The universe and everything

A paper presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in St. Louis has fired up people's imaginations because it's billed as giving hints of what came before the Big Bang.

(Interesting, isn't it, that we're so cognitively incapable of grasping the much more amazing idea that maybe nothing came before the Big Bang. If we could, hints that something came before would be just one theoretical possibility and wouldn't be international news. But that's a story for another post.)

Briefly, the gist being reported is that new universes could bud off from existing ones. The work of Adrienne Erickcek et al. is interesting because it suggests observations to look for to find the signature of our parent universe. It also implies that new universes could bud off from ours and we'd never notice a thing.

This intriguing story depends on initial assumptions. The way it's reported makes it sound like somebody looked through a really b-i-i-i-g telescope and saw another whole space we'd never seen before. That's not what's going on.

The Big Daddy of initial assumptions involves the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (Sorry. That just has to be capitalized.) That's the one that says everything falls apart. If you break an egg, it's not coming back together. If something cools down, it won't warm up unless you add energy to it from somewhere else. Since for the whole universe there is no somewhere else, life, the universe, and everything will eventually settle down at absolute zero, doing nothing.

But, and this is where the assumption come in, things can't fall apart unless they had a structure to begin with. So, since the Second Law is true, the universe had to have started in an ordered state.

And that's the part that's a tad problematic. Cosmologists have been trying to find theories to explain the initial ordered state. Erickcek's and her colleagues' accomplishment is realizing that IF a new universe buds off from a parent in a "cold" way, i. e. without a huge explosion that you'd notice if it happened in your living room, then the mathematics suggests that the new universe would have the right sort of ordered state.

Observations may confirm that the kind of order we see in the microwave background radiation agrees with the mathematics for a "cold" big bang and contains the signatures predicted by the idea that the parent universe would have left its mark on the process. If they do confirm it, then that'll strengthen the idea that we quietly budded off from a mismatched sock drawer 13.7 billion years ago. But it's not that anyone has or will see the parent sock drawer itself.

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