General relativity…of all of Einstein’s contributions to modern science, few outshine this set of principles which state, among other axioms, that the speed of light cannot be exceeded. Therefore the distance of an object correlates with the amount of time it takes light from that object to reach another object. Or put simply, it takes 1 million years for light from an object 1 million light years away to reach Earth. Time and space are not separate, but tightly interwoven together.
For decades physicists have interpreted general relativity through the lens of what is called the “cosmological principle.” In theory, this principle divorces us from our historic tendency to view Earth as the center of all creation. The University of Tennessee’s online “Astronomy 162” course, describes the cosmological principle,
“Viewed on sufficiently large distance scales, there are no preferred directions or preferred places in the Universe. Stated simply, this principle means that averaged over large enough distances, one part of the Universe looks approximately like any other part.”
This idea is also known as the “cosmological constant” which predicts uniformity in the universe across a spherical shell. This is, after all, what we tend to observe.
The presumption of a spherical shell is nothing new. The “celestial sphere” model, which put the Earth as the center of the universe with all the stars and planets circling around us, is also a spherical shell model. The most dramatic difference in these models is the re-assignment of Earth from the center of our solar system and replacing it with our sun. But in most other ways, both models assume a spherical uniformity to the rest of the visible universe.
This fundamental assumption of uniformity is at the heart of the perpetual universal expansion hypothesis which is broadly presumed to be established fact.
Perhaps it the combination of writer, scientist, and historian in me that always found that peculiar. After all, if relativity applies and it genuinely takes 10 billion years for light from an object 10 billion light years away to reach Earth, then WHY do physicists and astronomers almost universally use the PRESENT TENSE to describe an observation?
Genuinely, there is no such thing as a present tense when observing astronomical objects. All light takes anywhere from eight minutes to billions of years to reach our planet from any given star in the universe. Therefore we only know what a given object’s status was at the moment of time that given ray of light left its object, an object that may not (present tense) currently exist – but did exist x number of years ago. Any change in the object occurring after that time/space correlated distance will not be observed in this locality until potentially after our own sun dies out. This is the nature of time and space.
Yet there is something more fundamental to this axiom of a cosmological constant, to a big bang that infinitely expands in a fashion so universal and uniform that the universe itself looks completely the same no matter where in the universe one happens to be, that strikes me as illogical.
Nature is, overwhelmingly, NOT uniform. Whether we are talking about a planet, an apple, a river, or even the cells in your body, the habit of nature is irregularity. On a recent visit to an ophthalmologist, I learned just how irregular Nature likes to be. Upon detailed examination, the doctor discovered I have some irregularities in my cornea. These don’t really affect my ability to see in any measurable way; the irregularities are slight enough to not distort light. But they are enough to create ocular dryness. The irregularities affect distribution of my tears when I blink, creating tiny areas that don’t receive enough lubrication.
These natural irregularities in nature can be tiny (such as in my eye) or huge – such as the irregular meandering of rivers and streams. Perfectly straight lines, circles, spheres, and so forth are just not what Nature likes to do. It’s why everything and everyone in the universe are individuals. Irregularity makes us who we are!
Mathematics, by contrast, loves uniformity in all its artificiality, even when applied to irregular nature. The cosmological constant is therefore mathematical, not natural.
For me, all it took to understand the irregular nature of Nature was to look no further than Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Kepler was the first to observe that planetary orbits in our solar system are elliptical, not circular. Ellipses have two foci, not one like in a circle. Spheres are three dimensional circles. So why, given our own planetary orbits are ellipses, assume a circular/spherical evolution of the universe from the Big Bang?
For me, this is simply not logical. I therefore see the cosmological constant as a flawed idea inconsistent with even our most basic observations of our own solar system orbits. Irregularity, not symmetry, is the true universal constant.
For me, the universe expanded in an elliptical pattern with some areas still expanding and others perhaps reaching their maximum expansion distance in favor of either contraction back towards the Big Bang’s locality or perhaps some other fate. Recognizing that the universe is as alive as any river on Earth, I glory it its irregularities, with the potential for so much more learning than we ever dreamed possible.
Let us discard the celestial spheres of the years when the Church controlled scientific discovery in favor of a dynamic universe that we can all discover, divorced of human and Earth centrism. Whether the object is a million light years away…or a million millimeters, let us all open our hearts and minds to true scientific discovery and through these discovers, find the beauty in all things.