Our Increasingly Unprovable Universe

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There is a current “rumble” going on between roving gangs of rival physicists, each championing their own theories as to how our universe was created. On one side are the authors of the controversial article “Pop Goes The Universe” from the February issue of Scientific American. On the other are “33 Famous Physicists,” including Stephen Hawking, who have signed off on a very stern letter criticizing said article.

What hangs in the balance might very well be our perceptions of Life, the Universe, and Everything:

“Pop Goes the Universe” (a.k.a “Cosmic Inflation Theory Faces Challenges”), penned by physicists Anna Ijjas and Paul J. Steinhardt from Princeton, and Abraham Loeb from Harvard, takes issue with the scientific model known as Inflationthe theory that after the Big Bang, the universe “inflated” out more and more until it settled on what we know now.

Instead, the article’s authors endorse The Big Bounce as viable alternative possibility: that some sort of cosmological event—like the collapse of a pre-existing universe into a Singularity—preceded the creation (“bouncing out”) of our universe.

And so while the Big Bang was kind of like this grand initial occurrence—before which there might not have been any universe at all, but rather an ancient primary state like in a Bible creation myth (and I know it sounds ironic to reference the Bible here, but think about it)—the Big Bounce suggests something rather more cyclical.

If you want to read what “fighting words” sound like coming from physicists, here they are from physicists Ijjas, Steinhardt, and Loeb:

…the prospect that inflation did not occur deserves serious consideration. If we step back, there seem to be two logical possibilities. Either the universe had a beginning, which we commonly dub the “big bang,” or there was no beginning and what has been called the big bang was actually a “big bounce,” a transition from some preceding cosmological phase to the present expanding phase. Although most cosmologists assume a bang, there is currently no evidence—zero—to say whether the event that occurred 13.7 billion years ago was a bang or a bounce.

And here’s the part which probably made the “33 Famous Physicists” get out their shivs and brass knuckles (emphasis mine):

…inflationary cosmology, as we currently understand it, cannot be evaluated using the scientific method.

Now from the response letter by the “33 Famous Physicists”—also published in Scientific American:

There is no disputing the fact that inflation has become the dominant paradigm in cosmology. Many scientists from around the world have been hard at work for years investigating models of cosmic inflation and comparing these predictions with empirical observations. According to the high-energy physics database INSPIRE, there are now more than 14,000 papers in the scientific literature, written by over 9,000 distinct scientists, that use the word “inflation” or “inflationary” in their titles or abstracts. By claiming that inflationary cosmology lies outside the scientific method, IS&L are dismissing the research of not only all the authors of this letter but also that of a substantial contingent of the scientific community.

And yet, the “damage” caused by the initial SA article already been accomplished, hasn’t it? The simple pointing out that because these theories aren’t provable by the scientific method, they remain theories—not sacred cows other scientists are forbidden to question.

The fact is, we still do not know with any certainty how the universe was created. 

As you go about your daily life, please remember this. This is a key concept many other concepts stream from.