January 23, 2020

Review: Cycles of Time by Roger Penrose.

A real mind-bender of a summer read!

The science of cosmology is often the study of counter-intuitives. Why are we here? Where did it all come from? Are the multiverses infinite in number, with infinite possibilities, such as intelligent tentacled canines and/or Paris Hilton as president (it does explain the bizarre reality that is our current iteration of our universe, I know). Enter one of the foremost thinkers on the subject, physicist Roger Penrose and his most recent work, Cycles of Time. Dr Penrose draws upon some of the most recent findings in cosmology as a science that has moved from one largely of philosophy to one of hard science just within the last century. The nature of dark energy, the quest for the Higgs Boson, and the implications of an open universe are all addressed as Mr. Penrose takes a snapshot of how we got to where we are and where the universe may be headed. A word of warning; Cycles of Time does not back away from the “Mathiness,” and several appendices are devoted to the equations at the heart of the cosmological concepts advanced within, but don’t let that scare you off. The core idea is that of Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC) and the unique nature of the initial state of the universe and the Big Bang. Specifically, the momentary state of hyper-inflation that occurred after time and space came into existence was a uniquely low entropy event by nature, as if the universe was allowed to violate the 2nd Law of thermodynamics for a brief instant before the relentless drive of entropy was “switched on…” the ramifications for CCC are staggering, if you read in (and sometimes between) the equations. Will the flow of time have any real meaning in a far future universe consisting only of electromagnetic radiation shifted to absurd wavelengths? Can we actually see past the Pea Instanton, and does information persist from one iteration of the universe to the next? Will baryonic matter eventually decay? Certainly, the ideas advanced in Cycles of Time are far reaching, and the idea of colliding branes and inflation in an expanding universe are at least as weird as the old steady state theory of the universe. Both can always be put to the embarrassing philosophical question; “What came before that?” You can almost hear the collective groan from cosmologists worldwide. If matter was being continuously created in the vacuum ala the old Steady State theory, where was it coming from? Cosmology defies our everyday intuition. The fact is that time & space are interwoven, and their simply wasn’t a before moment in a literal sense, no more than there is a physical exterior to the universe. Weird, I know. And keep that 2nd Law of Thermodynamics your old high school physics teacher harped on in the front of your simmering brain as you’re reading Cycles, as it’s central to the theme of CCC. Strange as it may seem, inflation, the Big Bang Theory, and our picture of modern cosmology is backed up by an increasing bulwark of cosmological evidence that paints an emerging picture of an expanding universe 13.7 billion years old. Already, studies of the fine resolution of the Cosmic Microwave Background by such probes as the BOOMERanG experiment and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) are providing hotly contested evidence that CCC may be a reality, and the discovery of the Higg- Boson and gravitational waves by such advanced observatories as LIGO may confirm or deny the reality of CCC. Can we know what occurred at the instant of the Big Bang? Can information escape a black hole, or survive between iterations of the universe? Read Cycles of Time to get a glimpse at some cutting edge cosmology!



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