Beyond the Inflationary Big Bang

The answer most people would likely give to the question of how the universe began is, the “Big Bang.”  But it’s a fair guess that this same group of people do not know what the Big Bang is, or that it has in fact been replaced by another model known as the inflationary Big Bang.

The interesting part of this story is why cosmologists decided to revise the standard Big Bang model in the first place.

It turns out that the original Big Bang possessed a number of features that deeply perplexed scientific theorists.   Two of these features are the smoothness problem and the flatness problem.   Without getting into unnecessary details, the smoothness problem arises as a result of the near uniformity of the so-called cosmic background radiation — the supposed “afterglow” from the Big Bang.   This background radiation happens to be uniform across the celestial sphere to 1 part in 100,000.  How is it possible for a near-infinite, random explosion to have produced such a uniform distribution of energy across the heavens?

The “flatness” problems presents a similar dilemma.  The term “flatness” describes the geometry of the universe, or the ratio of mass to gravitional strength.  Of all the possible geometries, or lay-outs, of the universe, a flat universe is the most unlikely because it requires a precise equilibrium between the total mass and gravitional power in the universe. If either mass or gravity predominated, the universe would have long ago either collapsed upon itself or rocketed off to nothingness.

Both the smoothness and flatness problems require the Big Bang to have begun with unique conditions; specially tuned setttings that launched the Big Bang with precisely the right strength and mass to have evolved into the balanced universe we see overhead.

But modern science does not take well to special conditions because first, they are highly improbable, and second, they are suggestive of a guiding intelligence.

Enter the inflationary Big Bang.

This model, which is now the textbook account of the early universe, holds that at its inception, the Big Bang expanded in size at an unimaginably rapid rate in a flashing moment.  After this instantaneous period of inflation, the growth spurt ended, and the universe began tracking the original Big Bang model.  How fast was this inflation?  Roughly 50 orders of magnitude in less than one-trillionth of a second. 

The inflationary Big Bang solved the smoothness problem because, theoretically, the thermal equilibrium of the cosmos was locked into a small area that later grew into the universe.  The inflationary model solves the flatness problem by supposing that the universe we experience appears flat because it is actually a small part of a gigantic ballooning mega-universe.

But now the inflationary Big Bang is under fire.  And the critic is one of the original theorists who developed and refined the inflationary Big Bang, Professor Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University.  In an April 2011 article in Scientific American, entitled, “The Inflation Debate: Is the Theory at the Heart of Modern Cosmology Deeply Flawed?” Professor Steinhardt concludes that if inflation occurred it is much more likely to have been “bad inflation;”  in other words, a period of accelerated growth that would have produced a universe other than what we observe.   When all is said and done, Professor Steinhardt says, the original Big Bang without inflation is more likely to have produced our universe than one with inflation.  So where does this leave modern cosmology?

I address these questions and others with Professor Steinhardt in a radio show entitled, Beyond the Inflationary Big Bang,  on Conversations Beyond Science and Religion available for downloading at www.webtalkradio.net.

Beyond the Inflationary Big Bang

The answer most people would likely give to the question of how the universe began is, the “Big Bang.”  But it’s a fair guess that this same group of people do not know what the Big Bang is, or that it has in fact been replaced by another model known as the inflationary Big Bang.

The interesting part of this story is why cosmologists decided to revise the standard Big Bang model in the first place.

It turns out that the original Big Bang possessed a number of features that deeply perplexed scientific theorists.   Two of these features are the smoothness problem and the flatness problem.   Without getting into unnecessary details, the smoothness problem arises as a result of the near uniformity of the so-called cosmic background radiation — the supposed “afterglow” from the Big Bang.   This background radiation happens to be uniform across the celestial sphere to 1 part in 100,000.  How is it possible for a near-infinite, random explosion to have produced such a uniform distribution of energy across the heavens?

The “flatness” problems presents a similar dilemma.  The term “flatness” describes the geometry of the universe, or the ratio of mass to gravitional strength.  Of all the possible geometries, or lay-outs, of the universe, a flat universe is the most unlikely because it requires a precise equilibrium between the total mass and gravitional power in the universe. If either mass or gravity predominated, the universe would have long ago either collapsed upon itself or rocketed off to nothingness.

Both the smoothness and flatness problems require the Big Bang to have begun with unique conditions; specially tuned setttings that launched the Big Bang with precisely the right strength and mass to have evolved into the balanced universe we see overhead.

But modern science does not take well to special conditions because first, they are highly improbable, and second, they are suggestive of a guiding intelligence.

Enter the inflationary Big Bang.

This model, which is now the textbook account of the early universe, holds that at its inception, the Big Bang expanded in size at an unimaginably rapid rate in a flashing moment.  After this instantaneous period of inflation, the growth spurt ended, and the universe began tracking the original Big Bang model.  How fast was this inflation?  Roughly 50 orders of magnitude in less than one-trillionth of a second. 

The inflationary Big Bang solved the smoothness problem because, theoretically, the thermal equilibrium of the cosmos was locked into a small area that later grew into the universe.  The inflationary model solves the flatness problem by supposing that the universe we experience appears flat because it is actually a small part of a gigantic ballooning mega-universe.

But now the inflationary Big Bang is under fire.  And the critic is one of the original theorists who developed and refined the inflationary Big Bang, Professor Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University.  In an April 2011 article in Scientific American, entitled, “The Inflation Debate: Is the Theory at the Heart of Modern Cosmology Deeply Flawed?” Professor Steinhardt concludes that if inflation occurred it is much more likely to have been “bad inflation;”  in other words, a period of accelerated growth that would have produced a universe other than what we observe.   When all is said and done, Professor Steinhardt says, the original Big Bang without inflation is more likely to have produced our universe than one with inflation.  So where does this leave modern cosmology?

I address these questions and others with Professor Steinhardt in a radio show entitled, Beyond the Inflationary Big Bang,  on Conversations Beyond Science and Religion available for downloading at www.webtalkradio.net.

Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: The Invisible Bridge Between Science and Mysticism

Science deals with the real world; mysticism, with the spiritual world. Science is based upon testable facts and logical deductions; mysticism, upon wispy thoughts, dreams, and hopes. But is there a deeper connection that we are missing? Notably, science too is filled with mysteries – the origin of matter, the laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants, the origin of life, to name a few. Is mysticism an integral part of the world? This week’s guest, Jude Currivan, of the UK, is a cosmologist, author (HOPE: Healing our People and Earth), and mystic. She joins host Philip Mereton in a wide-open conversation about reconciling the worlds of science and mysticism.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: Consciousness Raising in the Land Down Under

On this show we go to the land down under to talk with Brian Creigh, publisher of the Austrialian magazine, Veritas. Calling itself the “world’s most complete consciousness magazine,” Veritas features regular interviews with leaders in the “new consciousness” movement, such as Neale Donald Walsch, Amit Goswami, and Gregg Braden. It offers a unique mix of mind-expanding and health-focused content, while at the same time fulflling one of Brian’s objectives, which is to remain grounded in the real world. Brian joins host Philip Mereton to talk about why Veritas seems to have struck a cord in our rising consciousness.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: How to Find the Genius Within

In ancient Rome, the genius was the guiding spirit of a person. In some people, this spirit shown more brightly and they came to be known as “geniuses.” Today, we recognize special people with highly developed skills in music, art, science and other fields as “geniuses.” Most people have heard of geniuses: Mozart, Rembrandt, and Einstein, to name a few. One field of thought suggests that geniuses are born, not made, as if genius is written in the genetic code. But perhaps the Romans were right and each of us has a guiding spirit that we only need to tap to find our own genius. In this show, Manjir Samanta-Laughton, author of Punk Science and The Genius Groove, joins host Philip Mereton in a discussion of what the new developing scientific paradigm is saying about the hidden genius buried in all of us, and what we can do to find it.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: Punk Science

Punk is a term more often associated with fierce rock music and harsh lyrics than as a form of science. The legacy of punk rock is one of rebellion, attacking conventional society and mainstream culture. “Punk Science” is also the name of a book by this week’s guest, Manjir Samanta-Laughton, of the UK, who has gained international fame for interpreting the findings of physics and cosmology in a new and creative way, and one that challenges mainstream science’s fundamental paradigm. She joins host Philip Mereton in a conversation about what a new scientific paradigm might look like and her own Black Hole Principle.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: The Power of an Open Mind

It’s hard to argue with the value of an open mind. It’s also hard to argue that many people have one. The problem seems to be that modern life feeds us with so many stereotypes, beliefs, labels, prejudices, and biases with which to categorize our world that we stop thinking “like a child” and more like someone “set in their ways.” Pigeonholing saves time in a hectic world. On this show, Tim Boyd, President of the Theosophical Society, joins host Philip Mereton in a discussion of how open-mindedness is something that not only advances our appreciation for the variety of life, but may also lead us to understand better our true inner nature. Also, in a Something More episode, Philip talks with co-director, Robin Beck of Kima Publishers out of South Africa, about dramatic changes occurring in the publishing world and how his 20-year business continues to prosper.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: The Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life? Of all Big Questions, this one may be at once the biggest, and the most befuddling. But can we proceed through life without at some point confronting the question? And, more importantly, does the question have an answer? On this show, Professor Jay Garfield of Smith College and the University of Melbourne (among other institutions), and lecturer for the Teaching Company’s course, The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Great Intellectual Traditions, joins host Philip Mereton in an invigorating discussion of different ways to approach this perennial question, and how we might learn from some of history’s great thinkers to find the meaning in our own lives.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: Is Religion More Natural than Science?

Science deals with the natural world; religion rests upon the supernatural. Science is empirical, methodical, and self-critical; religion deals with a truth revealed by God, and hence beyond questioning. But some cognitive researchers are finding that religion is in fact more natural than science; it comes fast and easy, and does not have to be taught or experienced. Science, meanwhile, is slow, hard, and time-consuming; it deals with things and ideas far removed from everyday life. The naturalness of religion means that despite all the advances of science, it may never go away. On this show, Dr. Robert McCauley, the Director of Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University, and author of the New Scientist article, “Natural Religion, Unnatural Science,” and the new book, Why Religion is Natural and Science Unnatural, joins host, Philip Mereton, in an engaging conversation about what brain research is telling us about the sustained power of religion in our scientific world.

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Conversations Beyond Science and Religion: Creative Evolution

According to Darwinians, evolution is a random, directionless process without purpose or goal; if it looks creative, it is only by accident. On the other side of the spectrum, the intelligent design movement believes that the only explanation for the order in the living world is God. But are these two viewpoints — Darwinism and intelligent design — the only choices? Might there be a way to explain the evolution of life in a manner that transcends both Darwin and intelligent design? On this show, Dr. Amit Goswami, the author of Creative Evolution, The Self-Aware Universe, The Visionary Window, and many other cutting-edge books, joins host Philip Mereton in a discussion of the weaknesses of both Darwinism and intelligent design, and why we need to find a new way to account for creative evolution. Also on this show is the first installment of Something More, where Philip Mereton talks with Theodore Poulis, the publisher of Dream River Press, about why he entered the publishing world and the new titles his company is offering.

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