While browsing through Stephen Hawking’s twin books (A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell (Pages 148/149 and 78/79 respectively), I noticed what I assumed to be a typographical error in respect to time references given for the Electro-weak epoch dominated by quarks and antiquarks. Although the discrepancy between 10-34 and 10-35 seconds is enormous, I am not engaging in a ‘gotcha!’ moment. I never do that. No, the discrepancy cited serves only as an example of the difficulties encountered when we engage in research for cosmological facts.
I highlight this particular discrepancy because precise figures for the determination of timelines for our nascent universe vary from source to source. However, the source of cosmological history in those two books is identical (Gamow, 1948). When I noticed the discrepancy (from memory alone) I thought I’d better check to see if it was just another intended change from source to source so frequently made in that aspect of cosmology. So, I went online to be sure that the beginning of the second epoch was at 10-34 seconds as I remembered it to be. It generally was, but there were variations as well. Checking back to the two books, I searched for a possible explanation for the discrepancy other than a typographical error. There was none. I thought it had to be a typographical error.
However, further research into a paper I had written years ago (The Handyman’s Handbook on Cosmology), revealed a passage that states, ‘the difference between those two points in time (10-34 and 10-35 seconds) determines whether or not life would be possible in our universe!’ Perhaps, then, the difference is intentional. Yet, the text beneath the graphic in the more recently published book, The Universe in a Nutshell (2001), explicitly describes timelines for the epochal evolution of the universe using the Gamow model except for the beginning of that one epoch. Such are the devils that lurk in the dark caverns of research.
Of course 10-43 seconds remains fixed as the beginning of time in accordance to Planck time. Timeline variations beyond that initial figure reflect the diligent study of thousands of theoretical physicists and cosmologists, aided by advanced technology. The rapid advance of technology, swift publication of sprouting theories, controversies, and competition among scientists ironically make research more difficult than ever. But cosmology is intrinsically exciting. The following note is an example of what I enjoy most about cosmology.
[Note: The smallest time measurement to date is twenty times larger than Planck time. Planck time is based on the motion of an atom, hence international atomic clocks. In the remote future, when the temperature of the universe is lower than it is now, Planck time will have changed because atoms will move more slowly than they do now, but the motion of atoms will always be the basis for time measurement unless and until the universe experiences a Big Rip, in which case there won’t be anyone to measure time anyway.]
There is a sharp contrast between the disciplined study of time and the esoteric fantasies about time propagated by pseudo-scientists (a contradiction in terms when applied to science, but it’s the best I can do for the moment). On this side of time, serious cosmologists and physicists have oscillated between hope and despair for centuries. Searching through mathematical labyrinths, they seek unequivocal answers to profound questions about time. Several rational theories have been posited. They are respectable theories, e.g., the proposal that space and time end in a black hole. But not all theories of time are respectable.
Without the restrictions of scientific discipline, just about any fanciful notions about time are fair (or almost fair) game. For me, philosophical contemplation of time is significant only to the extent that it doesn’t violate what is known about time. Any theory of time must include Einstein’s discovery of a fourth dimension. Relativity of time has been proved time and time again with atomic clocks on jet flights and through other unequivocal demonstrations.
There are many proved cosmological facts that are unimaginable. There are also unimaginable concepts that cannot be proved. One of the most popular of those is a universe without a beginning. That concept is usually discussed out of context. Its focus is strictly on the dichotomy of spontaneous generation of the universe vs. its possibly timeless, Steady State existence. Many people make that argument without any distinction between an alleged timeless universe and a temporal planet! If someone who is not familiar with elementary cosmology discusses the abstract concept of infinity combined with temporal human history, how would he provide dates for dinosaurs, the dawn of civilization, or his last birthday? It seems to me that if a discussion of temporal human existence equates a Steady State universe with human history, the discussion itself would have receded into the infinite past before it got started.
Not being omniscient, I have no idea of how the universe began, but I know that it was not always here. I also have a reasonable doubt about brane theory and ‘chaotic inflation,’ neither of which can ever be proved, let alone reveal the truth about time. It’s not only a theory that cannot be tested, but it exponentially exacerbates the conundrum of existence. The improvable concept of exchanging one universe for a multiverse of colliding bubbles creating baby universes leaves me with considerable doubt.
Please stay tuned for Part Three of Three: Disambiguation