Unraveling Reality – The Universe {0}

Unraveling Reality is an introduction to natural sciences presented in the Spokes of the Wheel magnum opus.

The Universe

“With such wisdom has Nature ordered things.” ~ Scottish geologist James Hutton

In the black of night, countless constellations of stars compose a wondrous sight. The impression the heavens made seared deep into the psyche of our ancestors, engendering myths about when and where existence began. There have been many conceptions.

3,800 years ago, in the cradle of Western civilization, the Babylonians conceived a plurality of heavens and earths. A little over a millennium later, in the cradle of eastern civilization, legendary Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu had the universe originate from nothingness.

“The reason why the universe is eternal is that it does not live for itself: it gives life to others as it transforms.” ~ Lao Tzu

The ancient Greeks thought existence eternal, extending over an infinity of space. Ancient Hindu teachings described cyclical space and time, a concept that appealed to Einstein. In the 6th century BCE, Turkish-Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus conceived a perpetual cycle of incarnation, powered by apeiron: an eternal coherence. Less than a century later, another Turkish-Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, agreed with Anaximander.

“This world, which is the same for all, not one gods nor men has made. It always was and will be: an ever-living fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.” ~ Heraclitus

The coherence that Heraclitus conceived was of restless creation: Nature as a fecundity, change as the only constant.

“Everything changes and nothing remains still.” ~ Heraclitus

Heraclitus used the term logos for the Tao which Lao Tzu had described: an intelligent coherence from which Nature emerges.

“All things are one. Everything comes to be in accordance with logos. Logos holds always, but humans always prove unable to understand it.” ~ Heraclitus

Aristotle failed to understand logos: depreciating it into a measly word for rhetorical logic.

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The works of Aristotle were lost during the Dark Ages. Their rediscovery in the mid-12th century inspired many Catholic clerics, who were the keepers of scholarly knowledge in Europe at the time.

One was Robert Grosseteste, an English theologian. Contemplating God’s miraculous creation, Grosseteste proposed in 1225 that the cosmos expanded from a pinpoint of light. Envisioning multiplicity evolving from an energetic singularity, Grosseteste correctly assumed that light and matter were entangled.

In the 1920s, astronomers discovered that distant galaxies are moving away from us. Astrophysicists interpreted that to mean that space itself is expanding.

With thermodynamics in mind, an expanding universe implied that the early cosmos had been a hot, dense, primordial fomentation. Cosmogony became the key issue: how and when the universe came to be.

If the world has begun with a single quantum, the notions of space and time would altogether fail to have any meaning at the beginning; they would only begin to have a sensible meaning when the original quantum had been divided into a sufficient number of quanta. If this suggestion is correct, the beginning of the world happened a little before the beginning of space and time. ~ Georges Lemaître

In 1931, Roman Catholic priest Monsignor Georges Lemaître agreed with Lao Tzu and Robert Grosseteste, setting off a storm of controversy among contemporaneous cosmologists. Lemaître’s radical proposal of cosmic origination upset astronomers’ religion.

A middle-aged Albert Einstein was disturbed by the prospect of the universe starting with an explosive singularity. By 1931 he had a model of a stable cosmos, but it held a fatal flaw: the universe had to be at least 10 billion years old. Einstein found that “unacceptable,” as the cosmos could not possibly be that old.

Einstein abandoned his belief of cosmic stability as new astronomical observations indicated the universe was not as static as he had hoped. Unconvinced, English astronomer Fred Hoyle and others took up the cause of steady-state.

The term Big Bang was coined as a pejorative by Hoyle in a 1949 radio broadcast. Hoyle favored the ancient Greek paradigm: a steady-state cosmos, where the universe eternally existed, but continuously accreted new matter as it expanded. That there was no evidence of this worried Hoyle not a whit.

“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” ~ English novelist Terry Pratchett

The bruited Big Bang was actually a quiet affair. No sonorous sound was made. But the misnomer does make for a catchy cosmological slogan.

Based solely upon the earliest observed light from a telescope, mainstream cosmologists surmised that the universe is 13.82 billion years old. Light only hides the darkness. We have no way to know how or when the cosmos emerged. No evidence of its origination exists, but surely our universe is much older. From our perch in the cosmos, the farthest we can detect is 46.5 billion light years away. As light-speed delimits cosmological distance, the universe must be at least 46.5 billion years old. Earth is unlikely to be the center of the cosmos, which doubtlessly extends farther than we can detect. The universe is likely hundreds of billions years old. And existence did not begin with the coming of our cosmos.

The early universe was nearly pitch black, filled with a miasma of light elements: hydrogen, helium, and lithium, until stars formed and baked heavier elements, creating a faintly luminous byproduct. Not until stars formed were there loci of light.

Sophistication in considering the cosmos suggests that existence is eternal and comprises a multitude of universes. Surprisingly, this ancient conception of cyclic cosmology is now unconventional. Instead, the prevailing cosmological model – ΛCDM – has our universe as a one-off. Beyond the failure to address how everything might come from nothing, ΛCDM is a bogus account in many ways.

“Cosmologists are often wrong but never in doubt.” ~ Azerbaijanian physicist Lev Landau

To support its late origination date (when the first discernible light appeared), ΛCDM incorporates a dynamic called cosmic inflation, in which the cosmos mushroomed from next-to-nothing to the size of a dime faster than the speed of light; and then the physics-defying explosion abruptly, miraculously stopped.

One simplifying assumption that ΛCDM makes is large-scale uniformity of matter in the universe, which is known as the cosmological principle. Astronomers know the cosmos to be lumpy at scales far beyond the threshold that invalidates the cosmological principle.

ΛCDM fails to explain observed galactic dynamics. ΛCDM can’t even get the lights right. The brilliance of the heavens is inexplicable under ΛCDM. Our galactic neighborhood is 5 times brighter than it should be.

Astrophysicists use ΛCDM because its equations are easy to work with. Algorithms which better parameterize cosmic dynamics are fiendishly difficult. Theorists prefer workable fiction to messy actuality.

Our inventory of stuff that makes up our universe amounts to a humbling 5%. ~ American astrophysicist Paul Hamilton et al, in the context of ΛCDM, the standard cosmological model

One implicit axiom in ΛCDM casts most of materiality as a mirage: a cosmos crafted by dark matter. Dark matter has been supposed to form from an exotic quantum particle, but extensive search for such a nugget has turned up nothing. Beyond the fact of no discoverable dark matter, such existential waste belies Nature’s fondness for economy.

In 2016, Swiss astrophysicist André Maeder published a series of papers with a simple proposition: that empty space is, well, empty.

“Empty space at large scales is scale-invariant, since by definition there is nothing to define a scale.” ~ André Maeder

Maeder’s obvious proposal affords a cosmological model that dispenses with dark matter, and its incongruous companion, dark energy. ΛCDM is just flat-Earth wrong.

“It appears as one of the fundamental principles of Nature that the equations expressing basic laws should be invariant under the widest possible group of transformations.” ~ English physicist Paul Dirac

Galactic Expanse

“How can you look at the galaxy and not feel insignificant?” ~ English movie maker Ridley Scott

Since its inception, the cosmos has undergone enormous evolution, which is reflected in galactic dynamics.

A galaxy is a cluster of star systems and stellar remnants, swirling in an interstellar mixture of gas and dust. The 1st galaxies coalesced 13.5 billion years ago. There were already mature galaxies 1 billion years later.

The ballet of galaxies glides along invisible corridors. Gravitational filaments thread the universe in an invisible web which ensnares galaxies and spurs their formation.

There are now some 4 trillion galaxies, spread out spherically in a diameter over 93 billion light-years wide. Roughly half of the galaxies have light, and half are dark: detectable only by their gravitational wake. Dark galaxies have scant visible stars.

Each galaxy may contain many millions or even billions of stars. Almost all visible star systems have planets.

A few billion years after galaxies started to form, there were 10 times as many galaxies as there are today. Cosmic evolution reduced the number of galaxies through extensive merging. At every scale, existence gyrates in an intricate dance.

Expanding Into…?

Cosmic expansion raises an obvious question: what is the universe expanding into? The answer is: nothing.

Spacetime itself is delimited by the universe. The cosmos has no edge, no wrapper. All that we know is that distant objects in space appear to be moving away from us in every direction, indicating an expanding universe.

The Milky Way

According to Greek mythology, the randy god Zeus had a son from a mortal woman. Zeus placed the infant, Heracles, on the breast of his goddess consort, Hera, while she was asleep, so the baby could suckle divine milk, and thus become immortal.

Hera woke up while breastfeeding Heracles. Realizing the child was not hers, she pushed him away. A jet of her milk sprayed the night sky, producing the Milky Way.

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Earth is tucked into an infinitesimal spot on an arm of the Milky Way galaxy, which formed 13.2 billion years ago. The Milky Way is now over 150,000 light-years in diameter, with over 400 billion stars and at least 640 billion planets, cumulatively weighing in at 3 trillion Suns. It all spins at 250 kilometers per second. One revolution takes 240 million years.

At the center of the Milky Way is a massive black hole that barely spins. This black hole served as the gravitational pivot around which the galaxy formed. Its girth is equivalent to 4 million solar masses.

Despite the black hole’s current sloth, that ponderous nothingness produces a fearsome whirl upon the galaxy that orbits it. The star systems at the ends of the Milky Way’s galactic spirals seem to be orbiting so fast that they should fly off, but they do not. We don’t know why.


What has been gleaned about the birth, evolution, and state of the cosmos cultivates more mysteries than answers. For one, the universe is nearly flat as a sheet. For that to be true, there must be a critical level of mass/energy density. It is a practically miraculous balance, as what is has been defined by what is not. All that exists has evolved because of what is not there. Everything is entangled with nothing.

“What is not makes what is useful.” ~ Lao Tzu

Black Holes

“The black holes of Nature are the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time.” ~ Indian astrophysicist Subramanyan Chandrasekhar

A black hole is a singularity of infinite mass and gravity. Swimming near the speed of light around a black hole are celestial objects that are either pulled in and obliterated or flung out into space to become part of a quasar, which is an intense, interstellar light show par excellence. Anything that gets past a black hole’s event horizon has passed the point of no return.

That an object might possess so much gravity that light could not escape it first occurred to English geologist John Michell in 1783. This idea then came to French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1796, who produced a mathematical justification for his speculation.

German physicist Karl Schwarzschild mathematically conjured black holes in 1915; the same year Einstein introduced general relativity, which geometrically described space and time as a unified platform for existence. In sussing spacetime, Einstein deciphered how gravity works: as an entropic distortion of spacetime itself, rather than an active force emanating from matter, as Newtonian physics had it.

Einstein was pleasantly surprised to learn of Schwarzschild’s exact solutions for general relativity’s field equations. He was less pleased with black holes lurking in the background; dismissing them as merely a mathematical construct. Einstein did not think that black holes could actually form.

Following Einstein’s lead, mainstream physicists disregarded all evidence of black holes for decades. Only a minority maintained that black holes were possible. It was not until the close of the 1960s that the common consensus of astrophysicists turned toward accepting the existence of black holes.

In relativistic terms, a black hole is outside spacetime. It is a nothingness without dimension, a perfectly spherical hole in the universe. That does not mean that black holes are just infinite advertisements for immateriality, though they are that indeed.

“What is not makes what is useful.” ~ Lao Tzu

Black holes are a crucial nothingness that arranges everything that is. The construction of the cosmos, from its early evolution, was steered by black holes. Their gravitational entropy formed the mooring around which galaxies formed.

Even now, galactic dynamics are fundamentally shaped by black holes coursing through the cosmos. A black hole crisply collapses spacetime as it goes, only to have spacetime spring back upon a black hole’s departure. To say that the transition is enigmatic would be an understatement.

Black holes may form when large stars collapse after a supernova explosion. But black holes existed before there was any light, let alone stars. Black holes are primordial. It is not understood how that could be.

The cosmos is presently peppered with black holes of all sizes. Some are no larger than a Planck pinhead – just larger than the smallest possible quantum. Others are swollen to 50 billion times the mass of the Sun.

While the presence of black holes is doubtless, how singularities of infinity can exist is inscrutable.

“We do not understand how the universe works at a deeper and more profound level than most of us care to admit.” ~ American astrophysicist Stacy McGaugh

The universe is a ceaseless gyre. As with all that is, the black holes of nothingness are constantly on the move. The motion is more than mere cosmic expansion: it is the dance of existence.

“How extraordinary that anything should exist.” ~ Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein