Models of the universe as a whole

Post 3 – “Towards an enantiodromic approach to the universe. Jung, Pauli,​ and beyond …”

Authored by Alain Negre

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Contemporary cosmology is engaged  in a historical process of building models, i.e. formulations of a-priori hypotheses, invented, imagined, which tend to approach, without ever reaching it, independent reality.

In accordance with the methodology of modern science, cosmology is only interested in the physical structures of the universe, such as black holes.

The above image represents the simulation of two merging black holes with solar masses of 19 and 31, and located three billion light years from Earth observed via gravitational waves on January 4, 2017.

First model of the universe: Albert Einstein, 1917

A theory of everything has developed since 1917, the year Einstein produced the first model of the universe, directly derived from the equations of general relativity, which he had brought to light a year earlier.

The following decades saw the triumph of the model of an evolving universe known as the “Big Bang,” which for a long time, did not consider the presence of living and sentient beings.

Freeman Dyson (1979) was the first to assert, with supporting formulas, the possible subsistence of life in a cold and infinitely expanding universe. [1]

He was followed by John Barrow and Frank Tipler who, in 1986, developed a dynamic model of a shrinking universe, ensuring the colonization of life throughout the universe and the possibility of infinite information processing in the distant future. 

Tipler predicted the existence of a final singularity, the Omega point, endowed with the properties of omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. [2]

John Wheeler’s intuition

Much of this thinking resulted from the intuition of John Wheeler who, with his delayed-choice double-slit experiment, represented the universe as a self-excited circuit in which the “conscious observer” contributes to continuous creation not only of the present and the future, but also of the past. [3]

In fact, the emphasis was not on the consciousness of the observer but on the essential nature of the act of measurement, which is the amplification or recording of the observed quantum object. The conscious observer is equivalent to the information, which according to Wheeler, is a concept still poorly understood by contemporary physics.

He called for a new, more inclusive concept that would better illustrate a cyclical development in which vast areas of uncertainty in the universe only exist when they are “recorded” in an “independent reality”. But this reality is still beyond the reach of contemporary physics.

Roger Penrose, between cyclical universe and consciousness

Roger Penrose also developed a concept of a cyclical universe and was also interested in consciousness. His concept of consciousness is not accessible to physics today, but should be accompanied by the phenomenon of a reduction of the wave function.

Contrary to the Copenhagen interpretation, quantum states would be real as would be the reduction or collapse of the wave function called “Objective Reduction” [4]. This mechanism, triggered by gravitational interaction, is currently the subject of laboratory experiments (e.g. Dirk Bouwmeester)  [5]

The collapse of the wave function would thus endow the physical universe with a diffuse “proto-consciousness”. Reflective consciousness could then emerge from a very large number of synchronized collapses in microtubules which are small long cylindrical structures of a few nanometers in diameter inside the cytoskeleton of brain neurons.

As for the origin of consciousness, Penrose believes it has its roots at the Planck scale (10-35 meters) when space-time loses its structure and becomes “quantum foam”.

At this very small scale, illustrated by the image above, he hypothesizes an abstract domain of Platonic forms that could emerge at the scale of brain cells.

Consciousness could have appeared at the Big Bang

Consciousness could have arisen in the Big Bang, and perhaps even before, in the “aeons” preceding the current phase of the universe in his conformal cyclical model [6].

We can see here that the field of physical phenomena and cosmological events of this study goes beyond the field of well-mastered physical phenomena in laboratories which only allow us to describe events after a lapsed time of one hundredth of a second (10−2 s).

Two categories of speculative models

According to their degrees of acceptability in the physics community, we can distinguish two categories of speculative models.

Those which have not yet obtained experimental evidence

On the one hand we have those that, although falsifiable, i.e. testable, have so far not yet obtained experimental evidence. Among them, there are:

  • Inflation models explaining a large number of observations (e.g. the “horizon problem”). These are unnecessary in Penrose’s model because they are redundant with the accelerated expansion at the end of the previous aeon-models. 
  • the models focused on the distant future, which concern the future of ordinary matter with or without proton decay, the evaporation of black holes, and perhaps also these models of a hypothetical final phase where only positronium atoms (electrons + positrons) would remain before their great annihilation in a fireworks display of high energy gamma photons.
  • the different possibilities of cyclic universes. Penrose believes that his cyclic model may be testable thanks to the gravitational wave background which could contain waves emitted by dark matter particles whose existence is derived from his model. These waves have not yet been detected. [7]

Extremely speculative models …

On the other hand, perfectly rational models, based on physical laws known today but extremely speculative insofar as they offer no possibility of testing or observation.

They tackle the themes of survival of life and consciousness in the deep future according to various cases envisaged for the “end” of the universe.

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[1] Freeman Dyson, “Time without end: Physics and biology in an open universe” Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 51, No. 3, July 1979.

[2] John D. Barrow, Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford University Press, New York, NY,. U.S.A., 1986.

[3] John Wheeler, “Genesis and Observership” Foundational Problems in the Special Sciences, edited by R. E. Butts and K. J. Hintikka, Reidel, Dordrecht, 1977.

[4] Stuart Hameroff, Roger Penrose, “Consciousness in the Universe:  An Updated Review of the ‘Orch OR’ Theory.” In Biophysics of Consciousness: A Foundational Approach. Ed. R. R. Poznanski et al. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing. 

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[6] Roger Penrose, Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011.

[7] Daniel An, Krzysztof A. Meissner, Pawel Nurowski and Roger Penrose, Apparent evidence for Hawking points in the CMB Sky.

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.