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Space Science

First Mathematical Model of 13th Century 'Big Bang' Cosmology 60

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the pesky-time-traveling-physicists dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The 13th century thinker Robert Grosseteste is sometimes credited with predicting the Big Bang theory of cosmological expansion some eight centuries ahead of modern cosmologists. His theory, written in about 1225, is that the Universe began with a Big Bang-like explosion in which light expands in all directions giving matter its three-dimensional form. The expansion eventually stops when matter reaches a minimum density and this sets the boundary of the Universe. The boundary itself emits light towards the center of the universe and this interacts with matter, causing other nested spheres to form, corresponding to the fixed stars, the elements of earth, fire, water and so on. Now a team of physicists and experts on medieval philosophy have translated Grosseteste's theory into the modern language of mathematics and simulated it on computer. They say Grosseteste's theory produces universes of remarkable complexity but that only a tiny fraction of the parameter space corresponds to a universe of nested spheres like the one he predicted. What's interesting is that modern cosmologists face exactly the same problem. Their models predict many different kinds of universes and have to be fine-tuned to fit the universe we actually live in. 'The sensitivity to initial conditions resonates with contemporary cosmological discussion and reveals a subtlety of the medieval model which historians of science could never have deduced from the text alone,' conclude the team."
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First Mathematical Model of 13th Century 'Big Bang' Cosmology

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  • by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @12:15PM (#46464923)

    I was under the impression that 900 years ago was "history", rather than "news".

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      You must be new here.

      900 year old news? That's nothing. Wait until you discover trupes.

    • Not if you're a fan of the cyclical universe theory!
    • by OakDragon (885217)
      It took a few hundred more years before they discovered the Higgs Bison.
    • by mmell (832646)
      No data connectivity - took that long to get to the anchor desk. Sorry 'bout that!
  • Models (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @12:31PM (#46465109)

    What they're saying isn't that his model is excitingly accurate, but that his model amazingly exhibits the same fundamental sensitivities to parameters as our current ones.
    While Robert Grosseteste had a very crude model in terms of how he saw the universe (concentric spheres), his Big Bang idea was damn good and more importantly, his model is just like what we have now: for his model to work the way he specified it, he would need a very narrow band of parameters. He didn't know it back then, but by changing the parameters he would have had massively different implementations that are quite amusing. Anyway, looks like a fun exercise for those involved.

    • his Big Bang idea was damn good and more importantly, his model is just like what we have now

      Yeah, not so much. From the summary of his model as described in the paper:

      Similarly, lumen is emitted from the second perfected sphere, sweeps up matter until there is further rarefaction and compression leading to a third perfected sphere. This continues until the ninth sphere, that of the moon, whose lumen emission is not sufficient to completely perfect the spheres of the elements (fire, air, water, earth) and these thus do not allow circular motion, which pertains only to perfect bodies, but just radial motion, and the latter two have the attribute of weight, due to their extremal density and compression.

      It's a BIG stretch to say that anything about his cosmological theory has much in common with ours. By that measure, we might as well point out that Ptolemy's model of the solar system was "damn good" and "just like ours" (or Copernicus's) because it happened to have planets and a sun in it... forget about how anything in the model works or the philosophy underneath it.

      for his model to work the way he specified it, he would need a very narrow band of parameters. He didn't know it back then, but by changing the parameters he would have had massively different implementations that are quite amusing.

      No, not really. If we make a number of assumptions in translat

  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Wednesday March 12, 2014 @12:34PM (#46465145)

    ...all the way down?

    I'm sure there are multiple people working on Grand Unified Theories suitable for generating all known cosmogonies. Feel free to post yours!

    • by oodaloop (1229816)

      Feel free to post yours!

      In my GUT, the three force of the universe (gravity, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic/weak) have been combined. I call it the Force. It surrounds us, binds us, flows through us, and thrives in microscopic organisms in your bloodstream.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        In my GUT, the three force of the universe (gravity, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic/weak) have been combined. I call it the Force. It surrounds us, binds us, flows through us, and thrives in microscopic organisms in your bloodstream.

        In my GUT, thriving microscopic organisms produce chemical reactions which result in great Force being expelled from my body. It flows through me, surrounds us, and is a source of great division.

        • by Obfuscant (592200)

          It flows through me, surrounds us, and is a source of great division.

          Mine can do square and sometimes cube roots, and I'm teaching them calculus next.

      • by mmell (832646)
        I see what you did there. Very punny.

        I like recent holographic theories as candidates for ultimately supplying a workable GUT. Consider cosmic expansion - what happens to the surface area of a sphere as the radius of the sphere increases arithmetically? Gravity can be readily explained as perturbations on the surface of the sphere. I wish I knew the maths to explore this idea properly.

  • Physics apparently wants one single gigundamous theory to explain "everything" meaning subatomic particles, atomic particles, and gravity, but without having to explain chemistry or physics.
    That seems unlikely. We cannot even prove arithmetic from set theory, so proving all of the universe from a single starting point seems unlikely.

    As far as predicting things, look closely at our Theory of Evolution.
    In order to be valid, it must explain every species currently here or represented in the fossil record
    • If we can come up with a really good theory of subatomic particles, nuclear forces and the electromagnetic force then chemistry should just emerge from it. They already do, to a large extent - it's how simulated chemistry is done. Very much liked by biologists, as computers are cheaper than lab time.

      • My brother is a chemist, and they run endless simulations before anyone is allowed to use their NMR machine. I was actually surprised at the shear amount of computing power required, and some basic economics seems to indicate lab time might be cheaper, if it weren't for the fact that the simulations are required by the department prior to lab time. Then again, if electricity is free (it is practically for a department at most universities), it might swing the other way by hiding the cost...

    • by khallow (566160)

      but notice that it is not expected to predict the form of any new species at all nor predict the numbers or types of species extant in a million years from now (but expect cockroaches).

      Given that we just moved hard into a non-evolutionary mode, this shouldn't be a surprise. For example, I think there's a fair chance that in a century most organisms on Earth will not even be descended from organisms alive at this time. It's hard to make predictions about a million years from now when DNA based life might almost vanish in a century from things that haven't been created yet.

    • You're spot on. The system is too complicated for evolution to make specific predictions. The general ones may be tested or observed in hindsight, but to make anything other than vague predictions, we would need a lot more computing power/data storage than we have - perhaps more than could exist on our planet. Evolution's value lies not in prediction, but in it's explanatory model. This doesn't invalidate evolution from a scientific perspective, but it does show sometimes that having the final answer makes

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Physics apparently wants one single gigundamous theory to explain "everything" meaning subatomic particles, atomic particles, and gravity, but without having to explain chemistry or physics.

      Well, I am not a physicist, but I don't believe that the goal is to avoid explaining physics (of which chemistry is one field of study.) And what is gravity if not physics? My understanding is that the goal is to come up with one reconcilable theory which explains matter, gravity, and indeed all other forces with which we are familiar such as the electromagnetic force.

    • We can confidently predict that when we release say a medicine which destroys a particular type of infectious disease into the environment, some percentage of the bacteria will survive and develop resistance, breeding new strains requiring new medicines. This is a prediction which is based upon the theory of evolution.

  • Is he did it without the higher maths and computers, which leads me to think the mind is capable of fully grasping reality and it's creation/dissolution but that explaining it (writing it down for others, etc) is the hard part.

  • > Robert Grosseteste

    AKA Robert Bigballs

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      > Robert Grosseteste

      AKA Robert Bigballs

      I think I'd have gone for "Bob BigBalls". It's got a certain ring to it.

  • .. and had me wondering why this fellow isn't more widely known. Then you remember that he came up these ideas in the days when going public with them would likely get you burned at the stake (or worse).

    • by focoma (865351)

      .. and had me wondering why this fellow isn't more widely known. Then you remember that he came up these ideas in the days when going public with them would likely get you burned at the stake (or worse).

      Except... he did go public with them.

      Read up on your history. Scholars who published their theories about nature were very rarely persecuted for their research in 13th century Europe.

    • Naah. They didn't do that back then. Anyhow, he was Bishop of Lincoln, so he would probably be in charge of the people with matches.
  • by Richard Kirk (535523) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:59AM (#46472301)

    I went to the presentation at the Royal Society last week given by this group on Grosseteste's colour theory. Grossteste's papers are very dense and very short, and this one fitted on a sheet of A4. He had a theory about colour that seems to have three clear axes and eight corners. However, he never tells us what the axes are called, or names a single colour, or even tells us where white and black come, which the presenters admitted was 'pretty strange'. There is no obvious algebra, which is correct for the age, but makes it very hard to interpret an unambiguous meaning. Aristotle's theory on colour, which Grossteste would have read in translation from Arabic at the time, has clear experimental models for generating infinitesimal shades between any two colours, and names seven colours - perhaps in an early attempt to see how many colours are needed to mix any colour. In contrast, it is difficult to be sure whether Grosseteste's work is philosophical (which colours should exist), experimental (which colours do exist), or mathematical (how can we model what we see).

    Grosseteste was known to be one of the better mathematicians of his age. He is not Nostradamus, pumping out cryptic statements in the hopes that some of them will match something at random. What he said was respected in his day. We have some modern computer model that seems to match what he said to some extent, but only for some small subset of the parameter space. I suspect this tells us more about how we think then about how Grossteste did.

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