In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talks with Dan Hooper about particles, relativity, and the origins of our universe. Hooper outlines our growing understanding of the conditions in which our universe began, highlighting what we know about the first few seconds after the Big Bang and how several astronomers and mathematicians throughout history helped us determine that the universe was expanding. He discusses the limitations of language in explaining mathematical equations, and the value of explaining scientific research to people who don’t know much science, a practice which he says helps him better understand his work and can even lead to breakthroughs. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know about what’s going on in this moment at Town Hall.
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Hello and welcome to town hall Seattle’s podcast. In the moment, every episode, a local correspondent interview, somebody coming to our town hall stages and gives you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Jini Palmer. It’s Halloween week and the air is crisp outside. The sun is out, leaves are falling and spooking out our stages this week or events about the battles against global disinformation and the future of food in Africa. We’ve got some advice from multi-disciplinary artist, Jenny Odell on Friday, November 1st about reclaiming our attention in the age of distraction and some great rental events from earshot, jazz to a veteran’s day. Open mic on Saturday, November 2nd but to prep us for what’s to come next week. On Friday, November 8th our chief correspondent Steve share talks with the head of the theoretical astrophysics group at the Fermi national accelerator laboratory and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the university of Chicago. Dan Hooper about our universes. First seconds,
Humanity knows more about the science of the origins of the universe than ever before. Thanks to Einstein and all the mathematicians, physicists and engineers who have followed. We have learned about the makeup and origins of energy matter, space and time. And yet many questions remain, especially about the very first microseconds of the big bang when according to physicist Dan Hooper, the laws of physics as we know them, did not apply. Hooper talked to chief correspondent, Steve share about his upcoming appearance at town hall and his book at the edge of time, exploring the mysteries of our universe’s first seconds.
Dan Hooper. Hey Steve, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. My pleasure. You know whenever I read these books, I’ve read a few. I always struggle with them because I am not a scientist. And, and I was wondering when did you know, in your life that you understood the math?
Well, I mean, I, I was pretty good at math when I was young, but I wasn’t especially interested in it. You know, I didn’t go to college thinking I was going to be a, a scientist or a mathematician or anything remotely like that. You know, I, I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and I hadn’t learned about any of the exciting or adventurous forms of science or math. I really just learned about, you know, memorizing a bunch of names of chemicals and a bunch of procedures for doing math problems. It was pretty dull stuff. But about halfway through college I ended up taking a modern physics class as part of just as a general education sort of thing. And I learned about relativity and quantum mechanics and it blew my mind. And that was the only thing I, you know, thought was really interesting in the world. So for me it was an easy decision at that point. But I, you know, most of my colleagues like can tell you, Oh, when I was six I wanted to be a physicist. I had nothing like that in my experience. I was 20 or 21 when that occurred to me for the first time.
You’re, you’re in Oak park, huh?
Yeah. So you’re not at the moment, but I live in Oak park.
But that means you’re right near where the first of the real interesting stuff in physics is taking place. Right.
Are you’re talking about a Fermi lab, that’s where I am right now. Yeah. That’s for nets in Batavia, Illinois. That’s farther out West. Right, right. But yeah, I mean I’m, I’m the main high rise tower at Fermilab as we speak and I’m looking out the window and I can see you know, the, the, the campus where the Tevatron was the, a big particle accelerator we had here for a long time. That’s retired now. But but yeah, we, we’ve made a lot of great discoveries here. Back in the day.
I remember when we were little kids, we are not little kids, but when we were in high school, we got, took a tour out there just to see this is out here. This is the thing. I remember
You may still take tours here all the time. There’s a steady flow of science and enthusiasm coming through.
Now remind me, why did that get retired? What superseded that accelerator?
Well. So you know, for a long time the biggest accelerator in the world was the Tevatron. But in Europe at a, at the CERN laboratory, we built this thing called the large Hadron Collider, which is even bigger. In most respects is just a bigger, more modern version of the type of Tron. It’s a little different cause it collides protons with protons at the Tevatron we collided protons with antiprotons. So there’s some subtle difference differences. But basically the large Hadron Collider is a bigger, more modern version of the Tevatron. And once that was up and running and had been collecting data for a while, it made sense to retire the Tevatron and move on to other things.
And you write in your book about next steps in what we need to build and to get to the next steps. And in understanding all this, all these ideas, all these concepts. I’ll come to that though. For the first time, human beings have begun to understand the origins of the universe have begun. How far past have begun? Are we?
Well, there’s always going to be questions that we don’t have answers to. I think that’s just the nature of science. I think I talk about it in the last chapter that I just don’t think there could ever be an end of, of the [inaudible] progress or the, the quest we call science. But a hundred years ago we didn’t even have an inkling about how our universe might change or evolve or if you don’t know that it could change or evolve, you certainly can’t talk about how it might’ve begun that those were just questions you couldn’t even conceptualize much must much less try to answer. But now, I mean, we’ve got a pretty good picture of how our universe has changed over as 13.8 billion year history. We know what it was like a billion years ago. We know it is like 10 billion years ago, but we know what it was like.
A hundred thousand years after the big bang. We notice last a second after the big bang, that first second. There’s a lot of mystery. We don’t know what the we don’t have any direct way of observing what the universe was like a million or a billion or a trillionth of a second after the big bang. We can do some experiments that inform us as to what it might’ve been like, but we don’t really know. And in that tiny fraction of a second carries with it enormous implications for how the world got to be the way it is. And I think that’s, that’s the part that has a lot of nuts yet to be cracked. That that is really where the mysteries and cosmology lie.
What would be occurring? What’s thoughts or conjecture that’s occurring in the first, second of the big bang that could possibly be occurring?
Well, instead of thinking about it as an event, let’s just think for a second about how space expands. So it turns out that if you have a piece of space with a pretty uniform amount of energy or matter in it, the space will expand faster if there’s more stuff in it. So today the universe is pretty big and pretty dilute most of spaces pretty close to empty. And, and, and in this state, the universe is expanding pretty slowly about if you take two points in space a few million light years apart from each other, there’ll be moving away from each other because of the expansion of space at about like 70 kilometers a second. So pretty slow in the grand scheme of things. But when the universe was smaller, the density of all that energy was higher space was expanding faster and you’d go back farther and farther and farther in time, and you reach a point where the universe was really, really dense. It was really, really hot and it was expanding really, really fast. And that is how I think about the big bang, this sort of state of hyper rapid expansion, hyper high temperatures, incredibly high densities all evolving in the blink of an eye.
That’s, that’s just an, an amazing thing to try to contemplate. And you know, I was, I was a, I was talking to a friend who is, you know, a rational journalist and telling him I was, I was talking to you and he said, I have a friend who’s also a physicist and we talk about these things, but he gets to a point where he says, my friend says to his friend, you know, it’s just sounds like magical thinking to me. What, what do you tell us? What do you tell him in me about why it isn’t magical thinking? Why the calculations that that Freedman Alexander Friedman did a hundred years ago being confirmed today, tell us the math gives us these answers
If, okay, if, if in 1922 and Alexander Freeman was doing those calculations, if you asked me then, if I had been around then and, and I was, you know, a similar kind of businesses, but within 1922 sort of perspective and knowledge I would have told you, of course this won’t turn out to be right. The university will be more complicated than that. I’m sure it’s worth checking, but probably something else will show up when we do the observations. It’s quite remarkable that Alexander Freeman turned out to be right. So let me back up and say what Alexander Freeman worked out and, and, and, and, and what, how we found out that it was true. So in 1915, Einstein published his general theory of relativity, which says that space and time aren’t the sort of static, unchanging backdrops that we usually think of them as or, or at least before Einstein, we thought about them as instead space can warp and change and expand and contract and do all sorts of things.
And if it does those things depending on how much energy including matter there is in space and where it is in space. So Freeman was one of the first people to look at Einstein’s theory and say, well, okay, if we take the universe as a whole, we make certain simplifying assumptions. Like there’s the same amount of stuff everywhere on average. You can work out that the universe should either be expanding or contracting and then you can exactly work out how much it should be expanding or contracting. At the time, Einstein really rejected this idea. Einstein really thought the universe should be static and he said some pretty critical things, dismissive things, even about Friedman and others work. But in 1929 and when the huddle observed that our universe is in fact expanding and that suddenly put Friedman’s work and others on pretty high plane and people then took that and built upon it. And slowly over the course of decades or even a century, we’ve measured how our universe expanded, not just today but over it’s 13.8 billion year history. And we now have a really detailed picture of how that’s all played out. And if you take Freeman’s equations from 1922 and plot those curves right through what we’ve measured, man, it is spot on. So yeah, Friedman’s work turned out to be entirely valid to the best of our ability to measure it a hundred years later.
Do you ever feel trapped by the language you to use? In other words, the mathematics, mathematical equations, the work you do can prove it, but then when you have to explain it, you have to come up with metaphors, big bang Einsteins. I, you know, a car and Newtonian universe. There was a car in Einsteinian universe, that sort of thing.
Yeah, I think, I mean this is just a statement about language, right? I mean I would argue that if you want to talk about the feelings you have for the most important people in your life and you know, you, you would, even in that case, you’d have to rely on metaphor and, and the imperfect, a limitations of language. Or if I want to talk about how my favorite record makes me feel when I hear it or if I want to talk about you know, why I prefer a particular kind of scotch over another kind. Like all these things rely on, on language, which in, in any cases is, is imperfectly designed for the problem at hand. The science is the same way. And I, I find it actually helpful in my research to have to try to explain what I’m doing to people who aren’t scientists. Because if I can think about the problems I’m working on in my research in different, in different conceptual frameworks, and you’re using different language, for example, not just mathematics it means it helps me to understand it more deeply and sometimes that actually leads to breakthroughs. And if I can understand it more clearly or more deeply, it’s more, more likely that I’ll be able to come up with you know, well I’ll be able to advance the problem in ways that may be just manipulating equations won’t, won’t facilitate.
Hmm. Hey, any examples of that for you where you have advanced the the problem address? The problem is advanced advanced it by putting it into a language first.
Well, I don’t know if we’ve advanced it yet, but just this week some colleagues of mine here, Fermi lab and a couple of people in Oxford and I are, are thinking about what black holes in the early universe might have been like. And it turns out that the math says that if, if a black hole is spinning, it radiates away certain kinds of particles more than if it’s not spinning. And I’ve read the papers that show this as true and I think I understand the math, but I didn’t have any intuitive understanding for why these conclusions followed. So I sat down with my colleagues and I said, let’s try to explain to each other why this is true without using any map. And we put it in words in different ways and we’re like, well, is that really right in, does that really right or is there a better way to think about it?
And I think at the end of that conversation I had a different, or maybe even deeper understanding of why that happens to be true. You know, I wouldn’t, I probably wouldn’t put that in the paper. I’m going to write on this and I’m going to publish in a journal for other scientists. The, the math will be there, but I don’t, I don’t know that all this pontificating about metaphors will be, but it helps me think about the problem. And I think that’s at least as important as a, you know, making sure you get the factors of two right.
I thought it was interesting in your book how you talked about one of the, one of the problems that you run into in studying the universe is that we only had the one universe to study. Yeah. So we’re inside the box and trying to figure it out. It’d be a lot different if we could get outside the box. I mean we are trapped by our own cognition abilities, cognitive abilities, aren’t we?
Well not just our own cognitive abilities, but our own empirical limitations. So probably the single most important thing we have to observe about our universe in terms of cosmology is what we call the cosmic microwave background. This is the light that was released throughout all the space, about 380,000 years after the big bang when the first Adams were forming. And we have studied this over the last 50 years in quite amazing detail and we look up at the sky and we see this pattern of slightly hotter and slightly colder places in the sky. In terms of the radiation that’s from this background, but we basically, I’m gun pretty close to a extracting all the information we can get out of that. We’ve counted the number of hot spots and cold spots of different sizes and we’ve just kind of run out of sky. If we could instantly teleport somewhere else in the universe, you know, a, you know, a 1 billion light years away or something there, you’d have another pattern of hot and cold spots in the sky. You can measure those and you can know twice as much as we do. But we can’t do that. There’s no way to get a billion light years away except by traveling for a billion years and that’s not very practical. So yeah, we’ve kind of extracted everything. Well, almost everything. We’re approaching the point where we are gonna distract everything we can out of this cosmic microwave background. And we’re going to have to find new and different ways to learn how to learn about our universe from that.
What are people thinking about? What’s the new and different way that might be possible? What’s the conjecture?
Well, it totally depends on what time scale you’re thinking about. Like, so for the next decade, we’re just gonna keep squeezing the cousin micro background, keep getting more and more out of that. Beyond that we’re talking about using something we call 21 centimeter cosmology to, to kind of extract even more information out of the universe. The basic idea there is that all the hydrogen gas runs, but the universe gives up a particular kind of light. And by measuring that light at different frequencies, you measure the light that was admitted at different points in cosmic history. So you kind of get different slices at different points in time, so you can kind of have put together like a film strip of of the universe history with pictures at different frames. So that, that’s an exciting thing that we’re just starting to do now. We’re also just starting to be able to do what we call gravitational wave astronomy.
Where we detect the ripples in space and time that are created when it really dramatic things happen. Like black holes merging with one another, stuff like that. And it’s possible one day we’ll detect gravitational waves that were released are produced in the big bang itself. That would be pretty exciting. Even farther down the road I think we’ll be studying something called the cosmic neutrino background. So the universe we think or we’re pretty sure is a build with a bunch of particles we call neutrinos that were produced about a second or so after the big bang. Eventually we’re going to measure those and not just tell that they’re there, but we measure them in detail. I mean, this is probably a hundred years from now or something, but but yeah, we have a lot of steps that I’m excited about going forward. Even some of them that will be well after my time on earth has gone
Well. I just liked it. You use the phrase ripples in time and space because that just says what level that we’re operating at when we’re thinking about these things. [inaudible]
Well, let me tell you a little bit more about that. So, you know, like I said before, nine Stein’s theory of relativity space itself can change. So like for example,
If I take two points in space, the distance between those points in space can change without anything moving. This, the space itself can do the changing. So when things like black holes merge with each other, that’s so dramatic that it sends these waves through space, these ripples. And as those ripples pass through you, the distance between points in space kind of go back and forth. They oscillate back and forth getting farther and closer away from each other. Now it’s really subtle. It’s you, you need incredibly sensitive detectors to even notice this is happening. But for the first time we’re able to see these, these waves and they’re real phenomena. And you know, we see a bunch of these ’em every year now when a black holes merge.
Hmm. All right, two questions. Two callbacks. One do you have a preferred scotch?
It changes with time these days. I’m, I’ve been a bourbon guy lately. I know it’s not a scotch, but I, I, and I, I’m, I have a pretty serious hobby in a cocktail making. I’ve got a half of my kitchen is full of cocktail gear and kits and various bottles of, of things. If you’re ever in Chicago, look me up and I’ll fix you up with a, a nice drink.
I’ve, I’ve gravitated to bourbons as well in the last few years. I guess we’re part of a trend. Is there a all right. Yeah. I had a mezcal cocktail yesterday that I really loved. So WWE gimme one gimme one bourbon cocktail that you’ve been making that you really are enjoying making.
So I’ve been doing these smoked old fashioned actions lately. Oh what I mean by smoke, so it’s just like super classical fashion. There’s nothing fancy about it at all, except that I have of some pieces of wood that are planks from a bourbon barrel and I light them on fire and I take a cold glass and I catch the smoke on the surface of the glass and it turns out the cold glass smoke naturally adheres to. So I do that and I get the right amount smoking it, and then I pour the drink into the, into the glass. And it really, you know, just makes for a beautiful variants of an old fashioned.
Very nice. It’s nice to have those [inaudible]. I mean, I imagine it’s nice to have those hobbies when you come home from doing big brainwork. You can do something simpler.
I’ve been a hobby guy my whole life. You know, in the hobbies change with time, but I get pretty obsessed with whatever hobby I’m on at the moment.
I see. Okay. Here’s my other, just I cavalierly, and you kind of already explained this, but I cavalierly said a car and Einstein’s universe in the car and Newton’s universe you described, you know, driving in a square mile, both those things. Would you elaborate on what the difference is and what that tells us about the universe we live in?
So I use this metaphor in the book to try to convey the difference between the Newtonian view of space and time that the version that physicists adhere to before Einstein. And then Einstein’s view of space and time. So in, in the Newtonian view, I imagine somebody getting in a car, they drive a mile, they turn 90 degrees to the right, they drive a mile and then 90 degrees to the right again in nine degrees to right again. And you’ve gone a perfect square and you wind up exactly where you started because that of course is what, you know, your high school geometry says what happened, but then Einstein’s a car or an in a car being driven in Einstein’s sort of universe, which happens to be our kind of universe that geometry can change. So if you drive the car too fast, that will change the route you take through space.
And if there’s a bunch of energy in the form of mass or other stuff somewhere along your route that will warp or distort the geometry of space in such a way that after you’ve driven your, what you think is a perfect square, you’re not exactly where you started. So for example, take the solar system in the Newtonian view, we said that space was just this perfect static, rigid backdrop in the force of gravity pulled between the sun and earth in such a way to keep the earth on its elliptical orbit around the sun. What Einstein said is that the really deep down isn’t a force of gravity. Instead, the energy that’s stored in the mass of the sun changes the geometry of space throughout the solar system and the earth is simply moving on what is basically a straight line through that space. But that straight line happens to wrap around on itself and it seems to us like it’s elliptical orbit.
So instead of thinking about gravity is a force, Einstein said gravity is just the phenomena that follows from the way that mass and energy changed the geometry of space in a warp space. A bunch of this stuff you were taught in like 10th grade geometry turns out not to be true. Like we were taught that if you take two parallel lines and follow them, they stay parallel forever. But that’s only true and in flat space or non warped or non curved space. But it turns out those paralyze parallel lines can sometimes converge or diverge. And according to Einstein and we’ve measured them. That’s true. Also things like the, like a triangle in your high school geometry class that any three angles, the three angles of any triangle will always add up to 180 degrees. Not. So in curb stir workspace they can add up to either more or less than 180, depending on the geometry of that space. So, you know, Einstein’s view of space and time was, you know, really turned the whole Newtonian view on its head. It was probably the greatest paradigm shift in the history of physics.
We operate in Newtonian or Einsteinian space in our, when I walk around my house. Well, Newtonian space is a really good approximation of anything you’re going to find around here. Okay. Unless you’re like close to a black hole or something like that. The universe we live in is awfully close to Newtonian, but we can do really high precision tests that show that it’s not perfectly Newtonian and you’d really need Einstein’s theory to get the details right. For example, the GPS system, there’s satellites that tell your phone exactly where you are at any given moment. Those wouldn’t work if we didn’t put in the relativist of corrections. You know, and, and when we put satellites out in the solar system, we need to account for all of the relative as of corrections if we want to accurately predict where they’ll go in a and navigate them properly. So, yeah, I mean, the universe is in fact that we live in is in fact one described by general relativity. But you won’t, you know, screw yourself up too much by wandering around, you know, your, your neighborhood and with the Newtonian perspective in mind.
But given that the Einsteinian perspective has, has value. So just in the last, well, just recently we’ve had another announcement about quantum computing. How does quantum computing, if at all, relate to the notions and the quantum theories that you’re, you know, you’re looking at when you’re exploring a concept like the quantum gravity era?
Sure. So there are really two really important underlying theories that were developed in the 20th century and physics one, one’s relativity, which I already of talked about a bit. The other is quantum physics or quantum mechanics, or mean the same thing. So before the quantum revolution, people thought of objects as being, for example, in one place at one time and having a well-defined velocity and, and, and events that took place took place at one specific point in time and one specific place and stuff like this. But that’s not really how the universe turns out to work. Instead, instead of talking about an electron as like a point in space, you have to talk about it as a wave that describes a probability distribution of outcomes or, and can be in different places at one time and they can move and you have different velocities, different amounts of energy at the same time.
And events that take place can, can occur at multiple times at once. You may have heard of things like Schrodinger’s cat, which kind of is a thought experiment that illustrate some of this weirdness when it comes to quantum computing. Whereas in a non quantum computer, what we call a classical computer takes these kinds of you know, analogues steps where you know, you you, you kind of calculate things one bit at a time in quantum computing. You can, like, just like an electron can be a superposition of different places. A quantum computer combines things called cubits, which do calculations and superposition and for certain kinds of algorithm, algorithmic problems, you can do them much faster with a quantum computer than you can with a classical computer. I think the, the news you’re talking about is that Google has announced that it’s done some sort of quantum computation faster than you can with a classical computer for the first time. I’m not an expert on this, but I, you know, I’ve read the same articles that you have probably, if that’s true, that’s a really big step. And you know, it’s exciting to be living in the future.
Yeah. Does it, does this sort of work inform your work at all or is it very far removed?
Well, certainly quantum physics informs my work in almost every step. I’m, I was trained as a particle physicist and that’s still kind of my, my basic mindset as a, as a scientist and particle physics is a fundamentally quantum kind of physics. When I talk about particles, I’m talking about quantum objects behave in quantum sort of ways. And so yeah, when I, when I, when I do physics, I’m usually doing quantum physics. Now when it comes to quantum computing, I mean, that’s an application of quantum physics. I am, I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase quantum computing in a paper I’ve written. But you can certainly consider me an interested or even fascinated spectator.
But it’s another example, isn’t it, of the, of both the progress and the pro proof that’s evolved from when Einstein first proposed these concepts.
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I mean, this, this stuff isn’t some sort of esoteric, philosophical you know, point. It’s something that enables us to build workable technologies that really work in the real world. You know, in the same way that you need general relativity to get GPS to work, right. And I need to know how quantum mechanics works to make the transistors and my cell phone work. You know? Yeah. These are, these are extremely real world theories that not have, not only been tested and have been shown to be correct, but enable us them and they manipulate our world in new and powerful ways.
You were talking about the Einstein was saying that gravity wasn’t a force itself, but but an outcome of other forces but you also wrote for gravity to be compatible with quantum theory, we need gravitons or gravity particles. Put that in context for me.
Yeah. So, so, okay, let instead of talking about gravity first, let’s just talk about electromagnetism, which is something we understand much better than we understand gravity. So on the one hand we have the idea of the of the electromagnetic force. We know a magnet’s work. We know electric fields work, things like this. We use these things called Maxwell’s equations to describe that stuff, but that’s the classical or non quantum version of electromagnetism. We also know that deep down what electromagnetism is, are a bunch of photons. These are individual particles or Quanta of the electromagnetic field, and these particles travel through space. And some sort of way that we now understand very, very well. And the sort of classical big picture of limit of those photons is the electromagnetic force that we understand. So in an analogy, we have a classical theory of gravity, general relativity, and that works really well.
It’s, it’s not that it’s wrong or something, but we know deep down there must be a quantum version of it. That underpins it all. And just like there’s a photon which is responsible for the electromagnetic force, we imagine there has to be a particle we use called the gravitron. And it is somehow responsible for the phenomena we call gravity or, or the, or the phenomenon associated with general relativity. We’ve never seen a graviton and it would be really, really hard to do. So it’s the sort of thing that it would be hard to imagine an experiment that would actually see these particles individually, but you know, in the distant future perhaps but we don’t know how this works. We don’t have a really a workable theory of quantum gravity yet people speculate about things like string theory and loop quantum gravity is ideas, but we just don’t know how gravity works at a quantum level. We snow. It has to, it’s, you know, deep down. But there are more open questions associated with quantum gravity than there are you know, real solutions at this time.
You have at the beginning of the book, this the big bang Erez and the era at, at 10 to the minus 43 to 10 to the minus 95, approximately, right? So this is right at the, I don’t how, what, but milliseconds, I don’t even know how to break it down smaller than that of the big bang is the quantum gravity era. What does that mean? There’s, there’s an unknown in there, but it has to, there’s something, it has to be,
Well, we don’t know what that era was like. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. But we do know that when the universe was that hot and that dense, that the laws of physics that we know of have to break down. We know that general relativity is not compatible with quantum mechanics at those extreme condition, under those extreme conditions. So there has to be some new theory that comes into play. A theory of quantum gravity. We don’t know what that’s like. We can speculate. But yeah, and when we, when we run our equations backward, we seem to think that roughly 10 to the minus 43 seconds after the big bang is, is where this era was, was kind of a completing itself. So there was this little tiny bit of time where the universe maybe can, consisted of more than three dimensions of space, we don’t know. And maybe space itself kind of existed in the superposition of different shapes and geometries. Maybe it was 11 dimensional or 26 dimensional. And who knows what kinds of forms of matter and energy existed at that time. All we can really say for sure is that our universe in that era looked nothing like the universe. What we see around us today.
You already touched on it, but you must, when you’re thinking about these things, you must, and I know everybody must ask you this cause it’s so perplexing. What’s the before? Do you speculate on it before or do you just or not?
Well, so I mean if you really just take general relativity and run it backwards, you find that 13 8.8 billion years ago, the universe gets hotter and hotter and hotter and denser and denser and denser and it’s at a spirit specific point in time at what we call times zero. Okay. The universe gets infinitely hot and infinitely dense and then time doesn’t go back any further than that. So they’re literally, according to that picture wasn’t any time prior to the big Bay. It’s like talking about what happened before the big bang. From that perspective, it’s kind of like talking about what’s North of the North pole. Like you just, there is no way to get to travel in any direction on the surface here is that we’ll get you farther North than that. That’s just the edge of of spacetime, which is where the title for my book at the edge of time comes from.
So all that being said I think we should be pretty open minded about how that really played out after all. We don’t have any way of observing the first fraction of a second after the big bang. And it’s entirely plausible in my opinion, that any number of weird unexpected things happened in that window. And maybe there were things that happened before that some very serious businesses talk about scenarios where a, the big bang kind of occurs in cycles where the universe expands for awhile and then it contracts and it kind of goes through a bounce and starts all over again. I, those theories have problems and none of them really work very well so far. But is it possible that one day we’ll work out a theory like that that does work and that turns out to be right. I think we should be open minded to that. On the other hand, it’s also possible that there really was a, an edge in terms of time and there just wasn’t anything that occurred before that and not only to know events happened, but there was no time in which those events may have happened. Before T equals zero.
We are back to the question of language again, aren’t we though? I like the analogy of you can’t go North of the North pole. That’s fascinating. Tell me something, what do you get like your, I, I’m sure you’re gonna this is at the edge of time is a great book and you’re going to have many, many great questions when you come to town hall. But what do you get
From I guess, yeah, spiritually if I may from top from talking about these ideas.
Not just from talking about these ideas, but just from thinking about these ideas and getting to think about it in a lot of different ways. I mean, I just invited deeply fascinating in a way that I don’t think I have language to convey or communicate. And I don’t know when would you use the word spiritual? So I’ll kind of go in that direction. I mean, when I hear Buddhist monks talk about the kind of transcendental or sublime experiences they have in meditation and you know, I’ve never had that experience myself. But you know, I have some some experiences thinking about the universe and having insights about it that I would describe as sublime. I don’t know about transcendental, but you know, the closest thing I’ve ever come and there’s, there’s some kind of way in which my brain gets rewarded for, for kind of wrapping its head around some of these hard ideas. And it, it feels good and it feels exciting and it feels kind of pure. I think a certain kinds of scientific experiences or intellectual experiences probably it doesn’t have to be science can, can be deeply satisfying in a way that very few things in my experience happen.
Great. Great answer that that in a in a good, good PD scotch. All right. Thank you sir. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Oh, I’m excited about this and I can’t wait to come to Seattle, so.
Great. Great. All right. Enjoy the, I hope you have some decent weather. Enjoy the decent Midwestern Indian summer, if that’s what you’re having.
Yeah, I enjoy the fall. This is a good weather. I like Chicago in the fall.
Yeah. All right. Thanks a lot. All right. Cheers man. Take care. Bye.
Steve shares spoke with Dan Hooper, author of at the edge of time exploring the mysteries of our universe’s first seconds. He will be speaking on our forums stage at town hall on November 8th at 7:30 PM thank you for joining us for episode 45 of in the moment. Earthy music comes from the Seattle based band, EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records. Listen to our town hall produced events on our earths and culture, civics and science series, podcasts, and you can watch a bunch of great events on our town hall, Seattle YouTube channel. So check that out as well to support town hall, see our lineup of, or to access our media library head to our website at town hall, seattle.org next week, our chief correspondent Steve share, we’ll be in conversation with Northwest harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds about food as a right in Washington state. Till then, thanks for joining us right here in the moment.