Sympathetic Stupid

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Simon Singh: Big Bang

This is pop-science and Singh does it really well. It's a trip through the damn cool science of cosmology, starting from creation myths and working up to the Big Bang (or, as I prefer, the Horrendous Space Kablooie).

I may be a geek, but even I start to nod off when books get all hardcore science. Singh avoids this trap and makes it all about the people. Stars (boom-tish!) include bankable names like Aristotle, Galileo, Einstein and Hubble. In fact, it's probably not quite sciencey enough for my taste, which might mean it's just right for many people.

The question is, where did the universe come from? Two overall cosmological theories existed for a long time, the Big Bang model and the Steady State model. Briefly, the Big Bang says that a long time ago, everything was compacted into a very small point from which it then exploded, causing universal expansion which continues to this day. The Steady State model says that the universe is constant, it expands and stars expire, but they are constantly replaced with new matter. Both, for a long time, had pros and cons (and in fact still do).

The means of choice between these highlights just how good the scientific method is. You can't prove a theory, only disprove it, as you're never sure about that piece of evidence just around the corner. If a theory doesn't fit the available evidence, it's out. Otherwise, it can hang around and see how it goes against new evidence. This is of course topical as Intelligent Design is a magical theory which can't be disproved. Which makes it extremely robust in the face of logic.

Neither the Big Bang nor the Steady State model are completely accepted, though the Big Bang has the street cred. If the Big Bang is correct, there was some seriously weird shit going on in the first seconds of the universe. If Steady State is correct, there's some seriously weird shit going on every day, like where does all that new matter (to keep the universe steady) come from?

My favourite bit of the Big Bang theory is this question: what happened before the Big Bang? This is why organised religion likes the theory; it leaves a big, big hole open for a Creator. I'm more in favour of hundreds upon thousands upon millions upon billions of parallel universes, personally. And if quantum computing comes through, this might be upon us sooner than we realise.

Any science interest? Get into it.