Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Origin of the DanielPDanielverse

TJ is having another great discussion over on his blog, and I've managed to butt in again. Buzz over there and check it out.

The origin of the universe has been a favorite subject of mine since middle school when “A Brief History of Time” was released, and I was just starting to grasp the fundamental principles of Einstein’s relativity. String Theory was beginning to come into its own, and (dare I say) cosmology was sexy. More than that, I think that this quest to drill down deeper and deeper into our cosmological origins is the sole topic that actually forces even the most atheistic hard-liners among us to consider the possibility of Capital G – God.

The standard model for the origin of our universe is the Big Bang Theory. This theory posits that the entire universe at some point in the past was contained within a single point which then exploded, sending space flying in all directions of the infinite nothingness. Of course the opposite model to that is the Static Model, but I think there is enough evidence supporting the former to suppose that this is most likely how the universe began. When speaking of astrophysics and universal origins two fundamental tenets of mathematics cannot be avoided, and they are in fact central to the understanding of the theories that we are concerned with. These two concepts appear to be quite basic on the surface; however, even after reading dozens of books and being schooled in advanced mathematics and physics I have difficulty imagining both. The concepts of which I speak are, of course, singularities and infinity. There is just something within my human brain that tends to overload when I try to imagine both a single point and infinite space, and I have a pretty good imagination. So when we drill down into the moment of creation of our universe we necessarily approach a singularity which I find very hard to grasp - a single point containing all of the energy and mass of our infinite universe. Ouch! I think I sprained something.

Here’s the thing with this singularity that was the seed for our universe as we know it: since it is necessarily smaller than the Planck Length, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle governs its existence. At this quantum level, we (as outside observers) are incapable of gleaning information from the singularity, and, because our ability to observe that object is obstructed, we cannot know and cannot predict its properties. The implications of this simple statement are quite shocking. Since we cannot predict or observe the singularity due to the Uncertainty Principle, all possibilities are equally likely. Anything can happen at that point…all possibilities are in play. However, another consequence of this is that no information is stored within the singularity. If we imagine a cyclic universe that keeps banging and crunching an infinite amount of times, each time the universe collapses back to a singularity the information stored about our physical principles that form this iteration of the universe are lost. There is no universal DNA that codes for the next attempt after the next bang (if there is to be another).

Due to the reasons stated above, we will only be able to trace our origins back to immediately after the singularity exploded, a billionth of a trillionth of a second after creation of this universe as we know it. Before that, we can never know. When asked what came before the Big Bang, Stephen Hawking stated that the question itself was meaningless, and he compared it to asking "What lies north of the North Pole?...The actual point of creation lies outside the scope of presently known laws of physics." The very word “before” has no meaning in this context because there was no time at the point of the singularity. Yet we continue to pursue the question and likely will as long as we are in existence. This is the point where I (and many other scientists) tend to fall down a bit. Since we cannot answer the question of what happened before the singularity (or at the singularity) all possibilities are equally likely, no matter how remote. This includes the possibility of the existence of a creator.

Although there is no evidence of a creator now, we cannot exclude a creator from the origin of the universe. Similarly, we cannot ascribe properties to this creator. There will only ever be questions regarding this entity. For example, if the Big Bang Theory is true, then should we conclude that God is outside of the universe so that He could get the Bang going? Or was She in the singularity? Is It the universe itself? If He’s outside of the universe, then there’s no reason to expect that we are the only universe in existence, is there? Therefore, it’s safe to assume that we may not be that special to God after all. What does a model of an expanding and contracting universe tell us about Capital G? Does it support one religion over another? I think the cosmological question of the possibility of the existence of god is quite different than the discussion of religion, and since we can never know what these possibilities are it is really just a point to argue for no reason. Taking this god track a bit further - doesn’t god have a beginning? It seems like one could presuppose an infinite chain of gods creating each other with equal likelihood as this one god. I guess I just don’t understand why the universe needs a beginning and god does not, as some people suppose.

Some people point to the Anthropic Coincidences as proof positive that the universe has some sort of intelligent creator pulling handles and switching valves. I think that people tend to use these as a bit of a cart-before-the-horse argument. The fact that life currently exists in one known area of an infinite universe is not a prerequisite for all of the myriad properties of physics that make it possible. Life is a consequence of those properties, not the other way around. The very word “coincidence” really has no place in discussions involving infinity. If we assume that the universe has banged and crunched an infinite number of times, then there would be an equal number of failures (assuming this universe is a success, of course). There would be an equal number of times that very different physical principles are present. The very framework of space would be different. Infinity makes very large numbers from the examples above possible…an infinite number of times. Just keep adding zeros.

The question of the point of the origin of our universe still stands and will always stand. Our principles of physics demand it. So I suppose the real question is: why do we need to know? Or stated another way, why does it matter? Isn’t a billionth of a trillionth of a second close enough? The answers to these questions, of course, lie in the complexities of the human mind which is always driven by curiosity, and we will likely never stop supposing what happened one step further into the past.