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Big Bang and The Past Hypothesis: The One Free Miracle

February 18, 2021

A large part of learning and improving your understanding is bringing together ideas you have had in different parts of your brain/mind, but not, for one reason or another, managed to bring them together. In this case of the title of this post, this is what happened for me in the last day or so, while beginning my reading of the fascinating new book, The Janus Point, by Julian Barbour.

Many moons ago I had always felt a continued dissatisfaction with the big bang explanation in cosmology for the creation/founding of the universe. I had read of ideas of the kind supported in science by the likes of Stephen Hawking, and of course, it has become the conventional wisdom. But it always struck me as an unjustified leap from what we actually know. As a kind of stop gap for ignorance in some way. The way I always framed it to myself, in a dismissive way, was as the bang so big and so loud, that no one ever heard it and one could ever hear it, even in principle.

From reading of Rupert Sheldrake, I see how he would often describe it as science asking for us to believe in “one free miracle”, and then from there we can explain everything else: A creation from nothing, of everything. Give us that free miracle then science can explain the rest. It dissatisfied me also, as it seemed to be a surrogate quasi religious belief, replacing the old creation myth of Christianity, with the closest narrative science could match to it.

When you add to this the developing consensus regarding an expanding universe and the eventual supposed heat death of the universe, you had the makings for something like Newtons clockwork universe, except, it was even worse than that unshakeable determinism, for over time the clockwork was going to wear down until we are all reduced to nothingness in a drawn out death, living always on borrowed time, and deluding ourselves of meaning and significance and goals to pursue in our lives in the short term, but there being no real or actual purpose in the long term, as was shown by this cosmological world view.

This was a very cynical state of affairs, and is also made for a very convenient narrative to bombard young impressionable brains with in school education to fix them into the new disempowered world of atheism, meaninglessness, and enforce there dependence on the social institutions of the state, and ensure its stranglehold over their lives from that time on, as good and willing subjects, well and truly “schooled”.

Now realism and respect for truth means we must grant this possibility its fair due in a reasonable and critical argument, despite its cynicism, for there is no reason that truth should be flowery and welcoming. However, there is equally no reason to sadistically assume that just because something is horrible and cynical in its conclusions, it is thereby, on those grounds alone, more likely to be true.

This is where my recent insight comes in. For I watched a series of lectures about time, and it turns out they were all about what is called the past hypothesis. Now, the problem, and the reason for belief in the big bang theory, is tied up with this belief in thermodynamics and the accepted understanding of entropy of the past hypothesis. The problem, is that it is merely that, a hypothesis. The lecturer was very keen to get adherence to this past hypothesis, but every argument he made for it merely begged the question.

And now I see in this new book by Julian Barbour on the Janus Point, an acceptance of this fact. Questions about entropy were not really resolved in any satisfying way by the postulation of the past hypothesis, they were merely deferred. In Barbour’s new cosmological perspective, from what I make of it so far having only just began on the book, is an attempt to overcome this arbitrariness of the past hypothesis, the big bang, the one free miracle, and replace it with something that is on a firmer and more reasonable and justifiable foundation. The arrow of time, as a felt and real thing, is not reducible to entropy and the past hypothesis in Barbour’s view, it relies on, not a decrease in order, but actually an increase in order and organisation.

There are shades of Stuart Kauffman’s ideas in this view also. Combine this with other views I have been considering lately on the cosmos, with Smolin’s ideas about cosmological natural selection via black holes, as a way of getting away from this idea of founding the universe on some Newtonian style conceptual clockwork mechanism of creation and running down and the ideas of Roger Penrose on the cyclic cosmos, and you have a bunch of heavy hitters in physics and cosmology seriously suggesting we move away from the big bang model altogether.

I welcome this greatly, as it has felt to me for too long that expecting us to believe in the big bang and the past hypothesis has been an article of faith, rather than a well reasoned line of argumentation, that has actually stopped and stultified interesting discussion in basic theoretical science, by over simplifying the notion of singularities and the perceived expansion of the universe to something the physics and the maths cannot justify.

From → Philosophy, physics

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