[Please note: On June 5, 2011, I posted a blog titled Et tu, Brian. For brevity, I restricted that piece to only one of two equally important issues. If you were interested in that post, you might want to read this one as a ‘companion piece’ to it.]
With no mathematical ability beyond that of a very bright six-year-old, I have contemplated a few details of three related cosmological concepts at their elementary level. It is my understanding that:
a) Alleged strings are so tiny that their size is comparable to that of an average tree within an atom as large as the universe. One string model indicates that there could be 10500 possible universes, each of them governed by its own physical laws. String theory is purported to straddle reality from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic realms of the universe.
b) A ‘Brane’ (membrane) is supposed to be a three-dimensional object ‘caught’ in a higher-dimensional space. Our universe is a 3-brane object (space-time). A significant outgrowth of string theory posits that a collision between two branes created our universe. This theory considerably rattles the now time-honored theory of the Big Bang and a solitary universe.
c) The universe we perceive may be a hologram of a ‘higher’ reality.
I thoroughly enjoy cosmology and deeply admire the work of cosmologists. I also regret not knowing how to speak ‘Mathematica,’ my term for their second language. By all accounts, that language does not translate into traditional languages spoken throughout the world. Acknowledging my linguistic limitation and fully respecting the complexities of theoretical cosmology, I still have reservations about the direction that cosmology in general has taken in the last three decades. Consider the following:
a) Adamant string theorists continue to dominate educative positions during their university tenures and keep out young cosmologists who don’t go along with string theory. Hindering budding careers is especially unfortunate because almost all scientists are at their best when they are young. Understandably, the older generation of theoretical cosmologists is still trying to connect the metaphorical elephant’s trunk to her tail. I’m not suggesting that the pursuit of Superstring theory should be summarily abandoned, but a host of dimensional descriptions associated with string concepts smack of faith, not science.
b) There is no way to verify the existence of branes, let alone the theory that our universe was created by the collision of two branes, if indeed other universes do exist.
c) A Holographic Universe is more than vaguely reminiscent of Plato’s cave! I interpret that theory to mean that our perception of reality is similar to that of watching a 3-D film, instead of shadows. But the crucial difference between the movie (or a holographic projection) and real life is that we are imbedded in the alleged cosmological ‘film’ as well as being its observers, and that in place of 3-D glasses we wear brilliant mathematical equations to filter our intuitive perceptions from the holographic principle. (I’ve loosely merged 3-D movies and holographic images only to facilitate my argument.)
I’ve heard apologists for the holographic model explain that the closer we look at a hologram, the more illusive it becomes. I assume that this natural characteristic of holograms implies that the enigma of quantum mechanics is rooted in our ‘copy’ of whatever ‘higher’ reality exists. I might be wrong about that interpretation, but I know that holographic illusiveness automatically serves as a perfect shield against the theory’s detractors.
These three related theories- – -among others- – -contain major characteristics of mysticism even though their apologists don’t necessarily think of them as mystic. I suppose that the use of complex mathematics to support theoretical concepts overrides any realization of similarities between current and ancient cosmology which was principally and intentionally mystic. Mysticism is appropriately and intrinsically at the base of all religions. Science is based on observation and experimentation of the knowable. Faith and science need not be incompatible for an individual, but the trend towards formally blending mysticism and science is not a good idea- – –at least, not to me.
Questioning the validity of my views about current theoretical cosmology, I checked the opinions of Feynman and Glashow about string theory. I was relieved to find that they also have reservations about it. Of course they take exceptions to string theory at a professional level; my reservations are based at a personal level only. I am in no sense a competitor in the search for TOE, the ‘theory of everything.’ I keep searches like that on the back burner. Mundane chores keep me too busy to attain omniscience any time soon.
But philosophically, as I read about current cosmology, I observe the imprimatur of faith: the unobservable, the inaccessible, the unknowable. We are told that there is a level of physics that can be expressed only in mathematical terms. I’m sure that’s true, but I’m not convinced that what cosmologists communicate to each other is necessarily true. I don’t need mathematics to tell me that cosmologists are often at profound odds with each other. On the other hand, well-written descriptions and fine diagrams clarify the essence of unambiguous theories for us without the use of mathematics. Perfect examples of this are the interaction between matter and space; the existence of dark matter and energy; the evolution of the universe, and so on.
After centuries of hard-fought wars to separate science and faith, there is a trend towards the unification of the two. The trend is growing. It is chic. It is also disingenuous. My skeptical eyebrow is raised when I note continued opposition to the blending of Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and Christian Science (!) with science, but- – -in stark contrast- – -a wholehearted embrace for the union of science and Eastern religions. There are many individuals, including cosmologists, who unquestioningly have a double standard about which faiths blend or do not blend with science!
Some individuals literally associate Big Bangs and Crunches with Vishnu, the Preserver, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Even more popular is the notion that an infinite number of universes entails the existence of our ‘other selves’ along with duplicates of all Brahma’s creatures. This is reminiscent of a scenario that asserts that if an immortal monkey dances on the keys of a typewriter forever, he is bound to write Les Misérables, word for word, including punctuation marks of course. I might add to that, why not an infinite number of every novel ever written including one of the monkey’s own. Would random dancing really do that? Maybe. But my bet is on Victor Hugo.
Invoking the unimaginable concept of infinity is an all-purpose tool for making just about any theory plausible. There are too many ‘infinities’ in cosmology. I still find it difficult to accept terms like ‘infinite density and zero volume.’ An ‘out-of-time-and-space deity’ is more plausible than infinite anything, except the purely abstract concept of numbers. Apparently, cosmologists are not as skillful with English as they are with mathematica.
If ‘infinite density and zero volume’ means a ‘point’ (as they call it) where physics ‘breaks down,’ then why not invent a single word for that- – -but not an equation, please.