WHAT BIG BANG?

by Alexander T. Shulgin



(Shura's voice)

Sometimes when I am working late in my laboratory I have problems finding an OK radio station.  On KNBC, at 740, there is a continuing reiteration of the day's news which I hear repeated almost verbatim every few hours, and I lose interest.  And then, up the dial a little bit, I find Morten W. on KGO at 810. He is a knowledgeable scientist explaining such weird stuff as, for example, why green water is coming out of the water pipes over in Danville.  He always explains such things well, but with a tone of superiority and arrogance that I find humorous rather than impressive.  But when I go from 740 to 810, I pass a station at 770 or 780 that is devoted to the Bible and Christian fundamentalism, and finding that has proven to be a total treasure.  A stanza that I learned in childhood comes to mind,  "Whenever I go to Severn along the Erie Tract, I pass by a poor old farm-house whose shingles are broken and black."  This religious farmhouse on the way to KGO along the AM dial is often my retreat from the boredom of both replayed news and omniscience.

It is here that I have learned much of what I know about creationism.  Most of the speakers hold to the seven-day model of Genesis, a week of God's work, ending with an earth, the sun and, for all I can tell, the rest of the universe.  Since this is the text of the Bible, and the Bible is the word of God, it serves well as a fait accompli explanation of our origins.  Given the premise of divine origin, everything holds together remarkably well.  Oh, there are a few things that are awkward, such as fossil records and partially decayed radioactivity, but if you accept the cosmology of creationism, then you can find ways of accepting and living with its troublesome contradictions.  Once the shift is made from a process of reason to one of faith, everything can be made to fit your thesis.  Things such as dinosaurs and uranium, things that give the illusion of ancient times, are also the products of that busy week, and all were the handiwork of the
Creator.

Those who see themselves as being scientifically sophisticated will smile with patient and quiet amusement upon those whom they see as present-day champions of a Middle Ages philosophy.  Those who wish to enter into a dialogue will support their arguments with the hard, cold facts of science, the rewards gained from the application of the "scientific method."  And the creationists quite rightly argue back, that these scientists are defending their positions with the same blend of theory and observation that they themselves employ.  Neither camp will gracefully admit that there are many embarrassing observations that are being ignored.  In my lecturing at Berkeley, I enjoy the disruption that will inevitably follow some off-hand comment I might make concerning the arguments that favor the one-week origin that took place some maybe ten thousand years ago.

As a person who identifies himself with the scientist side rather than the creationist side of this polemic, I find myself quite irritated when I hear the theory of the big bang being accepted by the scientific community as an item of faith.  This is the current myth in vogue that deals with the origin of the universe.  One of the most predictable questions each of us has asked of our elders, at one time or another in our youth, is, "Where did I come from?"   As individuals we cannot remember back to our birth -- our memories are sadly incomplete and we seek the input from others who may fill in the details.  As a species we ask the same question over an immensely broader time base,  "Where did we come from?  Was there a beginning?  What was there before that?"

Embarrassing stuff, here, since there is no available parent to help us find answers when the question is asked in cosmological terms.  The religious fundamentalist says, God created us all out of his infinite good will, in early March, 8065 B.C.  Or thereabouts.  The learned astrophysicist says the big bang created us all in late September, 14.3 billion years B.C.  Or thereabouts.  There is no record of this event that is unambiguous, so the acceptance of the big bang myth is every bit as much an act of faith as is the acceptance of the Genesis myth.  To keep things in perspective, I should capitalize Big Bang so that it looks as important as God.

Not that I want to knock God.  As this fun essay progresses, I hope to offer an alternative to the concept of origin.  There might have been no origin.  Our universe has always been here, it is infinitely old, and so God just might have been with us much longer than anyone ever suspected.  All the weird observations that are part of our science will fit another explanation just as well, or even better, but the veil of prejudice must be put aside for a moment for us to see it.  More of this iconoclasm later.

Let me paint a brief word picture of the Big Bang religion first, using the vocabulary of the faithful.  We have interpreted the evidence from our instruments to support a theory that the universe is expanding, and expanding at a remarkably rapid rate.  And the further away something is, the faster it is moving away from us.  This is our way of being at peace with the observation that the further away a light source is, the more the spectrum of that light is shifted to the red.  This relationship, between how far away the light emitter is from us, and the red shift of the light emitted, is called the Hubble constant.  The resemblance between this dynamic picture and an explosion has provided us an irresistible model for the origin of our universe.  This is portrayed as a super explosion, and what we see now is the debris, the shards and fragments, still flying away in every direction.  With this model in front of us, let us pretend that we can watch the passing of time in the reverse direction.  Let's run the movie projector backwards.  Each frame takes you to an earlier point in time, so that the flying fragments appear to be coming together again, with the volume of the universe getting progressively smaller and the matter (or whatever it is) that is in it getting progressively hotter.  As the film continues to roll backwards, everything appears to condense to a smaller and smaller volume, and then even this shrinks further to what looks like a point and that point is so hot that matter can't even exist at all.  Stop the projector right there.  Look at that birth frame.  If you closely inspect the image before you, you should see an extremely small something, at a temperature of a fantastically large number of degrees centigrade.  The movie is said to have started from this point in the normal time direction and that is what the physicists call the Big Bang.

>From that minuscule source came all the stuff that constitutes this universe: the energy, the eventual mass, the stars and the galaxies, the forces of gravity and of life.

I recently read a review by Rem B. Edwards (published in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion) of a book written by two physicists, who argued as to whether the Big Bang cosmology provided evidence for the existence of God.  It stated that both authors agreed that our universe emerged as a cataclysmic explosion from an initial singularity, understood in contemporary astrophysics as a state in which the mass/energy of the universe is condensed into an infinitely dense, infinitely hot, infinitely small (zero diameter), infinitely curved, pointlike dimension.  If those were the true dimensions of our origin as shown on that birth frame, then even if that "cataclysmic explosion" were to increase that original diameter a zillion-fold it would still be zero, if the temperature were to drop a zillion-fold, it would still be infinite.  Anything times zero is still zero.  Infinity divided by anything is still infinity.  In short, the second frame, and the thousandth frame of our movie would appear identical to the first one, and there would be no stars or galaxies.  We would not exist.

But here is the faith aspect of this particular cosmological religion.  Look at that one frame again, the first frame with the very small speck that is so very hot, and ask to look at the frame that immediately precedes it.  To make that request is to immediately offend all the anticreationists, and you will find yourself confronted by an army of the astronomically faithful who will leap to the defense of their theory.

The question has no meaning, some will say.  According to Stephen Hawking, "That is like asking what lies five miles North of the North Pole."  Others will talk about singularities involving unbelievably large accumulations of mass produced from some form of a black hole environment wherethe rules of light and energy are nonexistent and there is no meaning to time. "Without the passage of time, there is no meaning to the word 'before'."  But, you say, if there is no before, and there is no time, then nothing can get started and there can be no after.  And furthermore, you can't have it both ways.  If all is energy, and energy is mass, then you would have nothing but a single black hole, and there could be no way to "Big Bang" your way out of it.  If time can't move, then the film can't be run either way.  But if the mass equivalency doesn't apply, there can be no black hole, and you can't invoke your time suspension rules, and our movie frames can indeed be viewed in sequence.  But the devotees of quantum mechanics will say, oh yes, you can indeed have it both ways, because both extremes are really expressions of the same state.  But this still avoids the origin question.  From whence?  What lit the fuse?  Who said, "Let the games begin."  Listen carefully and you just might hear someone speak the name so frequently invoked by the biblical creationists: God.

So the Big Bang is presented within our present day science as a miracle, nothing more and nothing less.  It is a pleasure to watch the contortions that our revered scientists go through in their compulsion to fit all observations into a theory that will support, or at least be at peace with, this Big Bang miracle.

One of the most amusing examples involves the determination of the presence of a background radiation that is uniform in all directions in the heavens.  Some few years ago a couple of scientists, at Bell Laboratories as I remember, received the Nobel Prize for the discovery that there was an absolutely uniform level of radiation to be found in the sky, regardless of which direction you happen to look.  Homeostasis.  A flat, constant coldness at around 3 degrees Kelvin.  The fact that it was both smooth and exactly the same in every direction was the killer observation that finally provided the ultimate proof of the Big Bang origin of the universe.  Or so they said.

And then, a few years later, some super detectors were put up in orbit with orders of magnitude greater sensitivity.  You know what they observed?  That flat background radiation wasn't really flat, but had undulations and unevennesses in it.  The fact that it was, in its fine detail, uneven and variable was then advanced as the ultimate proof of the Big Bang.

Examples abound of the capitulation of the scientific community to this canonical cop-out.  Two recent articles appeared in the local San Francisco Chronicle that are superb illustrations of this mind set.

On March 4, 1995, there was reported the discovery of the sixth and last quark, the top quark.  I do not wish to detract in any way from the beautiful story of fundamental particles, the various forces, the laws of physics and all the related entities that are the ultimate building blocks and operative rules of the matter that constitute the universe.  I'm all for chemistry, and physics, and thermodynamics and quantum mechanics.  They are real; they are essential; they are inescapable.  What I am against is the blind attachment of everything to the Big Bang nonsense.  Let me make a parallel between the biased reporting that is so much in vogue now (let's call it Big Bang Bias, or BBB), and how it might have been phrased in non-biased language (called IOU for Infinitely Old Universe), in the matter of this quark report.

     BBB  "Scientists have managed to isolate a bit of matter providing a
     major clue to the origin and evolution of the universe."
     IOU  "Scientists have managed to isolate a bit of matter providing a
     major clue to the structure of the universe."

     BBB  "Quarks vanished as independent entities at the very beginning of
     time when the original Big Bang that created the universe began to cool."
     IOU  "Quarks have never before existed as independent entities, as the
     extreme conditions of heat and energy needed to release them are not
     known in nature."

     BBB  "...have found the missing link in our theoretical model that tries
     to understand how the universe evolved from its birth."
     IOU  "...have found the missing link in our theoretical model that tries
     to understand what the universe is and of what it is made."

The article has a climax sentence that is directly comparable to the Catholic Church's Sunday mass.  "In the instant of the Big Bang the universe was a soup of quarks and leptons and radiation, but then as the universe cooled down in seconds and minutes, and as its temperature cooled to 2,000 trillion degrees, it lost its quarks."   That one I cannot paraphrase, although the
expression "lost its marbles" is very tempting.  As I would with the personal viewing of the second coming of Christ, I must rest in awe of 2,000 trillion degrees temperature.

My dear wife Alice uses the term "factoid" to represent something that is accurate and totally trivial.  Big numbers, certainly those that I lump together under the term zillion which I have used a couple of times already in this chapter, certainly fit into this classification.  Just
how big is a trillion?  The American system is based on the old French system.  But the French recently changed their system to correspond to the German and British systems, so again we stand alone.  Since this is, both figuratively and literally, a hot topic, let me continue this trivial aside.  Going up in factors of one thousand, there is:

     how many zeros      American       British
             3                    thousand       thousand
             6                    million          million
             9                    billion           milliard
             12                  trillion           billion
             15                  quadrillion     thousand billion
             18                  quintillion      trillion

and with a little etymological looseness, in either country;

     with a lot of them                 zillion
     with a 100 of them                 googol
     with a googol of them              googolplex

So, is that the American one thousand million equals a billion world, or the British one million million equals a billion world?  This is im-portant.  It is, incontestably, the difference between 2,000,000,000,000,000 degrees C and 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 degrees C.  Or with the addition of 273 degrees as minor correction, you get degrees K (Kelvin), the thermometer preferred by physical scientists.  And since the mythology claims that it was at this moment of cooling that the quarks all went out to lunch, never to be seen again, it becomes a crucial point in the cosmic history.  The new article concludes:  "The Standard Model is correct when it describes the fundamental particles and forces of the universe -- and that science is on the right track."  I am strangely not convinced.

A second article appeared, in the same paper, exactly five months later, to the day.  There were presented some recent findings from the Hubble telescope that, if taken as being correct, deal a killing blow to the Big Bang theory.  The essence and the irony can be seen in a single paragraph from this report:

     "The basic theory of cosmology, that the universe burst forth in a Big
     Bang from a tiny volume long ago, remains intact.  But the details must
     be revised, or explanations of stellar physics changed, to get stars
     older than the universe."

Let me sum up the paradox in a single sentence.  The astronomers are finding 16 billion year-old globular clusters in an 8 billion year-old universe.  Note the rigid, blind adherence of the faithful in that above paragraph, "The basic theory of the Big Bang...remains intact."  How do the true believers get out of this most recent contradiction?  There were other embarrassing details accumulating.  Most of them use terms and vocabulary that I cannot even pretend to understand.  Terms such as Grand Unified Theory, magnetic monopoles, anti-matter, domain walls, symmetry breaking, Higgs fields, all led to a single, very disturbing contradiction to the Big Bang model.  The time scale was all screwed up.  Everyone had always looked at the early seconds of this event.  But when you got into the very, very early pictures, an early microscopic fraction of a second immediately following this moment of ultimate origin, things didn't make sense.  If the mass was what they said the mass had to be, then the whole shooting match would have fallen back upon itself, collapsed into some revisitation of the original point of origin, a Big Crunch, a singularity to end all singularities, or maybe even a black hole, in a few tens of thousands of years.  But it didn't.  Here we are, not thousands or millions, but billions of years later (in the American, not the British sense), and we are not yet sure, even today, if we are closed (some day to recollapse), open (or forever expanding to infinity) or magically neutral (on to a point of ultimate balance).  Something new was needed to maintain the faith.

Inflation was found.  By ignoring the rules of physics for a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second (I kid you not) just after the incredibly dense, incredibly hot Big Bang went off, you have to allow the exploding thing to expand at 10^25 times the speed of light (some suggest maybe 10^50 times as fast) to achieve the organization and the mass distribution needed to accommodate the galaxies and the big attractors as we know them today.  The rewards of this sleight-of-hand are many -- atomic ratios are reasonable now, as are some of the questions as to anti-matter --  and include, most importantly, an effective insulation from having to address the questions of just what that preinflation world really looked like.  By the very act of inflation all earlier records have been lost.

So here a second miracle is needed to explain the universe.  A neat article appeared in the journal "The Sciences" some twenty or thirty years ago, giving about fifteen criteria for determining if the author of some extraordinary discovery was a genius or a crack-pot.  A few years ago a couple of well known scientists somewhere in the U.S. made a claim of having observed room-temperature fusion.  I applied these criteria to their reports and about twelve of them failed.  The impossibility of applying experimental challenges to the Big Bang makes this test largely pointless, but one criterion I remember very clearly:  "Is there more than one miracle being claimed?"  There is the first miracle -- a small, dense, hot thing  that came from nowhere and started our clock.  And now, to justify that first one, we have to have a second miracle -- a magical suspension of the laws of physics for a while so that everything can expand at a zillion times the speed of light.  Two is one too many.

What a wealth of richness in vocabulary and esoteric thought has now become available to us, from this Big Bang affair.  In fairness I will admit that I am not sufficiently in the know to follow the jargon of this new-age science, but let me quote one example to give you the music.  This is from a chapter in a text-book entitled "The New Physics" as part of the explanation of the inflation concept:

     "The most peculiar property of the false vacuum is probably its
     pressure, which is both large and negative."

And it just might be that the groundwork is being laid for a third miracle, to address the question of just how stars can be older than the age of the universe.  Cosmologist Hogan of the University of Washington suggests that the most likely way is to:

     "... drastically change the way the age of the universe is calculated.
     Among the possibilities are that the universe is far less massive than
     the experts believe, so that its gravity has barely slowed it down
     since the Big Bang, or that some strange anti-gravity force ... has
     actually accelerated its growth over time."
 

How much simpler life would be if we just dropped the concept of the Big Bang, and the insistence upon there being a point of origin.  Rather than continue a search for a beginning, simply assume that everything has always been here.  And rather than fret over when it all might crunch, simply assume that everything will always remain here.  Our space and cosmos has been around forever, and will stay with us forever.

Something in this direction was proposed by the Hoyle group some years ago, invoking the continuing generation of mass to account for the retreating of the outermost limits.  But still there is the embodied assumption that there is expansion (the red shift observations) and thus some earlier time there was something smaller, and hence (at some time in the past) maybe there was an origin.

To me, there is a fine alternative explanation of what we are and why we appear as we do (universe-wise) with the simple replacement of one assumption with another.  A lot of bizarre inconsistencies suddenly become quite reasonable.  The assumption to be discarded: the idea that there was a Big Bang with a zillion degrees of temperature in a tiny location somewhere, and that it came from nowhere.  The assumption to be accepted in its place:  the idea that time is continuously speeding up, and that newly emitted photons move faster than older photons.

I will elaborate fully on just one point of this IOU hypothesis, the Infinitely Old Universe cosmology.  This is a consideration of the Hubble constant I mentioned earlier, proposed in the 1920's as a measure of the expansion of the universe, the argument that single-handedly brought the Big Bang theory into being.  A good correlation has been established between how far away a star, or galaxy, is from us, and to what extent its light has been shifted towards the red.  This is the famous "red-shift" and it has been used for decades both as a measure of the distance of a light source, and the rate of its recession from us.  That is the equation that is the Holy Grail of the BBB's, the Big Bang Bias cosmologists; that the distance from us of a light source can be determined with reasonable accuracy by the rate of its recession.  The further away, the faster it is receding.  Distances are independently determined by a variety of clues, from energies of quasars to the periodicity of certain stars that vary regularly in their brightness.  But the dogma is: the further away, the faster the retreat.  This shift is akin to the Doppler effect so familiar to us as the change in pitch of the whistle of a train coming towards us, or going away from us.  As the approach becomes a retreat, the pitch drops in frequency.  The high note WEEE becomes a low note WAAH as the train zips past us in the station with its whistle blaring.  Light plays by the same rules, in that if its origin is coming towards us, its frequency is higher (shift to the blue) and if its origin is going away from us, its frequency is lower (shift to the red).

No revision need be made to the distance of stars and galaxies from us, so there is no revision needed as to the apparent size of the universe.  They, the energy emitters, are as far away as their red shifts say they are.  The point of issue taken here is that the red shift is due to something emitting its photons at a slower time scale, rather than at the same time scale but with the emitter actually moving away from us.  They are relatively static as to position, it is just that we are seeing them as they were billions of years ago, functioning on a slower physical time base, and they are not receding at all.  Nothing is receding.  The universe is what it has been (big) and what it is now (just about as big) and what it will be a lot of years in the future (still pretty much the same big) except that every year we let pass us by, the bits of energy we emit as photons (in TV broadcasting radio waves and with solar flares from our sun) will be cast in a slightly faster time scale.  Our reality is speeding up.

Some one mentioned to me that there was once a cosmic hypothesis that had been called "tired light," but that it had been discredited.  That phrase is not in the indices of any of my reference books on the subject, and maybe this is a repetition of that idea.  I would love to know just what it implied, and especially just how it became discredited.

Subjectively all of us admit this apparent speeding up of time -- that things seem to be happening at a faster and faster rate, almost as if time is passing us by.  But physically, there is no way of determining any absolute standard.  The rate of change is so small, there is no practical way to measure the photon speed of old versus new photons.  Bounce them off the mirrors we have left on the moon?  They come back to us in seconds, practically virgins.  Where do you find old photons, so you can measure their speed?  From distant stars of course, and we already know that they are moving on a slower time base, since we already know that they are shifted to the red.  The whole concept of an old, really old, universe presents the same self-satisfying supports and reinforcements that the Big Bang and the newly born universe presents.  What is rough for one proves to be good for the other, and vice
versa.

Suddenly a number of things that seemed to be uncomfortably hurried in the BBB world become quite relaxed in the IOU world.  The most obvious of these issues is the question of the origin of life.

The time period allotted for the creation of life, in our current philosophy, is absurdly small.  This carries the arguments that presume the origins to be on earth.  We have an extraordinarily complex DNA system that encodes the ultimate details of the living organism.  It is complex today, and there are indicators that three billion years ago, when the earth was just cooling down enough to support life, it was just as complex.  When did it have time to evolve from something simple to something less simple to something as complex as it is today (just as it was back then)?  If you accept evolution, then you must assume that we leapt from a zero level (no life) to a ten level (life as we know it today) with the nine level having been reached while the earth was still new and relatively uninhabitable.

This problem can be deferred, but not necessarily solved, by calling upon a second and longer time period.  There are the pan-spermia arguments of the Watsons and the McKennas of our time.  Life didn't form on earth, but it formed somewhere else, and spores (or some similar sort of seeding material) were cast from these sites of synthesis out upon the vast stellar reaches, and over the billions of years needed to wander from galaxy A to galaxy B, fluttered down onto earth to successfully root at the time that the earth proved fertile.  But doubling the 4 billion year earth life-span to an 8 billion year universe life span might, at best, give us the time to drop to an eight level in the zero to ten time scale in the reckoning of the development of our DNA sophistication.  But this gives no grace period for intergalactic travel of the genetic material.
 

So, what a delightful comfort one can find by considering a third time period proposal for the creation of life.  An infinitely old universe, with all the time in the world (literally) to explore the many combinations of molecules (mostly failures, with an occasional success) that would lead us slowly towardsour present living structure.  There is a glib axiom in mathematics.  If something is conceivable, then given infinite time it becomes inevitable.  No, I am afraid that is not quite correct.  I am sure there are infinite sets that do not contain all possible combinations.  This is too severe a claim for nature.  But it somehow has a valid ring to it.  I have the gut instinct that since life is certainly conceivable, its turning up in an infinitely old universe just might be a pretty common event.  And this might be in a lot of places and at a lot of different times.  The purists will soften this bravado by arguing that the universe may be infinitely old, but it is not infinitely large, so there are not an infinite number of places available.  But I appeal to the knowledgeable physicists amongst you, the readers.  To what extent does our confidence that the universe is 10 to some big-number-power grams in mass, rather than being infinite, depend upon our assumption that there was at one time, a Big Bang?  And it is true, life may have become extinguished, or may have extinguished itself many, many times, as might ours in time.  But the comforting side benefit of this infinitely old universe theory is that it allows us to say with quite a bit of confidence that we are not alone.

Big Bang?   Requiescat in pace.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

          Copyright 1997

          TIHKAL: The Continuation
          Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin
          Transform Press
          P.O. Box 13675
          Berkeley, CA  94712

          ISBN 0-9630096-9-9



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