Back to index of science pages by Donald Sauter.
or, maybe just tired light?
Rather than start from scratch, allow me to haul out a couple of unpublished letters to the editor which present my thoughts on cosmology.
Besides my alternative theory to the Big Bang, you'll get a dose of my displeasure with the free rein given scientists to speak gobbledygook to the media. No matter how lacking in logical connection, or obviously nonsensical, it is solemnly passed on to the public. Be honest now, have you ever read a science article in a newspaper or magazine that you could make sense of from beginning to end?
The first letter was sent to the Washington Times in May 1996.
The article "2 theories about age of universe moving closer to common figure; estimates now range from 9 billion to 15 billion years" (Associated Press, 10May96) repeats some nonsense the scientific/astronomical community has been getting away with for years.
Astromomers see objects in the universe moving away from each other, and depending on the point being made, call this motion the result of either an expansion or an explosion. In this case, the paragraph read:
"Both teams are actually measuring the rate at which the universe is expanding, a value called the 'Hubble constant'. It is based on the theory that structures and matter in the universe... have been all moving apart at a specific speed since the Big Bang, the theoretical explosion that most astronomers believe created the universe."
The problem is, "expansion" and "explosion" are two completely different things.
In every direction we look, we see galaxies moving away from us. But it is tremendously improbable that of all the billions of galaxies, ours is the one smack dab in the center.
Scientists explain away this concern by calling the motion an "expansion". As an analogy, consider an expanding balloon. Imagine 2-dimensional "dot" creatures whose "universe" is the surface of the balloon. As the balloon expands, all dots observe all other dots moving away from it; no dot is in a central or special location.
The problem here is that, whether we're talking about a balloon surface or our real universe, an expansion would not be detectable to inhabitants of that universe.
Space permeates everything. Our measuring devices - our "yard sticks", so to speak - would expand right along with the distances they are measuring. If the balloon people built bridges connecting their "islands", or if we built bridges to receding galaxies, they would not be ripped apart; they would expand right along with the universe. Think about it and you'll see that it would even take the exact same number steps to cross the bridge, since our legs are expanding, too. Get it?
On the other hand, scientists refer to the start of this motion at the birth of the universe as the Big Bang "explosion". This was an inconceivably violent spewing forth of energy and matter. No reference here to a lazy "expansion" of an invisible speck into a big, fat blob - we are talking "KABOOM!"
But the problem is that, if the motion of the galaxies were the result of some explosion, there would be a differentiation among galaxy positions. There would be a center of the motion, and leading edges. We would see more galaxies in one direction than another.
But we don't - so scientists change the subject (unwittingly, I suspect) to "expansion".
For those who wince with embarrassment at this "theory" of a universe-worth of matter blasting out of an infinitesimal piece of nothingness, let me propose another idea.
The current thinking is as follows. Red shift (the Doppler shift for light) tells us the speed at which a galaxy is moving away from us. We have observed that the more distant a galaxy is, the greater its red shift - and thus the faster it is moving from us. (In fact, we trust this finding to the point where we invoke circular logic and assign distances based solely on a measurement of red shift.) Scientists project all of this motion backwards to try to date the Big Bang (the subject of the article in question.)
But the need for any such Big Bang would disappear if we dissociated the red shift from galaxy motion. Suppose that the lengthening of the wavelength somehow "just happens" as light travels.
A longer wavelength indicates lower energy. (The wavelength and energy of light are inversely proportional.) Is it plausible that light might "wear out" or "run down" as it travels for millions of years?
This "winding down" may be a fundamental characteristic of light, or perhaps the result of interaction with "things" it meets along the way (not necessarily just matter.) We haven't observed the phenomenon "in the laboratory" because the greatest distances we can send light - reflecting a beam off the moon, for example - are so puny.
Given a natural lengthening of light wavelengths, galaxies would no longer be seen as flying away from each other, and - voila! - the Big Bang is obsolete.
Of course plausibility doesn't make something true, but which takes the smallest leap of faith: the Big Bang or "tired" light? [End letter.]
This Tired Light theory came out of my own head over 20 years ago. Earlier this year, 1997, before I had Web access, my buddy Alex did a quick Web search and found, much to my chagrin, that the idea has already been kicked around - and even uses the "Tired Light" terminology! Scientists haven't accepted it, of course; we would know it if they had. But the objections to the theory are far from clear - to me, at least. See the web page: Errors in Tired Light Cosmology.
But I'm a reasonable guy. Can anybody make the arguments against Tired Light understandable and convincing? If so, I'll print them here.
The next letter was sent to Horizon, the monthly science supplement to the Washington Post, in May 1997.
Generally, when scientists talk about the Big Bang, they refer to it as an explosion or an expansion depending on the point they are trying to make.
They need an explosion for the separation of matter and for the energy required to form the various elements. They need expansion for the apparent uniformity in every direction - there's no hole where the Big Bang was.
It never seems to bother them that explosions and expansions are two completely different, unrelated things.
In his article, "Why the Big Bang is not an explosion", Sten Odenwald takes a stance and tells us it is an expansion only.
The problem with this, of course, is: how did the unseparated particles at the beginning become separated? Put another way, how could we possibly observe an "expansion" of the universe? Since we are in it, we - and our measuring sticks - are expanding with it.
Odenwald did not face this question, although Robert Ehrlich did in his companion experiment, "Cosmos on a copier". Draw a random pattern of dots on a sheet of paper; make an enlarged photocopy; and superimpose the two.
In a "hand waving" argument, Ehrlich assures us that widely separated matter is pushed apart by the expansion, but closer together matter is not:
"The simulation is misleading in one respect. The sizes of the dots themselves are enlarged by the same percentage as the overall arrangement, although at small enlargements this is not obvious. This is unavoidable in photocopiers but does not happen in the universe.
"The universe is expanding between galaxies but not within them or in any star or planet. That's because the power of gravity within a galaxy resists the expansion."
If that were the case, then we must believe that if 2 widely separated galaxies were attached by a thread - or a cobweb, even - it would stop their relative motion instantly and completely.
The bigger objection with Odenwald's article is that it is complete nonsense from beginning to end. I know that and you know that, although for whatever reasons you are completely willing to play "The Emperor's new clothes" with everything scientists utter.
Here are just a few of the most illuminating explanations in the article:
"This instant was, in a sense, blurred out."
"A nearly incomprehensible state with more than 4 dimensions or perhaps none at all."
"It may have been created from another 'timeless' dimension of space."
"Weird quantum fog."
Oh. Now I get it.
How about a new rule - no science article published by your newspaper unless somebody on your staff claims to understand it completely and is willing to explain it to the public. [End letter.]
I, myself, offered to go through the article sentence by sentence and point out which sentences were not logically connected, which ones were based on flimsy assertions, and which ones were meaningless. The Washington Post did not accept my help.
Contact Donald Sauter: send an email;
view guestbook; sign guestbook.
Back to Donald Sauter's main page.
Rather shop than think? Please visit My Little Shop of Rare and Precious Commodities.
Back to the top of this page.
Parents, if you're considering tutoring or supplemental education for your child, you may be interested in my observations on Kumon.