Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Physical Cosmologies

Back in the 1950s I acquired a five-volume series of essays from Scientific American. One of these was titled The Universe. Part IV of the book carried two essays, one by George Gamow and the other by Fred Hoyle, summarizing, respectively the “Evolutionary Universe,” read Big Bang, and “The Steady-State Universe.” It is revealing that a book from a scientific publisher, issued in 1956, should have given the Steady-State theory equal billing. Since then the Big Bang has come to rule virtually absolutely—so that physicist who challenge it are systematically marginalized.

Despite my frequent references to that theory on this blog, I was already dubious about it in the 1950s, and the more I learned about the subject in detail, the more so. Does that sound odd coming from a person who has a pronounced belief in the transcending? Doesn’t the Big Bang seemingly offer scientific proof for Creation? My personal starting point, however, isn’t science (never mind scientific orthodoxy) but experience—the experience of the self. The arbitrary nature of the Big Bang troubled me from the outset—indeed so does the notion of Creation. I became somewhat reconciled to the theory thanks to David Bohm’s writings. He minimizes the Big Bang and conceives of a much greater Implicate Order of which our universe is but a small “wavelike excitation.”

The Big Bang theory rests on a single observation by Edwin Hubble, namely that light from distant galaxies is shifted to the red of the spectrum. When a stellar or galactic body is moving toward us, the light is blue-shifted; when moving away from us, red-shifted. In our own neighborhood, the Andromeda galaxy is moving towards us at a speed somewhere between 62 and 87 miles per second. It is a blue-shifted galaxy. Hubble interpreted his data as an instance of the Doppler effect, dating to 1842. It says that the wavelength of anything wavy (sound, light) is enlarged (red) or minimized (blue) by the motion of the emitter. Red means moving away from, blue moving toward us. He concluded, therefore, that the universe was expanding. The Big Bang itself, therefore, is an inference. If the universe is expanding over time, at one time it was smaller. Tracing that motion back, Hubble put its age at 2 billion, Gamow in the 1950s at 5 billion, and today it is nearly 14 billion years. With every passing year the universe gets older—because observations discover yet older galaxies based on the red-shift measurement.

The assumption that red-shift measures taken from cosmic objects represented their movement was so well-established an idea in the 1950s that Fred Hoyle himself, steady-stater although he was, felt obliged to propose that new matter was continuously being created all over the universe. This new addition of matter then accounted for the observed expansion. To be sure, if the universe is not expanding, indeed is eternal and has no special space containing it, thus space produced by matter, as modern theory asserts, Hoyle need not have bothered.

The modern theory that space and time are both functions of matter has always bothered me as well. Something inside the self, which is where I begin, resists the notion of a universe curved in upon itself. So what is outside that curvature? But this view has also produced the very odd notion that the galaxies Hubble saw moving, thus causing the Doppler effect, weren’t really moving at all. Instead, space was expanding between them. But if space is expanding, why is Andromeda rushing toward us? The hapless explanation for this—and for clearly observable galactic collisions—is that “local” clusters cohere by gravity, and space only expands between galactic clusters. So space, supposedly, knows where it may—and where it may not—expand. If instead we opt for another view, namely that the galaxies are really moving, impelled by dark energy, then there is something wrong with our spacetime concepts.

Back about a decade-plus ago, in the course of writing a book, I looked into the Big Bang theory much more intensely than I had done before. In the course of that work I discovered one of the marginalized groups of astronomers and physicists who have reason to believe that the red-shift of light may not always and invariably—particularly at cosmic scales—signal movement at all. The basic discoveries of this were based on astronomical observations of quasars, quasi-stellar objects. The responsible party was Halton Arp (1927-). He observed quasars physically linked to galaxies. If red-shift measures movement, the galaxies are much closer to us and the quasars very far away. Yet they are directly and visibly linked to the galaxies. Indeed, most quasar are associated with galaxies and some have theorized that galaxies produce them in their spiral arms. They are part of the local system, but based on Hubble-style interpretation of their red-shifts, they appear to be vastly more distant. The illustration, below, shows two linked galaxies and, within the connecting band between them, two quasars. The numbers are the red-shift measurements: the greater the number, the farther away.

This is a big subject, but permit me to summarize. Arp has theorized that the red-shift observed in galaxies and quasars may not be due to movement at all but to an intrinsic and as yet unknown characteristic. The evidence is very strong. The orthodox response to Arp is a story very few people know about. He may well have falsified the Big Bang theory, but it will take yet another generation, maybe several, before this shall be acknowledged.

Needless to say, there is substantial community of scientists who are critics of the Big Bang; they’ve taken on that theory and produced much evidence, and cogent arguments, to show how it fails. But Big Bang has become an orthodoxy now. It has formed its own reservation, as it were, and critics are unwelcome. Another physical cosmology, based on plasma physics, also exists. It is a steady-state theory with substantial observational and experimental work to back it. But this post has gone on too long already.

Let me conclude by pointing to the first in a nine-part video series on YouTube called The Big Bang Never Happened (link). Once you see it, YouTube presents other parts of the series on its menu. If oppressive orthodoxies interest you, if science fascinates you, if cosmology is something you wish to study, this is not a bad place to start. The illustration I am showing is a screen-shot from that video, but taken from Part 3. The major galaxy shown is NGC 7603.

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