#4334 - Tuesday, August 9, 2011 - Editor: Jerry
Interview with Dr. Ramesam Vemuri, conducted by Paul
Marvelly for Advaita Academy
Paula: Before the Big Bang, what existed and how did the
present shape of the world come about?
Ramesam: Perhaps it is first essential to know what
we understand by the words Big Bang before proceeding to know what was there
prior to it.
The words Big Bang give us an
impression of a huge explosion. So we want to know what it was that exploded.
The fact is there was no explosion, no Bang!
The name Big Bang was coined
in a derisive sense by Professor Fred Hoyle to a concept that opposed his own
theory about the universe. The amusing thing is that the name Big Bang stuck to
this concept, but it was Hoyles theory that was discarded!
So the Big Bang was essentially
a concept. It was a concept derived based on Einsteins theories. If we work
back in time, the size of the universe, using Einsteins equations, we end up
with an extremely small, extremely heavy and extremely hot point, which appears
to have expanded into the universe we have today by gradual cooling. The Big
Bang in a way refers to this rate of expansion of the universe.
Though this theory has been
able to explain a lot of physical phenomena associated with the universe,
physicists have been always very uncomfortable with this theory when it comes to
describing the properties of that point source, which is supposed to have
expanded. The technical name for the point source is singularity. No known
physical laws are applicable here; that is to say that meaningless infinities
are obtained as answers if we try to estimate the physical parameters at
Further, the theory was unable
to explain the shape of the universe. Therefore, physicists have always been on
the lookout for a more convincing theory. Alan Guth in the eighties thought of a
very rapid phase of expansion immediately preceding the Big Bang, and this was
described as the inflationary phase of the universe.
Assumption of an inflationary phase could explain certain features of the
universe the shape, the graininess, and so on.
So what existed before the Big
Bang was inflation. Though this concept of inflation has got a wider acceptance
amongst physicists, doubts are still being raised if it really did happen. Some
of the objections for the theory of inflation are: Highly improbable conditions
are required to start inflation. Worse, inflation goes on eternally, producing
infinitely many outcomes, so the theory makes no firm observational
Now, if we reframe your
question to what it was that inflated, we have no definitive answers.
Steinhardt from Princeton and Turok from Cambridge, who is now at Perimeter
Institute in Canada, came up with a theory that matter cannot be compressed
infinitely to a point; in other words, singularities cannot exist in
nature. After reaching a certain minimum size, it will rebounce and begin
again to expand. So they conceived that our universe expanded from a
pre-existing minimum size universe. This gives the possibility of alternate
expansions and contractions of the universe. This is christened as cyclic
model of the origin of the universe. Later on, they reformed the theory
extending the concepts from String Theory. And they said that our universe is
a 4-dimensional Brane floating in 5-D space and colliding with another Brane
once in a trillion years. Brane is a fancy name for membrane an imaginary
object or surface of 0 to 9 number of dimensions in String Theory.
Because of the fact that the
cyclic model is so much in resemblance with what the Eastern religions conceived
of about the universe repeated creations and dissolutions this theory
received some criticism as being influenced by religious thought. There are
other theories also based on the strings that postulate multiple universes or
Michio Kaku compares the
multiverse to a bubble bath. Each bubble represents a universe. There are
multiple universes bubbling, colliding and budding off each other all the time,
he conceives. One big advantage of a multiverse concept is that it solves the
problem of why the laws of physics in our universe seem to be fine-tuned to
allow life and us sitting comfortably here. If you change the mass of the
proton, the charge on the electron, or any of an array of other constants, wed
all be dead. Why is this so? Did someone create this special universe for us?
The multiverse explains the problem without resorting to the supernatural. If
there are infinite universes, each one can have different physical laws, and
some of them will have those that are just right for us.
Then there is a suggestion that
the universe is made up of Planck-size, space-time atoms, which keep on coming
together, form universes, break up and bounce off. However, it did not get much
acceptance. More recently a lone physicist came up with an idea of the
application of Lie groups to answer the origin of the universe.
Whatever may be the theory,
what we have to appreciate is that they are all basically conjectures, concepts.
All concepts are thoughts. We may have more faith in a particular concept
because it satisfies certain logical and other predictive criteria we may have
set as a priori conditions. As Robert M. Pirsig said in his famous book, Zen and
the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The ancients had their ghosts to explain
things and we have atoms now! or something to that effect.
Therefore, if the Big Bang is a
concept, what could exist prior to this concept? Will it not be another concept,
devised and designed through some logic that you feel comfortable to be with and
convincing at a given point of time?
The ancient sages also
conceived of different models to explain the origin of the universe. Some of
these look pretty unconvincing and even hilarious to us. But the point to be
remembered is that the sages too in the end said that the whole issue of a
universe being there at all, or someone creating a universe, itself is a
conception; simply, an imagination. No thing, including a universe, is
actually ever there. These are the Nondualists of ajativada, nothing is ever
I may say in passing that the
latest view of theoretical physicists is that space and time are not truly
properties of the universe at a fundamental level. The space and time emerge
somehow like food between the stove and dining table. Of course, I should
admit that the physics and math involved is far too beyond me. But these
concepts are quite nearer to what Vedanta says.
Recently, I heard David
Christians talk at TED. He tells the tale of the entire universe in 15 minutes,
from the Big Bang 13 billion years ago to present day, albeit in a different
Read the entire interview here: