Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Introduction to the Course; Physical Cosmology, Lead: Eberhard Möbius, Thomas Davis


Summary by Bethany Hughes:

Introduction to the Course
Introduction to Physical Cosmology: Start

“Curtains at the Edge of the Universe” by Robert and Sarah Williams Scherrer
            from Astronomy, Nov 1995
“The Whole Shebang” by Timothy Ferris
"God for the 21st Century" Part 1, by Russell Stannard ed.

“Science is the Most Daring Spiritual Enterprise Humankind has Embarked Upon”
Sir Hermann Bondi, 1995
Inaugural Address at Opening of the International Space Science Institute, Bern, Switzerland

The first meeting of the seminar was an overview of what would be covered through out the semester, along with a brief introduction on the subject of cosmology. The questions of ‘”Why are we here?” and “How did we come to being?” were asked. As nobody could answer these questions, class will be held next week. Also asked was the question, if the universe existed and we weren’t a part of it; would its course of events even matter? Summed up: If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it matter that it fell at all?

The first three topics of discussion for the next three weeks were introduced. They are:
• Anthropic Principle: God or Chance?
• What is reality: Why is there something rather than nothing?
• The Universe As a Home For Life

After this brief introduction the topic of discussion shifted to the two articles:
- Lemonick, Michael D. and J. Madeleine Nash. “Cosmic Conundrum.”, Time, 19 Nov. 2004: 58-61.
- Scherrer, Robert and Sarah Williams Scherrer. “Curtains at the Edge of the Universe.”, Astronomy, Nov. 1995: 48-51.

These articles addressed “The Big Question”. Where did everything come from? Also, what is beyond everything? Does the universe end, how can it end? Professor Mobius used the example of the universe as a room in a building. What is in the room next door, what is beyond the building?

These questions can never be fully answered. “This Endeavor called Science will never end because we can not stick our heads out and see the universe as a whole.” The principal limitation in science is that we have to be able to separate ourselves from the object we are investigation in order for science to occur. We cannot separate ourselves from the universe. We are a part of it and it is all around us.

Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? Professor Mobius used the example “you can’t see the forest through the trees” to explain how this question is unanswerable. The observable universe differs from the actual universe, which is more than we can observe.

Professor Mobius also addressed the point that, “If there were an infinite number of stars, evenly distributed, then the night sky wouldn’t be black. It would be blazing light and as bright as the surface of the sun.” Why is this not the case?

We discussed the two competing models for the universe. These are “The Steady State Theory” and “The Big Bang Theory”. No matter how much evidence is complied for either of these theories, they can never be proved, only disproved. We are building models of our world in science, but reality can never be recreated, only an image can be built. In order to prove either theory we must be able to recreate the universe. But there can’t be two universes. Therefore we can only test these theories for consistency.

At this point we had run out of time, leaving lots of questions not answered. Perhaps next week, or perhaps in the course of the next billion years, some of these questions will have answers. For now, we can only content ourselves with our untested beliefs.