The poilitcal lamp is definitely OUT for this one!
Some physicists have argued that the universe is doomed to be ripped apart by runaway dark energy, while others think it is bouncing through an endless series of big bangs and big crunches. Now these two ideas are being combined to create another option, in which our universe ultimately shatters into billions of pieces, with each shard growing into a whole new universe. The model could solve the mystery of why our early universe was surprisingly well ordered.
(Um... did any of you read Heaven’s Reach? Does any of this sound familiar? )
In the new model, dark energy becomes very dense and sets the universe expanding at such a rate that it approaches the big rip. The universe tears into small patches that rush away from each other faster than the speed of light. But the destruction is then halted, as the density of dark energy becomes equal to the density of the universe. At this point, each patch crunches in on itself. "All the patches, of which there are a huge number, will separately contract into disparate universes," says Frampton. Each patch will then bounce outwards again, creating a new universe. This has got to be the third or fourth or eighth variation on universal reproduction and/or birth that I have seen from astrophysicists in the last decade or so, an era of profound imagination and speculation! It is starting to look pretty wild out there, in the wonderful realm of eschatology. So, let’s try to put it all in a bit of perspective.
Everyone who is not still in Kindergarten -- either literally or theologically -- knows that overwhelming evidence has proved that a Big Bang started it all - everything we see - about thirteen billion years ago. Some of our neo-cosmologies do poke about earlier, speculating about vast realms of “context” within which the Big Bang took place. See my novella “What Continues and What Fails...”
Where there is even more confusion is about the future. All right, so there was a bang. Where is it all heading?
Take the Big Bounce... under which notion the universal expansion slows down due to gravity, decelerates and stops, then reverses into a Crunch... that thereupon rebounds outward in a fresh Big Bang! This concept was in the 60s brilliantly dramatized by Poul Anderson’s epochal novel TAU ZERO. (Get it, read it!)
The Crunch view was later pursued with fantastic quasi-theological passion by Frank Tipler is his amazing THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, in which he brought forward probably the most flamboyant and unabashed eschatology of all time... that the infrared radiation emitted by your own body, whenever you step outside, will someday all be collected by godlike descendants during the LAST WEEK of the universe and used to learn all about you! (And every other ancestor.) In order to resurrect you in effective (if totally subjective) immortality during the last few (objective) days of the cosmos, when computer-simulation power will supposedly be utterly limitless. Yipes!
Tipler thus vied with Freeman Dyson for the encomium of “greatest theologian of the 20th Century”... an honor that Freeman appeared to have won, when it was shown that HIS eschatology is probably more relevant, because our metagalaxy’s expansion appears to be accelerating rather than slowing, implying the existence of more than sufficient Dark Energy to keep the expansion going forever. Dyson’s quasi-theology describes how life might cope with and eventually resign itself to the final dissipation into absolute-zero nothingness. The big chill.
Only, meanwhile, Stephen Hawking and others had fixated on black holes, those marvelous, one way tunnels that may... possibly... emerge in a completely new cosmic “context” -- possibly even triggering new episodes of creation and universal inflation. And, if so, according to Lee Smolin, there may be vast cycles of “evolution” as mother universes use black holes as the eggs to parent new daughter universes whose genetic code it, in effect, the detailed set of physical parameters and laws and “gosh numbers” that get passed down the line, mutating slightly and experiencing “selection” in favor of maximum reproductive success, in probably the most mind-boggling concept of our age.
Meanwhile, OTHERS have been speculating that all of this is way, way premature. I was shocked, shocked, to learn recently that the SHAPE of the cosmos is still considered debatable, despite signs of endless expansion, and that some astronomers have re-discovered and legitimized the old notion that the “actual universe” is flat and infinite! In other words, the “Universe:” that we see may have come from a bang 13 billion years ago. but that happened in one small patch of a vastly wider expanse of already-existing spacetime that could contain vast numbers of such firecracker creations at the same time, outside of our light-cone of perception.
In other words, some are now saying that the Big Bang was really an explosion!”
An actual, honest-to-God explosion, taking place INSIDE a much vaster context, a truly immense “macro-universe” that is made of real distance, and boggling amounts of real space. Really? But... but... but didn’t you cosmologists yatter at us for generations about how naive that view was? How the bang was a sudden and impressive expansion of “metric” but did not explode “into” anything because it contained everything, period?
This new/old/rediscovered notion, which actually is easier to envision than the standard model of the last 50 years (a Big Bang that consists of expansion without any pre-existing setting to expand into) now seems completely boggling, simply because I thought all the big-domes had already declared it completely excluded. With many a snort of disdain.
Only now guys are talking seriously about a “meta” universe in flat space that is as much bigger than our measly teeny 13 billion light year “universe” as than universe is bigger than the solar system!
Okay, NOW go back to the top and re-read the news article. That dark energy might drive accelerating expansion until it the metagalaxy breaks apart, then dark energy diffusion allows many long-delayed collapses, which trigger new black holes... new “bounce” creations...
Um, is this in the context-free standard Big Bang? The dimensionally separated “new universe” variation of the standard model preached by Hawking and Smolin? Or in the new/old/restored notion of a vast-flat mega context cosmos? I guess this dissipate-breakup-collapse-bounce idea could happen in any of the three!
Oh, wow, the Big Guy is really laughing now, I betcha. Smartass modernist humans.
Still, we are apprentices. Sniffing. Trying. Gotta make Him proud.
(See also: Is Theology Compatible with Science...Sci Fi and Progress?)