Cosmology Dynamics DeMystified
This website is intended to demystify Cosmology principles (and jargon) by explaining the concepts as clearly as possible - without sacrificing any accuracy. It is written for a reading level generally similar to Discover magazine and occasionally a Scientific American reading level. Most math is removed and references for further research have abundant links.
No Math Background Needed !
Fully appreciating how some friends and colleagues might consider this blasphemy, it is this author's opinion -- that just how you can drive a car without understanding any math of vehicle dynamics, it is similarly not necessary to understand the many fields of higher mathematics to understand Cosmology's principles, dynamics, and physics. So this website is almost completely math-free. What little math is included - you can safely and confidently ignore. Then, even when I do include quantities I try to put them in terms and units familiar to ordinary science enthusiasts (like "furlongs per fortnight" ;-)
Our universe's largest known structures are spectacularly huge collections of galaxies called Filaments, Supercluster complexes, Lyman Alpha (gas) Blobs, Voids, Walls, and Bubbles. Some of them appear as large as 3.5 billion light years across. That's about a quarter of the distance to the farthest objects we can see and some 35,000 times larger than our Milky Way galaxy. How these structures move and change shape are some of the dynamics.
Cosmology involves the study of phenomena including redshifts, galaxy surface brightness to distance ratios, diffuse millimeter radiation, supernova rise and decay curves, gamma ray burst dilation, galaxy rotation curves, Olbers paradox, and light element abundances. As of today these are measured only by observing the wavelengths, brightness, location and polarization of their "light" and how these change over time.
Cosmology includes the study of ideas, hypotheses, and models which do not have a beginning as well as those that do.
This does not mean we cannot imagine, speculate or suggest new ideas, only that if we want those ideas to be evaluated as scientific, they must meet the minimums required for a scientific claim.
The Burden of Proof is on the proponent of a claim (such as Big Bang model) - not on a skeptic.
"Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence." - Carl Sagan
While this is not strictly correct (all scientific claims require the same threshold amount and quality of repeatable evidence from testing), it nevertheless dramatizes that in science the proponent of an idea, not a skeptic, is responsible for providing clear, unambiguous claims for the idea, all necessary definitions, the evidence and rationale.
Superclusters are a concentration of galaxies; large groups of smaller galaxy groups. The Shapley Supercluster is the largest one we recognize situated about 600-650 million light years from us.
Filaments are paths of galaxies forming the boundary between two voids. They are the largest known structures and contain almost all the galaxies.
Voids (and Supervoids) are large volumes of space with very few or no galaxies. The largest known void is about 3.5 billion light years across.
Lyman Alpha Blobs are huge volumes of gas as large as 400,000 light years across.
Walls are filaments which are significantly (that's ambiguous) larger along their largest axis than their second largest axis. The largest reported is the "Great Wall" at about 750 million light years long.
Cosmology fascinates me because of the many astounding, natural phenomena beyond our planet.
When I learned about the first three-dimensional mapping of our universe
by Valerie de Lapparent, Margaret Geller and John Huchra I was thrilled. For the first time in human history we could see the real three-dimensional structures of our Universe - not just make
My curiosity was captivated and never let go. So when invited to take a 4000 level physics class in Cosmology at the Naval Postgraduate school by the esteemed Professor Emeritus of Physics Kai Woehler (a student of Heisenberg) - I jumped at the chance. (Does that mean I'm Heisenberg's Grand-student?) Since that course I've studied and analyzed more than a hundred Cosmology books, many hundreds of (often gratuitously and hilariously opaque ) astrophysics papers and thousands of articles.
While I can crawl through a fair bit of a dozen or so math fields, I'm not yet one of the handful of amazing people who can exhibit machine-gun like fluency with all the half-dozen higher level mathematics used by Cosmology Theorists (e.g. Lorenz Transforms, Riemannian Geometry, Tensor Calculus, Eigen values and vectors, Hamiltonian mechanics, Lagrangian Density, and General Relativity).
However, physical dynamics is better situation. Using my physics training, cosmology research, years of experience conducting thousands of physical experiments my grasp of most cosmology dynamics and principles is reasonably good.
Surprisingly, perhaps as useful is a decade reviewing hundreds of fundamental experiments while serving as a Head Judge / Encourager for our local Science Fair which helps give me a fair grounding in what makes a credible experiment across a broad range of fields. The important application of this is whether Cosmology concepts meet the minimum thresholds for a scientific claim. You will be the judge of whether I can clearly explain all this in plain English for the heart of this website -- the non-superficial (and almost math-free) science-based Cosmology Glossary.
Is Big Bang a Theory ?
If you can spend a little time examining and thoughtfully considering the evidence and reasoning compiled and summarized here you should easily appreciate how some cosmology ideas are clearly outside boundaries of the scientific method; how more than a few cosmology claims contradict fundamental physics or prematurely reverse the Burden of Proof away from their own claims.
It still stuns and dismays me when cosmologists (on both sides of the Big Bang debate) argue that, instead of examining alternatives to their own ideas, the boundaries of science should be "loosened up" or that fundamental physics laws somehow don't apply to their ideas.(4) For those times I am grateful and honored to collaborate with a group of astrophysicists whose feet are solidly on ground with the belief that Nature makes the rules - not Theorists, and that ideas must not conflict with experimental evidence.
I was invited to give a talk on this website's subject at a 2008 conference and the associated paper was published in 2009. In part, this website is intended to give you a look at what parts of cosmology are reasonably categorized as science, and to unemotionally, objectively and diplomatically separate them from the claims which on closer inspection are science-fiction; lets call them incomplete hypotheses. The second list is uncomfortably long.
People often ask - How did cosmology get so far off track?
I don't know exactly, but here's some clues (and a story to help explain an opportunity) that guide my guess that faulty education plays a key role. (No I don't just mean faulty science books.)
Lets try a couple of questions.
Question 1: What is the most common form of known matter in our Universe?
Answer 1: Most student scientists answer solid or gas. Which is wrong. The correct answer is -- Plasma is the most common form of known matter in our Universe. Plasma is simply gas with an electromagnetic charge. It exists essentially everywhere except where we live on Earth's surface (with occasional surprises such as lightning). Our Sun is plasma, the "space" inside our solar system is a plasma; faint but plasma. Yet oddly, Plasma is rarely explained or even mentioned in US science classrooms. There is essentially never any basic training in associated Plasma principles and dynamics.
Q.2: Which is stronger: Gravity or ElectroMagnetic Force?
A: Student Astrophysicists are rarely taught that ElectroMagnetic Force is almost unimaginably stronger than Gravity, at the scale of atoms, by some 36 magnitudes. That's 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times stronger than gravity. Yet cosmological electromagnetic forces are completely dismissed by some Big Bang advocates with a superficial flip of a hand.
Q.3: Which force has effect at intergalactic distances ?
A: This is a trick question. There are two forces which have effect at intergalactic distances, yet only one is taught in US science clases. The one left out is -- electromagnetic forces. That's the force 36 magnitudes stronger than gravity.
With that context, it should surprise no one that misunderstanding these three fundamental concepts could lead student astrophysicists to wrongly dismiss plasma as a cosmological influence.
And then there's the likelihood that some Theoretical Astrophysicists (far more often than Observational Cosmologists) seem to take Professor Einstein's inspirational maxim literally -- "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
While this is an inspirational thought, taken too literally this could be mistaken to mean - abandon the solid ground of experiment based facts and the hypotheses derived directly from them to -- let your speculation fly unbounded. The proliferation of ideas unconstrained by known physics that are incorrectly yet solidly asserted as fact has lead some astrophysicists and cosmologists to reasonably argue that Physics, empirical physical experiments to examine the nature of physical phenomena, was hijacked by Mathemetics in the early 1900s. it seems clear that Physics is now in an awkward situation where Equations are considered more valuable than Experiments.
And I promised you a story: In spite of being widely disparaged, the US legal profession has a surprisingly good process to insure its students get critical-thinking training and testing - yet I am embarrassed to remind you that my chosen field of science does not. If you are familiar with the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) which really does require high-quality critical thinking, and then realize there is nothing remotely resembling this for science - did a light just go on?
Reflect back on your own schooling. Did you ever have a formal class that covered why math must not be confused with physical reality; or the dramatic difference between a hypothesis (or theory) and a conjecture; how one experiment is worth 1,000 expert opinions; why a model should not be confused with a hypothesis; or even just the mere outline of the scientific method ?
An overwhelming number of scientists answer "no" to all of those questions.
Perhaps this is why so many Astrophysicists agree with the observation I call (with tongue firmly in cheek) the Hyper-Certainty Principle (the less data - the stronger the advocacy).
This is a gentle way of leading up to a big "opportunity." Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman once went out on a limb to give a Brazilian University commencement talk with the bold theme "No science is being taught in Brazil."
Based on responses I've received from hundreds of scientists, young and old, I believe the problem is more widespread and far deeper than that - that here in the US we really don't teach the scientific method or the criteria for a hypothesis.
Yet this is easily fixed. Using the LSAT as a model for a standardized Science critical thinking test is a good start.
We can, we should and we must work to have all students, particularly students of science, understand the scientific method and why it is valuable to their lives and our futures.
PS I welcome corrections and suggestions for improvements for this website, and of course - science humor.
References and Notes
1. The most cited author of Big Bang concepts, Princeton's P.J. Peebles, does not refer to "Big Bang" as a "theory," he correctly calls it a "model." Many popular authors ignore this important distinction.
2. "Report on a Study of Middle School Physical Science Texts," The Physics Teacher 5. 39. John Hubisz. American Association of Physics Teachers. Study finds errors rife in science textbooks "Study finds errors rife in science textbooks. Twelve of the most popular science textbooks used at middle schools nationwide are riddled with errors, a new study has found. Researchers compiled 500 pages of errors, ranging from maps depicting the equator passing through the southern United States to a photo of singer Linda Ronstadt labeled as a silicon crystal. None of the 12 textbooks has an acceptable level of accuracy, said John Hubisz, a North Carolina State University physics professor who led the two-year survey, released earlier this month."
3. There is a bit of tortured logic in cosmology, but you haven't fully enjoyed this idea until you read the explanation for "non-integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect." I hadn't laughed that well in a long time.
4. Even the brilliant Niels Bohr suggested (multiple times) that "the law of conservation of energy be abandoned" because the Beta Decay problem appeared unsolvable.
This website and its contents are © Copyright 2008-2015 David j Dilworth.
All rights are reserved worldwide (and throughout our Milky Way Galaxy).
David Dilworth is one of only a handful of lifetime members of the organization Committee for Scientific Inquiry (formerly known as CSICOP).
David occasionally provides Science repair services as a Quantum Mechanic.
His 2009 paper "Ground Rules for Cosmological Physics" was published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in the 2008 Cosmology Conference "CCC2" Proceedings.
P.O. Box 100, Carmel, California 93921 --