A perspective on the science of cosmology that I found to be interesting from the viewpoint of Objectivism. The scientific content of the book consists of a discussion of the flaws in the Big Bang Theory (some of which may be dated, since this was published in 1991) and a presentation of an alternative theory based on the physics of plasma. But t... (See the whole review)
Coming from someone who knows a little more (but still a couple years short of an undergraduate degree in physics)...the main thesis of this book (that the big bang never happened) sounds quite ridiculous.
However, I agree with you that there are a lot of popular science books out there that are full of shit...The Tao of Physics being one of them. Not only is the physics in it TOTALLY outdated, but Fritjof Capra (the author) is probably the worst mystic-environmentalist-feminist you will ever come across. I have unfortunately read two of his other books (one just recently published...he's still writing), and I've come to the conclusion that he's always full of shit.
Some science books I would recommend: Anything by Michael Shermer. I haven't read any of his books yet, but I enjoy his "Skeptic" column in Scientific American. For books on physics, I would recommend both of Brian Greene's books (_The Elegant Universe_ and _The Fabric of the Cosmos_). Isaac Asimov's three part series _Understanding Physics_ is a classic, a little outdated, and not as entertaining as Brian Greene's stuff, but more thorough.
Another interesting point... In _The Tao of Physics_, Capra emphasizes Niels Bohr's interpretation of quantum reality (Niels Bohr was quite the mystic himself and equated certain aspects of quantum mechanics with zen bhuddism). Just recently, an experiment was done (it still has to be confirmed) that proves Bohr's interpretation is actually wrong. Many physicists (including Einstein himself) have tried to prove Bohr wrong and failed, so it's good to see someone finally making progress on that front.
It is nice to see Objectivists discussing this book. I have always found the big bang theory hard to believe since I have never understood how "singularities" can exist that are "infinitely dense" (G Stolyarov talks about the same issue elsewhere). I also don't see how the universe could come into existence "ex nihilo", which is what the big bang theory seems to imply. Nevertheless, I used to always feel that I had to accept the big bang theory because it was the most scientifically acceptable theory of cosmology. When I read Eric Lerner's book however, that view changed. Lerner makes some really devastating arguments against the theory in the first two or three chapters, and then presents an alternative cosmology that sounds much more plausible. Like the author of the review, I am not a physicist and so cannot debate these ideas at anywhere near the sophistication as others probably could. Nevertheless, the little bit of information that I have gathered from reading popular physics books confirms the things that Lerner is saying. Tessa states that "the main thesis of this book (that the big bang never happened) sounds quite ridiculous". I would encourage her to read the book before she makes up her mind. If Tessa can think of good rebuttals to the arguments made in the book I would like to hear them. Perhaps I would change my mind again. But so far I have not seen any.
Okay, I'm up for the challenge. I'm officially putting "The Big Bang Never Happened" on my reading list...
My immediate response to Tom's comment about having trouble understanding singularities of infinite density is that it's important to remember that infinity is a "default" solution that often pops out of equations when the equations are applied to extreme conditions. If the trouble you have is imagining an infinite mass occupying an infinitely small volume (and of course it's difficult to imagine, if not impossible), then I think it's just as easy to make the arguments that the universe before the big bang had zero density or no density. It really all depends on how we define density. Traditionally, density is defined as mass per unit volume. At the beginning of everything, the universe had no volume, so how could it have density? This kind of interpretation I think just makes more intuitive sense, given that we think of the beginning of the universe as time "zero."
Tessa, Your philosophical interpretation of "singularities" makes much more sense than the "traditional" one that I've heard from Stephen Hawking. However, I still have a problem with the idea of the universe coming into existence "ex nihilo". Nevertheless, the really sticky point for me is the scientific issues that Lerner brings up. I can't wait to hear your comments once you read the book.
quote from Tom: "I have always found the big bang theory hard to believe since I have never understood how "singularities" can exist that are "infinitely dense" (G Stolyarov talks about the same issue elsewhere)."
"Singularities" are not so much infinitely dense as they are maximum-ly (?) dense. Tessa mentioned Brian Greene's book _The Fabric of the Cosmos_ which explains things nicely, including a case for the big bang sans ex nihilo. If I remember correctly, Greene's summary of the current theory of how black holes, or these "singularities," form is that there is a maximum density for space and (this part I can't remember exactly) there is some entropy argument that explains why black holes are black. I'd have to look it up again for further explanation. I'll also have to check this book out next time I'm in a book store but based on the review I'm thinking there's some pseudo-science in there. The critique of the peer review system just doesn't necessary in this book. If the ideas are sound a weak background in plasma physics isn't going to do much damage to the review. Even if it does, there are plenty of plasma physicists out there to take a look at it.
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