How Well Do We Know Our Universe?


CLT was crowded by the time Dr. Jayant Narlikar was escorted into the hall by Prof.L.S.Ganesh to deliver a lecture titled ‘How well do we know our universe?’ The audience comprised mostly of students, but there were also Professors and alumni, notable among them was one of MITs top ten innovators, Ajit Narayanan (‘Q’ as he was called in IITM). Prof.L.S.Ganesh thanked Prof. Sriram Kumar of the Physics department and Mad Science for helping in arranging the lecture. Relieved to see an enthusiastic audience, he joked that he had been apprehensive that not many people would turn up for the lecture, and that they should have invited Priyanka Chopra instead.

The lecture started off with Dr. Narlikar pointing out that any cosmologist’s reply to the question” How well do we know our universe?” nowadays is “Very well.” It was clear from the start that he was calling for open minds among the younger generation of cosmologists when dealing with such questions. He then chronologically listed the development and changes in the human knowledge and perception of the universe. In the historical narrative of cosmology one could see his cynicism of the role Man’s self importance played in shaping the theories and he also stressed on the fact that through the ages the theory supported by the majority has consistently been proven wrong.

If not for the knowledge it imparted one should at least have attended the lecture for the many interesting anecdotes detailed. Giving analogy to the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” (which never appears in the Sherlock Holmes stories) Dr. Narlikar said that Einstein’s so called biggest mistake, the introduction of a cosmological constant, was something made up by the reporter’s mind and not something said by Einstein himself.

Talking about the Big Bang and alternative theories of the origin of the universe Dr. Narlikar remarked that the term ‘Big Bang’ itself was coined by a scientist (Sir Fred Hoyle) who was opposed to the theory. He remarked that cosmologists today are like a flock of geese following a leader without thinking for themselves, and asked people to validate a theory based on the observations and predictions made and not on the majority opinion. He ended the lecture by saying that the big bang theory should be taught to children along with speculation and not as a fact.

The lecture left many people amused and proved food for thought for others. There were questions regarding the manner in which Big Bang was taught in schools and ways in which it could be improved, along with those querying about parallel universes, the (apparent) discovery of particles travelling faster than light and what this means to relativity. Most of the answers had a central theme; think for yourself in a scientific manner taking into account the observations rather believing someone blindly.

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