Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Asymmetry of Time II
Brianna Jean & Christine Warden


Summary by Joseph Lavoie

Is there an Origin to the Universe?


M. Gleiser “Tear at the Edge of Creation” Chapters 17-25

What is time, and how does it relate to the universe? Is the universe bounded by time, or is time relative to human beings, i.e., without humans would there be no time? Time is peculiar, it seems to be relative; to slow when we are bored, and speed up when having a fun. What happens when the universe is examined in time? Christine and Brianna led the discussion about the universe in time through discussing the popular models of the universe historically, and by posing questions about uncertain aspects of the universe in time.

Christine and Brianna briefly discussed antiquated cosmological explanations that emerged from religions and from limited technology. The Big Bang Theory emerges in this progression as a model that suggests the universe is itself in time. This theory claims that the universe was once not as it is now, that at some moment in time the universe was extremely compact, concentrated in a very small volume. The concentration that was our universe may have been condensed to a quantum level, thereby a yet unknown force caused the expansion of the universe. It is not the case however, that the Milky Way galaxy was shot out (BANG!) from this epicenter, but rather that the universe itself, opposed to the matter within the universe, is that which is expanding. Christine brought up Prof Moebius’s example from an earlier class of raisin bread, to clarify this notion of universal expansion:
The Milky Way Galaxy, held together by gravity, is a single raisin in a loaf of raisin bread. As this bread is baked the dough expands and from the perspective of the Milky Way, all the other raisins are becoming increasingly distant. The single raisin perceives the bread to be expanding with itself remaining stable The Big Bang Model suggests that the Milky Way Galaxy is moving by this expansion of space.

This theory finds significant credibility with the ability to perceive radiation from the observable limits of the universe (note that perception and observation are aided in this process by technology). This radiation is believed to have emanated almost at the origin of our universe, traveled through the universe over time, and now defines for us the horizon of the observable universe. That is to say that M (a certain portion of observed) radiation was once at X, but now at Y, X and Y are not congruent spatial regions, and that M radiation does not exist at X and Y simultaneously. Moreover, the Big Bang Theory suggests the expansion of the universe follows a basic assumption humans make about time, namely that time is progressing linearly. Note that the linear progression of time is perceived; therefore, without humans nonexistent as such, the Big Bang Theory, too, could be relative to human beings.

The Big Bang Theory has not been unchanged. As technology allowed improved perception of the universe, particularly greater ability to study the radiation that surrounds our observable universe, observations have led us to conclude that the rate by which the universe has inflated (and continues to inflate) is not constant. What appears to be evident is that at its beginning, the universe inflated at a faster rate than the rate at which it inflates today. This account is justified by the observable evidence of radiation and the distance of objects from each other within the universe.

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Something’s missing! We think we know roughly when the universe began, we can observe the horizon of radiation and we know that the Milky Way is not scooting around the universe, rather that which is between matter (by matter I mean clumps of matter, i.e. galaxies, as they are held together by gravity) in the universe is expanding. So what is that which is expanding, causing the inflation of the universe?

Currently, that stuff is known as dark energy and supposedly it accounts for 73% of the universe. Other than a label and the percent of the universe we cannot account for, dark energy is a mystery. But it is not the case that we can perceive and understand 27% of the universe, for through laws of physics we can determine that there is also matter within galaxies for which we cannot account. This matter, labeled dark matter, was determined through the observation that the velocity of galaxies in space was incongruent with the mass of galaxies. This means that there is unknown matter within galaxies that, after all the math is performed, accounts for 23% of the universe. Consequently, roughly 96 % of the universe is a mystery so far. What can we do with only 4%? How can we even talk about these concepts?

Christine challenged these placeholders, first asking:
Are they real? We have only perceived their effects, not the things in themselves.

The responses:

Claire, a student, responds that because we are capable of seeing the effects of these concepts, they are real. Love has perceivable effects, as does hatred, and neither are themselves perceived. Joe, another student, suggested our ease in adopting the ideas of dark matter and dark energy is due to physics’ ability to absorb everything within its framework. He criticized physics as the next popular model, referring to religion as that which acted as the absorbing framework of antiquity. This was a stretch, attempting to equate religion and physics as merely synthetic frameworks, and so Professor deVries interjected, commenting on how religion refers to scripture, where physics refers to math and models that can be proven. Professor Moebius described the method by which physics claims its laws and theories. Science creates models based on something observable, but often with predictions of what the test might prove. Science is the method of observation, predictions, models and tests that seek to prove a hypothesis or theory sound. A valid theory is one that is capable of being tested. Note how String Theory is overblown, insofar as there is of yet no way to test it.

Here there was a digression concerning the ability of science to prove something true. Professor deVries and Professor Moebius discussed the ability to prove theories true, contrasted with the ability to prove hypotheses true. This led to the distinction of theory and hypothesis. A hypothesis is malleable within a complex theory and therefore more difficult to prove wrong. It is a single claim, whereas a theory is a complex set of claims. If any of the theory’s claims are false, the whole is false or at least in need of reconstruction.

The only laws produced by science, so far, are the laws of physics. All other hypotheses and theories are sound until proven false. Darwin suggests evolution strongly, but it could be the case that he was wrong. Prof Davis assures that Darwin did not claim he found laws of nature. There appear to be no actual biological laws at all, only laws of physics then applied to biology. Physics has given humans the means to better understand the universe. We can know for certain that f = ma everywhere in this world. Could this ever be false? In response, Prof Moebius simply suggested to go somewhere else.

Another student then suggested that the models of the universe would change drastically as new forms of mathematics emerge. This claim stems from the inability of current science to comprehend the 96 percent of unperceivable matter in the universe. As we learn more of the universe, it may unfold as different from our predictions and models. Professor Moebius stated that though uncovering the nature of the 96 percent is a huge task, there is much effort being put toward that goal, and he is confident they will be making inroads.

Brianna asked:
Will we ever be able to know the origin of the universe? Seems like humans desire to know where we came from. Could we ever prove the beginning of the Universe? Those who subscribe to Creationism certainly believe they have figured it out.

The responses:

Claire remarks at the number of battling theories and ideas that have emerged, and the weight that each one carries. Is there anything related at all? Claire discussed how change is unpredictable and constant; that new information learned about the universe will probably emerge from a currently undeveloped field of science. She continued, concerned that physics and the outside, non-physics world are not communicating, creating unnecessary contention.

Here a student challenged a leap physics has made that might appear unsound to other fields of science. Physics seems to be taking great liberties with dark energy and matter, dividing the universe into percentages of different forms of matter and energy, granting abilities of causation, e.g. expanding and connecting, without really knowing what these things are. How can one make such leaps with dark matter and energy? If the speculations are correct, then dark matter interacts with human bodies. How can we say this? Where is this dark matter? In response Professor Davis brings up consciousness, which seems to be a pretty important concept for humanity, though its origin, location, or true nature is not accounted for by science. Could consciousness be the dark matter of biology? Both consciousness and the 96% unknown are unaccounted for, however, biology and physics seem unhindered. And what about neutrinos? They are coursing through us currently and we are unaffected. Prof Moebius described dark matter’s effect on us as something over-arching, rather than constantly affecting us directly, i.e. dark matter does not, as far as we now know, interact with, what we understand to be, normal matter in a harmful way, but does affect the Milky Way galaxy, and all objects within the Milky Way galaxy combined through gravity.

And what about Creationism?

Claire described a museum that supports creationism, which was responded to by other experiences with Creationism. Having spent past classes discussing God and Creationism is depth, the conversation led quickly back to the question: is there unity in the universe?

The responses:

Brianna offered that if there were a unity, like God, then living life would be easier. Another student responded that one does not need a unity, or unifying force; one can flourish in the knowledge of self. Joe responded to the previous claim, citing historical occurrences of genocide, where conceptual frameworks were taken in faith, to account for more than they were capable. Philosopher Theodor Adorno claims these absolute, conceptual frameworks create totalized systems, manifest par excellence in the Holocaust (an event he, a Jewish German, escaped as a refugee in America). Joe suggested that we cannot know, and maybe ought not know, all. Someone asked in clarification, ought we have ignorance? Certainly not, but we can never know everything, and therefore should always leave room for questions. Knowing how things are does not determine what one ought to do next. Claire remarked that even if she learnt all there is to know about the universe tomorrow, that new information would not drastically change how she lives. Knowing more, however, does change how we live out our lives. Prof deVries cites the paradigmatic shift in medicine, away from demons to modern diseases, as an example of knowledge’s immense impact on our everyday lives.

If space is in time as perceived in the Big Bang Model and we knew exponentially more about the universe, could create more accurate prediction of the future? Would we ever find ourselves determined?

The responses:

By knowing where one is going, scientifically or through a religious context, doesn’t this eliminate our concept of free will? Religion gives purpose and other unified theories give purpose, but do not necessarily eliminate free will. Again, knowing what is, does not shed light on how one ought to live.