What Came 'Before' the Big Bang? Leading Physicist Presents a Radical Theory
String theorists Neil Turok of Cambridge University and Paul Steinhardt, Albert Einstein Professor in Science and Director of the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton believe that the cosmos we live in was actually created by the cyclical trillion-year collision of two universes (which they define as three-dimensional branes plus time) that were attracted toward each other by the leaking of gravity out of one of the universes. In their view of the universe the complexities of an inflating universe after a Big Bang are replaced by a universe that was already large. flat, and uniform with dark energy as the effect of the other universe constantly leaking gravity into our own and driving its acceleration. According to this theory, the Big Bang was not the beginning of time but the bridge to a past filled with endlessly repeating cycles of evolution, each accompanied by the creation of new matter and the formation of new galaxies, stars, and planets.
Turok and Steinhardt were inspired by a lecture given by Burt Ovrut who imagined two branes, universes like ours, separated by a tiny gap as tiny as 10-32 meters. There would be no communictaion between the two universes except for our parallel sister universe's gravitational pull, which could cross the tiny gap. Orvut's theory could explain the effect of dark matter where areas of the universe are heavier than they should be given everything that's present. With their theory, the nagging problems surrounding the Big Bang (beginning from what, and caused how?) are replaced by an eternal cosmic cycle where dark energy is no longer a mysterious unknown quantity, but rather the very extra gravitational force that drives the universe to universe (brane-brane) interaction.
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—Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Two boys sit in darkened cinemas, one in London and one in Miami, set to watch Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is 1968, a year of worldwide conflict and turmoil: Vietnam, the arms race, political assassinations, student protests, and rebellions. But all this is forgotten as the film sweeps the boys along in a glorious tale of science, space, and the future.
The boy in Miami witnessed firsthand the awesome power of technology to annihilate or inspire. Six years earlier, from his home near Homestead Air Force Base, he watched missiles being prepared for a strike on Cuba, knowing that his family and community would be obliterated if the looming crisis led to a nuclear exchange. Then, as the crisis subsided, he became galvanized by John F. Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the Moon by the end of the decade. He emerged from these early experiences optimistic about the power of technology to improve the future and fascinated by all things scientific. He kept logbooks of every manned mission and traveled often to Cape Canaveral to observe the launches. He turned the family garage into a laboratory with large stocks of chemicals and biological specimens. And he headed to the Everglades at night, avoiding the city lights and fending off mosquitoes, to take a peek at the heavens through his telescope.
The boy in London was a refugee from South Africa, where his parents had been imprisoned for resisting the oppressive apartheid regime. But he too was optimistic, having seen the determination of people like Nelson Mandela to build a better future. Upon his parents’ release, the family had left South Africa for Kenya and then Tanzania, new countries full of natural wonders—the Serengeti’s wild animals and the Olduvai Gorge, home of the earliest humans. Under the hot African sun the boy had learned mathematics and science from spirited young teachers. He’d built electric motors, made explosions, and watched ant lions for hours. In 1968 his family had moved to England for the sake of the children's education, arriving in time to watch the Apollo moon landings on TV.
Fast–forward to the real 2001: rather than a lone astronaut, a worldwide community of cosmologists engaged in an intense effort to understand the beginning of the universe. The two of us, now grown, are thrilled to be among them. The boy in Miami, Paul Steinhardt, is now a professor of mathematical physics at Princeton University. The boy in London, Neil Turok, is a professor of physics at Cambridge University in England. Each of us, following his own path, has pursued his dream of becoming an explorer of the universe, albeit with paper and pencil instead of a rocketship. Three years have passed since the two of us joined forces on a risky venture to investigate a new, transdimensional view of space and time that challenges the conventional history of the universe.