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Madame Curie Bioscience Database [Internet]. Austin (TX): Landes Bioscience; 2000-2013.

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Life in a Tenuous Universe


The question is, do we live independent of the shape of our universe, or are we an intimate partner as well as a beneficiary of its peculiar structure and its awesome dimension? The space-time that life needs to exist has been torn out of matter energy in the core of a vast and expanding geode. We are creatures as well as prisoners of space and the vagaries of time. Our home, what is it like, are we (living creatures) a quirk or a consequence?

Could there really have been nothing? It is hard to imagine, yet the standard model of the Big Bang starts with a submicroscopic space of very high density. That does not mean that it is true but it is the model that arises from doodling with Einstein's equations and Einstein is the best bet around.1

Relativity tells us that time slows down in extreme gravitational fields (around a black hole, for example) and during extreme acceleration (this is referred to as time dilation). The primordial singularity is imagined as being much denser than even a black hole and if time at the Schwartzshield radius (the sphere of “no return” around the black hole from which even light cannot escape) must stand still, then time must certainly have been captive of the gravitational force in the Big Bang singularity (singularity here refers to the unity of all forces as opposed to the uniqueness of our universe). The perception of time, it is theorized, would be the same as ours for anybody living (hypothetically) in a black hole. The light would move away from the hole at the speed of light measured in unit time in the black hole! But time does not flow at all or infinitely slow under these conditions and hence—for the outside observer—light does not get out. This is part of the invariance concept of relativity. Perhaps it is better to say that time is not defined during this period. Physicists prefer it that way! When they face the stark consequences of their own ideas they fade from the scene much like (Goethe's) Dr. Faust did at the sight of the spirit of the earth whom he had conjured.

Time is recognized by progressive events and space is recognized by distances. Purportedly the early universe was much smaller than the size of an atomic nucleus, minuscule compared to its size of 20 billion light years which is often called the visible universe (based upon the assumption that there is an invisible one). This is another interesting subject for intellectual “doodling”. We have no idea what physical form a subatomic-size universe would have assumed, but according to physicists it could have been pure unpartitioned energy. Physicists are searching for a unified field theory dependent upon the (probably correct) assumption that just before the “Ur Explosion” all forces were one and the same. The creation of space segregated forces and created time. Dr. Fred Hoyle and Dr. Arno Penzias once explained to me that I must not imagine the Big Bang singularity as something one could stand next to and photograph (conversation during the Welch Foundation Symposium on cosmo chemistry, 1981). There is no space next to the Big Bang singularity, all space is within it and all time as well. In retrospect I think that this is the physicist's way of discouraging further questions.

There are black holes in the universe and we can live very well next to them, albeit at a respectable distance. If we could put a clock into the black hole and if we could find a way whereby this clock could remain intact and signal time progression to us we would notice that, compared to our clock, the black hole clock stands still. The same should have been true for a clock within the primordial singularity except there was purportedly no outside time to which to compare it. In any event, we can imagine that the Big Bang explosion was ‘planned’ for twelve o'clock and that it is one billionth of a second before twelve; will this explosion occur? This question is justified since even atoms in the atomic clock “feel” the slowdown. Radioactive decay should stop in extreme gravitational fields. An explosion without molecular motion is unthinkable. The particles within the primordial singularity, or a black hole for that matter, feel like the clock in this super-gravity field, how can anything happen under such conditions? Only if time, like quantum phenomena, can tunnel through energy-barriers it is conceivable that the Big Bang might have occurred (as we fairly well know it did). The initial phase of the explosion has been described by Stephen Weinberg2 as a three and one-half minute phase and, as there was no space or time outside that explosive event, we must presume he means the time as it would be measured at the local scene. On our clocks the time might have counted 3 billion years, and the explosion should really have seemed to occur at the speed of an extreme time-lapse movie if the relativistic time dilation is real to its final consequence. Indeed, if such an explosion occurs time must instantaneously start running (but how fast?).

By our reckoning a light beam travels 300,000 km/sec. Yet an observer sitting on the leading edge of a beam would report that light travels through the universe at an instant because time does not progress for the light beam.

What is the reality in each case? We can measure the arrival of a light beam on a target so this perception is correct—for us. Is time a dimension of motion primarily and of space secondarily? Nonsense, of course, there can be no motion without space and no space without time.

Thus, we must also argue now that the extremely small, though finite, space of the primordial singularity could not have existed without a finite, however little, time. Having a million dollars at no time means one is not a millionaire, and a singularity at no time is no singularity. What does it mean if one says time stands still? It would be very difficult to imagine, perhaps about as difficult as it is to picture a storm at rest. What is time at rest? To make air masses of a calm into a storm we need a pressure gradient, what could make time out of its progenitor? A mass energy gradient that produces gravitational force or acceleration which is its physical equivalent? A pristine explosion?

It is said or implied that the origin of this pristine explosion (pristinus, the earliest, untouched, uncorrupted), ordinarily referred to as the Big Bang, was even denser than a singularity in a black hole, but I have never seen any theory that would explain anything more dense than the point where all space, shape, memory, and all forces that we know have become one and the same. And if space and time are buried within the singularity then the uncertainty principle should also no longer prevail. But if the uncertainty principle does not prevail then quantum physics must also be invalid and the singularity could never advance to a point where it should explode. We have again reached the point where we must say that it did, at least according to observations in the present universe, such as the background radiation. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of biochemical evolution which, by and large and in reference to our time-frame of experiences, is completely impossible, and yet we have to find a path to explain it because it stares out of and into our faces. At any level of lack of conviction let us give in then, and say that quantum phenomena were still occurring at the singularity level and that occasionally a large singularity, a large black hole, could explode in spite of the fact that Stephen Hawking has calculated a fair chance for an explosion to exist only for a minuscule black hole, and even those have not been detected yet. Could the pristine explosion have been due to a black hole in an existing universe, and in contrast to what Penzias and Hoyle said, you could stand next to it and photograph it if you had the fortitude or misfortune to live in the old, cold and dying universe and have a telescope trained to the right spot in space? Was the recent incredible outburst of energy from a galaxy about 15 billion light-years away the birth of a new universe? A sister universe because the explosion we are registering now would have occurred when we were 15 billion light-years closer together. The black hole would thus explode within an existing universe to form another bubble, and it is not totally impossible, at least in our imagination, to resurrect (up to a certain point and in a different way) the steady state universe3 except that new matter would not come from the center but peel off the inner surface of the expanding edge like amethyst crystals in a geode. In such a picture the big crunch would be replaced by the slow accretion of material into the black holes that are apparently at the centers of large galaxies which could explode again, perhaps at the time when the previous universe had reached a temperature of maybe 1/1050 degree K (just to pick a number). It would be a geodesic universe, wherein geodes would be produced within geodes on a fantastic time scale and where every universe would be unique, singular, and forever unaware of any other universe. The advancing edge, traveling at the speed of light, is tearing apart space within the bubble to the point where time can become its meaningful adjunct. If there is space, i.e., a point to the left and a point to the right, then there has to be time to travel between the points. Light becomes not only the prime messenger of space but is created by space and by the lower gravity which is a consequence of exploded space. In the first million years of this universe light could apparently not travel. It would have been reabsorbed by the thick particle soup according to the “standard model”. It must have been an eerily dark explosion.

Here we are then enjoying the temporary expansion of space and time in which all our chemistry can occur and in which evolution has occurred by the laws of chemistry. The space between galaxies is not empty (virtual particles can appear in a vacuum), and it appears not to be unstructured, and the physicists are speaking about a wormhole configuration whereas anyone with a sense of esthetics would have wished they had thought of Swiss cheese to go along with quarks (Farmer's cheese in German) which appear to be the fundamental particles of matter. But no such luck, our life has developed in wormholes if they will be confirmed. Terms like this have a tendency to stick. Before wormholes the space between galaxies was an ether, a beautiful term whose time may never come.

Are we confined to a bubble like the quarks are confined to the protons or neutrons? Is this a gravitational confinement? Physicists say no! Gravity plays no role within the nucleus. Strong and electro-weak forces play a role; gravity is extremely weak in the short range. Atoms feel gravity — but they are held together by other forces. Quarks can move without constraints inside their little bubble but, as soon as they move toward the periphery, an ever increasing force is restraining them4 Does the proton have an edge?

We can move in our universe, our bubble of expanded space time at comparatively slow velocities but, as soon as we would speed up to anything only nearly the speed at which the edge of our new universe expands into an old one, we would feel the same restraint. The physicists do not like the concept of an edge but they have nothing convincing to put in its place. The energy to move a quark out of a hadron would be so great that a string of new quarks would be produced. The energy to accelerate us up to something near the speed of light would cause a prohibitive increase in our energy. We are velocity-restrained. No matter how fast we are moving (in terms of attainable speed) our universe becomes larger at all times and the high-speed traveler will recede constantly from the edge he is trying to reach. How about if we then moved in the opposite direction, away from the nearest edge of our own expanding bubble? The same thing would prevail because now we are beginning to match the receding edge on the other side of our bubble which would be just as impossible.

In such a universe the expansion function ω would be precisely 1, i.e., no crunch or time reversal would occur except in black holes,5 our time sink. Near the edge of such a universe there would be the great wall of galaxies uniformly spread like the background radiation. Could we fly faster than the speed of light (the quasi escape velocity from our universe), would we then penetrate the great wall and the receding edge and end up in the previous universe?

I can see the physicists' smirk at these attempts of a chemist to find a proper place for our evolutionary history. Consider this my revenge for the physicists' excursion into biological evolution. It is not a full revenge, for at least I am trying to transmit what an unadulterated mind can make of the stories they are telling each other. The revenge is incomplete because it is to me a most disturbing experience when I see world-class physicists in their popular writings mindlessly repeating our impossible paradigms of evolution, collectively known as the New Synthesis. Physicists are not particularly timid. When Stephen Hawking6 had finished presenting his paper on some aspect of the thermodynamics of evaporating black holes, one fellow physicist got up and said something similar to: “Interesting, but you know it is all rubbish” (which it was not).

When a Darwinist tells them that the living world began with one cell put together by luck and against the odds of ∼1:10348, and that all other organisms are derived from that cell by a string of millions of lucky mutations, each against the odds of 1:10300 (just to keep the numbers small), they look on, starry-eyed, as if the biological world were something out of this universe. Confronted as to the validity of such concepts they step uneasy from one foot to the other mumbling paternalistically something about quantum phenomena and uncertainty instead of calling it what they would call it if they were to argue with a physicist - rubbish (which it is)!

Fortunately we shall live on regardless of which idea describes our universe and our story of evolution. We survived Joshua's flat world, Ptolomy's circles, Newton's attractive force, Lamarck and Darwin. Ideas do not change the cosmos, they only change the way we look at it. Yet the challenge remains to find what guides all of it, space, time, forces, chemistry, and life.

Look at the big not-yet bang during the ‘million year second’ just before it goes off; somewhere there, in a miniscule spot within nothing, is the milky way, your sun, the earth, your home town and you, your cat, all of it is there already, for nothing enters the universe and nothing leaves. A cosy thought isn't it, yet, something is not quite right. Is it, I wonder, just possible that this is the mathematical endpoint and that reality parts ways with mathematics before we are quite there? What bothers me much is that the ‘standard model’ needs to be modified by a ‘faster than light’ inflationary period7 for which there is no mechanism, no foundation, no reason other than that it helps make the standard model match observations. The need for this epistemological faux pas indicates to an observer that the universe may in fact have started a little larger than the model demands. There is some consolation in the fact that our theories do not change our living space.

The universe is a fantastic place by any standard and, most incredibly, we are a product of its formative forces. Whatever made time and space made us! Biology needs space, time expansion, and light, which are at once the causes and results of cosmogenesis. Life will die with the old universe, it will rise again with the new one, and it will again be a short episode of self-consciousness for a generally inanimate marvel.


Einstein A, Infeld L. The Evolution of PhysicsSimon & Schuster Inc. New York1938.
Weinberg S. The First Three Minutes 1977. Basic Books Inc 1977; New York .
Bondi H. CosmologyCambridge University Press1961.
Riordan R. The discovery of quarks. Science. 1992;256:1287. [PubMed: 17736758]
Rees MJ. Black holes in galactic centers. Scientific American. 1990:56.
Hawking SW. The edge of spacetime. American Scientist. 1984;72:355.
Guth AH. Inflationary universe: A possible solution to the horizon and flatness problems. Phys Rev. 1981;D23:347.
Copyright © 2000-2013, Landes Bioscience.
Bookshelf ID: NBK6478


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