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A Brief Assessment

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  • A Brief Assessment

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 13 - The Universe on a Brane
    A Brief Assessment
    At their present levels of development, both the inflationary and the cyclic models provide insightful cosmological frameworks, but neither offers a complete theory. Ignorance of the prevailing conditions during the universe's earliest moments forces proponents of inflationary cosmology to simply assume, without theoretical justification, that the conditions required for initiating inflation arose. If they did, the theory resolves numerous cosmological conundrums and launches time's arrow. But such successes hinge on inflation's happening in the first place. What's more, inflationary cosmology has not been seamlessly embedded within string theory and so is not yet part of a consistent merger of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

    The cyclic model has its own share of shortcomings. As with Tolman's model, consideration of entropy buildup (and also of quantum mechanics 12) ensures that the cyclic model's cycles could not have gone on forever. Instead, the cycles began at some definite time in the past, and so, as with inflation, we need an explanation of how the first cycle got started. If it did, then the theory, also like inflation, resolves the key cosmological problems and sets time's arrow pointing from each low-entropy splat forward through the ensuing stages of Figure 13.8. But, as it's currently conceived, the cyclic model offers no explanation of how or why the universe finds itself in the necessary configuration of Figure 13.8. Why, for instance, do six dimensions curl themselves up into a particular Calabi-Yau shape while one of the extra dimensions dutifully takes the shape of a spatial segment separating two three-branes? How is it that the two end-of-the-world three-branes line up so perfectly and attract each other with just the right force so that the stages in Figure 13.8 proceed as we've described? And, of critical importance, what actually happens when the two three-branes collide in the cyclic model's version of a bang?

    On this last question, there is hope that the cyclic model's splat is less problematic than the singularity encountered at time zero in inflationary cosmology. Instead of all of space being infinitely compressed, in the cyclic approach only the single dimension between the branes gets squeezed down; the branes themselves experience overall expansion, not contraction, during each cycle. And this, Steinhardt, Turok, and their collaborators have argued, implies finite temperature and finite densities on the branes themselves. But this is a highly tentative conclusion because, so far, no one has been able to get the better of the equations and figure out what would happen should branes slam together. In fact, the analyses so far completed point toward the splat being subject to the same problem that afflicts the inflationary theory at time zero: the mathematics breaks down. Thus, cosmology is still in need of a rigorous resolution of its singular start — be it the true start of the universe, or the start of our current cycle.

    The most compelling feature of the cyclic model is the way it incorporates dark energy and the observed accelerated expansion. In 1998, when it was discovered that the universe is undergoing accelerated expansion, it was quite a surprise to most physicists and astronomers. While it can be incorporated into the inflationary cosmological picture by assuming that the universe contains precisely the right amount of dark energy, accelerated expansion seems like a clumsy add-on. In the cyclic model, by contrast, dark energy's role is natural and pivotal. The trillion-year period of slow but steadily accelerated expansion is crucial for wiping the slate clean, for diluting the observable universe to near nothingness, and for resetting conditions in preparation for the next cycle. From this point of view, both the inflationary model and the cyclic model rely on accelerated expansion — the inflationary model near its beginning and the cyclic model at the end of each of its cycles — but only the latter has direct observational support. (Remember, the cyclic approach is designed so that we are just entering the trillion-year phase of accelerated expansion, and such expansion has been recently observed.) That's a tick in the cyclic model's column, but it also means that should accelerated expansion fail to be confirmed by future observations, the inflationary model could survive (although the puzzle of the missing 70 percent of the the universe's energy budget would emerge anew) but the cyclic model could not.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-14-2012, 08:39 PM.