit of extra space too) from scratch, or even present a theoretical equation that shows how either or both could be created from scratch, then the Big Bang event happened in existing time and in an already existing space. The concept of time only makes sense if you have something that changes and for that you need things that change or in other words things with substance and structure or in other words matter and energy. The concept of space only makes sense if there is something, I stress the word thing, inside that space. So space existed before the Big Bang; time existed before the Big Bang; and matter and energy existed before the Big Bang too in order to give the concepts of pre Big Bang time and space some real meaning. And in case you were thinking that the Big Bang event created matter and energy to give that meaning to the time and the space it also created, think again. Recall from high school science those conservation laws that were rammed down your throat, laws which to my knowledge have never been repealed, laws which go something like this: “Matter (and energy) can neither be created nor destroyed but only changed in form”. So, yes, our Universe had a beginning, but it also had a parent, a previous universe that contained all of the matter and energy that makes up our Universe.

What does an Expanding Universe Mean?

Before deciding what does an expanding universe actually mean, if it actually has meaning, one has to figure out which of two possible expansion scenarios is the correct one, though I understand that at present there is no actual observational experiment that can distinguish between the two. The current standard cosmological model has space itself expanding, the expansion of space being driven by dark energy (whatever that actually is), an apparently intrinsic property of space itself. In other words, space, and the dark energy of space is a thing, and space, being a thing, carries the galaxies in piggyback fashion, like that overused analogy of paper dots pasted on the surface of an expanding balloon. I reject that standard model on the grounds that it implies the continuous creation of something (dark energy and space with structure and substance) from absolutely nothing, a pure violation of those conservation laws so beloved by physics. The alternative scenario is that the galaxies, matter and energy, are all expanding through existing space. Space in this scenario is not a thing, just the concept of a container that contains matter and energy in the form of galaxies. The galaxies are no more being carried piggyback by space than the bits and pieces that come flying out of an exploding stick of dynamite are being carried by the space they are moving through. The galaxies, like the bits and pieces of that exploded stick of dynamite, are moving through space. Now when that issue is decided, we’re in a better position to discuss meaning.

How Vast is the Cosmos?

IMHO, the cosmos is infinite in size. The basic reason is that only an infinite cosmos gets around that very nasty philosophical question of what lies beyond the boundary even if there doesn’t appear to be a boundary? Now I know people like to state that the Earth has a finite size yet you can keep on keeping on going around and around and around until the cows come home. A terrestrial traveler could conclude that the Earth is infinite in length. However, that traveler can escape the finiteness by travelling in another direction – UP! Once you realize that even in the cosmos, if you are travelling around in never-ending circles, if you can find an UP direction, then another UP direction and another if necessary, you’ll find that the cosmos is infinite. Of course there doesn’t have to be any valid analogy between the finite Earth and the cosmos. It could be in the cosmos that if you just pick a direction and start trucking, you can keep on keeping on trucking forever and ever and ever, amen, without ever putting your footsteps into your previous footsteps. Every step you take and every view you view is unique, never to repeat.

What is Space-Time?

What is space-time? Well time is a concept, not a thing. Space is a concept, not a thing. So space-time is a concept and not a thing. To those cosmologists who talk-the-talk, space-time is some sort of quasi flexible membrane with structure and substance that warps and
curves and exhibits geometry in the presence of matter (and presumably therefore energy). Now I ask you, is that your everyday perception of space-time as you daily navigate space and time? So where’s the walk-the-walk? The walk is the observation that galaxies themselves have a galactic structure that is pretty static while (most of) the galaxies are spreading apart from each other with space-time carrying them much like parents carrying their young child for piggyback rides. My walk-the-walk is that galaxies move through space (and time) in the exact same way as you perceive yourself moving through space (and time) as you journey through space and of course through time too. Space-time doesn’t move you and carry you piggyback through life; you move through space-time, or rather through space and through time.

How does Dark Energy Drive the Universe?

How does dark energy drive the universe? It doesn’t! The whole concept is flawed and downright screwy. Why? Recall from high school science that mantra that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only changed in form.” Now if I understand things properly, dark energy is an intrinsic property of space. That alone is nuts since energy is a thing and space is just a concept, but let’s go on. Dark energy drives space apart, or space expands because of dark energy leaving a void that’s filled by new space. Since dark energy is an intrinsic property of space, that newly created space has its own newly created quota of dark energy which expands that space creating more space and thus creating more dark energy and thus that creates more space and thus more dark energy is created and so on and so on. Now the basic problem here is the free lunch. You are getting something from nothing. New energy cannot just pop out of the woodwork. Energy cannot be created out of pure nothing. As I read in one cosmology text, the volume of space expands while the energy density remains constant. That is in total violation of all those conservation laws noted earlier. It’s like having a barrel of marbles. Expand the volume of the barrel and as if by magic, new marbles appear to fill the void. The barrel expands and the marble density remains constant. Where did those extra marbles, an ongoing process since the expanding barrel is ever ongoing, come from? Now cosmologists were stunned to observe that the expansion rate of the universe wasn’t slowing as everyone had probably bet the family farm on being the case, but accelerating. So, quick-smart, they had to come up with an epicycle explanation and with a wave of the scientific wand came up with dark energy, even though nobody has a clue what it actually is other than an apparent form of anti-gravity. I suspect something in the data isn’t quite right. Maybe supernovae aren’t quite as well known as cosmologists thought, and it was observations of supernovae that led to the initial discovery. Maybe the speed of light isn’t constant throughout cosmic time and that could skew the results. Regardless, I’d sooner put my faith in the fact that energy cannot be created out of thin air than to accept this new and ‘improved’ standard cosmological model.

Why does Dark Matter Really Matter?

The concept of dark matter is another one of those ad hoc epicycle explanations that cosmologists come up with to account for some kind of cosmic anomaly. Dark energy is another example. Now dark matter has been invented as a concept to explain why the galaxies hold together gravitationally even though there isn’t enough galactic stuff with sufficient gravity to accomplish that. That galaxies don’t have enough matter or mass to produce sufficient gravity to hold them together has been known since the 1930’s. Come on people, it has been eight decades on now and you still haven’t a clue what’s really going on. Just inventing and throwing around a buzz phrase like dark matter doesn’t actually solve anything until you can actually come up with the goods that you can put on the slab in the lab. Given that dark matter, assuming there is dark matter, a unique form of matter that permeates the cosmos including Earth and earthlings exists, it shouldn’t be all that hard to come up with a gram or two of the stuff – if it really exists of course. And if it exists it’s really, really strange since it has mass since it produces gravity yet it doesn’t interact with electromagnetism and that’s why it is dark. How weird is that! Sorry to say this but eighty years on, cosmologists have just talked-the-talk without walking-the-walk and producing the goods. It can’t be that difficult! Anyway, here’s my alternative theory since I really can’t question the actual observations. I suspect we exist as virtual beings in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. That simulation is a collective of many individual software programs, not all of which are compatible, like quantum physics and classical physics. I suspect there is a software program for gravity. I suspect there is a software program for how the cosmos appears including galactic rotation. I suspect that the two software programs are not compatible; that the programmer as an oversight just overlooked making the two compatible. Thus, the software program for gravity doesn’t mesh with how much gravity is actually needed to explain this particular cosmic observation of galactic rotation. It’s just one of many oops or anomalies that we should expect if we are just a simulation programmed by a fallible programmer.

What Happens in the Far Far Future?

Assuming that what we now see (an expanding Universe with the energy density heading toward equilibrium) is what we will eventually get, then sooner or later, probably later, much later, the concentrations of energy we observe today will become evenly spread out and uniform throughout all the space available. There will be no energy to do useful work; the energy density will be such that the temperature of our cosmos will be as close to absolute zero as makes no odds. Translated, this is called the Heat Death ‘ending’ of our Universe. The Universe most certainly will not experience ‘global warming’ in the long term. Then too, if our so called ‘dark energy’ keeps on increasing because space keeps on increasing and dark energy is an intrinsic property of space, then this anti-gravitational force will eventually rip apart the substances and structures that astronomers hold near and dear to their observational hearts. Clusters of galaxies get torn apart, then galaxies, then stars, then planets and other debris, then molecules and then atoms, until even protons and neutrons are presumably stripped down to quark level. It comes as no surprise that this is called the Big Rip ‘ending’ to our cosmos. Note that in either case we do not have a THE END (as in a book or a film or a human life), just a very dilute cosmic soup of photons and quarks and neutrinos and electrons that keeps on getting ever more dilute forever, and ever, amen. Obviously no life forms and certainly no humans will live to tell this sad tale. But wait, we are assuming of course that our Universe is a really real Universe. What if our Universe were really a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe, nothing more than a whole potful of software programs that create what we consider to be life, the Universe and everything? What would be the far future of our Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe? Well, no matter how you slice and dice things, there probably would really be a THE END. The software programs could just terminate. The programmer could hit the delete button. The hard-drive crashes! A computer virus infects the program. The programmer gets tired of our virtual Universe and hits the eject button and stores our virtual Universe on a shelf. The programmer dies and his PC, running our virtual Universe, is sold for scrap or tossed on the rubbish pile. Still, whether we go extinct because the Universe freezes or rips us apart or we just get terminated, it’s all the same. Non-existence beckons in the end.

What is the Far Far Future of the Universe?

In the realm of standard cosmology, there would appear to be three possibilities for what the far, far future of the universe will be like. We take it for granted that the universe is expanding based on observational evidence. We think that that expansion rate is accelerating in defiance of common sense (gravity should be decelerating the universe) and I have some bet hedging to do on that score. The cause of this acceleration is an invented epicycle concept termed dark energy and I have bet hedging to go along with that as well. However, that trilogy suggests three different far future fates for the universe. Firstly, gravity prevails, that slows down the expansion, the expansion rate slows to zero, the expansion becomes a contraction and we eventually hit the reverse of the Big Bang which is termed the Big Crunch, sort of like dozens of automobiles coming together at an intersection where the traffic lights have failed and all the lights are green. The second scenario has the universe keep on expanding forever and the energy density eventually becomes uniform across the universe, no useful work can be done, and we have a Heat Death. There’s no sufficient energy left that can give us heat. We may never get to the stage where the entire universe is at absolute zero (a theoretical impossibility) but it will be so close that the difference may not be measurable. Lastly, if dark energy keeps increasing in value as space keeps expanding, the power of dark energy will tear galaxies apart, then stars, planets, cosmic debris, molecules, atoms, atomic nuclei until only those bits and pieces that are so fundamental that they can’t be torn apart any further will remain. That’s the Big Rip. In all three scenarios, life, including intelligent life, is ultimately doomed. I have a fourth scenario which might provide an escape clause. If we, as I suspect, exist in a software programmed Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe, well there are all sorts of gloom and doom possibilities for our demise like the delete button is hit; the software has an end point; the hard drive crashes; and so on. However, none of those gloom and doom scenarios are inevitable and any simulated universe, including our simulated selves, can always be resurrected. We could have a simulated cyclic cosmos where we go round and round again and again albeit perhaps with some differing parameters programmed each go-round just to make things interesting for the programmer. Not only do we have an afterlife but so does the cosmos.

Is Life and Mind Inevitable in the Universe 1?

No, life and mind is not inevitable in our Universe or in any universe. In all the discussions about multiple universes (the Multiverse) conducted to explain the fine-tuning that has allowed for life to exist in our Universe, it is assumed that the laws, principles and relationships of physics were not fine-tuned for life and mind in the vast majority of other universes, and therefore those universes are sterile. The analogy is just like how the vast number of poker hands don’t yield up a royal flush yet one lucky gambler hits the jackpot. The more universes there are, the more poker hands there are, the better the odds of winning, in the case of the universes, the life and mind jackpot. However, just because you have billions of universes, each with a unique set of laws, principles and relationships of physics that still doesn’t mean you are going to of necessity hit the life and mind jackpot. Even if you played a billion poker hands, it is not absolutely inevitable that you will get a royal flush. There is a vast difference between CAN and MUST; between POSSIBLE and INEVITABLE; between PROBABILITY and CERTAINTY. The only guaranteed way that CAN evolves into MUST; POSSIBLE becomes INEVITABLE; PROBABILITY morphs into CERTAINTY, is if you invoke the concept of infinity.

Is Life and Mind Inevitable in the Universe 2?

Going back to the poker analogy, the number of ways of losing is finite, and the number of ways of winning is finite, because there is just a finite number of cards so there are only a finite number of possible combinations for any given variation you care to play. So, if you have an infinite amount of time to play around with then sooner or later anything that can happen will happen. In fact you will win an infinite number of times and you will lose an infinite number of times. In fact if you have an infinite amount of time and space, matter and energy to play around with, then “anything that can happen will happen”, which just happens to be the quantum mantra. Another variation is that “anything that is not forbidden is compulsory” given enough time and space, and surely an infinite amount of time and space is more than enough time and space. Whether or not the cosmos has at its disposal an infinite supply of time and space; matter and energy is quite another matter.

Must the Universe Spawn Life and Mind?

The Universe obviously can give rise to life and mind since there is life and mind here on the Third Rock from the Sun. However, that’s not the same as saying the Universe “must” give rise to life and mind. We know of no other life and mind in the cosmos apart from ours – yet. So, all we can say for certainty is that we have a statistical sample of one, and the one could just as easily be a fluke as one of millions. One can imagine all sorts of scenarios where life and mind might not ever have gotten a toehold here on Planet Earth. If I recall my facts here, during the time of the early proto-Earth, it was whacked a glancing blow by an object roughly the size of Mars. The resulting debris that was flung out became our Moon. If it had been a direct hit, well our solar system might now have another asteroid belt – one between the orbits of Venus and Mars. What if gravity had been a bit stronger and the early expanding Universe slowed, stopped, and contracted back into a Big Crunch before any life anywhere had a chance to get started? So, while one is on safe ground in stating that the Universe CAN spawn life and mind, it’s quite a leap in the application of rigorous logic, even in faith, even in wishful thinking to conclude that the Universe MUST spawn life and mind. One analogy is that a man and woman can reproduce, but you would never say that they must reproduce. A pile of bricks can be used to construct a building, but they don’t have to. There is a vast gap between CAN and MUST.