I was in the supermarket today, and I overheard a conversation between a cashier and a customer. The customer was talking about carnivorous galaxies that have been around for 40 billion years and how 6 billion year old flowers do not want to be eaten. Being confused, but slightly amused, after he left I casually mentioned to the cashier that the universe is only about 13.7 billion years old, and the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. I also casually mentioned that I was quite excited to go to a public lecture by Richard Dawkins this Wednesday. The cashier then asked me who he was. I relished in the chance to tell her more about one of the worlds leading evolutionary biologists and one of the most well known atheists. She, however, was more interested in the atheism part, and asked if I believed in god. I replied that while I don’t because it seems very unlikely that one exists, I respect people’s beliefs and support free speech. She then asked me a fairly standard question, I assume to try to stump me, “If there is no god, where did everything come from?” Instead of giving a general explanation (“The Big Bang started everything”), which doesn’t reach the core of the question, I began to describe Stephen Hawking’s theory of the the origin of the universe. She quickly became disinterested and left the conversation, however. Whether she was genuinely disinterested in the conversations turn, or simply disappointed that I wasn’t easily stumped, I will never know.
In any event, I’ve decided to share something that I wrote a while back for someone that tries to describe Stephen Hawking’s lecture in a (more) simplistic way. It isn’t much, but I love any excuse to share knowledge.
In an attempt to summarize a bit, time is relative to the space that we live in, and is a construct of our observation. Therefore, it is silly to ask what happened before the universe, because our universe and time as we understand it started simultaneously. This disregards the laws of physics breaking down at a “time before the universe”. The theory that he proposes, which makes sense to me, is a spontaneous quantum creation of the universe.
Best summarized by the article itself:
“(Think of the formation of the universe like the) formation of bubbles of steam in boiling water. The idea is that the most probable histories of the universe would be like the surfaces of the bubbles. Many small bubbles would appear, and then disappear again. These would correspond to mini universes that would expand but would collapse again while still of microscopic size. They are possible alternative universes but they are not of much interest since they do not last long enough to develop galaxies and stars, let alone intelligent life. A few of the little bubbles, however, grow to a certain size at which they are safe from recollapse. They will continue to expand at an ever increasing rate, and will form the bubbles we see. They will correspond to universes that would start off expanding at an ever increasing rate. This is called inflation… (The inflation of the bubbles, in this our universe’s ‘bubble’)
… expanded by a factor of million trillion trillion in a tiny fraction of a second.”
This describes that not only did the universe happen by chance, but the theory of multiple universes, in this case of varying complexities.
“The irregularities in the early universe will mean that some regions will have slightly higher density than others. The gravitational attraction of the extra density will slow the expansion of the region, and can eventually cause the region to collapse to form galaxies and stars… We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe.
…General relativity (has) predicted that the universe, and time itself, would begin in the big bang. It also predicted that time would come to an end in black holes…. However, if general relativity is combined with quantum theory, it may be possible to predict how the universe would start. It would initially expand at an ever increasing rate.” Just as black holes seem to suck in and increase the speed of everything at a paradoxically opposite rate.
This is heavily supported by the fact that our universe seems to be perfectly created to make black holes. Life in the universe is a byproduct of the laws that we live by, not a requirement (unless you’re speaking of time, another discussion). On our planet (and possibly others) life seems to have flourished.
I’m no expert on quantum theory, so I would refer you to the NOVA special on quantum and string theory
(there’s another interesting tidbit for you). Basically
, in our universe, one thing that we’ve so far failed to disprove is that anything is possible at any given time. (General explanation of Quantum Mechanics right there. I should go into further detail, which is again an entirely new discussion) Some things that you wouldn’t expect are more likely than you would think, and the unimaginable, while unlikely, does sometimes happen.
I love Stephen Hawking’s brilliance. The universe is full of so much science that much of it seems like fiction, but we have learned how to test and confirm many theories that hundreds of years ago would not only have been unheard of, but blasphemous. Some people still seem to glorify ignorance, but I enjoy embracing our experiments and failures, because without them our society would stagnate, and cease being interesting.
Here is Stephen Hawking’s original lecture, which is much better than anything that I could ever hope to write.
On a slightly related note, here are two of my favorite things on the internet:
First is the Scale of the Universe. If you haven’t ever played with this flash, you really should. It shows the scale of the entire known universe from micro to macro - the tiniest known (or not-yet-confirmed) particles to the largest area that we can observe.
Second is the Hubble Deep Field image that was gathered back in 1995.
Hope that I helped BLOW YOUR MIND.
April 2nd, 2012
#being wrong is fun
#ignorance is not bliss