On Charts 1 and 2 the whole of time is compressed, where it is interesting to do so, into the months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds, of a single Calendar Year. For example, it may be seen that the whole of history since the Middle Ages, occupies only the last three seconds of the ‘Cosmic Calender’. Sir James Jeans wrote, "We are living at the very beginning of time, dim figures, fighting our way through jungles of ignorance and superstition to discover truth".
"A man should be aware of the minuteness of himself and his immediate environment, in relation to the world in time and space. He should see his own age in relation to the past and the future. He should be conscious of the vastness of geological epochs and astronomical abyss. He should be aware of all this as a vast panorama, which enlarges the mind that contemplates it". Bertrand Russell.
BIG BANG TO PROCONSUL
The earliest event of which there is any remaining record is called The Big Bang. This was an explosion that occurred about fifteen thousand million years ago and involved all of the matter, and energy, in the present Universe. The Big Bang did not start from a definite centre, like an explosion on earth, but occurred simultaneously everywhere, creating space and time, or Space-Time, as it is now called. There are, to say the least, technical difficulties in knowing anything about this precise instant, but scientists are generally agreed as to the composition of the Universe at a moment one hundredth of a second after the Big Bang, and its subsequent development up to the present day. A particular theory of the early Universe, its development and its future, has become so widely accepted that it is called The Standard Model. The detailed evidence for The Standard Model is given in the many popular books on cosmology and is referred to in the latter pages of this Essay. The Theory is based on recent discoveries in astronomy and nuclear physics.
1) This record is the crucial evidence that is accepted, as definite proof of the Big Bang. It confirms, independently, the answer given by the measurement of the recession of the galaxies. A Penzias, and R Wilson, were awarded a Nobel Prize for this discovery, "A faint whisper of radio noise left over from the time of the Big Bang".
The next event on Chart 1 is the formation of our galaxy of stars The Milky Way. As the radiation fireball, comprising the very early universe expanded and naturally its temperature dropped. Part of the radiation became matter, mostly hydrogen and helium.
(The creation of matter from radiation energy is a process, which is commonly carried out in High Energy Physics Laboratories CERN) Under the influence of gravity, this gaseous material collected into clumps. Later, by normal physical processes and gravitational forces, these clumps of gas became Galaxies and Stars (our Sun). The Milky Way is an average sort of galaxy of about 100 thousand million stars, of which our Sun is one. There are millions of other galaxies of various shapes and sizes, three of which may be seen with the naked eye.
Moving on from the formation of our galaxy, we come to a time 4,500 million years ago and the formation of Planet Earth. Probably from the debris thrown out by the sun, as it condensed from a cloud of cooling gas. Astronomers tell us that, "This process is fairly common during the formation of stars, and consequently there may be many other planetary systems like our own, in the universe".
1. The equivalence of mass(m) and energy(E) is encapsulated in Einstein’s famous formula, E = mc squared, c being the speed of light. 186,000 miles per second!
2. A further square on Chart 1 shows the presence on earth of algae and bacteria, some 3,400 million years ago.
(You can keep track on this, and evidence of the Big Bang, with the latest science at www.bbc.co.uk Also my timelines may be a little out of date. The BBC is great, for the latest discoveries and you can subscribe to the science and nature updates)
We know from molecular biology that living organisms are chemical machines, which by physical processes, make near copies of themselves. Occasionally, the copying machinery goes wrong and this results in a mutation. Most mutations are failures and result in useless freaks, but rare ones produce an organism or animal that is better adapted to its environment than its parent, thus increasing its chance of survival and fecundity. This is the process of Natural Selection, whereby, humans and other species evolved from primitive organisms. Exactly how and why living matter appeared on Planet Earth is not yet known, but the following points have provided important clues :
1) Geophysics tells us that the most likely chemical raw materials on earth, before living matter existed, were carbon, methane and ammonia.
2) If a plausible mixture of these substances is subjected in the laboratory to ultraviolet radiation and electric sparks, (to simulate solar radiation and lightening) after a few weeks, organic materials called purines and pyrimides are produced, also animo acids.
3) Animo acids, are the chemical building blocks of proteins, the large biological molecules in all living organisms. Purines and Pyrimides are the chemical building blocks of the genetic molecule DNA. The DNA molecule, may be described as, "A chemical set of instructions of how to build an organism".
The chemical ingredients of life are abundant, throughout the universe. Given the right conditions, life of some form is likely to start up by normal physical processes, on many planets outside the solar system.
The Theory of Evolution is as much open to doubt, as the Theory that the Earth goes round the Sun. Nevertheless, it is widely resisted and misunderstood. It is, in fact, simplicity itself. Two undeniable facts and an inescapable conclusion :
1) Organisms vary and these variations are inherited (at least in part), by their offspring.
2) Organisms produce more offspring than can possibly survive.
3) On average, offspring that vary most strongly in directions favoured by the environment, will survive and propagate. Favourable variations, will therefore accumulate in populations by natural selection.
It is important to understand that evolution has no purpose or direction and does not lead inevitably to higher forms of life. Organisms become better adapted to their environment and that is all. The degeneracy of a parasite, is as perfect as the gait of a gazelle.
Freud, expressed as well as anyone, the impact of evolution upon human thought when he wrote :
"Humanity has in course of time, had to endure from the hands of science, two great outrages upon its naive self-love. The first was when it realized that our Earth was not the centre of the universe, but only a speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable. The second, was when biological research robbed man of his particular privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world".
The Pope commented on the problem in 1950 in ‘Encyclical Humani Generis’, "The Catholic Church now holds that primeval man, being descended from the ape family, acquired his immortal soul by ‘Divine Afflatus’, in the Early Pleistocene period or about 800,000 years ago". Unfortunately, there is not space on Chart 2 to show this event!
The last square on Chart 1:-
This shows the emergence of Proconsul and Ramapithecus, about 18 million years ago. These creatures were small Anthropoid Apes, and they or very similar animals were the ancestors of modern apes and humans, the apes taking one evolutionary path and humans another.
The first three squares, show the evolution of humans from their monkey-like ancestors over a period of some 18 million years. As the chart shows, during the latter 2 million years brain size increased very rapidly. Here it will now be necessary for the reader to refer to Chart 3.
The following is taken from ‘The Brain Explosion’ by Arthur Koestler, and ‘Life on Earth’ by David Attenborough.
Whilst the Antediluvian structures at the very core of our brain, which control instincts, passions, and biological drives, have hardly been touched by evolution; the neocortex of the hominids expanded in the last half-million years at an explosive speed, which is without precedent in the history of evolution; so much so that some anatomists have compared it to a tumorous growth. Explosions, do not produce harmonious results. It appears that the rapidly developing Neocortex, which endowed man with his reasoning powers, did not become properly integrated and co-ordinated; with the ancient emotion-bound structures on which it was superimposed, with the same such, unprecedented speed. The neural pathways connecting neocortex, with the archaic structures of the mid-brain are apparently inadequate. Thus, the brain explosion has given rise to a mentally unbalanced species, in which, the old brain and new brain, emotion and intellect, faith and reason, are at loggerheads. On the one side, the pale cast of rational thought of logic, suspended on a thin thread all too easily broken, on the other, the native fury of irrational held beliefs, reflected in the holocausts of past and present history.
The most striking indication of the pathology of our species, is the contrast between its unique technological achievements and its equally unique incompetence, in the conduct of its social affairs. The most persistent sound reverberating through man’s history is the beating of war drums. Tribal wars, religious wars, civil wars, dynastic wars, national wars, revolutionary wars, colonial wars, wars of conquest and of liberation, wars to prevent and to end all wars; follow one another in a chain of compulsive repetitiveness as far as man can remember his past, and there is every reason to believe that the chain will extend into the future. Many people have the impression, that somehow Man is the ultimate triumph of evolution that all these millions of years of development have had no purpose, other than to put him on Earth. There is no evidence whatever to support such a view, and no reason to suppose that our stay will be any more permanent than the Dinosaurs. The processes of evolution are still going on among plants and birds, insects and mammals. So it is more than likely that if men were to disappear from the Earth for whatever reason, there is a modest, unobtrusive creature, somewhere that would develop into a new form and take our place.
To sum up, the disastrous history of our species indicates the futility of all attempts at a diagnosis that do not take into account the possibility that Homo Sapiens is a victim of one of evolutions countless mistakes. For every existing species, hundreds have perished in the past, the fossil record is a waste-basket of the Chief Designer’s discarded models.
The next six squares on Chart 2, give the Epochs of various important inventions. The last three squares cover the period from the Invention of Science and Rational Cosmologies to the present day.
As may be seen from the chart, the period 600 BC to 200 BC was a major landmark in human history. During this relatively short period, mankind by sheer force of intellect and with no help from earlier civilizations, rose above superstition and achieved a rational approach to nature, and the Mysteries of The Universe.
This advance took place in the Greek City-States, on the shores of the Aegean Sea. In all other civilizations and many later ones, natural forces and the movements of the celestial bodies, were thought to be controlled by Vengeful Gods, who required frequent propitiation by prayers and sacrifice, human and animal: a powerful priesthood made known the wishes of the gods and sacred writings, were the sole source of knowledge. In contrast, the Greek Gods were part human and often ‘cheerful creatures’, who were more concerned with this world, rather than the next. If the answers they gave were unsatisfactory, they could be argued with, many did not take them too seriously and some denied their existence. Moreover, the Greeks had no sacred book or organized priesthood. Consequently, the mind was liberated and gifted men began to speculate freely, about the nature of the universe. Cosmology, philosophy, and science were born, and the foundations of modern mathematics, laid. Medical Schools flourished, research and diagnosis were conducted in a ‘rational manner’. Disease was considered as a failure of some part of the body mechanism, rather than a ‘seizure by evil spirits’.
Individuals such as Archimedes, Euclid and Pythagoras, made astonishing advances in science and mathematics. Democracy was invented and deductive reasoning from general premises, was entirely, a ‘Greek innovation’.
Around 400 BC, the philosopher Democritus proposed that, "Matter is composed of atoms, which move, hit each other and sometimes combine, and that: life developed out of the primeval slime". The cosmologist Aristarcus, about 300 BC, reached the conclusion that, "All the Planets including the Earth, go round the Sun in circles". The two latter views were rejected, as being heretical for the following, two thousand years.
However, this bold attempt to apprehend nature by human reason, was short lived. The Roman soldier, who killed Archimedes in 212 BC, signalled the death of any significant advance in cosmology, science and medicine, until the Renaissance, seventeen centuries later. To the end, Rome was ‘parasitic on Greece’. The Romans invented no art forms, constructed no original system of philosophy, and made no scientific discoveries. They made good roads, systematic legal codes and efficient armies, for the rest they looked to Greece. Perhaps, if the Greeks had been of a more practical turn of mind, the World would not have had to wait so long for its Newton and Einstein. To the Greeks, knowledge was good; wisdom the highest good, but, the aim was to know, not to do – to understand nature in a contemplative way, rather than to make use of its forces.
With the Roman conquests and the eclipse of the Greek city-states, came a fading of the the spirit of bold speculation and an upsurge of Mystery Religions; of the Oriental Type. The tolerance and uncertainties inherent in Polytheism, were replaced by the rigid dogma and complete explanations of Monotheism. For almost the next two thousand years, mankind turned to various religions for essential truths. These beliefs, encouraged the view that the Cosmos was specially created, in the not two distant past for the benefit of man and consequently the Earth must be at the ‘centre of the universe’. Ingenious ‘Geocentric Systems’, were invented in order to account for the movement of the Planets (the wandering stars) and still retain the Earth in an ‘immovable central position’. The most important of these was the complicated Epicylic System of Ptolemy of Alexandria, in the 2nd century AD. This explanation dominated cosmology, until the time of Copernicus and Galileo.
Turning now to the final square on Chart 2
We come to the year 1500 AD, when the Italian Renaissance reached its peak. For the second time in history, the minds of some intelligent men turned to a rational study of this world, and away from contemplation of the next. Whereas in Greece, the gods lacked an organized priesthood, the Christian God was now served by an army of clergymen, monks and nuns of ‘incredible wickedness’. This troop was headed by a Pope, assisted by one of his sons, Caesar Borgia, both were experts in murder and extortion. The historian William Guicciardini writes in 1529,"No man is more disgusted with the ambition, the avarice and the profligacy of the priests. I should like to see this swarm of scoundrels, put back in their proper place, so that they may be forced to live either without vices or without power. Again, in regard to monks, nuns, and friars, the best punishment for them would be for God to abolish Purgatory, they would then receive no more alms and would be forced to go back to their spades". A profitable sideline of the clergy was the sale of Indulgences. These were documents, which purported to relieve suffering souls from the torments of purgatory. Martin Luther’s exposure of this lucrative trade, did much to promote the Reformation in Northern Europe, and to destroy the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church. The subversion of the authority of the Church, was helped by the attitude of the princes and merchants of the Italian city-states, who were more interested in trade and things human: than things divine.
Concurrently, the great voyages of discovery by, Columbus (1592), Vasco de Gama (1498) and Magellan (1519-22), encouraged a practical study of the heavens for earthly guidance, rather than solely as a abode for those owning an Indulgence Document. Later the invention of the telescope (c.1602), the microscope (c.1590), the pendulum clock (c.1656), the thermometer (c.1654), and barometer (c.1643), provided a rich diet of interests for those who preferred such studies, to the controversies of Theologians. Hence, a view of the world, vastly more fascinating than that previously on offer, became possible! As Francois Mauriac wrote, "What this professor says, is far more incredible than what we poor Christians believe". Educated, Men of Affairs, asked searching questions and the answers given by the clergy were seen to be at variance to the observed facts, and often patently ridiculous.
It is clear, that there were interesting causal and historical similarities, between the "Invention of Science" and Rational Cosmologies in Greece, and their revival about two thousand years later. The Reformation and the rise of Protestantism, produced a diversity of creeds, in effect: a Polytheism. Whilst the Protestant Clergy, were just as bigoted as their Roman Catholic counterparts. Intellectual Pluralism, helped towards the eventual acceptance by Church and State of the right of Freethinkers, to express and publish their views. This happy situation continued, until the ‘New Religions’ of Communism and Fascism; enslaved men, and destroyed freedom of thought for one-third of the peoples of the World.
Below the final square on Chart 2:-
Are the names of the four great men who were pre-eminent, in the foundation of modern science and cosmology, and the two men whose discoveries are fundamental to the whole of present day scientific thought. As the ultimate aim of all science is to clarify man’s relationship to the universe, the discoveries of Darwin and Einstein, have completely changed the outlook of all educated persons, whether scientists or laymen.
The achievements of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, cannot be overestimated. Essentially, Copernicus was responsible for reviving the ‘Heliocentric Theory’, proposed by Aristarcus around 300 BC, whilst Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, provided the ‘observational proof’ and discovered progressively, sophisticated mathematical laws governing the movements of both celestial and terrestrial bodies. Few would argue that Newton was not the greatest genius, the World has ever known.
The Church, both Catholic and Protestant, fought hard and long to deny and suppress cosmological truth – as everyone knows. Giordano Druno, was burnt at the stake for his views in 1600. Galileo was condemned by the Inquisition in 1633 and Copernicus’s work was not removed from the ‘Index of Prohibited Books’, until 1822. Fortunately, the clergy in Protestant Countries, although anxious to do harm to science, were unable to gain control of the state and censor publications, which were at variance with "Revealed Truth" and "Sacred Writings". The silencing of Galileo by the Church, is a classic example of locking the stable door, after the horse, has bolted. Copernicus and Kepler, had already shown that the Clergy, were wrong. What Galileo did was to enable ordinary educated men, to look through a telescope and see for themselves that the Cosmos did not, in fact, operate in accordance with the Scriptures. Newton (1642-1727) achieved the final and complete triumph, with his elegant and simple laws of motion and gravitation. The movements of the Planets, the orbits of Comets and the ‘tides of the ocean’, could now be predicted and explained by science, and mathematics. It became evident that the solar system, was kept going by its own momentum and no outside interference was needed. There might still seem to be a God, who had set the mechanism working, but once this had been done everything went on by itself, without futher need of divine intervention. Another thing that resulted from Newton’s work, was a profound change in the conception of man’s place in the Universe.
It became establised, beyond doubt, that the Earth was a minor Planet of a not specially distinguised Star, astronomical distances were seen to be so vast that the earth, in comparison, was a mere pinprick. It seemed, to many unlikely and to some absurd, that this emmence apparatus was all designed for the good of certain small creatures, on this pinpoint. In his, "System of the World", Newton showed us how the solar system works and in doing so, gave us an example of how to make progress in knowledge. Science, he showed, is the ‘Art of the Soluble’. To make progress, we must ask the right sort of questions; ones which we can hope to solve with answers that can be tested by observation.
To understand how nature works, we must use reason, rather than revelation, and we must use observations to keep our feet on the ground. His work had a profound effect on all aspects of culture and establised the power of the scientific method of enquiry; for all time. It was this power, that enabled the West to ‘raise the standard of living’ of its peoples so much, above all the rest of the World, and shows those few that were willing to learn, how poverty, plague, and over-population, could be conquered.
Newton, had found the key to some of the greatest secrets of the Universe; but his successors were to go much further. The next major step, was taken by William Herschel.(1738-1822) who showed that our Sun is one of millions of Stars, in a Galaxy of Stars, ‘The Milky Way’. In 1848, Christian Doppler discovered that light waves received by an observer, change in frequency as the source of the waves advances or receeds.This, and other work by Hubble in 1930 (Hubble’s Law, simple when you know how; like Newton’s Laws), showed that our Galaxy of about one hundred thousand million Stars, is only one of billions of clusters of Galaxies, which are all moving apart, some at over half the speed of light (186,000 miles per second, divided by 2 ). Analysis of light waves, by ‘advanced spectroscopy’ enabled the chemical composition of Stars and Planets to be determined; regardless of their distance. We now come to Einstein, the Creator of Modern Cosmology. But that deserves a separate section.
THE BIG BANG AND THE BIG CRUNCH
The following is taken from recent articles and books by, D.W. Sciama, Fellow of All Souls College, Department of Astrophysics, University of Oxford and Professor of Physics, University of Texas. M.J. Rees, Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy, University of Cambridge. Steven Weinberg Higgins, Professor of Physics, Harvard University, and Senior Scientist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory. Professor Weinberg, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979.
1.) The building-blocks of the Universe are clusters of Galaxies. The number of Galaxies in a cluster, vary from about twenty, to over one thousand. A typical Galaxy, like our own, is a rotating disc-shaped collection of Stars, interstella dust and gas. An average Galaxy contains several thousand million Stars (suns) and a typical star has a diameter of between half a million and 500 million miles. An ordinary undistinguished star (like the sun) is basically, a giant gaseous sphere composed chiefly of hydrogen, with helium and traces of almost all the other elements. The temperature in the central region, is typically, a few tens of millions of degrees.
2. Through our telescopes, which can now reach out to distances exceeding five thousand million light years (one light year equals six million million miles), we can see that the Universe is expanding. The clusters of galaxies, are all moving apart with a velocity that is proportional to their distance; the further away they are, the faster they are moving. (This does not mean that our galaxy is at the centre of the expansion, the same expansion would be seen by an observer on any other galaxy. A convenient analogy, is a current bun swelling in an oven, the currents being the clusters of galaxies). When we, so to speak, play the film of the receeding galaxies backwards, it indicates that they were all, "On top of one another", about fifteen thousand million years ago. By this we mean, that the ‘pre galactic elementary particles’ were once combined in a small radiation ‘fireball’, perhaps infinitely small with an infinitely high temperature. This is the moment of the ‘Big Bang’. Our knowledge of particle physics, enables us to deduce the composition and temperature of the Universe, at a moment, one hundredth of a second after the ‘Big Bang’ and its subsequent development into, stars and galaxies. We are now beginning to grapple, with the deeper problem of what happened at zero seconds, in other words, at the precise moment of the ‘Big Bang’. Independent confirmation of the ‘Big Bang’, has been obtained from several sources; the most important of these is called the "3K Cosmic Microwave Radiation Background" (COBE). This in effect, is a radio echo of the Big Bang. Penzias and Wilson were awarded a Nobel Prize for this, crucial, confirming, evidence.
THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE
1.) Imagine a ‘big sphere’ is shattered by an explosion, the debris flying off, in all directions. Each fragment, feels the gravitational pull of all the others and this causes the expansion to – decelerate. If the explosion, was sufficiently violent the debris would fly apart for ever, but if the fragments were not moving quite so fast, gravity would halt the expansion and pull all the fragments together again. Roughly, the same argument holds for the Universe. In the case of the Galaxies (the fragments), we know the expansion velocity. What we do not know, quite so well, is the amount of matter in the Universe.(Latest findings of ‘spookey’ Dark Matter)
2.) It is easy to calculate, how to halt the expansion – it works out at about three atoms per cubic metre (3 to 4 latest research). This is known as the ‘Critical Density’.If the average concentration of matter in the Universe is less, than the ‘critical density’, the Universe will continue to expand for ever; but if this critical density is exceeded, the Universe will eventually contract and collapse. It is straightforward, to estimate how densely the galaxies are packed in the Universe – there is about one galaxy in 10 to the 20th cubic light years. A further calculation indicates that that the density of matter in the Universe, is about, twenty per cent of the critical value needed for ‘eventual contraction’. However, there is reason to think that our inventory of the contents of the Universe, is incomplete, so it is possible that there is, in fact, enough material to cause the Universe to recollapse to the stage of the original "fireball" and beyond, whatever that may be! In 1983, the Hubble Space Telescope will be launched and this may help to solve the problem of the ‘Fate of the Universe’. (We are a little out of date, but this simple background knowledge is much easier. See bbc.co.uk Expansion of the Universe or The Astronomy Picture of the Day NASA on the www.)
3.) If the Universe continues to expand, ‘thermonuclear reactions’ in the stars will slowly come to an end, and the Universe will become, a ‘dead cinder’. If the Universe collapses, then the stars and planets will all disolve in a cosmic soup of radiation. It may be that the Universe will experience a kind of ‘Cosmic Bounce’ and begin to re expand, followed by another bounce’ and so on, forever. However, this procedure faces one severe difficulty. In each cycle the ratio of photons to nuclear particles, (or more precisely, the Entropy per Nuclear Particle) is slightly increased by a kind of friction (known as Bulk Viscosity), as the Universe expands and contracts. The Universe would then start each cycle, with a new, slightly larger ratio of photons, to nuclear particles. Right now this ratio is large, but not infinite, so it is hard to see how the Universe could have previously experienced an infinite number of cycles.
4.) However, all these problems may be resolved and whichever cosmological model proves correct, there is not much comfort in any of this! It is almost irresistable for humans to believe that we have have some special relation to the Universe, that human life is not just a more or less, farcical outcome of a chain of accidents, but that we were somehow built in; from the beginning. It is very hard, to realize that Planet Earth is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile Universe. It is even harder to realize that this present Universe, faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the Universe becomes comprehensible, the more it also seems – pointless!
But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Some, men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of Gods or to confine their thoughts to the ‘daily affairs of life’, "The sleep of everyday living". They build telescopes and satellites, and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the Universe, is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of a farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.