At Scientific American, Avi Loeb, the longest-serving chair of astronomy at Harvard (2011–2020), tackles the question of what came before the Big Bang. He surveys the conventional explanations for this singularity in time and space (when all points are zero) and comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Creation by an alien intelligence is the best way to account for our universe:
Now there are a variety of conjectures in the scientific literature for our cosmic origins, including the ideas that our universe emerged from a vacuum fluctuation, or that it is cyclic with repeated periods of contraction and expansion, or that it was selected by the anthropic principle out of the string theory landscape of the multiverse—where, as the MIT cosmologist Alan Guth says “everything that can happen will happen … an infinite number of times,” or that it emerged out of the collapse of matter in the interior of a black hole.Avi Loeb, “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?” at Scientific American (October 15, 2021)
Whether or not we warm to his proposal, the main thing to see is that alternative — supposedly more scientific — proposals also include either philosophical assumptions or causes we cannot account for:
“our universe emerged from a vacuum fluctuation” (What caused the vacuum or the fluctuation?)
“it is cyclic with repeated periods of contraction and expansion” (in the absence of a history, how would we know that?)
“it was selected by the anthropic principle out of the string theory landscape of the multiverse” (we have no evidence for a string theory landscape or a multiverse)
“it emerged out of the collapse of matter in the interior of a black hole” (but how did the black hole originate?)
In short, all these claims just shove the problem of the ability to create a universe out of site or off the scene.
Loeb favors the view that the ability to create a universe includes the concentrated use of information that we associate with intelligence (which we know can create things):
A less explored possibility is that our universe was created in the laboratory of an advanced technological civilization. Since our universe has a flat geometry with a zero net energy, an advanced civilization could have developed a technology that created a baby universe out of nothing through quantum tunneling.Avi Loeb, “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?” at Scientific American (October 15, 2021)
Imagine releasing a quantum mechanical particle, like an electron or proton, into a space on one side of an potential energy hill. Since you’re sure that the particle can’t escape – it’s not energetic enough to climb over the hill – you leave it to its own devices.
But when you go back to check on it, the particle is gone. You find it happily sitting on the other side of the hill, having sneaked straight through it. Tunnelling particles can simply pass through energy barriers they don’t have the energy to surmount. – Chemistry World
As Loeb admits, his hypothesis posits a secular version of a creator of the universe. With one important difference: Cosmic Darwinism
If so, our universe was not selected for us to exist in it—as suggested by conventional anthropic reasoning—but rather, it was selected such that it would give rise to civilizations which are much more advanced than we are. Those “smarter kids on our cosmic block”— which are capable of developing the technology needed to produce baby universes—are the drivers of the cosmic Darwinian selection process, whereas we cannot enable, as of yet, the rebirth of the cosmic conditions that led to our existence. One way to put it is that our civilization is still cosmologically sterile since we cannot reproduce the world that made us.Avi Loeb, “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?” at Scientific American (October 15, 2021)
Selection processes are always for something; they can’t work with nothing. If intelligent beings created our universe and built in Darwinian selection processes, that means that Darwinian evolution is itself a product of design.
Also, why are we are expected to go on to create another universe? It seems to be a moral imperative:
With this perspective, the technological level of civilizations should not be gauged by how much power they tap, as suggested by the scale envisioned in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev. Instead, it should be measured by the ability of a civilization to reproduce the astrophysical conditions that led to its existence.Avi Loeb, “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?” at Scientific American (October 15, 2021)
Loeb’s is a much grander vision than Star Trek‘s. But, make no mistake, it’s a vision. And where are we now, in relation to his vision?
As of now, we are a low-level technological civilization, graded class C on the cosmic scale, since we are unable to recreate even the habitable conditions on our planet for when the sun will die. Even worse, we may be labeled class D since we are carelessly destroying the natural habitat on Earth through climate change, driven by our technologies. A class B civilization could adjust the conditions in its immediate environment to be independent of its host star. A civilization ranked class A could recreate the cosmic conditions that gave rise to its existence, namely produce a baby universe in a laboratory.Avi Loeb, “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?” at Scientific American (October 15, 2021)
So we have a creator (the advanced extraterrestrials) and we are poor sinners in need of salvation… What does that remind us of?
It’s curious that secularist lobbies, dominated by naturalists (nature is all there is) fret a great deal about the influence of religion on science. But it appears that that influence sometimes arises from sources that they do not expect and are ill prepared to address. Bashing fundamentalists via the media is not the answer for them in this case. Fundamentalists don’t believe in any of this stuff.
But the naturalist’s problem is not solved by simply rejecting Loeb’s view either. Any view we take must account for how something came to exist from nothing. Loeb has sided with the importance of intelligence as a source of creative information. The underlying questions cannot just go away.
Note: The Kardashev Scale, developed by a Russian astrophysicist, classifies civilizations in the universe by their technological development: “Kardashev’s scheme of advancement used only three tiers, defined in terms of energy consumption (which enables power). But the concept has since grown to at least seven tiers. That’s counting from 0 (where we are now, living only on and from Earth) through to VII (“Traveler of all universes, multiverses, megaverses”). So the total is 8 in all. Cosmologist John D. Barrow (1952–2020) also developed additional internal categories to cover different types of technological development.”
Loeb became widely known for his conviction that aliens visited our solar system in 2017, via the space object Oumuamua. He was almost certainly wrong about that. But then the Pentagon UAP (UFO) report, which pointed out that some aerial phenomena are just not easily explained, subsequently made it more difficult to just dismiss the whole idea.
You may also wish to read:
The UFOs Carl Sagan was convinced of but couldn’t talk about. Sagan had already been denied tenure at Harvard, a sci-fi screenwriter reflects, and he couldn’t afford to take more chances. Writer Bryce Zabel recalls a dispute with Sagan on the topic in a parking lot 40 years ago, during the Voyager 2 flyby — which changed Zabel’s career.
The Pentagon’s UAP (UFO) report signals a sharp attitude change. The brass have committed themselves to going “wherever the data takes us.” No, they didn’t report UFOs. But they reported enough mysteries to stop merely debunking and discrediting… and follow the evidence.