The Shape of the Universe

The model described in this article — the “Big Bounce” instead of the Big Bang — is potentially a big deal.

Quanta Magazine: Big Bounce Simulations Challenge the Big Bang

Big-Bounce-graphic.v2-1107x1720

This new simulation is merely theoretical at this point and may be discarded in a week, but I believe it’s important to think about all the same — because Christianity did something very strange to the Western conception of time: It introduced an end.

To be very clear, I have exactly zero interest in debating religion. That stopped being enlightening my sophomore year in college. Allow that I understand there are many layers to the faith, and that I don’t think it’s silly. This is not a criticism. It’s a description.

In the Hindu conception of time, as with most classical conceptions, creation is cyclical/eternal. While certain scriptures toy metaphorically with a beginning, there is no end. We are presently in the Kali yuga, the last of four divine ages, which is supposed to last 1200 divine years, or 432,000 human ones. The Kali yuga is the era of decline and decadence. Things not only get worse from here, it’s a loooong way down. Since the Kali yuga only started on February 17th, 3102 BC, we have another 426,879 years of worsening shit — and you thought 2020 was bad! — at which point everything falls apart and the universe is born again into the Satya yuga, or era of truth, when virtue and goodness will rule again.

(It’s funny how religious calenderizations of creation, including Bishop Paley’s, put the end of the good ol’ days at the beginning of civilization, as if reflecting Sartre’s supposition that Hell is other people.)

The details of this account are less important than the shape. The classical calendar is a circle rather than a line. There is no rapture or final judgment. There is a reclamation of virtue, but it too will fade as the Satya yuga falls to the Treta and then the Dvapara and finally the Kali again, around and around.

The current scientific account follows the Christian rather than the Hindu model. It agrees with Bishop Paley that the universe not only had a discrete beginning, a moment of fiery creation, but that it also has an end, the so-called heat death, when all lights go out.

If the theoretical extrapolations described in the article were ever shown to be true, then our universe is closer to the classical conception and the lights aren’t going to go out. They will for us, but they’ll flicker back for the next crew of spaceship creation.

Such a universe puts the question of origin effectively out of reach, since a series of repeated contractions will, like a multi-pass wipe of your hard drive, erase information about cycles distant — meaning Hamlet was right and the universe is deeper and more mysterious than we presently imagine.

I think it matters. Even though each of us is individually so distant from the heat death as to make no difference, I think it matters if we believe the universe is mortal, like us, and that we’re fundamentally special — “chosen” — to be one of a finite number of individuals who get to experience it, or whether everything in existence is continually renewed in a cycle without a knowable beginning or end.

As is probably clear, I prefer the latter.