As the first deep field image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) spectacularly confirms, the observable universe is strikingly loaded with mass and matter —- much of which is magnificently grouped in galaxies and clusters of galaxies that are indescribably humbling.
It’s hard not to look at such an image and openly wonder how this cosmos and everything in it all came about. It’s also possible to wonder what happened before we have the universe we know. To that end, this breakthrough Webb image serendipitously meshes with Laura Mersini-Houghton’s new book “Before the Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond.”
Within these pages, Mersini-Houghton, a professor of theoretical physics and cosmology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, tackles cosmology’s toughest questions with the type of intellectual rigor rarely on display in a book aimed at a mainstream audience.
As she explains in the book, her fascination with the cosmos’ ultimate questions had their roots in the forlorn former communist country of Albania —- which for decades was almost totally shut off from the outside world. Arguably a de facto prison for its citizens, for Mersini-Houghton, Albania’s night sky became both a refuge and an escape.
Mersini Houghton supports today’s theory which combines quantum Physics with a Multiverse. It is a hypothetical collection that includes universes identical or different, which could include the one we live in. The book’s first half is dedicated to the history of big-bang cosmology. During these chapters, she spends a lot of time explaining why the notion of determining what came before the universe’s beginning was long seen as a lesson in futility.
But the second part of “Before the Big Bang” is devoted to how Mersini-Houghton and colleagues used complex mathematics to bring new life to her cutting-edge efforts to prove that we live in a multiverse.
Mersini Hougton also makes compelling arguments in favor of the practicality of this seemingly esoteric study.
The internet, computing and all the electronic gadgets on which our society depends —- from medical imaging equipment on through to apocalyptic nuclear weaponry —- would have never been possible without humanity’s initial curiosity about the night sky, Mersini-Houghton writes. That is, without the theory of quantum mechanics “that Einstein and his theoretical- science contemporaries helped create,” she notes in her book.
“Someday, we might derive similar benefits from discoveries related to the investigation of the multiverse,” writes Mersini-Houghton.
What would the multiverse look like?
As “anomalous scars” on the sky via processes of quantum entanglement, writes Mersini-Houghton. She writes that this entanglement would then manifest itself in many different ways in our multiverse.
But where do you look?
Mersini-Houghton and colleagues decided that such artefacts of multiverse entanglement would logically reveal themselves in the topography of our universe’s Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), leftover radiation from the big bang.
“I decided that the best place to begin our search was in the CMB, the afterglow from the big bang,” writes Mersini-Houghton. “It contains a sort of exclusive record of the first millisecond in the life of the universe.”
Her calculations led to several anomaly predictions; first in “the distant sky above the southern hemisphere” where it was predicted that there would be a primordial giant void, she writes.
Then eight years after her first paper on the subject, in March 2013, the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite released the most detailed measurements of the CMB ever made. They also showed the cold spot predicted MersiniHoughton, colleagues, and others.
Mersini Houghton writes that the CMB anomalies couldn’t have been caused in any way by our universe. This is because they broke the expectation of a single universe for uniform distributions of structure. She claims that they must have originated from somewhere outside of our universe.
“The cold-spot observation was accurate at a sufficiently high confidence level to be considered a discovery,” Mersini-Houghton writes.
“Before the Big Bang” presents a fascinating cosmological narrative. But it’s not for the intellectually faint of heart. Mersini Houghton is to be commended for handling such complicated material in a way which finds harmony between her life and the history of the cosmos.
Is there really a multiverse?
I’ve long been fascinated by the topography of the CMB; the cold spots, the incongruities and what they could mean and whether they do in fact represent some sort of window beyond standard cosmological paradigms. I was raised in the single universe theory and averse to the idea of a multiverse.
That’s most likely a reflection of my own hidebound prejudice that our universe is somehow unique and singular and not simply one of many.
If MersiniHoughton is right, then we are indeed part of a multiverse.
This raises the possibility of a hyper-advanced civilization from our universe traveling to a hypothetical cosmos next door. I haven’t a clue as to how that could even be possible. These multiverse realms might also exist. My guess is that someone has already found a way to move from one to the other.