By Scott Sullivan
Scientists believe the universe is expanding (Into what? Don’t ask) at a faster and faster pace. Except those who don’t.
Three Princeton physicists have challenged this assumption, presenting a model wherein the universe’s expansion soon ends, then it contracts. (“Soon” to cosmologists meaning some 100 million years.)
I’ve seen the best minds of my generation dance in the dark, which makes me think marketing — where bigger is always better — trumps science, in which doubt prevails, every time.
We are used to gravity attracting; throw a ball up, its rise slows and peaks, then it falls back to earth. Einstein held gravity repels also; throw a ball up, it accelerates and keeps going. Like girls around me, for instance.
Magnets have poles that attract and repel, as children learn. But physicists — lacking a better obfuscation for repulsive gravity — attribute stars pulling apart, a thing they can see and measure, to Dark Energy. Ask 16 physicists what that is, you’ll get 16 answers.
Princetonian Paul Steinhardt and peers posit “bouncing” models in which the universe expands until it contracts. In other news it’s day till it’s night, it’s light till it’s dark and heavy.
These models cast shade on peers’ debate du jour: will the universe expand forever or be sucked into a “big crunch” as positive gravity takes its turn. Who says it’s either/or?
Classicists define beauty as showing balance and order; Romantics imagination and emotion. Marketers peddle romance — buy and your life will get bigger, better, never ending. Who wants to think after all we’ve opened our lives will contract and become symmetric?
The Princetonians (rhymes with Flintstonians) hedge their bets, posing three scenarios: the universe will continue expanding faster than ever, the expansion will slow but go on, and/or it eventually contracts.
In Model 3, Quintessence-Drive Slow Contraction, they calculate the end of this expansion could be fewer than 100 million years away. Timescales depend on technology we don’t have yet but may in the future, a sales bait that could accelerate if some foundation bites.
Steinhardt voyaged outside mainstream cosmology earlier when a 2017 letter he co-authored criticized widespread acceptance of an “inflationary” period after the Big Bang. This drew a scathing response from, among other peers, Stephen Hawking.
His heretical claim — that inflationary cosmology “cannot be evaluated using the scientific method,” hence some scientists have abandoned empirical testability — inspired 33 colleagues to fire back, “We have no idea who these scientists are.
“The fact that our knowledge of the universe is still incomplete,” their rebuttal/apology went on, “is no reason to ignore the impressive empirical success of the standard inflationary models. Empirical science is alive and well!” I’m not sure I’m assured but I’ll take their words.
Lest they dismiss Steinhardt as a crackpot, he helped lay foundations for the inflationary cosmology he now questions, is esteemed for his work on the effect of gravitational waves on cosmic background radiation and recent discovery of quasicrystals. Not even I have achieved that yet.
Could Dark Energy also drive price inflation? I’ve devised three models: that force is Biden, it was Trump, or Adam Smith was wrong that in time an Invisible Hand levels out supply/demand/price imbalances.
An economist worth whatever salt’s price is might hold that inflation’s causes are too many for politics to measure — which I’d hope draws response that politics can furnish answers. Then our knowledge will be complete.
“How much will it cost,” I asked the divinity student who’s a 7-Eleven clerk, “for a new, improved Webb space telescope, updated Large Hadron collider and a Twinkie?”
“More than you can afford,” he answered.
“Money is no object.”
“It better not be. Last week you came in seeking answers to, ‘If God is all powerful and loving, why does evil to exist?’ ‘Down Aisle 3’ I said but you didn’t listen. Now you want to know how the universe began and will end? You write tests that no one can pass.”
“All the more reason I should write them.”
“You do, don’t you?”
“You don’t, do you?”
“It’s OK be dialectic if you’re funny.”
“I knew you would go to Hegel.”
This was getting vicious. “Want to cancel me?” I asked.
“No. I woke to the fact that your stuff is weak.”
“Weekly,” I corrected. “Want to bandy koans?”
“To say so much in few words makes me hungry for less.”
“What’s it like to think faster than light?”
I was down to my last resort. “What is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower?” I asked.
“Dylan Thomas is dead.”
“But his words live forever.”
“Poor guy,” the divinity student said.
By Scott Sullivan