the stolen childhood of Everthing

Most cosmologists believe that exponential growth fixes the problems at the heart of big bang theory. Most economists believe that growth fixes the problems at the heart of human society and culture. In both cases, the fixes seem to come with more problems than the problems they fix. What is it about growth that appeals to bean-counters and star-gazers alike?

For many economists, economic growth is the magic potion, the panacea, that cures all ills from unemployment to income inequality, and makes everyone happy and healthy and hungry to consume.

  • A growing gap between "haves" and "have nots"? The solution is growth (so that the rich get hugely richer, and the poor get marginally less poor!).

  • Pollution and environmental degradation? Growth will fund the research to identify how to minimise pollution and environmental degradation (but only as long as there's no impact on profitability).

  • Social problems (eg those created by cramnming people into cities)? Growth provides the stimulating and well-paid jobs that keep young people off the streets and out of the bars and clubs. Growth helps put people back behind the conveyor belts and production lines, where they belong.

  • Macroeconomic problems such as inflation (eg as measured by increases in the consumer price index (CPI))? Growth trumps inflation, don't you know?!

Similarly, cosmological inflation (the brainchild of physicist Alan Guth) is the panacea that cures all the ills of big bang theory, including but not limited to the consistency of the background radiation temperature, and the large-scale distribution of normal matter across the universe (ie in galaxies, galaxy clusters and superclusters).

[If you're interested in the technical stuff, Wikipedia is a good place to start (see below)].

If you're not interested in the technical stuff, sufficeth it to say that Guthian inflation fixes the problems in big bang theory by virtue of exponentially accelerating growth. Or in other words, per Guthian inflation, the inflationary phase of the universe's expansion involved growth at such a mind-boggling rate that in the timespace of one blink of god's eye, the toddler universe became a teenage universe without any intervening birthdays!

The moral(s) of the story is (are) listed below.

  • If you can't hide, then run faster than your problems can, or

  • if you see a problem, shut your eyes, or

  • make it someone else's problem (in economics this is referred to transforming costs into "externalities)".

    Cosmologists don't have that same luxury: there are no externalities inside or outside the universe. The buck can't be passed if there's nowhere to pass it to.


All quoted content below is from the Wikipedia article entitled "Inflation (cosmology)"

  • Cosmological inflation is the "...extremely rapid exponential expansion of the early universe..."

  • The inflationary epoch began almost immediately after the Big Bang. "Following the inflationary period, the universe continued to expand, but at a slower rate."

  • "Why does the universe appear flat, homogeneous, and isotropic in accordance with the cosmological principle when one would expect, on the basis of the physics of the Big Bang, a highly curved, heterogeneous universe?"

  • "Cosmological inflation has the important effect of smoothing out inhomogeneities, anisotropies and the curvature of space. This pushes the universe into a very simple state, in which it is completely dominated by the inflaton field, the source of the cosmological constant, and the only significant inhomogeneities are the tiny quantum fluctuations in the inflaton."

  • "Inflation also explains the origin of the large-scale structure of the cosmos. Quantum fluctuations in the microscopic inflationary region, magnified to cosmic size, become the seeds for the growth of structure in the universe (see galaxy formation and evolution and structure formation)."

  • "For cosmology in the global point of view, the observable universe is one causal patch of a much larger unobservable universe; there are parts of the universe which cannot communicate with us yet. These parts of the universe are outside our current cosmological horizon. In the standard hot big bang model, without inflation, the cosmological horizon moves out, bringing new regions into view. As we see these regions for the first time, they look no different from any other region of space we have already seen: they have a background radiation which is at nearly exactly the same temperature as the background radiation of other regions, and their space-time curvature is evolving lock-step with ours. This presents a mystery: how did these new regions know what temperature and curvature they were supposed to have? They couldn't have learned it by getting signals, because they were not in communication with our past light cone before."
  • "Inflation also dilutes exotic heavy particles, such as the magnetic monopoles predicted by many extensions to the Standard Model of particle physics. If the universe was only hot enough to form such particles before a period of inflation, they would not be observed in nature, as they would be so rare that it is quite likely that there are none in the observable universe."

  • "The magnetic monopole problem (sometimes called the exotic-relics problem) says that if the early universe were very hot, a large number of very heavy, stable magnetic monopoles would be produced."

  • "Another problem is the flatness problem (which is sometimes called one of the Dicke coincidences, with the other being the cosmological constant problem). ... It had been known in the 1960s [citation needed] that the density of matter in the universe was comparable to the critical density necessary for a flat universe (that is, a universe whose large scale geometry is the usual Euclidean geometry, rather than a non-Euclidean hyperbolic or spherical geometry)."

  • "Therefore, regardless of the shape of the universe the contribution of spatial curvature to the expansion of the universe could not be much greater than the contribution of matter. But as the universe expands, the curvature redshifts away more slowly than matter and radiation. Extrapolated into the past, this presents a fine-tuning problem because the contribution of curvature to the universe must be exponentially small (sixteen orders of magnitude less than the density of radiation at big bang nucleosynthesis, for example). This problem is exacerbated by recent observations of the cosmic microwave background that have demonstrated that the universe is flat to the accuracy of a few percent."


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mgeorge said...

A good summary. Am not really interested in cosmological speculations provided they do not suck up public funding. The clear and present danger is the religion of economics created to serve, protect and enable capital. I will stop with just 2 quotes:

"It takes all the running you can do, to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" - Lewis Carrol, Alice In Wonderland, 1865

"After slave revolts including a big Jamaican one in 1831, the British decided that slavery was not economical. In Parliament, they talked of masters becoming owners and slaves becoming workers. When freed slaves in Jamaica preferred to subsist on open land, the state was used to close off such land, and capitalists set about creating wants to attract wage labourers." - Prof. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, 2002

masterymistery said...

Hi mgeorge, it's the particle physicists who cost the biggest bucks re buildeing their particle accelerators/super-colliders, eg CERN. In fact, in the US promised funding for a hideously, monstrously expensive accelerator was withdrawn in recent years, much to the dismay of the particle physics community. The cosmologists are relatively inexpensive in comparison. All they need is the occasional space telescope, eg Hubble.

Ah... the British, an eminently pragmatic people, "a nation of shopkeepers", not given to grand gestures unless there's money and/or power in it.

When the Empire started becoming difficult to manage, they started decolonising, and in their withdrawal had a grand old time drawing strange new borders to heap up heaps of trouble "moving forward"!

Thanks for your comment. Cheers, MM.

Antares said...

How do you define a tumor? Abnormal growth! QED

masterymistery said...

Antares, yes of course -- I missed that connection in writing the post, but it fits perfectly, thank you. MM