THE SCEPTICAL COSMOLOGIST

 

Somebody said, Einstein I believe: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science .” And no subject is so imbued with profound mysteries as Cosmology – despite what some glib professionals would have us believe.

Think of Cosmology’s Big Questions:

1) Why is the sky dark at night – if the universe is infinite?

2)  Why do distant galaxies have highly red-shifted Spectra?

3) Is the universe changing, and did it have a beginning?

4) What is the source of the powerful cosmic background radiation which glows in all directions?

(5) How can that radiation be so uniform (To one part in a hundred thousand) if the speed of light is finite – which it definitely is?

(6) If the universe is expanding in a hot Big Bang – which so many professionals maintain – then how did flimsy structures like galaxies form out of it? Nascent galaxies should have been torn to bits by radiation pressure.

(7) When you slam the brakes on  in your car, why does your head jerk forwards ? It is being violently decelerated, but decelerated relative to what? It turns out that it is being decelerated  with respect, not to the Earth,  but to the distant stars. But how does it know that? ( ‘The Problem of Inertia’ ). In other words what is the physical mechanism that  must connect your head to the stars?

These are all profound and mysterious questions to which science has so far been able to offer only fumbling answers  –   despite what some cosmology-priests would like us to believe: “The universe is expanding,”  they say, “There was a Big Bang, Space – Time is curved, and we’ve got answers to all, or nearly all those other awkward questions too – Cold Dark Matter, Inflation, Dark Energy……”

Don’t believe them. Cosmology is an extraordinary difficult subject if only because it lies at the nexus of so many others: Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Sociology, Instrumentation, Computer -simulation…… Of the sixty different civilisations we know of, every single one has come up with a cosmology of sorts – it seems to be a necessity for the human psyche. And that leaves room for a priesthood only too eager to supply one.

To keep a sense of proportion it is worth recalling some recent cosmological follies:

Thinking of Time as linear: “We’re already back to within three minutes of the Big Bang” they say  – when, in the cosmological  context, Time is surely logarithmic. In logarithmic Time the Cosmos was completely opaque throughout the first 43 decades of its 60 decades of existence. Its origins will therefore be veiled  beyond our sight – probably for ever.

If galaxy redshifts are not the Doppler effect in action – which apparently they are not – then what causes them? Yes, they come out of the mathematics (the ‘Robertson – Walker – Metric’), but that is hardly Physics.

Once the impossibility of forming galaxies in a Big Bang cosmology was recognised, an ingenious new substance christened ‘Cold Dark Matter’(CDM) was conjured up to solve it. Elaborate computer  simulations were offered as proof that CDM works. But it doesn’t. Observed galaxies look nothing like the CDM variety; nothing like1. Yet the cognoscenti refuse to admit it.

Everyone agreed that gravity ought to slow expansion down but when the slowing was looked for it wasn’t there. On the contrary. Expansion had apparently accelerated – and in recent times too. This called for another improbable miracle: Dark Energy – whatever that is.

If expansion of the entire universe does seem  a mite implausible – we do have an acid test for it – the Tolman Test devised in the 1930’s [distant galaxies should dim as the fourth power of their redshifts]. But one glance at the Hubble Deep Field (below) demonstrates that there is no such dimming – it falls short of the required  amount by  a factor of no less than 10,000! But professional astronomers  won’t talk about that. Why not?

           In short Cosmology appears to have been regressing of late because some of its  most vocal proponents appear not to appreciate  a truly  fundamental principle of Philosophy – Ockham’s Razor. Every time you complexify a theory by introducing a new Free Parameter (such as Dark Energy) to solve one problematical feature of it, you fundamentally weaken that theory. So one is only justified in doing so if at the same time that Free Parameter illuminates other entirely new and favourable evidence which more than compensates for the weakening inevitably involved. CDM, Inflation and Dark Energy do not meet that criterion  – and so should be rejected.

           I have been an enthusiastic follower of Cosmology since I was a boy. I even taught  myself Tensor Calculus at age fifteen in order to read Einstein’s original papers. I’ve been a professional extragalactic astronomer for much of my life and have been to some of the big cosmology conferences – including one in the Vatican ( see my book Crouching Giant),  even taught it at university when nobody else would  – but have  become gradually more and more sceptical of the subject as the years roll by. Yes there are some strong arguments in favour of  Big Bang Cosmology – but there are even more against. To come to a measured  view of the whole subject one  needs to weigh them against one another  using Common Sense. When I do so the Odds come out at over hundred to one against Big Bang Cosmology being  broadly right( See another post here entitled  The Scientific Method.) Some aspects of it are probably sound, but which ones?

I’m not suggesting we should abandon  Cosmology as a subject  –  on the contrary. We should study its mysteries with ever more ingenious techniques and instruments. Equally though we need to be  alert  to the crippling weaknesses of the current paradigm. If we close our ears to them, as so many professionals at present do, we could miss some subtle but tremendous secret the real universe is trying to whisper in our ear. As Daniel  Boorstin wrote in The Discoverers: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion  of knowledge.” I believe we all need to become sceptical cosmologists now; most especially professionals.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Courtesy ESA/NASA

If you examine this extremely deep image taken with the Hubble Space Telescope almost every object on it is a galaxy . The small images are much further away and have high redshifts. But if those redshifts were due to expansion of the universe then those small images should be so dim as to be invisible. But as you can see they are nothing of the kind. This is a complete shock. On the face of it at least Cosmic Expansion has failed the classical test set for it — ‘The Tolman Effect’ by a factor of 10,000!

On the face of it then the Universe cannot be expanding! After all such dimming was the classic test for expansion proposed by Richard Tolman back in the 1930s when we didn’t have the means to apply it. But now we have, and the universe has spectacularly failed it. But nobody, at least no professional, wants to talk about it, Umm.

I go into the stories behind the Hubble deep pictures in the last 2 books in my quartet ‘Written in the Stars entitled’ : Crouching Giant and Beyond the Western Stars. [See under ‘my books’ Category on this site.

NB You can see hundreds of HST images at stsci.edu, nasa.gov. or eso.org.

Ref 1: Disney M J et al: 2008, Nature, 455, 1082-4, Galaxies appear simpler than expected.

If you want to see the author talking about Cosmology and galaxies there is a 45 minute Youtube video of him being interviewed by the Physicist and Author Alexander Unzicker about 3 years ago at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KskJrJmfr34

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