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Find Out About the Future of Science 446

Posted by Roblimo
from the and-we-thought-the-answer-was-'42' dept.
Science magazine writer Charles Seife has written a new book, Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe. According to Publishers Weekly, Charles claims, "Scientists...now know how the universe will end and are on the brink of understanding its beginning. Their findings will be among the greatest triumphs of science, even towering above the deciphering of the human genome." A brave statement! Charles is happy to answer your questions about ongoing research that is busily revealing the basic nature of life, the universe, and everything in a serious (as opposed to humorous) sense, so ask away. One question per post, please. We'll post the answers as soon as we get them beck.
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Find Out About the Future of Science

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  • Publishing hype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BobTheLawyer (692026) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:02PM (#6606631)
    do you get embarassed by publishing hype such as "Scientists...now know how the universe will end"?
    • Re:Publishing hype (Score:2, Insightful)

      by capt.Hij (318203)

      Probaly not as long as book publishers don't mind broadcasting things like:

      This is the book you need to help understand the frequent front-page headlines heralding dramatic cosmological discoveries. It makes cutting-edge science both crystal clear and wonderfully exciting.

      Here in the US, I would hardly call news stories about science as "frequent front-page headlines." It usually takes some debate over creationism vs. evolution to make it into the media now-a-days.

    • by valkraider (611225) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:14PM (#6606771) Journal
      It's at lease as good as "Scientists now know the earth is the center of the Universe" and "Scientists now know the earth is flat, and held up by 4 huge Elephants standing on tortoises." Kind of like the Theodoric of York: Medieval Barber from Saturday Night Live:

      "Why, just a few years ago we would have thought your child's condition to be caused by demonic possesion. But thanks to modern medical science we now know that it is caused by a toad or small dwarf living in the boy's stomach."
    • We DO know how it will end. We also know when it will end: when you punks stop buying our books!
    • Re:Publishing hype (Score:3, Informative)

      by fafalone (633739)
      The universe will end through a heat death. This actually is a recent finding of very great signifance. This fate for the universe was determined through measurement of the composition of the universe, as measured with great accuracy by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. The results from the probe indicate that the universe is composed of 73% dark energy, which eventually leads to the conclusion that there is insufficient gravitational energy to cause a "big crunch", and that combined with the measur
  • As much as I support the search for knowledge and think this is amazing. Isn't there some fun in mystery? I don't mean in the religious way, but more in the ponder about where we come from way.
    • by rde (17364) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:42PM (#6607068)
      There are two points to be made here, methinks:
      1. Scientists may know /now/ how the universe started and will end, but in a lot of the details - and possible the final outcomes - they're almost certainly wrong. A few short years ago we know exactly how Jupiter was formed; then Galileo dropped a probe into the atmosphere, and suddenly more questions arose. Now no-one knows why its atmosphere or its winds are the way they are. Science is littered with such examples; particularly cosmology. How recently is it that we didn't even know gamma ray bursts existed? There'll always be stuff we haven't accounted for, so theories will always be based on incomplete data.

      Which brings me nicely to point two: supposing our Brainiacs are right? That's hardly the mystery taken out of everything; questions abound, and always will. Maybe when we're all in our Vorlon-like encounter suits we'll have a decent understanding of the part of the universe that we can see; before then, there'll always be questions.
      • Maybe when we're all in our Vorlon-like encounter suits we'll have a decent understanding of the part of the universe that we can see; before then, there'll always be questions.

        Nice reference, especially in this context.

        How many other B5 fans out there were a bit amused when the Vorlons and the Shadows came off as such pussies when the time came to explore "past the rim?" Here B5 had spent several seasons building them up to be damn-near omnipotent, and they need that "first" guy (can't remember his

  • by sstory (538486) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:04PM (#6606658) Homepage
    You're quoted as saying, "Scientists...now know how the universe will end and are on the brink of understanding its beginning. Their findings will be among the greatest triumphs of science, even towering above the deciphering of the human genome." Is it also your belief that the consequences of understanding the beginning of the universe will approach the transformation of living that we're just beginning to see from the deciphering of the genome?
    • Speaking as someone who worked on a couple of the genome projects, it's a real apples-and-oranges comparison. Genome sequencing and assembly was an enormous technical challenge that produced a resource that will make future biomedical research much more effective. It didn't offer anything breathtakingly new (despite the hype to the contrary).

      On the other hand, a real understanding of the start of the universe addresses perhaps _the_ core question of natural philosophy. Beyond what new understanding of matte

      • It didn't offer anything breathtakingly new (despite the hype to the contrary).

        I would post an addendum to this. "yet....." Genome sequencing is just the beginning of the process of understanding how systems work and how they pathologically fail. As you know, sequencing is simply finding out which genes are which. Finding out what they do and in which combinations is now going to be the hard work that could not be accomplished without the knowledge provided by genome analysis.

        Combinatorial analysis i
    • "the transformation of living that we're just beginning to see from the deciphering of the genome? "
      What the? The human genome project is a cool way to spend a humongous pile of cash. And it'll help things along. But don't buy the hype train being spewed out to justify spending all that money and time. There's no revolution coming down the pipeline due to the HGP.
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:05PM (#6606676)
    the Universe will end with a cliff hanger to set things up for Universe II
  • Question: (Score:5, Funny)

    by cybercuzco (100904) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:06PM (#6606688) Homepage Journal
    Since we now know how the universe will end, would it be possible to set up some sort of restaurant there?
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:07PM (#6606694) Homepage Journal

    So... How will the Universe end? Big Crunch, Dark & Cold, Equilibrium, Giant Black Holes, Act of God, or... what?

    And, of course, how can you be so sure of that? [Add "You, Insensitive Clod!" to this last question for the humorous touch...]

    Whatever theory you build today will only be validated in, what? A dozen billion years? More? So what makes you so sure you know the ned of the Universe today?

    Please note: this is really a serious question. I am interested in the End of the Universe as we know it. Thanks for your answers!
    • So what makes you so sure you know the ned of the Universe today?

      Who knows? Maybe he really has met Mr Gates in person....
    • So... How will the Universe end? Big Crunch, Dark & Cold, Equilibrium, Giant Black Holes, Act of God, or... what?

      The default, most natural extrapolation is that it will end in a "heat death", ever expanding, with the expansion ever accelerating. Clusters of galaxies will stay clumped together and will die their little isolated heat deaths, but the clusters will be moving away from each other so fast that they'll move out of causal contact with each other, and eventually we won't be able to see any

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:11PM (#6606745)
    Can we explain the expansion of the universe and why the rate is changing? Can we claim to know how the universe will end if we can't answer that?
    • by kramer2718 (598033) on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:23PM (#6607491) Homepage
      When I took an Astronomy course, I learned that scientists have observed that the Universe expanding more rapidly than in the past and that expansion is accelerating. From this our prof drew the conclusion that Universe would expand forever in heat death.

      The thing I don't understand is why we can conclude that from measuring the second derivative of the size of the Universe (acceleration). If the third derivative were negative, it wouldn't matter (to the fate of the Universe) that the first two were positive. The Universe would still end in a big crunch, right? How closely have scientists measured the function that governs the size of the Universe? And what do they know about it?
  • Universe's container (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bios10h (323061) <`s' `at' `binarez.com'> on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:11PM (#6606748) Homepage
    It's a question I've had for a long time and I sometimes think about it and it freaks me out :) no really. Ok, we "know" (until someone else proves it's wrong) how the universe is going to end. We are about to "know" how it really started. Great! However, when we are talking about the universe... we are assuming that it is infinite. I just have a hard time with this Infinite Universe concept... the universe NEEDS to be contained within something... however, even if we discover the container... it will end up being a part of our definition of universe and then we'll need to search for the container's container. Anyway, any thoughts on that?
    • I'm not a physicist, but I think it's finite - multiply the age by the speed of light. However, it's also unbounded. Think of a 4D analog to the surface of a sphere.
      • by rknop (240417)

        I'm not a physicist, but I think it's finite - multiply the age by the speed of light.

        That's just the observable Universe, which is indeed bounded by a "horizon" as you say.

        The best current indication of the geometry of the Universe, though, is that it's flat, not a 4d analog to the surface of a sphere, which means that it is in fact infinite, or at the least a whole heck of a lot larger than the size of the observable Universe. We can't observe all of that, because light from anything beyond our "

    • Just because we can't currently wrap our minds around a concept (I have a hard time with it too!) doesn't mean that the universe can't grasp it. We're limited in what we can perceive if we rely on direct observation only, but that doesn't mean that something larger and more meaningful doesn't exist than what lies immediately in front of us.

      The best we can do at this point is make broad assumptions based on what we are given, but the concept of intelligent design I think gives us a larger intellectual pla

      • You mean, "God just made it like this, okay?" I'm sorry, that doesn't constitute anything akin to knowing or understanding. Furthermore, we have no choice but to accept an experimental fact - God serves no purpose here.
    • by MegaFur (79453) <wyrd0@koEEEmy.zzn.com minus threevowels> on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:15PM (#6607415) Journal
      Brace yourself. Infinity within a container coming right up... drum roll please...

      (0,1)

      ta da! In case you can't read the notation, that's all the real numbers between 0 and 1 but excluding 0 and 1 themselves. There are infinitely many of them, but they are bounded by 0 and 1 (a container). Also note: although 0 and 1 were used in the definition of this interval, they are not actually a part of it.

      Perhaps the real problem is that infinity is a hard concept. I don't think we humans can ever truly understand it. But we can still throw it around in math and physics problems and come up with interesting results.
  • by Lane.exe (672783) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:13PM (#6606766) Homepage
    Supposing a collapse-type end of the universe, is there any possibility that this could result in another big-bang type event, which would really make this not an "end" of the universe, but something more akin to a "reboot" of the universe?

    • I think the current belief is that it's going to tear itself apart, eventually even tearing the atoms apart. And the last I heard the time scale was uncertain, but a lot closer than the big crunch prediction, even closer than the prior "time to maximal expansion" predictions. (OTOH, this is just in the last couple of years, so who know what tomorrow's predictions will bring.)

      Search for "dark energy" for references.
    • SYSTEM ERROR: Your universe has crashed, please push the reset button to resume operation. Note that all unsaved data will be lost.
  • Dark Matter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by notcreative (623238) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:14PM (#6606772) Journal
    I remember from college courses that the composition of dark matter is one of the most important issues in cosmology today. One example of this importance is that there are some estimates that 90% [utk.edu] of the mass of galaxies is not visible. There was some work [nasa.gov] that was presented to the public a while ago from WMAP at NASA. I read that it had implications for the sources of dark matter, but I don't understand what they are.

    Since it is something of an open issue, what is the current understanding of the nature of dark matter in our universe? What kinds of questions are still being investigated? What kinds of hypotheses do we have now, and what do they imply?

    • Re:Dark Matter (Score:3, Interesting)

      by prgrmr (568806)
      Actually, the outstanding question is whether or not neutrinos have mass. If they do, then the need for Dark Matter[tm] goes away. If they don't, we still have brown dwarf stars, undiscovered planets, and the effects of elector-magnetic currents on stars still not quite 100% accounted for within the current cosmological model.

      Dark Matter, as an esoteric, non-euclidian form of matter, is still, IMO, nothing more than the late 20th century equivalent of the luminiferous aether of the 19th century, and mer
      • Re:Dark Matter (Score:5, Informative)

        by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:20PM (#6607466)
        Actually, the outstanding question is whether or not neutrinos have mass. If they do, then the need for Dark Matter[tm] goes away. If they don't, we still have brown dwarf stars, undiscovered planets, and the effects of elector-magnetic currents on stars still not quite 100% accounted for within the current cosmological model.

        Dark Matter, as an esoteric, non-euclidian form of matter, is still, IMO, nothing more than the late 20th century equivalent of the luminiferous aether of the 19th century, and merely a convenient algorythmic placeholder, until proven otherwise.


        Actually, things turn out to work a little differently.

        First of all, neutrino oscillation experiments confirm pretty convincingly that neutrinos do have mass. Rough bounds on the amount of mass have already been placed. The best numbers to date say that massive neutrinos can account for some, but far from all, of the dark matter effects observed.

        Second of all, brown dwarfs and other "massive compact halo objects" would be baryonic dark matter - and there are good arguments for most of the dark matter being non-baryonic. A summary of some of these arguments can be found here [princeton.edu] (it's multiple pages; follow the links).

        Third of all, I have not heard a convincing argument that EM effects in stars relate to the dark matter problem. There is one reseaercher who keeps publishing papers about the galaxy acting as a dynamo, with large-scale EM effects determining structure, but many holes have been poked in this proposed model (a few came up in previous slashot articles).

        There are some questions about the galactic magnetic field (why it has one as strong as it does, if I recall correctly), but the observed field has negligeable effect on the movements of stars within the galaxy.

        In summary, there really does seem to be some kind of exotic dark matter present in large quantity, and we already have several candidates for components of it.
    • dark _energy_ is IMHPO rather more interesting; current thinking is that this is what drives inflation, and is responsible for the fact that the rate of expansion of space/time is actually INCREASING rather than decreasing as one would intuitively imagine. So this force has fluctuated several times since the big bang. First from 0 to a high value (inflationary era.) Then the value drops back to a low value (near 0? I don't know) in the aftermath of inflation, as the universe as we know it starts to form - m
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:16PM (#6606791) Homepage Journal
    We'll post the answers as soon as we...Get them Beck.

    Whoa there, no need to get nasty. We'll post them questions as soon as we thinks them up. What kind of name is Beck for a dog anyway.

  • by stratjakt (596332) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:18PM (#6606819) Journal
    Theoretical physicists and astronomers don't "know" anything by definition. They guess using the best mathematical and scientific models they have at their disposal.

    Science used to "know" the world was flat. They used to "know" that the sun revolved around the earth, and that the human heart worked just like a furnace.

    Then, one day, some guy sailed over the horizon and didnt fall off. A pump was invented, and the notion of a heart as a pump came to being.

    Each time people had thought they'd reached the pinnacle of understanding, and had all the answers. Then paradigms shifted, and completely changed our ways of thinking, and all our previous answers and theories were null and void.

    What makes you so sure that this isnt simply happening again?
  • Lee Smolin et al (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cally (10873) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:21PM (#6606845) Homepage
    (I realise this work is more than jsut Lee Smolin's, but he wrote the book I read about it a few years ago.)

    As I understand it, there is a serious strand of thought in cosmology that suggests that our universe may be only one of (an infinite number of) alternatives. A small finite area in a parent universe undergoes inflation and blows up like a very fast balloon; for observers within this bubble, theirs is the only universe. Smolin also talks about how this hypothesis might tie in with the six magic physical constants which, if their values were even slightly different, would cause totally different physical conditions within our universe. If the inflationary bubbles occur within singularities, they would also be unknowable to their parent universe. A universe with lots of black holes would tend to give rise to offspring that would also have lots of black holes, and vice versa. I'm badly mangling his explanation of this ! but he provides an IMHO elegant explanation for the phenomena of these numbers' values appearing to have been tuned very precisely to the values neccessary for "our" sort of universe, and hence, life, and ultimately us and any other observers out there.

    What's your opinion of this? It seems to me that this hypothesis makes no testable predictions and so falls beyond the remit of the scientific method. Is it just a smart way of talking around the anthropic principle, or might this be one of the key concepts to help tie up the loose ends in the standard model?

  • by Mothra the III (631161) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:22PM (#6606859)
    I will pay out 10 to 1 odds upon end of the universe that it ends in a different fashion they they propose. Please send me any amount of money and if I am wrong I will immediately pay out all winners upon destruction of everything.
  • Science has always been trimming away at the domains of philosophy and religon (Zeus isn't throwing lightning bolts anymore). It seems likely that we will have a Theory of Everything within the next few hundred years and the bulk of questions religon and philosophy try to asnwer will be hammered down to a single equation. Much of our perception of our place in the world comes from our personal understanding of the mysical universe. If the NY Times printed the TOE tomorrow, how do you feel this will effec
  • by geeber (520231) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:25PM (#6606890)
    It's well known that our view of the world around us was radically changed by Einstein, Heisenberg, and other scientists of their day. Einstein gave us relativity, and Heisenberg ushered in quantum mechanics (of course Einstein and his explanation of the photo-electric effect). Both of these thoeries led to radical departures from well established theories. However, there were, at the time, known physical effects that could not be explained by then current theories, i.e. the above mentioned photo-electric effect, blackbody radiation, Michelson's measurement of the speed of light, etc. etc. that make it clear in hindsight that the a profound shift in understanding was required.

    My question is what, if any then, are the areas where we need similar paradigm shifts to answer current outstanding questions? It seems to me, at least, that maybe there aren't any, and today's scientists are left working harder and harder simply to add a few significant digits to existing theories. What are your thoughts?
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:27PM (#6606922) Homepage
    As we all know, market forces are omniscient and omnivident. The market suffereth long, and is kind; the market envieth not; the market vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.

    So, what we need is an online futures market in which cosmologists could put their money where their mouth is.

    You say the universe will collapse in a big splat in 20 billion years? Fine, bet on it. 20 billion years if the universe hasn't collapsed, you'd better pay off. 20 billion years' worth of interest should make you think carefully before mouthing off!

    You say there's a parallel universe nearby? OK, plunk down your money. If there is one, you win. (And your counterpart in the parallel universe, of course, loses. What point is there in parallel universes unless we can transfer money between them?)

    An asteroid might slam into the Earth a year from now, destroying all human life, but if you manage to pick the exact day it happens, you could be rich!
  • It is the kind of scientific prediction that is very safe to say. Who's going to be alive when this theory proves out (or doesn't)? What are the odds that this theory will even be remembered?

    More importantly, how is this theory really going to change anything? Because some scientists "knows" the universe will end in X manner, does that make a near-earth asteroid any less threatening? Ah well, fun stuff to read at the least.

  • by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:31PM (#6606964)
    So, which end are we certain will happen now - or rather, which end is the author hyping, since most scientists would still be reluctant to call this an open and shut case?

    Possible scenarios include:
    • The Big Crunch

      This fell out of favour a while back, when the need for a flat universe became apparent. In this scenario, the universe's espansion halts and it re-collapses. Once it was thought that this would involve time running backwards/entropy reversal during the crunch phase, but it was later shown that scenarios with increasing entropy also existed. There was much speculation about whether the universe would "bounce" after it crunched, forming a new expanding universe.
    • The Whimper, Version 1

      This scenario was popular when we'd made a detailed enough survey to know that that amount of bright matter in the universe was far too low to counteract the expansion. It fell out of favour when our estimates of the amount of dark matter got better.

      In this scenario, the universe keeps expanding quickly, and all matter that isn't gravitationally bound into clusters is separated by vast empty regions of space. As the universe's expansion represents the expansion of space itself, sufficiently large gravitationally bound clusters might still be disrupted, due to distances changing internally. Galaxies burn out as stars exhaust their fuel, stellar corpses eventually merge with each other and with the central black hole, which finally decays after a mind-bogglingly huge length of time.
    • The Flat Whimper (Version 2)

      This scenario assumes that the amount of matter - light and dark - is perfectly balanced with the expansion of the universe. There was strong circumstantial evidence for a scenario like this, due to the fact that deviations from flatness amplify over time and that our universe was still _roughly_ flat - but the linchpin was a variety of models for the early universe - and the big bang - that required the universe to be flat. More detailed measurements of the amount of dark matter in the universe seemed to be consistent with this model.

      In this scenario, the rate of expansion slows, approaching zero as time goes to infinity. Distance still goes to infinity as time goes to infinity, but not as rapidly. From a local point of view this looks a lot like Whimper Version 1.
    • Whimper Version 3 - We're Expanding Again

      This model arose when evidence for dark energy was discovered by observations of distant parts of the universe. In this model, the universe started out as flat, but a weak repulsive effect comes into play that causes expansion to accelerate. The effect is small enough that we haven't diverged that greatly from flatness yet, but in the end, it'll be Whimper Version 1 all over again. This is one of the two currently plausible scenarios.
    • The Never-Ending Fractal Universe (Steady-State Reborn)

      This model was the result of closer examination of the scalar field models used to drive inflation in the early universe. In the inflationary model - which itself was proposed to solve the problem of the universe's matter distribution being so smooth - a "scalar field" existed in the early universe that permeated space and caused vast amounts of new space to be created. In the original version of the inflationary model, this scalar field's effects died out shortly after the big bang. A later model, however, proposed that the field was not cancelled everywhere - in some regions of the universe, constructive interference would cause it to be strong enough for inflation to continue.

      Thus, we have a model where the universe looks mostly like our own, except for regions where it "buds" to form new universes. This process continues forever. This is the second scenario currently considered plausible (with the scalar field taking on the role of "dark energy").
    • Colliding Membranes

      This is the model proposed by
  • variable constants (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cally (10873) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:35PM (#6607000) Homepage
    As a layperson with an interest in cosmology and physics, I seem to hear about an increasing number of hacks to the Standard Model. By hacks I mean things like dark energy, whose value apparently fluctuates over (cosmological) timescales; there's another idea that the speed of light(I think?) ha varied over time, and that this is the only way to explain the cepheid data (supernovae of known brightness) as we get to see supernovae from further and further away (which occured further and further back in time of course.)

    Isn't the use of ugly hacks to prop up an established theory in the face of contradictory observations an indicator of a theory which needs to be chucked out en masse and reformulated in the light of a more fundamental description of physics?

    • Isn't the use of ugly hacks to prop up an established theory in the face of contradictory observations an indicator of a theory which needs to be chucked out en masse and reformulated in the light of a more fundamental description of physics?

      Sort of.

      It's actually an indication that a better model _might_ exist.

      Until we have a model in-hand that works at least as well as the current one, however, there's no justification for throwing out the current model (which still works quite well as an approximation
  • Universe Expansion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stranger4U (153613) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:37PM (#6607029)
    Do you think the evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating is concrete? And, what effect do you think this conclusion should/will have on humans?
  • True Random (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeremie (257) on Monday August 04, 2003 @12:42PM (#6607072) Homepage
    Is this universe actually capable of creating true near-infinite randomness, or are all the sources fundamentally affected by characteristics relating to the beginning (and/or end) and basic properties underlying them?
  • I have read several books on this and similar topics, such as The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. I find them fascinating, but I have a hard time taking it all in. It is hard to really understand this stuff, so I am sure it is harder to try and make it understandable to the general public.

    So I have somewhat of a two-part question:

    Because the ideas are hard to comprehend even for those who are willing to try and understand it, do you find even more resistence from people with strong religious beliefs?

  • What will it mean (Score:4, Insightful)

    by boatboy (549643) on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:00PM (#6607285) Homepage
    Assuming that scientists do answer the questions "How did the universe begin?" and "How will it end?", what are the implications for your life personally, and in your judgement for society as a whole? Final proof of such answers could have profound moral and sociological effect. For example, much of science is dedicated to these topics today- once the answers are set, what is tommorrow's "next big question"? On a personal level, how would you change if you knew for sure the answer to these questions? Would you see other people differently?
  • ...is actually recorded on the latest Kenny Loggins album. The Universe will collapse upon itself if one single person besides *The Loggins* actually listens to it...and if you rip it to an MP3, the RIAA will file a subpoena against you because they will claim they own the copyright to the recording...
  • by SirLanse (625210)
    If we are in one universe of many in the multiverse, what would the effects of another universe colliding with ours? Could the unseen others be causing the excelleration of the expansion that is now being seen?
  • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:20PM (#6607462) Homepage
    There have been some recent experiments, mostly spearheaded by Roger Nelson of the Princeton Global Consciousness Project, that show a correlation between human consciousness and quantum events. Some have speculated that consciousness may lay outside of what we know about physics.

    Do you think there will be any fruitful (i.e., predictive) experimentation in this matter? Could we someday develop a theory that will unite physics and consciousness?
  • The theories suggest that dark energy is a force that is thought to accelerate the universe's expansion rate, working much like a gravity force, only that it pulls the universe to the void surrounding it, instead of collapsing it. The superstring theory is supposed to contain the physics of the quantum behavior of gravity. Do you think these two theories could be connected, and could discovering how superstrings work explain what creates the dark energy? Is progress currently being in the research in these
  • How can you ever really be sure of cosmological answers without the ability to test and observe in a laboratory? It's not possible to recreate the Universe in a test tube to study it in detail, so it seems that your science will be forever held back by being stranded to a small blue and green ball called Earth.

    Do black holes really exist? Do singularities really exist? If not, what is there instead?

    If you're not sure of the answers to these questions, how can you be so sure about how the Universe will
  • One thing is sure. Our world will end long before the universe ends.

    Another thing is also quite sure. Our end will be brought on by the hordes of rabid American christians.

  • by v@mp (136150) on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:26PM (#6607515) Homepage
    I am a physics graduate student in theoretical cosmology and these types of claims irritate me. Sure, after WMAP measurements of the CMB combined with Lyman break galaxy data we have determined the cosmological parameters today such as lamda, omega_matter, sigma8, but we are far from understanding how the universe will end. For example, the dark energy (lambda) is what is forcing the expansion of the universe at present, but we don't know what the nature of the field driving the expansion is or even if it is constant or accelerating (quintessence theory).

    Even when we understand the dark energy it can not be hailed as a triumph above all other discoveries, because we don't know how galaxies form? How massive (primordial?) black holes at the centers of galaxies form? What re-ionized the universe? How even a single star forms?

    Unfortunately, this is also a view held by many older astronomers and physicists in academia, because they have pushed so hard for so long for the values of these fundamental parameters.

    None the less, the book looks interesting. I always enjoy books about science and scientists. My question for Chris Seife, which is related to his phenomenal statement, is: As a science writer, do you attempt to explain the hard science to people and if so do you feel it is important for scientist to try and explain their work to the public, or is it better to skip the details and just show them pretty pictures and cool stories? We all know that's what gets science funded.

  • Like, what made the big bang happen?

    God?

    Oh, who made God?

    SuperGod?

    Who made SuperGod?

    SuperDuperGod?

    Who made SuperDuperGod?

    Meanwhile, 500 billion light years away, another universe is big banging its way in our own universe but past the edge of our own big bang. Aliens from that universe will never see us and we will never see them, even though we are arranged in a convenient diagnonal, if viewed 20 trillion light years from above.

  • by LeoDV (653216) on Monday August 04, 2003 @01:59PM (#6607802) Journal
    Well... how?
  • Human Immortality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Daetrin (576516) on Monday August 04, 2003 @05:58PM (#6610016)
    How long do you think before drugs and other methods of reducing or eliminating the causes and symptoms of aging are available for general use?

    For example, methods for restoring telomere length, reversing the effects of glucose binding, correcting genetic damage, and promoting the growth of new neurons.

    How long do you think life can be extended by these and other methods? And to step briefly away from the science aspect, how do you think the results of this research will be offered to the public? Will it be available as part of the average health plan, or only for the uber-wealthy?

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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