I wrote this piece 20 months ago and, unlike most things here, it has stood the test of time – its subject, the Big Bang Theory, which looks increasingly dubious.
Firstly, there has been a slight but detectable turnaround in the scientific community towards disputing it and, specifically, disputing the idea that everything (including space and time itself) began in a single infinitely dense location 13.8 billion years ago. After all, the notion of the “singularity” requires the laws of physics to be broken (something no one disputes), so it is somewhat mysterious that we cling so heavily to it.
Secondly, we have now not only found structures that are simply too big to exist within the Universe’s time frame, but we are increasingly finding stars whose average estimable age is in fact above 13.8 billion years. In each of the latter cases, there is a lower end of the estimate which falls below 13.8 billion years, but it is becoming increasingly unbelievable that all stars with an estimated age of, say, over 14 billion years are actually aged below 13.8 billion. The likeliest solution to this, by the way, is not that the age of the Universe is wrong but that the age of the stars are, but that has vast implications for everything we are measuring much beyond our own supercluster. We have already been surprised by the dimness of far-away supernovas, indicating the Universe may be expanding faster than our current model.
Thirdly, no one dares challenge the notion of “dark energy” and “dark matter” which, we are told, make up 96% of the Universe. This really isn’t good enough. We actually have no direct evidence that either exists, merely that mathematical models based on the Big Bang (and a concept which is known to exist, “gravitational leasing”) seem to require them.
For what it’s worth, I am increasingly leaning towards the view that there has been more than one creation event (i.e. more than one Great Inflation as per the Big Bang Theory). It is quite possible that we are in a galaxy all of which (or the vast majority of which) began 13.8 billion years ago, but we need to investigate possibilities that this is overlaid on something which already existed; or that we are now seeing things in other galaxies (or, more to the point, filaments) which originated from different creation events (or which belong, fundamentally, to different “universes”).
We have, after all, been fooled throughout human history into thinking we are the centre of everything (it remains a fact of human nature that we all believe ourselves more important to events than we actually are). We believed that our planet was everything; then we believed that everything roasted around our planet; then we believed that our galaxy was everything; now we speak of an “observable universe” placing us by definition at the centre. This notion that we are the only thing, or the centre of everything, has never served us well in the last. So why believe we are at the centre of the accessible universe or even in only universe now? Why must everything around us share the same common origin?
This is a hugely exciting time for astronomy. Vast improvements in telescopes and innovations in space proves have brought us knowledge about the universe I never imagined possible even in science fiction even 20 years ago. But it often takes us a long time to comprehend what we see because of the limitations we have imposed upon ourselves in current thinking – hence we were able to photograph clearly other galaxies in the 19th century, but we did not recognise their existence until the 1920s (passing them off completely erroneously as star clusters within our own galaxy in the meantime)! In the same way, what we are seeing now is quite different from what we expected to see, and it will be decades before we truly adapt to it by moving beyond current thinking.
So it seems to me we need to prepare to think in a way quite different from how we expected to think…