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Cyclic Cosmology

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  • Cyclic Cosmology

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 13 - The Universe on a Brane
    Cyclic Cosmology
    From the standpoint of time, ordinary experience confronts us with two types of phenomena: those that have a clearly delineated beginning, middle, and end (this book, a baseball game, a human life) and those that are cyclic, happening over and over again (the changing seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, Larry King's weddings). Of course, on closer scrutiny we learn that cyclic phenomena also have a beginning and end, since cycles do not generally go on forever. The sun has been rising and setting — that is, the earth has been spinning on its axis while revolving around the sun — every day for some 5 billion years. But before that, the sun and the solar system had yet to form. And one day, some 5 billion years from now, the sun will turn into a red giant star, engulfing the inner planets, including earth, and there will no longer even be a notion of a rising and setting sun, at least not here.

    But these are modern scientific recognitions. To the ancients, cyclic phenomena seemed eternally cyclic. And to many, the cyclic phenomena, running their course and continuously returning to begin anew, were the primary phenomena. The cycles of days and seasons set the rhythm of work and life, so it is no wonder that some of the oldest recorded cosmologies envisioned the unfolding of the world as a cyclical process. Rather than positing a beginning, a middle, and an end, a cyclic cosmology imagines that the world changes through time much as the moon changes through phases: after it has passed through a complete sequence, conditions are ripe for everything to start afresh and initiate yet another cycle.

    Since the discovery of general relativity, a number of cyclic cosmological models have been proposed; the best-known was developed in the 1930s by Richard Tolman of the California Institute of Technology. Tolman suggested that the observed expansion of the universe might slow down, someday stop, and then be followed by a period of contraction in which the universe got ever smaller. But instead of reaching a fiery finale in which it implodes on itself and comes to an end, the universe might, Tolman proposed, undergo a bounce: space might shrink down to some small size and then rebound, initiating a new cycle of expansion followed once again by contraction. A universe eternally repeating this cycle — expansion, contraction, bounce, expansion again — would elegantly avoid the thorny issues of origin: in such a scenario, the very concept of origin would be inapplicable since the universe always was and would always be.

    But Tolman realized that looking back in time from today, the cycles could have repeated for awhile, but not indefinitely. The reason is that during each cycle, the second law of thermodynamics dictates that entropy would, on average, rise. 8 And according to general relativity, the amount of entropy at the beginning of each new cycle determines how long that cycle will last. More entropy means a longer period of expansion before the outward motion grinds to a halt and the inward motion takes over. Each successive cycle would therefore last much longer than its predecessor; equivalently, earlier cycles would be shorter and shorter. When analyzed mathematically, the constant shortening of the cycles implies that they cannot stretch infinitely far into the past. Even in Tolman's cyclic framework, the universe would have a beginning.

    Tolman's proposal invoked a spherical universe, which, as we've seen, has been ruled out by observations. But a radically new incarnation of cyclic cosmology, involving a flat universe, has recently been developed within string/M-theory. The idea comes from Paul Steinhardt and his collaborator Neil Turok of Cambridge University (with heavy use of results discovered in their collaborations with Burt Ovrut, Nathan Seiberg, and Justin Khoury) and proposes a new mechanism for driving cosmic evolution. 9 Briefly put, they suggest that we are living within a three-brane that violently collides every few trillion years with another nearby, parallel three-brane. And the "bang" from the collision initiates each new cosmological cycle.

    Figure 13.7 Two three-branes, separated' by a short interval.

    The basic setup of the proposal is illustrated in Figure 13.7 and was suggested some years ago by Hdava and Witten in a noncosmological context. Horava and Witten were trying to complete Witten's proposed unity among all five string theories and found that if one of the seven extra dimensions in M-theory had a very simple shape — not a circle, as in Figure 12.7, but a little segment of a straight line, as in Figure 13.7 — and was bounded by so-called end-of-the-world branes attached like bookends, then a direct connection could be made between the Heterotic-E string theory and all others. The details of how they drew this connection are neither obvious nor of the essence (if you are interested, see, for example, The Elegant Universe, Chapter 12); what matters here is that it's a starting point that naturally emerges from the theory itself. Steinhardt and Turok enlisted it for their cosmological proposal.

    Specifically, Steinhardt and Turok imagine that each brane in Figure 13.7 has three space dimensions, with the line segment between them providing a fourth space dimension. The remaining six space dimensions are curled up into a Calabi-Yau space (not shown in the figure) that has the right shape for string vibrational patterns to account for the known particle species. 10 The universe of which we are directly aware corresponds to one of these three-branes; if you like, you can think of the second three-brane as another universe, whose inhabitants, if any, would also be aware of only three space dimensions, assuming that their experimental technology and expertise did not greatly exceed ours. In this setup, then, another three-brane — another universe — is right next door. It's hovering no more than a fraction of a millimeter away (the separation being in the fourth spatial dimension, as in Figure 13.7), but because our three-brane is so sticky and the gravity we experience so weak, we have no direct evidence of its existence, nor its hypothetical inhabitants any evidence of ours.

    But, according to the cyclic cosmological model of Steinhardt and Turok, Figure 13.7 isn't how it's always been or how it will always be. Instead, in their approach, the two three-branes are attracted to each other — almost as though connected by tiny rubber bands — and this implies that each drives the To see how this goes, look at Figure 13.8, which illustrates one implies that each drives the cosmological evolution of the other: the branes engage in an endless cycle of collision, rebound, and collision once again, eternally regenerating their expanding three-dimensional worlds. To see how this goes, look at Figure 13.8, which illustrates one complete cycle, step by step.

    Figure 13.8 Various stages in the cyclic braneworld cosmological model.

    At Stage 1, the two three-branes have just rushed toward each other and slammed together, and are now rebounding. The tremendous energy of the collision deposits a significant amount of high-temperature radiation and matter on each of the rebounding three-branes, and — this is key — Steinhardt and Turok argue that the detailed properties of this matter and radiation have a nearly identical profile to what's produced in the inflationary model. Although there is still some controversy on this point, Steinhardt and Turok therefore claim that the collision between the two three-branes results in physical conditions extremely close to what they'd be a moment after the burst of inflationary expansion in the more conventional approach discussed in Chapter 10. Not surprisingly, then, to a hypothetical observer within our three-brane, the next few stages in the cyclic cosmological model are essentially the same as those in the standard approach as illustrated in Figure 9.2 (where that figure is now interpreted as depicting evolution on one of the three-branes). Namely, as our three-brane rebounds from the collision, it expands and cools, and cosmic structures such as stars and galaxies gradually coalesce from the primordial plasma, as you can see in Stage 2. Then, inspired by the recent supernova observations discussed in Chapter 10, Steinhardt and Turok configure their model so that about 7 billion years into the cycle — Stage 3 — the energy in ordinary matter and radiation becomes sufficiently diluted by the expansion of the brane so that a dark energy component gains the upper hand and, through its negative pressure, drives an era of accelerated expansion. (This requires an arbitrary tuning of details, but it allows the model to match observation, and so, the cyclic model's proponents argue, is well motivated.) About 7 billion years later, we humans find ourselves here on earth, at least in the current cycle, experiencing the early stages of the accelerated phase. Then, for roughly the next trillion years, not much new happens beyond our three-brane's continued accelerated expansion. That's long enough for our three-dimensional space to have stretched by such a colossal factor that matter and radiation are diluted almost completely away, leaving the braneworld looking almost completely empty and completely uniform: Stage 4.

    By this point, our three-brane has completed its rebound from the initial collision and has started to approach the second three-brane once again. As we get closer and closer to another collision, quantum jitters of the strings attached to our brane overlie its uniform emptiness with tiny ripples, Stage 5. As we continue to pick up speed, the ripples continue to grow; then, in a cataclysmic collision, we smack into the second threeČbrane, we bounce off, and the cycle starts anew. The quantum ripples imprint tiny inhomogeneities in the radiation and matter produced during the collision and, much as in the inflationary scenario, these deviations from perfect uniformity grow into clumps that ultimately generate stars and galaxies.

    These are the major stages in the cyclic model (also known tenderly as the big splat). Its premise — colliding braneworlds — is very different from that of the successful inflationary theory, but there are, nevertheless, significant points of contact between the two approaches. That both rely on quantum agitation to generate initial nonuniformities is one essential similarity. In fact, Steinhardt and Turok argue that the equations governing the quantum ripples in the cyclic model are nearly identical to those in the inflationary picture, so the resulting nonuniformities predicted by the two theories are nearly identical as well. 11 Moreover, while there isn't an inflationary burst in the cyclic model, there is a trillion-year period (beginning at Stage 3) of milder accelerated expansion. But it's really just a matter of haste versus patience; what the inflationary model accomplishes in a flash, the cyclic model accomplishes in a comparative eternity. Since the collision in the cyclic model is not the beginning of the universe, there is the luxury of slowly resolving cosmological issues (like the flatness and horizon problems) during the final trillion years of each previous cycle. Eons of gentle but steady accelerated expansion at the end of each cycle stretch our three-brane nice and flat, and, except for tiny but important quantum fluctuations, make it thoroughly uniform. And so the long, final stage of each cycle, followed by the splat at the beginning of the next cycle, yields an environment very close to that produced by the short surge of expansion in the inflationary approach.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-14-2012, 08:54 PM.