Cosmology Intelligent Design Physics

Rob Sheldon on whether Quanta mag’s universe is closed or flat

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Whether “we have got it all wrong” was the topic of a recent physics thinkpiece:

A provocative paper published today in the journal Nature Astronomy argues that the universe may curve around and close in on itself like a sphere, rather than lying flat like a sheet of paper as the standard theory of cosmology predicts. The authors reanalyzed a major cosmological data set and concluded that the data favors a closed universe with 99% certainty — even as other evidence suggests the universe is flat.

Natalie Wolchover, “What Shape Is the Universe? A New Study Suggests We’ve Got It All Wrong” at Quanta

Competitive researchers, of course, disagree:

However, the team of scientists behind the Planck telescope reached different conclusions in their 2018 analysis. Antony Lewis, a cosmologist at the University of Sussex and a member of the Planck team who worked on that analysis, said the simplest explanation for the specific feature in the CMB data that di Valentino, Melchiorri and Silk interpreted as evidence for a closed universe “is that it is just a statistical fluke.” Lewis and other experts say they’ve already closely scrutinized the issue, along with related puzzles in the data.

“There is no dispute that these symptoms exist at some level,” said Graeme Addison, a cosmologist at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved in the Planck analysis or the new research. “There is only disagreement as to the interpretation.”

Natalie Wolchover, “What Shape Is the Universe? A New Study Suggests We’ve Got It All Wrong” at Quanta

From our physics color commentator, experimental physicist Rob Sheldon, also the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent, vols 1 and 2, . He thinks overspecialization plays a role in some of these problems:


The Long Ascent: Genesis 1–11 in Science & Myth, Volume 1 by [Sheldon, Robert]

One of the difficulties of modern science is that it discourages generalists, people who know a little bit about everything. Galileo was a generalist, Newton was a generalist, Einstein not so much, and anyone born in the 20th century, not a chance.

Specialists can know their field very, very well. When they go to scientific meetings, they can even have a working knowledge of related fields. But astronomers do not go to geology meetings, and atomic-molecular-optics physicists do not go to cosmology meetings. As a result, they know no more about these other fields than the average interested layman. They read Scientific American, they read the intro articles in Science or in Nature, and occasionally thumb through the highly-condensed scientific letters in the back. This is where the gatekeeping of SciAm or Nature becomes so important because it tells these specialists what are the latest “approved” theories in fields distant from their own.

The Long Ascent, Volume 2

The result, as everyone here knows, is that all biologists know that Evolution doesn’t work in their specialty, but they believe it works generally for the other specialties. Every astronomer knows about the problems of Lambda-CDM model in their specialty but believes it works in the other specialties. This article discusses how the LCDM model fails to predict the “blurriness” of the 3 and 4-point correlations in the Planck data set. But the model works for baryon-acoustic-oscillations (BAO), they said. However, when you read the BAO literature, you find that 4 free parameters in the LDCM fit the first 4 peaks perfectly but miss the fifth. Indeed, in the big bang nucleosynthesis the 4 free parameters in the LCMD model fit the first 4 species perfectly but miss the 5th. Likewise the “lambda” of LDCM is the “anti-gravity” or “dark energy” term that won Adam Riess a Nobel prize in 2011, but only worked for his selected set of 75 supernovae, and doesn’t work for the expanded set of 1000+ since then, and certainly not for this CMB data set. But then, it was never intended as a theory to explain supernovae data, it was intended as a free parameter for the LCDM model to get those “good predictions”. As this Nature paper concludes,

“…the flat ΛCDM model, de facto, does not seem any longer to provide a good candidate for concordance cosmology…”


See also: Slapping Sabine Hossenfelder isn’t going to solve physics’ problems. But the frustration some feel about the situation they are in tells us a lot.

6 Replies to “Rob Sheldon on whether Quanta mag’s universe is closed or flat

  1. 1
    PaV says:

    I consider “flat space” to be an abomination. This makes no sense to me at all. I have labored for years under the assumption that physics considers the universe to be spherical. If God makes a universe, you can bet it’s spherical.

    Is science finally catching up to God?

  2. 2
    PaV says:

    P.S. Thanks for posting this article, “News.” And thanks, Rob, for the comments.

  3. 3

    Pav,
    “Flat” universe is not the same as “flat” earth.

    A flat earth is 2-dimensional, so that distances are just like pythagoras said: distance^2 = x-distance^2 + y-distance^2. Think of a road atlas, all laid out in squares so that you can always find a distance with a ruler. The reason this doesn’t work for the earth, is that the earth is a sphere, and shortest distance from LA to Paris is over the North Pole. (Get a globe. Put a pushpin at LA, and another at Paris. Stretch a rubber band over the 2 pushpins, and you’ll find the shortest distance really is over the North Pole.)

    A flat universe is 3-dimensional, and works the way Kant envisioned, with space divided up into orderly cubes out to infinity. In a flat universe, the distance is always distance^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2. Well, what else could it be?

    Back to our North Pole example. If you flew from LA to Paris, Paris to NY, and NY to LA, you would need 3 pushpins. If you stretched rubber bands over them all, they make a triangle. But a very peculiar triangle, because the angles don’t add up to 180, In the extreme case, say, Singapore, Quito and the North pole, they would add up to almost 280 degrees!

    In general, if the universe is closed or spherical, then the angles of a triangle add up to more than 180, whereas if the universe is open or hyperbolic, the angles add up to less than 180. As far as anyone can measure, in our universe the angles of a triangle add up to exactly 180, which is probably what you were thinking all along.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    as to this comment from the article,

    “Sure, we can focus on this one anomaly — a coin coming up heads 11 times in a row — and say that something’s off. But the CMB is such a huge data set that it’s like flipping a coin hundreds or thousands of times. It’s not too hard to imagine that in doing so, we’ll encounter one random run of 11 heads. Physicists call this the “look elsewhere” effect.
    Furthermore, researchers note that the seventh parameter isn’t needed for most other measurements. There’s a second way of gleaning the spatial curvature from the CMB, by measuring correlations between light from sets of four points in the sky; this “lensing reconstruction” measurement indicates that the universe is flat, with no seventh parameter needed. In addition, the BOSS survey’s independent observations of cosmological signals called baryon acoustic oscillations also point to flatness.”
    https://www.quantamagazine.org/what-shape-is-the-universe-closed-or-flat-20191104/

    That supposed ‘finding’ that the universe is curved reminds of the time when some physicists thought that they had found evidence for a multiverse in the CMB data. To which Woit quipped, ‘It’s well-known that one can find Stephen Hawking’s initials, and just about any other pattern one can think of somewhere in the CMB data.,, So, the bottom line is that they see nothing, but a press release has been issued about how wonderful it is that they have looked for evidence of a Multiverse, without mentioning that they found nothing.’

    This Week’s Hype – August 2011
    Excerpt: ‘It’s well-known that one can find Stephen Hawking’s initials, and just about any other pattern one can think of somewhere in the CMB data.,, So, the bottom line is that they see nothing, but a press release has been issued about how wonderful it is that they have looked for evidence of a Multiverse, without mentioning that they found nothing.’
    – Peter Woit PhD.
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~.....ss/?p=3879

    Statistical flukes aside, it is also interesting to note just how fine tuned the flatness of the universe is currently measured to be:

    How do we know the universe is flat? Discovering the topology of the universe – by Fraser Cain – June 7, 2017
    Excerpt: With the most sensitive space-based telescopes they have available, astronomers are able to detect tiny variations in the temperature of this background radiation.
    And here’s the part that blows my mind every time I think about it. These tiny temperature variations correspond to the largest scale structures of the observable universe. A region that was a fraction of a degree warmer become a vast galaxy cluster, hundreds of millions of light-years across.
    The cosmic microwave background radiation just gives and gives, and when it comes to figuring out the topology of the universe, it has the answer we need. If the universe was curved in any way, these temperature variations would appear distorted compared to the actual size that we see these structures today.
    But they’re not. To best of its ability, ESA’s Planck space telescope, can’t detect any distortion at all. The universe is flat.,,,
    We say that the universe is flat, and this means that parallel lines will always remain parallel. 90-degree turns behave as true 90-degree turns, and everything makes sense.,,,
    Since the universe is flat now, it must have been flat in the past, when the universe was an incredibly dense singularity. And for it to maintain this level of flatness over 13.8 billion years of expansion, in kind of amazing.
    In fact, astronomers estimate that the universe must have been flat to 1 part within 1×10^57 parts.
    Which seems like an insane coincidence.
    https://phys.org/news/2017-06-universe-flat-topology.html

    Fine-Tuning Really Is A Problem In Physics – Ethan Siegel – Apr 5, 2019
    Excerpt: By comparing the observations we make with our theoretical predictions for what those fluctuations should look like in a Universe with varying amounts of curvature, we can determine that the Universe is extremely spatially flat, even today. If we extrapolate back to the earliest stages of the hot Big Bang based on our modern observations, we learn that the initial expansion rate and the initial energy density must be balanced to something like 50 significant digits.,,,
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/04/05/fine-tuning-really-is-a-problem-in-physics/

    Flatness problem
    Excerpt: Data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (measuring CMB anisotropies) combined with that from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and observations of type-Ia supernovae constrain ?0 to be 1 within 1%.[9] In other words, the term |? ? 1| is currently less than 0.01, and therefore must have been less than 10^-62 at the Planck era.
    Implication
    This tiny value is the crux of the flatness problem. If the initial density of the universe could take any value, it would seem extremely surprising to find it so ‘finely tuned’ to the critical value Pc. Indeed, a very small departure of ? from 1 in the early universe would have been magnified during billions of years of expansion to create a current density very far from critical.
    – per wikipedia

    As John Gribbin noted, “The Universe today is actually very close to the most unlikely state of all, absolute flatness.”

    “The Universe today is actually very close to the most unlikely state of all, absolute flatness. And that means it must have been born in an even flatter state, as Dicke and Peebles, two of the Princeton astronomers involved in the discovery of the 3 K background radiation, pointed out in 1979. Finding the Universe in a state of even approximate flatness today is even less likely than finding a perfectly sharpened pencil balancing on its point for millions of years, for, as Dicke and Peebles pointed out, any deviation of the Universe from flatness in the Big Bang would have grown, and grown markedly, as the Universe expanded and aged. Like the pencil balanced on its point and given the tiniest nudges, the Universe soon shifts away from perfect flatness.”
    ~ John Gribbin, In Search of the Big Bang

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    And as the following article states, “NEXT time you fancy doing something really frustrating, try balancing a pencil on its sharpened tip. Your efforts will succeed for a second at most. Yet the universe has been succeeding at a similar gravitational trick for the last 13.8 billion years.,,,”

    The universe is flat as a pancake. Coincidence?
    Dark energy is smoothing the expanding cosmic curves – but only exactly the right amount can make that happen – Oct. 2016
    Excerpt: NEXT time you fancy doing something really frustrating, try balancing a pencil on its sharpened tip. Your efforts will succeed for a second at most. Yet the universe has been succeeding at a similar gravitational trick for the last 13.8 billion years.,,,
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23230970-800-cosmic-coincidences-the-universe-is-flat-as-a-pancake/

    Moreover, it is also important to point out that the reason why Euclidean (3 Dimensional) geometry is even applicable in our science, technology, and engineering in the first place is because the 4-Dimensional space-time of our universe (General Relativity) is exceptionally, and unexpectedly “flat”. As Fraser Cain stated in the following article, which was referenced previously, “We say that the universe is flat, and this means that parallel lines will always remain parallel. 90-degree turns behave as true 90-degree turns, and everything makes sense.,,,’

    How do we know the universe is flat? Discovering the topology of the universe – by Fraser Cain – June 7, 2017
    Excerpt: We say that the universe is flat, and this means that parallel lines will always remain parallel. 90-degree turns behave as true 90-degree turns, and everything makes sense.,,,
    Since the universe is flat now, it must have been flat in the past, when the universe was an incredibly dense singularity. And for it to maintain this level of flatness over 13.8 billion years of expansion, in kind of amazing.
    In fact, astronomers estimate that the universe must have been flat to 1 part within 1×10^57 parts.
    Which seems like an insane coincidence.
    – phys org

    Why We Need Cosmic Inflation
    By Paul Sutter, Astrophysicist | October 22, 2018
    Excerpt: As best as we can measure, the geometry of our universe appears to be perfectly, totally, ever-so-boringly flat. On large, cosmic scales, parallel lines stay parallel forever, interior angles of triangles add up to 180 degrees, and so on. All the rules of Euclidean geometry that you learned in high school apply.
    But there’s no reason for our universe to be flat. At large scales it could’ve had any old curvature it wanted. Our cosmos could’ve been shaped like a giant, multidimensional beach ball, or a horse-riding saddle. But, no, it picked flat.
    https://www.space.com/42202-why-we-need-cosmic-inflation.html

    Simply put, without some remarkable degree of exceptionally stable flatness for the universe, (as well as exceptional stability for all the other constants), Euclidean (3-Dimensional) geometry would not be applicable to our world. or to the universe at large, and this would make science and engineering for humans, for all practical purposes, all but impossible.

    Scientists Question Nature’s Fundamental Laws – Michael Schirber – 2006
    Excerpt: “There is absolutely no reason these constants should be constant,” says astronomer Michael Murphy of the University of Cambridge. “These are famous numbers in physics, but we have no real reason for why they are what they are.”
    The observed differences are small-roughly a few parts in a million-but the implications are huge (if they hold up): The laws of physics would have to be rewritten, not to mention we might need to make room for six more spatial dimensions than the three that we are used to.”,,,
    The speed of light, for instance, might be measured one day with a ruler and a clock. If the next day the same measurement gave a different answer, no one could tell if the speed of light changed, the ruler length changed, or the clock ticking changed.
    http://www.space.com/2613-scie.....-laws.html

    Moreover, as Fraser Cain also noted in his article, the ‘tiny temperature variations correspond to the largest scale structures of the observable universe.’

    How do we know the universe is flat? Discovering the topology of the universe – by Fraser Cain – June 7, 2017
    Excerpt: “And here’s the part that blows my mind every time I think about it. These tiny temperature variations correspond to the largest scale structures of the observable universe. A region that was a fraction of a degree warmer become a vast galaxy cluster, hundreds of millions of light-years across.”
    – per physorg

    And what is interesting about that, in regards to ‘these largest scale structures of the observable universe’, astronomy now reveals a surprising rotational coincidence for Earth in relation to the quasar and radio galaxy distributions in the universe, i.e ‘these largest scale structures of the observable universe’:

    Is there a violation of the Copernican principle in radio sky? – Ashok K. Singal – May 17, 2013
    Abstract: Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) observations from the WMAP satellite have shown some unexpected anisotropies (directionally dependent observations), which surprisingly seem to be aligned with the eclipticcite {20,16,15}. The latest data from the Planck satellite have confirmed the presence of these anisotropiescite {17}. Here we report even larger anisotropies in the sky distributions of powerful extended quasars and some other sub-classes of radio galaxies in the 3CRR catalogue, one of the oldest and most intensively studies sample of strong radio sourcescite{21,22,3}. The anisotropies lie about a plane passing through the two equinoxes and the north celestial pole (NCP). We can rule out at a 99.995% confidence level the hypothesis that these asymmetries are merely due to statistical fluctuations. Further, even the distribution of observed radio sizes of quasars and radio galaxies show large systematic differences between these two sky regions. The redshift distribution appear to be very similar in both regions of sky for all sources, which rules out any local effects to be the cause of these anomalies. Two pertinent questions then arise. First, why should there be such large anisotropies present in the sky distribution of some of the most distant discrete sources implying inhomogeneities in the universe at very large scales (covering a fraction of the universe)? What is intriguing even further is why such anisotropies should lie about a great circle decided purely by the orientation of earth’s rotation axis and/or the axis of its revolution around the sun? It looks as if these axes have a preferential placement in the larger scheme of things, implying an apparent breakdown of the Copernican principle or its more generalization, cosmological principle, upon which all modern cosmological theories are based upon.
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.4134

    The Axis of Evil Just Got a New Brother! – May 2016
    Excerpt: Modern cosmology has no explanation for why these celestial objects (e.g., galaxies, quasars and blackholes) have aligned themselves in this way,,,
    What we have, and which is very easily observable, are cosmic axes (e.g., the quadrupole, octupole and dipole axes that make up the Axis of Evil) around which all the microwave radiation in the universe is aligned, and we are (the earth is) in the center of it (the universal alignment).
    http://www.theprinciplemovie.c.....rother.pdf

    Moreover, when the tiny temperature variations are averaged, ‘smeared’ and/or smoothed out, they were able to detect the anomalies in the CMBR, which ‘strangely’ line up with the earth and solar system,

    Large-scale alignments from WMAP and Planck – 2013
    We revisit the alignments of the largest structures observed in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) using the seven and nine-year WMAP and first-year Planck data releases. The observed alignments — the quadrupole with the octopole and their joint alignment with the direction of our motion with respect to the CMB (the dipole direction) and the geometry of the Solar System (defined by the Ecliptic plane) — are generally in good agreement with results from the previous WMAP data releases.,,, both the WMAP and Planck data confirm the alignments of the largest observable CMB modes in the Universe.
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1311.4562

    Here is an excellent clip from the documentary “The Principle” that explains, in an easy to understand manner, how these ‘anomalies’ that line up with the earth and solar system were found, via ‘averaging out’, in the tiny temperature variations in the CMBR data.

    Cosmic Microwave Background Proves Intelligent Design (disproves Copernican principle) (clip of “The Principle”) – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htV8WTyo4rw

    In other words, the “tiny temperature variations” in the CMBR, to the largest scale structures in the universe itself, reveal teleology, (i.e. a goal directed purpose, a plan, a reason), that specifically included the earth from the start. ,,, The earth, from what our best science can now tell us, is not some random cosmic fluke as atheists had presupposed.

    One final note, since the entire data set from the CMB is being used to find these ‘anomalies’ that line up with the earth and solar system, then this is not some ‘statistical fluke’ in the CMB data set that was derived from ‘wishful thinking’ to confirm a particular hypothesis as the article in the OP, arguing for a curved universe, most likely did to try to confirm its’ hypothesis.

    Job 38:4-5
    “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?

    Genesis 1:1-3
    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

  6. 6
    PaV says:

    Rob:

    What you described is exactly what I thought “flat space” to mean. But this article seems to suggest that the universe was thought to be like an expanding plane, and not an expanding sphere.

    Is there something I’m missing?

    Perhaps I should have focused on “closed.” But, again, to think of the Universe as not being spherical is to me a non-starter. Just look around you. Most objecs in space are spherical.

    I say the Universe is spherical–a perfect geometric figure.

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