Wednesday, 5 January 2011

How to Become God - An Atheist's Guide.

Ever since humanity was still 'mewling and puking in its nurse's arms' it has asked the same question again and again; "where do I come from?"

Some of the earliest humans (although not as many as were reckoned by our Victorian forefathers) attributed the answer to a 'god' or 'gods' of some sort. As civilisations expanded in complexity and power, it was those who wielded the power who expanded these theistic explanations as a way of controlling the populus. The threat of supernatural punishment from the creator(s) of the universe is all uneducated people need to yield up First Fruits to to fund the expansionism the Athenians and others paid for with people's hard earned tithes.

The human race has through dint of hard work and study (not supernatural intervention) grown wiser since then and we can now begin to answer this question with science. It is no longer to be used as a weapon to frighten and coerce people into giving money to organised religion. Those religions that persist in doing so can no longer claim the ignorance available as an excuse to their grandfathers. Their greed is now laid bare for the world to see. Understand it for what it is and then walk away if you have not already done so.

"There is now a huge amount of data and a picture with great detail" says Professor Michael Dine, author of Supersymmetry and String Theory: Beyond the Standard ModelWe know that the universe is 13.75 ± 0.17 billion years old. We know it originated at the 'Big Bang.' and we can trace its origins back to within t = 3 minutes.

And this stuff has been tested against all generally accepted cosmological models as tested against advanced observational and theoretical physics.

Of course there is still a lot we just don't have a clue about too. Like what is dark matter? What is dark energy? Where does all the matter in the universe come from? What happened at t = 0?   

But there are some pretty cool (as a layman I hasten to say compelling) theories out there that seek to answer to these questions. No-one's saying any of them are yet the modern analogue of Newton's Principia, which in 1687 codified physics as we now understand it, but there is a buzz around physics that is palpable even to the least scientifically gifted such as myself.

Among the vanguard of 'right bright bods' working on these theories is Japanese physicist Nobuyuki Sakai.  As far back as 2006 he announced in New Scientist that it was entirely possible (at least theoretically) to create a whole new universe in a laboratory.

The key, apparently is a hypothetical particle called a monopole which is basically a magnet with (yep, you've got it) only one magnetic pole. Their existence was predicted back in 1894 by Pierre Curie but it was Dirac in 1931 (using Maxwell's equations) who found a spiritual home for monopoles in quantum theory.

Quantum theory or 'quantum mechanics' as it's more commonly known has long been the 'yin' to general relativity's 'yang' but modern particle theories like the grand unification and superstring theories both predict the existence of these strange dense spherical particles that, thanks to their 'one way' magnetic polarity, are theoretically capable of consuming infinite amounts of matter and energy. [Insert Heather from EastEnders joke here].

And you can make a universe out of one. Or at least Sakai thinks you can and he's not alone.

Physicists are getting so excited by all this that string-theorist Professor Joseph Polchinski, author of the two volume textbook, String Theory described the existence of monopoles as "one of the safest bets that one can make about physics not yet seen".

And according to "This project is not exactly theoretical physics at work. It is closer to a physical application of observed phenomena, in combination, with the aim of achieving an as yet untested physical effect."

To understand the excitement you need to look at 'inflation theory' which along with the big bang theory forms the two core theories about how the universe was created. It was developed in 1981 by MIT physicist Alan Guth who pointed out that immediately after the big bang the universe must have inflated very rapidly like a balloon to allow all the regions of matter and energy to separate and function as we now observe them.

Inflation theory says that the 'empty vacuum of space-time' is actually not that empty. Rather it has these quantum fluctuations which cause little bubbles to appear in it. Inside these bubbles is a 'false-vacuum' of space-time with very different properties to the space-time outside them.

If you can find one of these bubbles and use a monopole to trigger it, the theory says it should start expanding and go on expanding forever, soon detaching itself from our universe and expanding into its own dimension because of the differences in pressure between space-time inside the expanding 'false-vacuum' bubble and outside it in the normal vacuum of space-time.

Sakai writes "If a false-vacuum bubble is larger than the de Sitter horizon, the bubble inflates eternally. Because the inflating bubble is surrounded by black hole horizons and causally disconnected by the “original universe”, such a bubble is called a “child universe”.

The limitation concerning physicists now is not whether it can be done, but due to the incredible speed with which the bubble would detach itself from our universe and expand into its own dimension, whether we would be able to create instrumentation sensitive enough to detect it. But it seems only a matter of time before Sakai or someone like him manages to create a universe in a lab for the first time, and from there who knows? Perhaps kids of the future will be making universes as school science projects!

So the question this project throws up is twofold. The first part is obvious: What if our own universe was created by an 'intelligent being' after all? (A lab coat making a rather convenient substitute for flowing white robes), but the second part is somewhat more sobering: Who was right? The theists who have told us for millennia that there was an intelligent being who created the universe, or the atheists like me who have argued that in the final tally, all we've got is science?

In this writer's humble opinion when anyone can create whole universes at the flick of a switch, surely this will dispel forever the myth that it takes some omnipresent ghoul in the sky to explain away the nature of our existence. Religion will have no choice but to fold it's hand. After all, who needs God when all of us can be gods?

But what about the latent civilisations as yet unformed that we have the power to create at will? How many wars will they fight? How many deaths will be directly attributable to arguments over the nature of what WE are?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent questions.

    I believe that existence has always existed. Even so, by process of elimination, if an intelligent being (like some super aliens) did create our universe, that intelligent being could not have been god. A consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a self-defeating idea, so existence must have come before consciousness.

    If consciousness did exist beforehand, that consciousness would have never become aware of itself and thus never acted.

    One way to think about it is that we would not exist if god did.