Most people are familiar with the Big Bang. It’s a name adopted by the scientific world to describe the origin of the universe, a point of ‘singularity’ at the centre of the original black hole where everything, including space and time, came into existence.
Wikipedia defines it as:
‘The initial singularity was a singularity of infinite density thought to have contained all of the mass and space-time of the Universe before quantum fluctuations caused it to rapidly expand in the Big Bang and subsequent inflation, creating the present-day Universe.’
Except it didn’t…
Not everyone agreed with the idea of the Big Bang. One of its chief opponents ironically gave it its name: Professor Sir Fred Hoyle. The ‘big bang wars’ of the 1950s onwards were very bitter, as an outspoken Yorkshireman battled with the Cambridge establishment, of which he was a member, though he eventually resigned, saying it was impossible to work with the politics, there.
Hoyle was a brilliant astro-physicist who had objected to the idea that the universe had a start point. He argued that nature never did that; that time was a subjective thing and that everything should continue to be set within the understanding of Einstein’s laws, which required that time and space didn’t just disappear… or appear. The counter-theory, which had the weight of historical opinion behind it, was named the ‘Steady State’.
With the discovery of the cosmic microwave background in 1965, which showed that something like the Big Bang had happened billions of years ago, the tide turned against Hoyle and his ‘Steady State’ colleagues. This was despite the fact that Hoyle had previously showed that the heavy atoms needed for human life originated, not in the primordial big-bang soup, but in the suns of local solar systems – a kind of stepping down of cosmic matter and energy to originate life within the stable realm of a sun, which then nurtured that life as it gave up its own… in the form of radiant energy.
Professor Sir Fred Hoyle was excluded from a Nobel prize that included his main co-worker at the time. The reason was never given, but speculation was rife that the Nobel committee was uneasy with Hoyle’s multiple pastimes, including his creation of various science fiction books which dealt with intelligent and benign aliens.
Hoyle left Cambridge for the more liberal pastures of the American academic life, eventually retiring, with his wife, to the hills above Ullswater in the Lake District; not too far from where I’m writing this blog. He continued to oppose the Big Bang but was to far from its mainstream of thought to attack it.
In contrast, the Big Bang continued its roller-coaster of success, tracing the origin of the Universe back to millionths of a second after its creation…
…until the past few decades, when insurmountable evidence began to accumulate that you could not actually trace this creation scenario back to its absolute origin, at all.
Like most people, I had no idea that the Big Bang train had come to a halt, and yet what follows has apparently been known for four decades… That hunted singularity where space, time, and all the matter and energy within began did not exist.
The trail, as you approach the singularity where everything breaks down, is something like this: it becomes too hot for atoms to form; there is so much energy that matter and antimatter pairs can form; individual protons and neutrons break down into a quark soup and the heat and densities are so high that the whole Universe becomes denser and fits into the inside of a single atomic nucleus that we would recognise, today.
Finally, this collapses to a single point that occupies no space at all – a singularity at which the very laws of physics run off to infinity and everything breaks down. This was the ultimate vision of the Big Bang – the origin from which everything exploded outwards and forwards in time.
It’s sobering to think that nearly everything except that last instant has been confirmed as true. The three problems are: (1) that the Universe is perfectly uniform in background temperature; yet hasn’t had time to be so; (2) Has no curvature at the extremes, despite extensive searching; (3) There is no high-energy wreckage from these earliest of times…
The answer, put forward in 1979 by a theoretical scientist named Alan Guth, was stranger than science fiction. Instead of a radiant mixture of the highest energy particles at that singularity, there was no singularity and there were no particles. All that would become the Universe was bound up in the fabric of space, itself.
In space, itself….
This has been described as form of ‘vacuum energy’ which subsequently causes the Universe to expand at an exponential rate, without the need for a Big Bang, at all.
No-one really knows what this means. But it matches the ancient Hindu picture of eons-long expansion and contraction far more than it matches the Big Bang.
Professor Sir Fred Hoyle died on his beloved hills near Ullswater in August 2001. I would have loved to hike up those hills to tell him that, while he wasn’t exactly right, he wasn’t wrong either…
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost, supervised correspondence courses.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com