The Shape of Space
The preceding article described the simple, conventional picture of the universe existing during Einstein's era, that a static, single-galaxy universe. Human understanding of nature then was far more simplistic - and likewise far less accurate - in the days of Einstein, which is now nearly a century ago, and the tools for scientific inquiry, far less powerful than they are today. Common convention presumed that the entire universe, the whole of physical existence, consisted of nothing, but ourselves and our one, galaxy alone, suspended eternally in an endless otherwise empty space.
Einstein's new theory of relativity did not yield such universe, but instead, resulted in a universe that would eventually collapse upon its self. In order to yield a universe consistent with the conventional presumptions, Einstein introduced a new value into his relativity equations, called the "cosmological constant," and fixed it to an infinitely precise value, appropriately, so that these equations would agree perfectly with scope of our knowledge at the time.
Upon review of Einstein's supposition, that is, the cosmological constant, a man named Friedmann proposed, instead of a static universe, a dynamic one as the only kind possible, deeming Einstein's choice of a single, fixed value for the cosmological constant to be far too exact to reflect nature-s realities. Then, an astronomer named Edwin Hubble validated Friedmann's conclusions by discovering first, that our Milky Way galaxy was not the only galaxy in the universe, but that rather, it was just one, among billions and billions of other galaxies. Second, by discovering the abundance of galaxies throughout the cosmos, Hubble further revealed the dynamic character of our universe, irrefutably.
Aside from discovering the existence of an enormous abundance of other galaxies besides our own filling space as far as could be observed, Hubble discovered further that, in general, the farther these galaxies lay from our galaxy, first, the closer these galaxies were to each other, and second, the faster these galaxies raced away from our galaxy. This meant that overall, galaxies were spreading apart, from what was a progressively more compact "universe," consisting of a smaller, denser, spatial volume, constantly expanding into a larger, more disperse one.
Hubble had concrete, observational proof of the dynamic character of the cosmos, substantiating Friedmann's proposal that the universe was dynamic, because observations clearly demonstrated that it had always been expanding, constantly, throughout the course of its entire history. (That our dynamic universe would continue to expand endlessly, instead of eventually ceasing and then ultimately collapsing into a "big crunch," would be determined decades later.)
Well, one might think that such a marvel as amazing as a dynamic universe would have been staring Einstein squarely in the face, considering that it was he, after all, who had originally introduced a new value into his own equations to the end of excluding a dynamic universe as a possibility in nature, thereby excluding all of the consequential intricacies inherent to such a universe. Surely a man as brilliant as Einstein would have considered all the possibilities, including the dynamic, with equal objectivity, as any brilliant scientist like him would ideally do. But that is not what seems to have happened, despite Einstein being among the foremost scientists who ever lived.
Being then, among commitments to a multitude of other pursuits, the lonely pioneer exploring gravity, Einstein had many duties and many problems to solve. Perhaps he wanted to avoid the new questions that a dynamic universe would have raised and thus avoid the additional work that both identifying and answering those new questions would have demanded, like, for example, questions and answers regarding origin and destiny of the universe. Without a doubt, he would have been compelled then not to involve science or himself with what would surely have been extremely sensitive issues, in light of prevailing contemporary thought. Choosing the course that he did might have seemed the most sensible choice, under the circumstances that Einstein confronted in his day. However, had Einstein assumed differently, he would have made what would have undoubtedly been an absolutely monumental discovery. Unfortunately for Einstein, this colossal opportunity for scientific advancement fell elsewhere, rather than upon the very man who had laid the foundations leading to it. In hindsight, Einstein called his gross oversight "the greatest blunder of his life."
Hubble's revolutionary discovery of an expanding universe filled with galaxies everywhere was an enormous step beyond the limitations of long-entrenched conventional thinking. It provided observational proof of Friedmann's insight in identifying the rich character of nature; redefining and deepening the image we associate with the idea of universe. Given what this illuminating insight uncovered, we can, just as Hubble did, recognize that if we look far enough, deep enough, into space, we will eventually see a microscopically sized "universe," pouring out of something that science now calls the Big Bang. Like the word universe, Big Bang is a term that requires precise clarification or it could very easily be misinterpreted for being something that it simply is not. The name is definitely misleading.
To understand accurately what the Big Bang physically is, it is paramount to recognize what the Big Bang is not, through an appreciation of how it got its name. The term Big Bang itself is actually a misnomer, because the term "Bang" incorrectly implies that it is an explosion, which the Big Bang flatly is not. Indeed, it was the Big Bang's principal opponent who was responsible for this confusing name, and who utilized the misnaming jokingly, in an effort to demean the brilliance of the idea through an inaccurate analogy - all for the sake of endorsing his own alternative conjecture, which was subsequently disproved. Unfortunately, the name Big Bang remained, no fault to either Friedmann or Hubble.
So, one should be cautious not to take the name Big Bang literally. Doing so can easily lead to mistakenly confusing it with an explosion, which happens once and is then over. To be clear, the Big Bang is NOT as simple as an explosion. Unlike an explosion, the Big Bang effectively never ends, continuing constantly, effectively forever.
This, of course, leaves us with the obvious question, which is, what then is the Big Bang, if it is not an explosion, albeit an explosion that persists into eternity? In actual fact, it is much more. Physically, the Big Bang is a super-microscopically sized "pit," of what is effectively an inexhaustible supply of energy, with an infinitely distant, unreachable "bottom." It is a perpetual "spout" of physical energy, what could be legitimately considered a genuine white hole of existence, in fact, the only white hole in the entire history of the universe; there are no others, only it alone.
Proof of the Big Bang as an "origin" for the cosmos came in the form of cosmic background microwave radiation detected emanating from the farthest reaches of space. This radiation is the same radiation as the "initial" light of the Big Bang that once emanated from here, long, long ago, then, when the Big Bang edge of space was located right here. The initial light that was once here, billions of years ago, is now, of course, long gone. Nonetheless, while the light that was once here then, is no more (that is, for us), the same light as it, from exactly the same source, is the same light, identically, the same, exact radiation, as what we see today in the form of cosmic background microwave radiation that we detect, as it still happens now, in every direction that we point our detectors into space.
The Big Bang always lying as far as is possible for anything to lie distant, in every three-dimensional direction, including opposite directions together (i.e. at once), as well as in time, is somewhat incomprehensible in light of ordinary human experience and certainly counterintuitive to standard three-dimensional thinking. As incomprehensible and counterintuitive as the concept may seem, it is an undeniable reality in nature, just like the Big Bang not being an explosion is. This seemingly blatant contradiction to conventional three-dimensional thinking is explained by the clear, indisputable fact that complexities allowable in the geometry of four dimensions are absolutely impossible, not to mention wholly meaningless and seemingly illogical, in the limitations existing in a mere three dimensions.
Our universe is not simply three-dimensional, anymore than it is limited by the simplicities characterizing three dimensions. Grasping the notion that contradictions in three dimensions, like the same location lying in completely opposite directions at once, are physical actualities in four dimensions, is crucial to understanding, because what round and spherical is in four dimensions cannot be understood without abandoning what would be perfectly reasonable conclusions, although still wholly incorrect ones, of what round and spherical is in three dimensions. Abandoning three-dimensional principles is absolutely unavoidable for comprehending the actualities of four-dimensional ones, as the next two articles will explain.