Big Bangs… and Bangs… and Bangs…

There’s an interesting article in the February issue of Discover Magazine on the Big Bang theory—or rather, an alternative to the Big Bang theory. (No good link to the article itself, sorry; Discover only allows registered Discover subscribers to read the full article online.)

The gist of the alternative theory is that rather than having space and time starting at zero with the Big Bang, there is instead an eternal cycle of universal creation as our three-dimensional universe is actually part of a much larger reality (having up to 10 dimensions). Every so often (“so often” being a trillion years or more), our universe collides with another universe in this multi-dimensional reality and the resulting explosive reaction is essentially a Big Bang that expands, cools, condenses into matter and stars and galaxies, and eventually expands into near emptiness… only to start over again.

I like it as a theory, largely because it provides a simpler and more elegant explanation for the origin of the universe than the Big Bang theory has lately been providing. (Caveat: I’m not nearly as fluent in my physics and cosmology as I probably should be to discuss this.) I mean, dark energy—what is that? It’s like some kind of ugly, complicated kludge shoehorned into current thinking because no one understands why the universe’s expansion appears to be accelerating. From the article:

Theorists invoked another unknown energy field, called dark energy, to account for that cosmic acceleration. “This wasn’t really predicted at all,” says Steinhardt. “We can fit it into the model, but we don’t know what this so-called dark energy is. The standard model is definitely becoming more encumbered with time. It may still be valid, but the fact that we have to keep adding things is a bad sign.”

This alternate theory actually accounts for this expansion force as a by-product, without having to invoke dark energy. Elegance.

Interestingly, I see this analogous to programming. Ever tackled a programming problem with a solution that seemed to start out simple, maybe even obvious? Then, as certain situations come up, you start applying fixes, conditions, adding complexity until basically the “solution” to the problem has become a kludge. (Or maybe you started out with a kludge. Either way.) Then, one day you have a moment of clarity—either you stepped back from the problem for a bit, or maybe a coworker suggested something way too obvious, and then Bang!—you suddenly have a simple, elegant solution that solves the problem entirely.

Yeah. It’s kind of like that.