String Theory and the Universe

Endless Universe: Beyond The Big Bang – Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok
Doubleday, 2007
Book Review

There are some theories that are generally accepted, such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Then there are those that people grapple with, such as the Big Bang Theory. Why? Because some theories are just easier to accept and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity doesn’t seem to get in the way of religion. The Big Bang Theory, however, unless incorporated as the “Let there be light” moment in the biblical book of Genesis, does fly in the face of most religions in that it posits a something-from-nothing approach to the formation of the universe, which is anathema to religions based on a creation aspect.

Be that as it may, several models incorporating the Big Bang Theory have been proposed to varying degrees of success. With more and more data being compiled from special satellites, telescopes, and information retrieval devices, much is being learned about our universe, some of it leading to but not proving a singular explosive beginning. The most prevalent model of how the universe began is the Expansionist Universe Model, which posits that the universe began with a big bang, is expanding and will continue to do so until dark matter takes over and entropy reigns.

Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok found this version of the universe entirely too pessimistic. Using string theory and the latest in quantum physics and cosmological thinking, the two scientists found that the universe may exist as a cyclical form. In “Endless Universe,” Steinhardt and Turok explain how they came to think that this theory may be the correct one, where their idea originated, the background theories, hypotheses, and reasonings that led to and continue to bolster this new model of the universe, dubbed the Cyclical Universe Model. In their model, the universe has no beginning or end (and it may have had a beginning somewhen in the past, but ascertaining this is immaterial to the model), but continues to go through cycles of a Big Bang-like inception period, an expansionist period, a contraction-like period, and another Big Bang-like inception period, on and on, ad infinitum.

Masterfully written in layman terms, “Endless Universe” is an engrossing read about modern cosmology and where it stands, where the cyclical model has been added to several expansionist models of how the universe came to be as it is. Controversial in their own field as well as with the rest of the world, this book questions the validity of the arguments favoring the expansionist models and successfully defends the strengths and plausibility of the cyclical model.

And yet, the authors do not rule out the Big Bang Theory, either. They merely suggest that the Big Bang that created the current universe in which we exist is simply one in a series of Big Bangs. The beauty of the book and the idea is that it is presented in such a believable manner that you cannot help but be a little excited by the work of Steinhardt and Turok. This is must reading for anyone interested in the universe and how it may have come to be…