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On Arsenic-loving Bacteria & Roger Penrose`s New Book ``Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe``

Posted: 2010-12-05
From: Mathaba
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by Kyle McDermott

Mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose has a new book coming out in May 2011, entitled Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe. A BBC article that discusses the central hypothesis of Penrose's book reports the following:
Evidence of events that happened before the Big Bang can be seen in the glow of microwave radiation that fills the Universe, scientists have asserted.

Renowned cosmologist Roger Penrose said that analysis of this cosmic microwave background showed echoes of previous Big Bang-like events.

The events appear as "rings" around galaxy clusters in which the variation in the background is unusually low.

The unpublished research has been posted on the Arxiv website.
In the same BBC article, Penrose, regarding his notion of a cyclical universe, states:
"In the scheme that I am proposing, you have an exponential expansion but it's not in our aeon - I use the term to describe [the period] from our Big Bang until the remote future. I claim that this aeon is one of a succession of such things, where the remote future of the previous aeons somehow becomes the Big Bang of our aeon."
The BBC article goes on to further explain Penrose's hypothesis:
This "conformal cyclic cosmology" (CCC) that Professor Penrose advocates allows that the laws of nature may evolve with time, but precludes the need to institute a theoretical beginning to the Universe.

Professor Penrose, of Oxford University, and his colleague Vahe Gurzadyan of Yerevan State University in Armenia, have now found what they believe is evidence of events that predate the Big Bang, and that support CCC.
They looked at data from vast surveys of the cosmic microwave background - the constant, nearly uniform low-temperature glow that fills the Universe we see. They surveyed nearly 11,000 locations, looking for directions in the sky where, at some point in the past, vast galaxies circling one another may have collided. The supermassive black holes at their centres would have merged, turning some of their mass into tremendous bursts of energy.

The CCC theory holds that the same object may have undergone the same processes more than once in history, and each would have sent a "shockwave" of energy propagating outward.
The search turned up 12 candidates that showed concentric circles consistent with the idea - some with as many as five rings, representing five massive events coming from the same object through the course of history. The suggestion is that the rings - representing unexpected order in a vast sky of disorder - represent pre-Big Bang events, toward the end of the last "aeon"."Inflation [theory] is supposed to have ironed all of these irregularities out," said Professor Penrose.
As a way of deriving additional insights into Penrose's hypothesis, what follows is a transcription of an interview that Sir Roger Penrose did with the BBC. The questions are reproduced more or less verbatim, but for brevity's sake, Penrose's responses to the questions have been paraphrased. The reader is free to verify the accuracy of the following transcription by listening to the original BBC interview, which can be accessed here:

Question 1: It may be one of the most profound and impossible question in physics: What happened before the Big Bang? The event that led to the formation of the universe. Physicist/Professor Sir Roger Penrose thinks he may have an answer. I spoke to him about his theory and asked, "What happened before the Big Bang?"

Penrose's response to Question 1: The universe is actually composed of a succession - perhaps an infinite succession - of aeons, where the remote future becomes the Big Bang of the next aeon.

Question 2: So we have a cyclical process and another Big Bang that starts everything over and over again?

Penrose's response to Question 2: Yes, but other schemes propose that the universe expands out and collapses down again. The trouble with these theories is that they violate the law of entropy. Things should be getting more and more random as time goes on. Penrose proposes that the entropy disappears into Black Holes. These Black Holes eventually disappear though Hawking evaporation ... You can "see" back and see these huge encounters between Black Holes.

[At this point, the interviewer makes reference to physicist Stephen Hawking's claim that God is not needed to initiate the universe (to access your author's response to Hawking's position, please read the following article: Thoughts on Stephen Hawking's new book The Grand Design.)]

Question 3: In light of all this, what of God?

Penrose's response to Question 3: Penrose does not believe in established religion of any kind; Penrose states that he is an atheist. Penrose goes on to claim that, in a deep sense, it remains possible that God could still be behind it all, but in a less deep sense, Penrose asserts that his hypothesis, if correct, would [as Hawking's recent book is purported to have done] remove one more reason supporting the existence of God.

The interview concludes with Penrose stating that he knows neither if the succession of aeons is infinite or finite, nor if the laws and forces of nature are the same in the other aeons. Penrose is hopeful that these questions can be answered.

Penrose's hypothesis is, of course, extremely tentative; according to Princeton University cosmologist David Spergel:
"The existence of large-scale coherent features in the microwave background of this form would appear to contradict the inflationary model and would be a very distinctive signature of Penrose's model" of a cyclic universe, cosmologist David Spergel of Princeton University says.

But, he says, "The paper does not provide enough detail about the analysis to assess the reality of these circles."
In an article from www.sciencenews.org, Prof. Spergel states another issue of contention with Penrose's hypothesis:
But Spergel says he is concerned that the team has not accounted for variations in the noise level of WMAP data acquired over different parts of the sky. WMAP examined different sky regions for different amounts of time. Maps of the microwave background generated from those regions studied the longest would have lower noise and smaller recorded variations in the temperature of the microwave glow. Those lower-noise maps could artificially produce the circles that Penrose and Gurzadyan ascribe to their model of a cyclic universe, Spergel says.
Another insightful news article puts Penrose's hypothesis in the following context:
The Big Bang model holds that everything that now comprises the universe was once concentrated in a single point of near-infinite density. Before this singularity exploded and the universe began, there was absolutely nothing - indeed, it's not clear whether one can even use the term "before" in reference to a pre-Big-Bang cosmos, as time itself may not have existed yet. In the current model, the universe began with the Big Bang, underwent cosmic inflation for a fraction of a second, then settled into the much more gradual expansion that is still going on, and likely will end with the universe as an infinitely expanded, featureless cosmos.

Sir Roger Penrose, one of the most renowned physicists of the last fifty years, takes issue with this view. He points out that the universe was apparently born in a very low state of entropy, meaning a very high degree of order initially existed, and this is what made the complex matter we see all around us (and are composed of) possible in the first place. His objection is that the Big Bang model can't explain why such a low entropy state existed, and he believes he has a solution - that the universe is just one of many in a cyclical chain, with each Big Bang starting up a new universe in place of the one before.

How does this help? Well, Penrose posits the end of each universe will involve a return to low entropy. This is because black holes suck in all the matter, energy, and information they encounter, which works to remove entropy from our universe. (Where that entropy might go is another question entirely.) The universe's continued expansion into eventual nothingness causes the black holes themselves to evaporate, which ultimately leaves the universe in a highly ordered state once again, ready to contract into another singularity and set off the next Big Bang.
Indeed, as the following quote from physorg.com makes clear:
The discovery [i.e., Penrose's hypothesis] doesn't suggest that there wasn't a [single] Big Bang - rather, it supports the idea that there could have been many of them. The scientists explain that the CMB circles support the possibility that we live in a cyclic universe, in which the end of one “aeon” or universe triggers another Big Bang that starts another aeon, and the process repeats indefinitely. The black hole encounters that caused the circles likely occurred within the later stages of the aeon right before ours, according to the scientists.
In an article from physicsworld.com, Julian Barbour, a visiting professor of physics at the University of Oxford, makes the following statement:
[Penrose's] circles would be "remarkable if real and sensational if they confirm Penrose's theory". They would, he says, "overthrow the standard inflationary picture", which, he adds, has become widely accepted as scientific fact by many cosmologists. But he believes that the result will be "very controversial" and that other researchers will look at the data very critically. He says there are many disputable aspects to the theory, including the abrupt shift of scale between aeons and the assumption, central to the theory, that all particles will become massless in the very distant future. He points out, for example, that there is no evidence that electrons decay.
The Popular Science article offers the following quote:
By Penrose’s estimation, our universe is not the first – nor will it be the last – to spawn from a dense mass of highly-ordered everything into the complex universe we see around us. In fact, it’s that high degree of order that was apparently present at the universe’s birth that set him on this line of thought. The current Big Bang model doesn’t supply a reason as to why a low entropy, highly ordered state existed at the birth of our universe unless things were set in order before the Big Bang occurred.
It is respectfully submitted to the reader that the above quote is exceedingly important, because it illustrates two crucial points, and they are worth repeating:
  1. It’s the high degree of order that was apparently present at the universe’s birth that set Penrose on this line of thought.
  2. The current Big Bang model doesn’t supply a reason as to why a low entropy, highly ordered state existed at the birth of our universe unless things were set in order before the Big Bang occurred.
The Transudationist hypothesis states that the reason for the existence of the low entropy, highly ordered state that existed at the birth of the universe is that the "Big Bang" was in actuality a Big Seed. For a full discussion of the Transudationist hypothesis in this regard, please see the following article: A Hypothesis Favoring the Existence of a Creator.

Furthermore, as discussed in the following article, Thoughts on Stephen Hawking's new book The Grand Design, a number of ramifications flow from the hypothesis that the Big Bang was actually a Big Seed:
  • there is a Creator, but we do not know the identity of the Creator
  • the Creator - however conceptualized - is best perceived as a spiritual gardener
  • Nature, from the very small to the very large, is permeated by essences and holonic teleology
  • a "vital force" - what Sir Roger Penrose identifies as the incredible degree of "fine-tuning" present within the Big Bang - permeates the cosmos and teleologically brought about the organization of the solar systems and galaxies within the universe, as well as the organization found with DNA and RNA, the laws and forces of nature, atoms, physics and chemistry, etc.
  • matter evolves to Spirit via evolution
  • evolution is correct, scientific, and undeniable; evolutionism is, on the other hand, merely metaphysical nihilism
  • the cosmos is a living organism
  • the emergence of life/consciousness/sentience from an atom-like singularity, the exquisite balancing of the forces, laws, and substances of Nature required to induce said emergence, as well as the progression of the cosmos from a seed-like, minuscule singularity to today's visible universe - self-evidently support the above positions
Let us now proceed to examine Penrose's circles from the perspective of Transudationism.

From the perspective of Transudationism, Penrose's concentric circles are indicative of the life processes - the growth - of a living organism: an organic, holonic cosmic "tree of life." What Penrose is describing is indicative of a living "super-organism."

Furthermore, Penrose himself states that he does not know if his hypothesized succession of aeons is infinite or finite. Therefore, the problem of an infinite regress emerges: What caused the initial aeon? And to speculate even further and propose an infinite succession of aeons does not solve the problem of an infinite regress: Some force must, as Aristotle noted, act as the unmoved Mover.

Penrose also states that he does not know if the laws and forces of nature are the same in the other proposed aeons. But what if the laws and forces of nature are the same in the other aeons as they are in ours? That would make the universe (or, in Penrose's scheme, the succession of aeons) an entity capable of spawning a multitude - indeed, perhaps an endless succession - of life-engendering aeons. And what would that suggest?

And what if the laws and forces of nature in the other aeons aren't the same as they are in our aeon? As the above-cited BBC new article states:
This "conformal cyclic cosmology" (CCC) that Professor Penrose advocates allows that the laws of nature may evolve with time.
So, again, the universe is capable of evolving and thus ultimately engendering life.

In either case, the Transudationist hypothesis that the universe is a living organism is at least as compelling an argument as the materialist position that the universe is a dead, mindless, billiard-ball-esque cacophony. As stated previously in this article, Penrose is trying to find a materialist answer to the following question:
  • What is the reason for the existence of the low entropy, highly ordered state that existed at the birth of the universe
Again, what Penrose is proposing is an entity capable of spawning successive aeons (the present universe being but one such aeon). And because of the issue of infinite regress, it is appropriate to ask: What sort of creative power is necessary to initiate such an entity?

Assume, for the moment, that Penrose's hypothesis is correct; in that case, it is perfectly reasonable to postulate that each successive aeon is a living organism, that one aeon is "born" from the "seed" of the previous aeon, similar to the manner in which (in biology) a cell undergoes mitosis.

This view that the universe is a living organism has been bolstered by the recent discovery of the first organism that substitutes arsenic for phosphorous. An article appearing on the BBC new site states:
The first organism able to substitute one of the six chemical elements crucial to life has been found.

The bacterium, found in a California lake, uses the usually poisonous element arsenic in place of phosphorus.

The find, described in Science, gives weight to the long-standing idea that life on other planets may have a radically different chemical makeup.

It also has implications for the way life arose on Earth - and how many times it may have done so.

The "extremophile" bacteria were found in a briny lake in eastern California in the US.

While bacteria have been found in inhospitable environments and can consume what other life finds poisonous, this bacterial strain has actually taken arsenic on board in its cellular machinery.

Until now, the idea has been that life on Earth must be composed of at least the six elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus - no example had ever been found that violates this golden rule of biochemistry.

The bacteria were found as part of a hunt for life forms radically different from those we know."
In the same BBC article, Prof. Paul Davies goes on to say that:
At the moment we have no idea if life is just a freak, bizarre accident which is confined to Earth or whether it is a natural part of a fundamentally biofriendly universe in which life pops up wherever there are Earth-like conditions," explained Paul Davies, the Arizona State University and Nasa Astrobiology Institute researcher who co-authored the research.

"Although it is fashionable to support the latter view, we have zero evidence in favour of it," he told BBC News.
Prof. Davis goes on to state in the BBC article:
"This is just a weird branch on the known tree of life," said Professor Davies. "We're interested ultimately in finding a different tree of life... that will be the thing that will have massive implications in the search for life in the Universe."

The take-home message is: who knows what else is there? We've only scratched the surface of the microbial realm."
The Transudationist hypothesis maintains that - contrary to Prof. Davies' claim - there is evidence to suggest that life "is a natural part of a fundamentally biofriendly universe in which life pops up wherever there are Earth-like conditions."

Whether the visible universe is perceived as emerging from a singular seed, or from a succession of seeds, the Transudationist hypothesis maintains that what we are witnessing is the incremental emergence and unfolding of a teleological life-force - a vital force - in which we are immersed and by which we are permeated, and the ultimate end of these cosmic life processes is the cultivation of disembodied, incorporeal Consciousness-Spirit-Geist.

To gain an understanding of the socio-political ramifications of the Transudationist paradigm, please see the following article: The Declaration of White Independence: White America Has Found Its Mind.
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