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First Mathematical Model of 13th Century 'Big Bang' Cosmology

Unknown Lamer posted about 8 months ago | from the pesky-time-traveling-physicists dept.

Space 60

KentuckyFC writes "The 13th century thinker Robert Grosseteste is sometimes credited with predicting the Big Bang theory of cosmological expansion some eight centuries ahead of modern cosmologists. His theory, written in about 1225, is that the Universe began with a Big Bang-like explosion in which light expands in all directions giving matter its three-dimensional form. The expansion eventually stops when matter reaches a minimum density and this sets the boundary of the Universe. The boundary itself emits light towards the center of the universe and this interacts with matter, causing other nested spheres to form, corresponding to the fixed stars, the elements of earth, fire, water and so on. Now a team of physicists and experts on medieval philosophy have translated Grosseteste's theory into the modern language of mathematics and simulated it on computer. They say Grosseteste's theory produces universes of remarkable complexity but that only a tiny fraction of the parameter space corresponds to a universe of nested spheres like the one he predicted. What's interesting is that modern cosmologists face exactly the same problem. Their models predict many different kinds of universes and have to be fine-tuned to fit the universe we actually live in. 'The sensitivity to initial conditions resonates with contemporary cosmological discussion and reveals a subtlety of the medieval model which historians of science could never have deduced from the text alone,' conclude the team."

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For Real? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46464885)

Bob "Big Balls"?

Re:For Real? (1, Funny)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about 8 months ago | (#46465103)

"Big Head". You wretched nit.

Re:For Real? (4, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 8 months ago | (#46465225)

You wretched nit.

I'd keep on reading Slashdot only for the colorful yet elevated vocabulary I learn here.

Re:For Real? (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about 8 months ago | (#46482107)

It's from John Cleese, I forget which script.

Re:For Real? (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 8 months ago | (#46467301)

Wouldn't that be "grosstete"?

Language geek details on French nouns and gender (4, Informative)

zooblethorpe (686757) | about 8 months ago | (#46468405)

Wouldn't that be "grosstete"?

The first "e" in the French word tête has that funny hat on it, technically called a circumflex. This tells us that this vowel used to be followed by an "s" in earlier stages of the French language. So tête derives from older form teste.

The word tête is also feminine, so any adjectives must also use the feminine form. French gros (from Latin grossus) in the feminine form becomes grosse.

So, just as expected, gros + tête == grosse tête as spelled in modern French, and grosse teste in Old French, whence the Norman French language and names of 1200s England, courtesy William the Conqueror.

Cheers,

900 years ago (3, Funny)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about 8 months ago | (#46464923)

I was under the impression that 900 years ago was "history", rather than "news".

Re:900 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46464999)

It was the damn dark ages. Everybody had a wacky favorite theory about how the universe came into being, including the church. It stands to reason that someone would be on the right track by the law of large numbers.

Re:900 years ago (4, Insightful)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 8 months ago | (#46465113)

Due to the lack of printing presses, low literacy levels at the time and the difficulty in keeping old books around, I guess that the large numbers you refer to are not in fact large numbers. I'm not saying that he was right or wrong, but his work on optics was remarkable, so maybe it's best not to belittle his works.

Re:900 years ago (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 8 months ago | (#46465791)

I used to think the way you do. However, I see you haven't read any modern history books.

It is entirely acceptable and normal to sit back in your armchair and judge a medieval society for failing to uphold politically correct standards that did not exist 25 years ago. You don't believe me? Ha! Do some reading. I wish I was joking. I am not.

Re:900 years ago (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46466257)

You could have at least provided us with some citations on that... I have yet to see a serious history book that would be judgmental after this fashion (beyond dispelling some of the most atrocious misconceptions about the "peaceful" and "enlightened" character of our early Slavic ruling dynasties, but that is quite necessary when people have distorted views of what the past was like, and the cold shower often helps).

Re:900 years ago (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 8 months ago | (#46467025)

Just look at recent scholarship on Christopher Columbus.

Re:900 years ago (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46467319)

What do you mean by that? Columbus certainly would have been considered a douchebag had he lived 25 years ago. Again, this is more of a case of dispelling idealistic notions that some people have had about him in the past.

Re:900 years ago (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 8 months ago | (#46467473)

I mean that he's being judged by modern standards. By the standards of the Spaniards, Italians, and Carib of his time, everything he did was perfectly justified (for instance, long before the Spanish arrived, it was quite common to raise money for the family in the Carib culture to sell children into slavery- the Spanish just brought a new market).

Re:900 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46466287)

What exactly do modern history books say that contradict what the previous poster said? Was there not a limited amount of material that was actually recorded, especially limited on some subjects more than others, and only a subset of which survives or is available today?

Re:900 years ago (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about 8 months ago | (#46466829)

Huh? I think you might have replied to the wrong post as I don't know what you are talking about.

If you did mean to reply to my post, can you explain what you're banging on about?

Re:900 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46469205)

Wouldn't this also be a prediction of 'holography' theory and E=MC^2? The blurb makes it seem like that: "...in which light expands in all directions giving matter its three-dimensional form."

Re:900 years ago (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46466213)

It was the damn dark ages.

You're off by (slightly more than) two hundred years. The "Dark Ages" by convention end with the end of the 10th century - not to mention the fact that this term has limited spatio-temporal applicability: applying it to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire is laughable perhaps with the sole exception of the period of early Muslim conquests after Muhammad's death, and even though France, e.g., had its dark periods, the first half of the 9th century was rather standing out.

Re:900 years ago (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 8 months ago | (#46467015)

Grosseteste was the church. The only science of the day was theology, and his model is a special case of the exact same theology that led to the theory of the Big Bang later.

Not the dark ages (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46471593)

Just FYI, today most historians only refer to the period of 400 to 800 CE as the "Dark Ages" in western Europe. This is because in the centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the region there was a dramatic drop in human development that led to a general loss of literacy and therefore we have very few written records of the period (thus, it is "dark" for historians who largely try to base their work on written documents [hence the difference between "pre-history" and "history"]).

The broader "Dark Ages" that you refer to running from 500 to 1500 is mostly a result of renaissance propaganda that sought to discount everything that had happened between Rome and their own day. Without discounting the achievements of the renaissance, most of 16th century assertions about the past are just false. The 13th century, in particular, was one of Europe's peaks and marked with relative peace and prosperity. In France, for example, there was more international trade going at a level that surpassed any previous period and would not be matched till the 18th century. The pursuit of mathematics had been rediscovered (thanks to contact with the Arabs) and was being actively developed; the first universities (most of which still run today) were being founded; architecture was producing some of Europe's most beautiful buildings, there was an agricultural revolution... I could go on.

Re:Not the dark ages (1)

careysub (976506) | about 8 months ago | (#46473207)

Mod up please! One of the more informative comments on this thread.

(I did like the "wretched nit" insult at the top though.)

Re:900 years ago (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 8 months ago | (#46465269)

You must be new here.

900 year old news? That's nothing. Wait until you discover trupes.

Re:900 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46465423)

When 900 years old you reach, sound as old it will not.

Re:900 years ago (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46466041)

Not if you're a fan of the cyclical universe theory!

Re:900 years ago (1)

OakDragon (885217) | about 8 months ago | (#46466449)

It took a few hundred more years before they discovered the Higgs Bison.

Re:900 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46466457)

It's a poor sort of news that only works forward.

Re:900 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46466485)

I was under the impression that 900 years ago was "history", rather than "news".

That's OK. In another 900 years man will be trying to figure out why some "reality" show celebritard was ever considered "news".

Re:900 years ago (1)

mmell (832646) | about 8 months ago | (#46466565)

No data connectivity - took that long to get to the anchor desk. Sorry 'bout that!

Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46465077)

He must have had contact with extraterrestrials. What, I wonder, was his basis for writing such a theory?

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46465637)

Careful now. That's sounding troublingly like Intelligent Design. Next thing you know you'll have Grosseteste being characterized as some kind of theist or something.

Re:Amazing (1)

mmell (832646) | about 8 months ago | (#46466589)

I believe in Intelligent Design. Everything I've ever designed, I've tried to do so intelligently.

Re:Amazing (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 8 months ago | (#46467045)

Yep. Because he wore that funny outfit in his portrait in the article for the fun of it!

Models (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46465109)

What they're saying isn't that his model is excitingly accurate, but that his model amazingly exhibits the same fundamental sensitivities to parameters as our current ones.
While Robert Grosseteste had a very crude model in terms of how he saw the universe (concentric spheres), his Big Bang idea was damn good and more importantly, his model is just like what we have now: for his model to work the way he specified it, he would need a very narrow band of parameters. He didn't know it back then, but by changing the parameters he would have had massively different implementations that are quite amusing. Anyway, looks like a fun exercise for those involved.

Re:Models (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 8 months ago | (#46467677)

his Big Bang idea was damn good and more importantly, his model is just like what we have now

Yeah, not so much. From the summary of his model as described in the paper:

Similarly, lumen is emitted from the second perfected sphere, sweeps up matter until there is further rarefaction and compression leading to a third perfected sphere. This continues until the ninth sphere, that of the moon, whose lumen emission is not sufficient to completely perfect the spheres of the elements (fire, air, water, earth) and these thus do not allow circular motion, which pertains only to perfect bodies, but just radial motion, and the latter two have the attribute of weight, due to their extremal density and compression.

It's a BIG stretch to say that anything about his cosmological theory has much in common with ours. By that measure, we might as well point out that Ptolemy's model of the solar system was "damn good" and "just like ours" (or Copernicus's) because it happened to have planets and a sun in it... forget about how anything in the model works or the philosophy underneath it.

for his model to work the way he specified it, he would need a very narrow band of parameters. He didn't know it back then, but by changing the parameters he would have had massively different implementations that are quite amusing.

No, not really. If we make a number of assumptions in translating his ideas into math, most of which he didn't specify, then we end up with a model (partly imagined by the authors) which has some of these properties.

Don't get me wrong: as someone who does research involving the history of science, I find this guy's ideas very interesting for what they say about medieval philosophy and "science." And this article is interesting for trying sort out what a worked-out model would look like in modern science.

But let's not try to pretend that what this project came up with is really just an implementation of a medieval model, nor that this has anything significant in common with modern cosmology.

If you tweak the params, does it produce turtles? (3, Funny)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 8 months ago | (#46465145)

...all the way down?

I'm sure there are multiple people working on Grand Unified Theories suitable for generating all known cosmogonies. Feel free to post yours!

Re:If you tweak the params, does it produce turtle (2)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 8 months ago | (#46465197)

Feel free to post yours!

In my GUT, the three force of the universe (gravity, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic/weak) have been combined. I call it the Force. It surrounds us, binds us, flows through us, and thrives in microscopic organisms in your bloodstream.

Re:If you tweak the params, does it produce turtle (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46466505)

In my GUT, the three force of the universe (gravity, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic/weak) have been combined. I call it the Force. It surrounds us, binds us, flows through us, and thrives in microscopic organisms in your bloodstream.

In my GUT, thriving microscopic organisms produce chemical reactions which result in great Force being expelled from my body. It flows through me, surrounds us, and is a source of great division.

Re:If you tweak the params, does it produce turtle (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 8 months ago | (#46467923)

It flows through me, surrounds us, and is a source of great division.

Mine can do square and sometimes cube roots, and I'm teaching them calculus next.

Re:If you tweak the params, does it produce turtle (1)

mmell (832646) | about 8 months ago | (#46466635)

I see what you did there. Very punny.

I like recent holographic theories as candidates for ultimately supplying a workable GUT. Consider cosmic expansion - what happens to the surface area of a sphere as the radius of the sphere increases arithmetically? Gravity can be readily explained as perturbations on the surface of the sphere. I wish I knew the maths to explore this idea properly.

Bang Bang Shoot Em Up to the Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46465267)

I want to be a spaceman
That's what I want to be
Cause if I wuz a spaceman
Everyone would love me
Zero hour nine AM
And all this science
I don't understand
It's just my job
Five days a week
A spaceman

prediction is over-rated (1)

minstrelmike (1602771) | about 8 months ago | (#46465451)

Physics apparently wants one single gigundamous theory to explain "everything" meaning subatomic particles, atomic particles, and gravity, but without having to explain chemistry or physics.
That seems unlikely. We cannot even prove arithmetic from set theory, so proving all of the universe from a single starting point seems unlikely.

As far as predicting things, look closely at our Theory of Evolution.
In order to be valid, it must explain every species currently here or represented in the fossil record
but notice that it is not expected to predict the form of any new species at all nor predict the numbers or types of species extant in a million years from now (but expect cockroaches).
We want more from physics than we know we can get from math or expect to get from biology.

Managing user expectations is one of the most important pieces of a successful project.
From a mathematical perspective, expecting to derive everything from a single starting point seems unreasonable.
From an evolutionary perspective, if the current universe is one thing that might have happened but not necessarily would have happened, that doesn't seem to be enough of a criticism to discard the theory, not if you are honest about your basic assumptions and expectations. In biology, octopi did evolve but septopi and hectopi and quintipi did not but could have and perhaps still may occur.

Re:prediction is over-rated (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 8 months ago | (#46465511)

If we can come up with a really good theory of subatomic particles, nuclear forces and the electromagnetic force then chemistry should just emerge from it. They already do, to a large extent - it's how simulated chemistry is done. Very much liked by biologists, as computers are cheaper than lab time.

Re:prediction is over-rated (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46466439)

My brother is a chemist, and they run endless simulations before anyone is allowed to use their NMR machine. I was actually surprised at the shear amount of computing power required, and some basic economics seems to indicate lab time might be cheaper, if it weren't for the fact that the simulations are required by the department prior to lab time. Then again, if electricity is free (it is practically for a department at most universities), it might swing the other way by hiding the cost...

Re:prediction is over-rated (1)

khallow (566160) | about 8 months ago | (#46465575)

but notice that it is not expected to predict the form of any new species at all nor predict the numbers or types of species extant in a million years from now (but expect cockroaches).

Given that we just moved hard into a non-evolutionary mode, this shouldn't be a surprise. For example, I think there's a fair chance that in a century most organisms on Earth will not even be descended from organisms alive at this time. It's hard to make predictions about a million years from now when DNA based life might almost vanish in a century from things that haven't been created yet.

Re:prediction is over-rated (2)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 8 months ago | (#46466375)

You're spot on. The system is too complicated for evolution to make specific predictions. The general ones may be tested or observed in hindsight, but to make anything other than vague predictions, we would need a lot more computing power/data storage than we have - perhaps more than could exist on our planet. Evolution's value lies not in prediction, but in it's explanatory model. This doesn't invalidate evolution from a scientific perspective, but it does show sometimes that having the final answer makes working through the problem a lot easier.

Re:prediction is over-rated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46466429)

We cannot even prove arithmetic from set theory, so proving all of the universe from a single starting point seems unlikely.

You can derive arithmetic from axiomatic set theory though. Unless you are trying to make some indirect reference to Godel's work, which is not necessarily relevant physics as there is no requirement (nor support currently from observation) that the universe needs to allow for unbounded complexity.

Physics apparently wants one single gigundamous theory to explain "everything" meaning subatomic particles, atomic particles, and gravity, but without having to explain chemistry or physics.

But large portions of chemistry are derivable from quantum mechanics, and going back to underlying principles is important for extending and improving a lot of chemistry research today. That doesn't mean you need to replace all of chemistry with quantum mechanics. All of the previous principles still work for the situations they were seen to work in previous experiments, just as time goes on, their domain gets refined or they get replaced with something else if more detailed theories also turn out to be more practical. It is not like we stop using Newtonian mechanics since Einstein. After all, it works very well and is backed up by plenty of observations. But new work, observations, and theories like relativity and quantum mechanics show where Newtonian mechanics stops working, but can also rederive Newtonian mechanics in the situations it does work.

Re:prediction is over-rated (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 months ago | (#46467169)

Physics apparently wants one single gigundamous theory to explain "everything" meaning subatomic particles, atomic particles, and gravity, but without having to explain chemistry or physics.

Well, I am not a physicist, but I don't believe that the goal is to avoid explaining physics (of which chemistry is one field of study.) And what is gravity if not physics? My understanding is that the goal is to come up with one reconcilable theory which explains matter, gravity, and indeed all other forces with which we are familiar such as the electromagnetic force.

Re:prediction is over-rated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46469479)

"Physics apparently wants one single gigundamous theory to explain "everything" [...] but without having to explain chemistry or physics"

Say what?

Re:prediction is over-rated (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 8 months ago | (#46470697)

We can confidently predict that when we release say a medicine which destroys a particular type of infectious disease into the environment, some percentage of the bacteria will survive and develop resistance, breeding new strains requiring new medicines. This is a prediction which is based upon the theory of evolution.

What's interesting (1)

koan (80826) | about 8 months ago | (#46465563)

Is he did it without the higher maths and computers, which leads me to think the mind is capable of fully grasping reality and it's creation/dissolution but that explaining it (writing it down for others, etc) is the hard part.

Grosse Testes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46465597)

LOL dongs.

Great bb (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 8 months ago | (#46466065)

> Robert Grosseteste

AKA Robert Bigballs

Re:Great bb (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 months ago | (#46467215)

> Robert Grosseteste

AKA Robert Bigballs

I think I'd have gone for "Bob BigBalls". It's got a certain ring to it.

Pretty amazing stuff... (1)

rnturn (11092) | about 8 months ago | (#46466295)

.. and had me wondering why this fellow isn't more widely known. Then you remember that he came up these ideas in the days when going public with them would likely get you burned at the stake (or worse).

Re:Pretty amazing stuff... (1)

focoma (865351) | about 8 months ago | (#46470587)

.. and had me wondering why this fellow isn't more widely known. Then you remember that he came up these ideas in the days when going public with them would likely get you burned at the stake (or worse).

Except... he did go public with them.

Read up on your history. Scholars who published their theories about nature were very rarely persecuted for their research in 13th century Europe.

Re:Pretty amazing stuff... (1)

Richard Kirk (535523) | about 8 months ago | (#46472145)

Naah. They didn't do that back then. Anyhow, he was Bishop of Lincoln, so he would probably be in charge of the people with matches.

Okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46466891)

That guy, Robert Grosseteste, has got to be either a time traveler or an alien. How did he come up with his conjecture? And especially in that age?

Was he wearing ... (1)

AncalagonTotof (1025748) | about 8 months ago | (#46467269)

bow tie ?...

Computations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46469065)

I know that nobody's likely to see this, but if you read the actual paper, considering the effort put into describing the numerical difficulties, it seems odd that they give no description of the time-integration scheme or the method of computing the derivatives. At first glance, the form of the equations seem to lend themselves quite naturally to modern TVD approaches....

Nostradamus redux (2)

Richard Kirk (535523) | about 8 months ago | (#46472301)

I went to the presentation at the Royal Society last week given by this group on Grosseteste's colour theory. Grossteste's papers are very dense and very short, and this one fitted on a sheet of A4. He had a theory about colour that seems to have three clear axes and eight corners. However, he never tells us what the axes are called, or names a single colour, or even tells us where white and black come, which the presenters admitted was 'pretty strange'. There is no obvious algebra, which is correct for the age, but makes it very hard to interpret an unambiguous meaning. Aristotle's theory on colour, which Grossteste would have read in translation from Arabic at the time, has clear experimental models for generating infinitesimal shades between any two colours, and names seven colours - perhaps in an early attempt to see how many colours are needed to mix any colour. In contrast, it is difficult to be sure whether Grosseteste's work is philosophical (which colours should exist), experimental (which colours do exist), or mathematical (how can we model what we see).

Grosseteste was known to be one of the better mathematicians of his age. He is not Nostradamus, pumping out cryptic statements in the hopes that some of them will match something at random. What he said was respected in his day. We have some modern computer model that seems to match what he said to some extent, but only for some small subset of the parameter space. I suspect this tells us more about how we think then about how Grossteste did.

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