Beyond the Tilting Point
In every branch of knowledge, a point arrives during human pursuit after which further knowledge leads to no further clarity, but indeed, to confusion. It can be called the tilting point. After this boundary line, the more the humans try, the more they feel muddled. If they persist, they enter into a chaotic world of ideas that begin to contradict each other.
When pushed to its limits, every fundamental theory of physics runs foul of our poor understanding of information.
It may be no understatement to say that the biggest breakthrough in physics must come in information theory rather than quantum mechanics or relativity. (http://www.technologyreview.com/)
In that zone, there is more darkness than light. To cite an example from philosophy, when asked, Swiss philosopher Carl Jung is said to have answered at the prime of his life, after having fried and stewed much philosophy in his earlier robust years, to the effect, “I do not know who I am .. cannot say much about myself .. except that I am a product of circumstances.” He was at the tilting point.
This is the situation with frontier sciences and scientists now, in our times. Whether it is astronomy, biology, physics, or chemistry, humankind seems to have arrived at a point which could be classified as the tilting point. At this point the Sun of knowledge and understanding seems to be setting into the dark zone: “Until, when he reached the point at which the Sun sets, he found it setting into a slimy lake” (the Qur’an, 18: 86).
Some scientists believe that they are in a situation which can be described as the “end of science”, although the word goes in muted voices. Nonetheless, books dealing with this theme have already begun to appear.
Joachim of Floris, a 13th century ecclesiastical writer had divided religious history into three phases: the Age of the Father, the Age of the Son, and (his own times) the Age of the Holy Ghost (Spengler, The Decline of the West, p.19). Now, since nothing of the Holiness remains in the Western Machine Civilization, it can be renamed as the Age of the Ghosts. In fact, in keeping with the ghostly tendencies of the modern scientific findings, a certain class of sub-atomic particles are aptly named as Ghost Particles.
Science is not dead. In every field of knowledge, immense number of men and women are active in research and experiments, and immense amount of data is being collected, classified, and stacked or stored. But, not all of it is retrieved often because they are unable to make much out of them. In quite a few instances the data is baffling. In some cases, it is absolutely incredible and illogical. It is inconsistent with the well-known laws of nature. But, repeated experiments yield the same results and confirm the conclusions. Perhaps this accounts for the appearance of disciplines such as Fuzzy Logic or the Chaos Theories.
Astronomy is one such cosmos of dark horizons. Some time back the Hubble Telescope discovered stars that seem to be older than the Universe. Either the age of our Universe as estimated by the astronomers was wrong, or the measurements were wrong. But neither seemed to be wrong. Yet here were a naughty bunch of stars teasing bright in the telescope, demanding explanation. After 200 hundred years of research and experiments, theory-building, and observation, some scientists were ready to revise the age of the universe, others the Cosmological constant, while some others were on the verge of joining forces with those who have always looked at the Big Bang theory with suspicious eyes.
If we compare the two age determinations, there is a potential crisis. If the universe is flat, and dominated by ordinary or dark matter, the age of the universe as inferred from the Hubble constant would be about 9 billion years. The age of the universe would be shorter than the age of oldest stars. This contradiction implies that either 1) our measurement of the Hubble constant is incorrect, 2) the Big Bang theory is incorrect or 3) that we need a form of matter like a cosmological constant that implies an older age for a given observed expansion rate.
Another example comes from the frontiers of Black Holes. Einstein vigorously denied them for several decades and died on his belief. He thought they were a “mere mathematical curiosity.” But the invisible black holes have been becoming more and more visible. (The British scientist Stephen Hawking is said to be a leading expert on Black Holes). What is a Black Hole anyway? Well, when a star of certain size has burnt all its fuel, it starts to shrink under the pressure of its own gravitational force which grows in intensity as the star shrinks. Ultimately, the star-body is shrunk to such small size and its gravitational power grows to such stupendous magnitude, that nothing can escape from it; not even light; and, therefore, it becomes invisible; hence its name Black Hole. It can be detected by indirect means alone. To put it in scientific jargon:
Every star, however, must eventually exhaust its nuclear fuel. When it does so, its unbalanced self-gravitational attraction causes it to collapse. According to theory, if a burned-out star has a mass larger than about three times the mass of our sun, no amount of additional pressure can stave off total gravitational collapse. The star collapses to form a black hole. For a non-rotating collapsed star, the size of the resulting black hole is proportional to the mass of the parent star; a black hole with a mass three times that of our sun would have a diameter of about 10 miles. (http://www.pbs.org/)
But latest observations have sent the telescope-peering scientists back to supercomputers. All along they had said that a star of 3 and above solar masses should turn into a Black Hole after it had burnt out all its energy. But now it has been discovered from observation that a few neutron stars seemed to have formed from stars that once had 40 solar masses. That is, these stars (known as “magnetar”) must have actually become Black Holes. How dare they are neutron stars?
By comparison with these stars, they found that the star that became the magnetar must have been at least 40 times the mass of the Sun. This proves for the first time that magnetars can evolve from stars so massive we would normally expect them to form black holes. The previous assumption was that stars with initial masses between about 10 and 25 solar masses would form neutron stars and those above 25 solar masses would produce black holes. (http://scienceblog.com/)
Confusions neither start here, nor end here; like space, they have no boundary. As you follow the findings, you also discover that none less than a Nobel Prize winning scientists would, in fact, obliterate the Black Holes with his thumb:
Nobel prize-wining physicist says black holes and space-time singularities cannot exist in his latest model of the universe. (http://www.technologyreview.com/)
The scientist concerned is Gerard ‘t Hooft. He won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1999. (He has a splendid Website that offers excellent guidelines to students pursuing science courses).
Age and size questions are major confusing issues in astronomy. How old is the Universe and how big? As soon as one raises the issue, the first question shot back at him is: “Which Universe?” If you are baffled, you will be explained that there are several universes. And, if you do not cease to be flabbergasted, you are told that they could be in billions! You could also be told (if you refer to enough number of books) that you bat an eye, and a new Universe comes into existence.
In fact, someone suggested that the stars older than “our universe” detected by the Hubble telescope could be from another Universe. But scientists will accept no such nonsense because they will tell you that those other universes are beyond human visibility. Some of these universes might be crossing through our own universe, but going through clean and dry, without any clash, in a fashion similar to the jaw-dropping Japanese Precision Cross March. So, we are told that we live in a world of multiverses. Except for our own, the others are invisible, and will remain so, because of dimensional problem. Ours has only 4, others perhaps 8, perhaps 11, perhaps more.
At all events, as you learn to properly word your question and ask, “What’s the size of our Universe,” you get a variety of answers. A straight jacket answer is: it is 13.7 billion years old; which implies that the Universe is of size 13.7 light years across. But you couldn’t be more in error.
Another scientist (they are careful not to answer all the questions in one book), would clarify that if the oldest photons reaching us are 13.7 billion years old, then, it must be kept in mind that the figure gives us the radius; which means the width of our Universe has to be twice that, i.e. roughly 28 billion light years. In other words, light traveling at the speed of 300,000 km/second, will take 28 billion years to travel edge to edge. 28 billion years by the way is 28 followed by 9 zeroes (28,000,000,000). Multiply that figure by 60, and then by 60, then by 24, and then by 365 to get the distance in km. Order a cup of tea before you reach out for your calculator.
A third scientist might tell you that you are far from truth. The universe could be 156 billion years old. When you come out of the shock, he will explain to you that this is because the Universe is expanding at almost the speed of light in every direction. That is, it becomes 600,000 km. bigger in diameter, every second. Therefore, while the light ray was tiresomely plodding through the distance to kiss your retina, the Universe was mercilessly expanding, and the poor photon took 78 billion years for touch down. Double it up and you get 156 billion light years. That’s the size of the Universe; that is, ‘our Universe.’
That was taking for granted that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old. But is it? Let us hear another authority:
The new finding implies that the universe is instead about 15.8 billion years old and about 180 billion light-years wide.
If you wish to give up the question of the size of this Universe out of frustration, you are still left with a piece of information that they tend to ignore but which ultimately knocks at your door; viz. you will never know how big this Universe is. Whoa! Yes. And it is such a simple conclusion that you should have arrived at it instantly. To explain: since the universe is expanding at almost the speed of light, light from the cosmic bodies at the extreme edge can never reach you because, by the time they travel “a distance”, the world stretches itself by twice that distance, and, therefore, the photons will never have the pleasure of kissing your retina. Those cosmic bodies that sent you the gift of light rays, have gone out of vision, and you will never know how big this Universe is! The same authority as quoted above says:
This (14 billion light ears) would be the diameter of just the observable universe. The actual size of the total universe may be 10 – 1000 times larger.
To proceed with our original issue of the “tilting point” in mind, questions about the shape of the Universe bring out the most amusing answers. For quite a while the scientists held – and many still hold – that the Universe had no edge and no boundary. Others say that they still do not know whether space is curved or flat. To the question, what lies beyond the edge, the answer was, and remains in many scientific circles, “there is no beyond.” Whoa again.
But, one need not be disheartened too soon. Ask others. They might say the Universe it is cone-shaped. Yet others are now speaking of a torus-shaped Universe, or, to simplify, doughnut-shaped.
But what about the beginning? Do we have any clear evidence about how it all began? “Yes,” the scientist might jump in excitement, “it began with a Big Bang.” When you ask when it was, the answer is, “That was 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang.” You ask, “But what was it like at Zero time?” The answer is, “We do not know what happened before 10-43 seconds, because calculations begin to fail from that point backward. You cannot go any further than Planck’s constants. Further, there was a time after the Big Bang, when the infant Universe was in its dark zone, about which nothing can ever be known because the Dark Body did not allow any radiation to leave its surface.”
So, if there are boundaries at the end of the Universe, beyond which lies the unknowable world, there are boundaries too at the point it started which is also the unknowable world; and we are in between the two unknowables.
One can go on and on with dozens of more questions. The more the data sought, the fuzzier the situation seems to sound. It is the same story in any other scientific field, be it physics, chemistry, biology, geology, or even economic theories or political philosophies. There is much data, but little understanding. Or, to be precise, little room for understanding. Long back, Einstein had called the earliest Quantum findings as “the spooky world of physics.” It seems the entire sciences, as well as humanities, have acquired a spooky character.
This little preamble should prepare us to consider with considerable respect the claim of a leading scientist that this Universe of ours does not need a Creator. He can explain it without God.
Man is a little bit of a funny creature. He can press a humorous point when dealing with most profound subjects. (The British are specially known for a fine sense of humor). Man does not know the nature of his Universe, he does not know what it contains, he does not know what its shape is, he does not know how big it is, he does not know how many there are, he does not know how it began, he does not know how it will end, but he knows that it can be explained without taking God into consideration!
He is perhaps in the zone beyond the tilting point.