...very likely, the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang, but it is by no means clear that it will continue to expand forever. The expansion may gradually slow, stop and reverse itself. If there is less than a certain critical amount of matter in the universe, the gravitation of the receding galaxies will be insufficient to stop the expansion, and the universe will run away forever. But if there is more matter than we can see - hidden away in black holes, say, or in hot but invisible gas between the galaxies - then the universe will hold together gravitationally and partake of a very Indian succession of cycles, expansion followed by contraction, universe upon universe, Cosmos without end. If we live in such an oscillating universe, then the Big Bang is not the creation of the Cosmos but merely the end of the previous cycle, the destruction of the last incarnation of the Cosmos.
Neither of these modern cosmologies may be altogether to our liking. In one, the universe is created, somehow, ten or twenty billion years ago and expands forever, the galaxies mutually receding until the last one disappears over our cosmic horizon. Then the galactic astronomers are out of business, the stars cool and die, matter itself decays and the universe becomes a thin cold haze of elementary particles. In the other, the oscillating universe, the Cosmos has no beginning and no end, and we are in the midst of an infinite cycle of cosmic deaths and rebirths with no information trickling through the cusps of the oscillation. Nothing of the galaxies, stars, planets, life forms or civilizations evolved in the previous incarnation of the universe oozes into the cusp, flutters past the Big Bang, to be known in our present universe. The fate of the universe in either cosmology may seem a little depressing, but we may take solace in the time scales involved. These events will occupy tens of billions of years, or more. Human beings and our descendants, whoever they might be, can accomplish a great deal in tens of billions of years, before the Cosmos dies.
And slightly further on:
There is an idea - strange, haunting, evocative - one of the most exquisite conjectures in science or religion. It is entirely undemonstrated; it may never be proved.
But it stirs the blood. There is, we are told, an infinite hierarchy of universes, so that an elementary particle, such as an electron, in our universe would, if penetrated, reveal itself to be an entire closed universe. Within it, organized into the local equivalent of galaxies and smaller structures, are an immense number of other, much tinier elementary particles, which are themselves universe at the next level, and so on forever - an infinite downward regression, universes within universes, endlessly. And upward as well. Our familiar universe of galaxies and stars, planets and people, would be a single elementary particle in the next universe up, the first step of another infinite regress.
Much as I love Carl, isn't that just mind-bogglingly absurd?Go Top