To everyone who sees them, the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images of the cosmos are beautifully awe-inspiring. But to most professional astronomers and cosmologists, they are also extremely surprising — not at all what was predicted by theory. In the flood of technical astronomical papers published online since July 12, the authors report again and again that the images show surprisingly many galaxies, galaxies that are surprisingly smooth, surprisingly small and surprisingly old. Lots of surprises, and not necessarily pleasant ones. One paper’s title begins with the candid exclamation: “Panic!”
Why do the JWST’s images inspire panic among cosmologists? And what theory’s predictions are they contradicting? The papers don’t actually say. The truth that these papers don’t report is that the hypothesis that the JWST’s images are blatantly and repeatedly contradicting is the Big Bang Hypothesis that the universe began 14 billion years ago in an incredibly hot, dense state and has been expanding ever since. Since that hypothesis has been defended for decades as unquestionable truth by the vast majority of cosmological theorists, the new data is causing these theorists to panic. “Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning,” says Alison Kirkpatrick, an astronomer at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, “and wondering if everything I’ve done is wrong.” [Update: Kirkpatrick has protested Lerner’s handling of this quotation. See a Note on this by following the link below to Mind Matters News.]ERIC J. LERNER, “THE BIG BANG DIDN’T HAPPEN” AT IAI.TV (AUGUST 11, 2022)
Although we didn’t usually hear of it, there’s been dissatisfaction with the Standard Model, which begins with the Big Bang, ever since it was first proposed by Georges Lemaître nearly a century ago. But no one expected the James Webb Space Telescope to contribute to the debate.
An Interested Party
Now, Lerner is the author of a book called The Big Bang Never Happened (1992) but — while that makes him an interested party — it doesn’t make him wrong. He will be speaking at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in London (September 17–18, 2022) sponsored by the Institute for Art and Ideas (IAI), as a participant in the “Cosmology and the Big Bust” debate.
The Big Bang theory crucially depends on the ‘inflation’ hypothesis that at the outset the universe expanded many orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light. But experiments have failed to prove evidence of cosmic inflation and since the theory’s inception it has been beset by deep puzzles. Now one of its founders, Paul Steinhardt has denounced the theory as mistaken and ‘scientifically meaningless’.
Do we have to give up the theory of cosmic inflation and seek a radical alternative? Might alternative theories like the Big Bounce, or abandoning the speed of light provide a solution? Or are such alternatives merely sticking plasters to avoid the more radical conclusion that it is time to give up on the Big Bang altogether?
A Potential Solution
Here’s a debate on this general topic from last year’s festival (but without JWST data). It features theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, along with Ekeberg and particle physicist Sam Henry.
So, yes, it’s been a serious topic of discussion for a while. Now, what to make of Eric Lerner’s approach? Experimental physicist Rob Sheldon offered Mind Matters News some thoughts and a potential solution.
Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.