Tag Archives: black hole

The Big Bang Theory

I am a physicist, but I don’t quite understand the Big Bang theory. Let me tell you why.

The Big Bang theory says that the whole universe started from a “singularity” — a single point. The first question then is, a single point where? It is not a single point “in space” because the whole space was a single point. The Discovery channel would put it fancifully that “the whole universe could fit in the palm of your hand,” which of course it could not. Your palm would also be a little palm inside the little universe in that single point.

The second question is, if the whole universe was inside one point, what about all the points around it? Physicists would advise you not to ask such stupid questions. Don’t feel bad, they have asked me to shut up as well. Some of them may kindly explain that the other points may be parallel universes. Others may say that there are no “other” points. They may point out (as Steven Weinberg does in The Dreams of a Final Theory) that there is nothing more to the north of the North Pole. I consider this analogy more of a semantic argument than a scientific one, but let’s buy this argument for now.

The next hurdle is that the singularity is in space-time — not merely in space. So before the Big Bang, there was no time. Sorry, there was no “before!” This is a concept that my five year old son has problems with. Again, the Big Bang cosmologist will point out that things do not necessarily have to continue backwards — you may think that whatever temperature something is at, you can always make it a little colder. But you cannot make it colder than absolute zero. True, true; but is temperature the same as time? Temperature is a measure of hotness, which is an aggregate of molecular speeds. And speed is distance traveled in unit time. Time again. Hmmm….

I am sure it is my lack of imagination or incompleteness of training that is preventing me from understanding and accepting this Big Bang concept. But even after buying the space-time singularity concept, other difficulties persist.

Firstly, if the whole universe is at one point at one time, one would naively expect it to make a super-massive black hole from which not even light can escape. Clearly then, the whole universe couldn’t have banged out of that point. But I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation why it can, just that I don’t know it yet. May be some of my readers will point it out to me?

Second, what’s with dark matter and dark energy? The Big Bang cosmology has to stretch itself a bit with the notion of dark energy to account for the large scale dynamics of the observed universe. Our universe is expanding (or so it appears) at an accelerating rate, which can only be accounted for by assuming that there is an invisible energy pushing the galaxies apart. Within the galaxies themselves, stars are moving around as though there is more mass than we can see. This is the so called dark matter. Although “dark” signifies invisible, to me, it sounds as though we are in the dark about what these beasts are!

The third trouble I have is the fact that the Big Bang cosmology violates special relativity (SR). This little concern of mine has been answered in many different ways:

  • One answer is that general relativity “trumps” SR — if there are conflicting predictions or directives from these two theories, I was advised to always trust GR.
  • Besides, SR applies only to local motion, like spaceships whizzing past each other. Non-local events do not have to obey SR. This makes me wonder how events know whether they are local or not. Well, that was bit tongue in cheek. I can kind of buy this argument (based on curvature of space-time perhaps becoming significant at large distances), although the non-scientific nature of local-ness makes me uneasy. (During the inflationary phase in the Big Bang theory, were things local or non-local?)
  • Third answer: In the case of the Big Bang, the space itself is expanding, hence no violation of SR. SR applies to motion through space. (Wonder if I could’ve used that line when I got pulled over on I-81. “Officer, I wasn’t speeding. Just that the space in between was expanding a little too fast!”)

Speaking of space expanding, it is supposed to be expanding only in between galaxies, not within them, apparently. I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation why, probably related to the proximity of masses or whatnot, but I’m not well-versed enough to understand it. In physics, disagreement and skepticism are always due to ignorance. But it is true that I have no idea what they mean when they say the space itself is expanding. If I stood in a region where the space was expanding, would I become bigger and would galaxies look smaller to me?

Note that it is necessary for space to expand only between galaxies. If it expanded everywhere, from subatomic to galactic scales, it would look as though nothing changed. Hardly satisfying because the distant galaxies do look as though they are flying off at great speeds.

I guess the real question is, what exactly is the difference between space expanding between two galaxies and the two galaxies merely moving away from each other?

One concept that I find bizarre is that singularity doesn’t necessarily mean single point in space. It was pointed out to me that the Big Bang could have been a spread out affair — thinking otherwise was merely my misconception, because I got confused by the similarity between the words “singularity” and single.

People present the Big Bang theory in physics pretty much like Evolution in biology, implying the same level of infallibility. But I feel that it is disingenuous to do that. To me, it looks as though the theory is so full of patchwork, such a mathematical collage to cook up something that is consistent with GR that it is hard to imagine that it corresponds to anything real (ignoring, for the moment, my favorite question — what is real?) But popular writers have embraced it. For instance, Ray Kurzweil and Richard Dawkins put it as a matter of fact in their books, lending it a credence that it perhaps doesn’t merit.