Cosmology: Crossroads or Crosswinds?
Earlier this month in Science, Charles L. Bennett (Johns Hopkins) wrote a status report called “Cosmology at a Crossroads.”1 It included a brief survey of how cosmology got to its current paradigm and how future instruments should narrow down the unknowns. The “standard model” as it has become known hangs together if one allows for three factors to overwhelm the observations: cold dark matter, dark energy, and inflation.
Bennett reviewed the pivotal discoveries that propelled 20th century cosmology: Hubble’s expansion, Zwicky’s dark matter, Penzias and Wilson’s cosmic microwave background (CMB), and Guth’s inflationary cosmology. More recent measurements of Type-1a supernovae, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the WMAP constraints on CMB fluctuations have contributed to the standard model. Cosmologists have still not agreed, though, on a specific type of inflation. They also have not been able to pin down the energy density of the universe or determine if it is responsible for cosmic acceleration.
Bennett listed “six generic predictions of the simplest versions of inflation.” These include (1) a highly uniform CMB temperature, (2) nearly flat Euclidean geometry (which seems to be within 1%), (3) very slight temperature fluctuations in the CMB, (4) acoustic oscillations on large scales that are in phase, (5) random Gaussian phases, and (6) a polarization pattern in gravitational waves. He indicated that most of these predictions are on track but further refinement is needed. “New CMB data will improve inflation constraints and possibly detect the key gravitational wave signature,” he ended. “With new spectroscopic redshift surveys of a quarter of a billion galaxies, the new combined data will help elucidate the reason for the accelerated expansion, characterize dark matter, probe galaxy evolution, determine the mass of the light neutrinos, and test the Gaussianity and power spectrum of inflation.” By putting these in future tense he indicated they are as yet unknown.
Bennett had begun by asking the ultimate question:
A fundamental question in cosmology is, “How did the universe begin?” The two pivotal ideas of inflation and cold dark matter (CDM), combined with extensive observational results, including the unpredicted accelerated expansion of the universe, underpin a new standard model of cosmology.”
By stating that inflation and CDM need to be combined with obervational results, Bennett just indicated that neither are observational. He also just said that the acceleration was not predicted by the standard model. So now there is a “new standard model.” Is it new and improved? He did not say, nor did he return to the question of how the universe began. The remainder of his article proceeded from a point after the beginning (inflation). He did briefly offer this hope about the beginning built on the paradigm of inflation:
However, the big bang theory only describes the expansion and cooling but says nothing about the origin of the universe. Within the standard model, the beginning of the universe is effectively “inflation,” the rapid expansion of a tiny region of space to astronomical scales. Inflation is a paradigm that encompasses a wide range of specific implementations that are at the intersection of quantum and gravity theories, the two great but incompatible theories of 20th century physics. Measurements of inflation not only will probe the origin of the universe but also may help reveal the basic structure of physics itself.
If inflation is a paradigm that describes the rapid expansion of a tiny region of space, it should be evident that it is a post-beginning phenomenon. Where did the tiny region of space come from? Why did it possess a vacuum energy density? One sees the spectre of an infinite series.
1. Charles L. Bennett, “Cosmology at a Crossroads,” Science, 11 September 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5946, pp. 1347-1348, DOI: 10.1126/science.1172427.
To see what the cosmology gurus are doing to science, let’s revisit the Peanuts cartoon from the 09/21/2009 commentary (q.v.). Lucy is not about to abandon her paradigm that the object came from Brazil – butterfly, potato chip, or whatever. So she comes up with a new paradigm she calls “migration” to explain how it got here. “There is a mysterious force acting in the jungles of Brazil,” she tells Charlie Brown, “that transports butterfly-shaped objects around to astronomical scales. This migration is much faster than the speed of light – for all intents and purposes, it is instantaneous. This fits well with the standard model of Brazilian butterfly and potato chip origins.” A credulous Charlie Brown asks, “You call that science? Where is the evidence?” Without breaking cadence, Lucy exclaims, “What do you mean, you ignoramus? The evidence is right in front of you – right there on the sidewalk!”
Bennett should be ashamed of saying inflation makes predictions. For one thing, he agreed that the concept is mushy. “Inflation is a paradigm that encompasses a wide range of specific implementations that are at the intersection of quantum and gravity theories, the two great but incompatible theories of 20th century physics.” It’s like an oreo cookie. It’s a mushy, moldable paradigm between two non-intersecting theories. It’s also disingenuous for Bennett to say that inflation can be measured. Inflation is not an observation. Inflation is not data. It is a rescuing device for the big bang theory, conceived to get around three falsifying criticisms: the horizon problem, the flatness problem, and the lumpiness problem.
By the early 1980s these problems threatened the foundations of modern cosmology. The horizon problem stated that it was highly improbable to get a uniform universe during an expansion when different sectors had no way to be in thermal equilibrium. Enter inflation to rescue the big bang: it smoothed out those temperature differences by expanding them to astronomical scales. The flatness problem stated that it was highly improbable to get a universe finely balanced (flat) between the extremes of positive and negative curvature. Enter inflation to dilute any initial curvature by spreading it out to hyper-astronomical dimensions, so that our local region (the “observable universe”) appears flat, like a bacterium on a large beach ball might think it is living on a flat surface. The lumpiness problem stated that it is highly improbable to expect an explosion of a sea of particles to condense into stars and galaxies. Enter inflation theory to generate matter out of vacuum energy that leftover temperature fluctuations in the CMB were able to condense into lumps – the seeds of the first galaxies. All that is required to appreciate this elegant solution to these problems is to believe that something can come from nothing, and that the something would undergo a one-time, unobservable expansion from the size a tennis ball to the size of the whole universe, 26 orders of magnitude, in about a trillion trillionth of a second.
Alan Guth invented the concept of inflation to rescue the big bang from these very problems (02/21/2005). It is disingenuous to turn around and say that inflation predicted these things. Remember? Guth (Grand Unified Theory Huckster) said in the 2/21/2005 entry that “Without inflation, this large-scale smoothness appears quite puzzling.” It was certainly puzzling to Lucy how the potato chip got to her sidewalk from Brazil, too. Some puzzles evaporate when you think outside the box.
Everyone who respects science respects observational data. Supernovae are real. Gravitationally-lensed objects are observed. A nearly smooth CMB that matches a blackbody spectrum is not controversial. But inflation and dark stuff are figments of cosmological imagination. If they only serve to keep a 20th century paradigm moving along the track, how much credence should be given them? We’re all for sky surveys and spacecraft (within the limits of a society to fund them) but it is not society’s goal or responsibility to fund speculation endlessly when that speculation is propped up by occult phenomena like dark matter, dark energy and inflation.
There is a phenomenon that is not occult, that ties together the observations, and explains the fine-tuning of the universe. It is already used productively in science. It should be included along with matter and energy in the list of fundamental properties of the universe. It brings sense to the discussion. It doesn’t dodge the origin of the universe but explains it. You know what it is, because you are employing it right now. It’s information. If information could be derived from nothing, you know secular cosmology would embrace it wholeheartedly, but because from our uniform experience information always comes from an intelligent source, the materialist shamans who rule the scientific religion (listen to ID the Future) refuse to take the right turn at the crossroads. Turn right at the light.