PARADIGM SHIFTS IN COSMOLOGY

Whenever we look up into the night sky, we are mesmerized by the vastness of space. We begin to wonder how our earth came into existence? How the whole universe came into existence? What lies beyond our Earth? No doubt these questions have entered man’s mind since we acquired the ability to think. Perhaps that is why almost all schools of philosophy try to answer such questions. And it’s not just philosophy but even science that tries to find definite answers to such questions by scientific methods.

Moving beyond mythology, the early Greek philosophers tried to answer the question of creation with a single first principle, which was responsible for the existence of all mater. For Thales, the renowned philosopher who is fabled to have fallen into a well while gazing at the stars above, it was water. For Anaximenes air, for Anaximander – the boundless matter. For Heraclitus, it was ever changing fire while for the Pythagoreans it was the abstract ‘numbers’. Moving a little ahead, Aristotle propounded the theory that Earth was the center of the cosmos and all other heavenly bodies revolve around it. This theory of Aristotle remained widely popular and authoritative until Copernicus and his successors. Another significant contribution from this time period was the atomistic theory given by Leucippus and Democritus, according to which the basic unit of everything was a large number of atoms which combined to form compounds.

If we try to sneak a peek into the Indian philosophical schools, we find cosmology mostly mixed up with mythology and theology. However, a somewhat similar atomistic theory is found in the Vaishesika School which proposes that all material objects of the world are composed of the smallest, indivisible, eternal particle called ‘paramaanu’ (atom). These atoms are said to be of four kinds- of earth, water, fire, and air.

Almost 2000 years after Aristotle, Copernicus formulated a theory of the universe which placed Sun at the centre of the universe and the other heavenly bodies revolving around it. His theory, although slow to catch on, was sensational and inspired further significant works like Kepler’s laws of planetary motion which further led to Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. Later in 1609, Galileo Galilei was one of the first astronomers to approve Copernicus’s theory on the basis of his astronomical observations.

In 1917, with the publication of Einstein theory of general relativity, the modern scientific era of cosmology began. On the basis of Einstein’s theory, physicists began theorizing a new cosmological model which is now better known as the Big Bang theory as proposed by Georges Lemaître in 1927. According to it, the whole universe expanded from a primal high density, high-temperature singularity. More pieces of evidence have come up which have made this theory so strong that it is now the most widely accepted theory. One such evidence has been the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which the theory had predicted to be released at the time of the Big Bang. The other significant evidence has been the observation that space continues to expand as our nearby galaxies continue to move away from us, this is better known as cosmic inflation. More research continues to be done upon this theory till date.

Another relatively new cosmological theory is the M-theory or the string theory which tries to reconcile Einstein’s theory of relativity with Quantum physics, trying to explain the origin of the four fundamental forces- gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force and thereby trying to explain the origin of Big Bang itself. The key theorist behind this theory is considered to be Gabriele Veneziano. Its basic import is that all objects in the world consist of vibrating filaments, i.e. strings, of energy. It assumes certain special mind-boggling features like the existence of several other dimensions which exist in tiny spaces. This theory further leads to the idea of multiverses or parallel universes, the imaginative execution of which can be found in the movie Interstellar.

Fascinated by all these different theories, my mind came up with its own cosmological theory, which can be understood from an analogy. If we zoom inside our body we find many tiny, microbes living their own relative existence in their own universe, possibly unaware of our existence. However, if we zoom out of the earth, even out of the observable universe and try to conceive of this idea- what if we, our whole universe is also just a tiny speck inside someone’s body, the existence of whom is beyond our scientific explanations? And such a series of beings inside other beings going on till infinity?
Of course, it’s just an imaginative idea in my head but I was able to find few more similar fascinating ideas on the internet, as well as a lot of criticism since this hypothesis obviously can’t be proved by scientific inquiry. Anyhow, what’s the harm in thinking new ideas and edifying ourselves!!!
What matters is trying to understand the cosmos as the famous astronomer Carl Sagan says “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.”

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