Cosmology – the science for the 21st century?

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 at 11:10 pm

“There are two ways in life – the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you will follow.” Tree of Life (2011- winner Cannes Palme d’Or)

When the first and much anticipated Transformer’s movie came out a few years back one of my nephews put me on the spot and asked me, “Where’s Cybertron?” For those readers who didn’t watch the cartoons or movies, Cybertron is the planet that the Transformers (intelligent giant super-robots) come from. Of course, my nephew was only little, so much like the parent who doesn’t want to crush the fairytale that Father Christmas is in fact nothing but an opportunity for some plump middle-aged men to get dressed up once a year in an ill-fitting red all-in-one suit, I said something like “it’s really far away.”

I thought of this moment the other day, when Professor Stephen Hawking pronounced in an interview with The Guardian that heaven does not exist. Of course, he’s right in a literal sense (well, as far as we know…but then we don’t, so do we know, etc, etc). But, I was more interested in where cosmology (what I call the Grandaddy of physics) might tell us about ourselves and our own planet and universe in future years.

Not being a physicist I won’t even pretend to understand the ins and out of the science. But, it did make me wonder whether technology would advance far enough this century to tell us what happened in the first one-tenth of the first second that the universe came into existence – the bit that is still and as far as I know, cosmologists are not really sure about.

I reckon and hope that cosmology becomes as big a public issue as some aspects of evolutionary biology and religion have at the start of this century. I think cosmology perhaps has something profound to tell our species about that basic question- where we came from and what we are?  A great unifying science, maybe? Just like some of the most brilliant works of artistic creation, the canvas of our massive universe humbles us and connects us as one. The ultimate science for the 21st century?

But, cosmology also has the potential to put a big downer on the self-importance that the human race gives itself as well. I mean, if one cosmological theory gets proved one day – that we not actually an intelligent species, but it’s just the point of reference we are at in this moment in the vast evolving life of the universe, then that makes us collectively pretty plain. We’ll be going the same way as the dinosaurs. There is no continually evolving end for our own species. We’re just pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things to an indifferent universe, that actually is fully on its own path, not ours. That’s a bit depressing and reassuring both at the same time. We’re all just children of the stars, so to speak.

The thing about cosmology and trying to understand the origins of the universe is that it keeps throwing up bigger and more tricky questions. So, now one major issue being grappled with is the idea of multiverses thriving with life. What if we did find a multiverse or multiverses one day? What multiverse are we in? Also, would we see it as a great opportunity to understand ourselves even better. An opportunity to humble ourselves before Nature, our own planet, and learn to treat it better instead of wrecking it? Or heaven forbid, a mass nervous breakdown as our sense of intelligent specialness is turned upside-down on its head? Religion, politics, science, culture all turned upside down in an instant. As for the tourist industry,  just imagine, one day…a Ryanair space plane to another universe. Not for the faint-hearted me thinks.


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