August 6, 2010

Book Review: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang

Image: Michael J. Windsor,
Stewart Dickson, Doubleday
Challenging something so well established like the Big Bang Theory is no easy task. But Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok have done exactly that, presenting a contender, called the Cyclic Theory, in their book Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang. The theory claims that there has been a violent event that took place 14 billion years ago, like the Big Bang model, but it was not the beginning of the universe. Instead, this event was just one of many like it that take place regularly. In the evolution of the universe, Steinhardt and Turok say, there has been, and there will be a “Big Bang” about every trillion years. According to the theory, we live in just one of these cycles defined by the violent events.

One of the biggest reasons why this new theory is particularly appealing is a result of the nature of its competition. The Big Bang Theory has been heavily modified over its long history in order to match what we see in the universe. What started as something simple and appealing has grown into somewhat of a monstrous patchwork. Plus, the Big Bang Theory leaves unexplained how the violent event could be the beginning of the universe. The Cyclic Theory, in comparison, is much simpler and, as the two physicists repeatedly claim, fits current observations just as well as the Big Bang Theory.

This is why I found Endless Universe so interesting. The theory is very unique and refreshing, and the evidence that it uses to support its claims seem very sound. Although the book involves a few confusing topics that are foreign to most people, like the concept of branes, the authors explain these very well in a manner most common people can easily understand. The authors also include their personal stories in developing their model, explaining their motivations for a new revolutionary theory, which lend further to the support of the Cyclic Theory.

After finishing the book, I cannot say for sure if the Cyclic Theory is correct. In fact, the true answer can only come as more observations are performed, in areas like the study of gravitational waves. Either or both of the Big Bang and Cyclic Theories can be easily eliminated in a quick sweep with just one decisive new finding.

Still, there is great value in reading the book since it exemplifies the true nature of science, the continual quest to find a simple and true way to explain nature. It is an integral part of one of the most interesting times in cosmology, when we are presented with several plausible competing theories which all have great implications about the nature of the universe.

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