Synopses & Reviews
Primordial Flaring Forth
Originating power brought forth a universe. All the energy that would ever exist in the entire course of time erupted as a single quantum--a singular gift--existence. If in the future, stars would blaze and lizards would blink in their light, these actions would be powered by the same numinous energy that flared forth at the dawn of time.
There was no place in the universe that was separate from the originating power of the universe. Each thing of the universe had its very roots in this realm. Even space-time itself was a tossing, churning, foaming out of the originating reality, instant by instant. Each of the sextillion particles that foamed into existence had its root in this quantum vacuum, this originating reality.
The birth of the universe was not an event in time. Time begins simultaneously with the birth of existence. The realm or power that brings forth the universe is not itself an event in time, nor a position in space, but is rather the very matrix out of which the conditions arise that enable temporal events to occur in space. Though the originating power gave birth to the universe fifteen billion years ago, this realm of power is not simply located there at that point of time, but is rather a condition of every moment of the universe, past, present, and to come.
Particles, light, and time emerged in the beginning. Space, too, unfurled out of potentiality and has continued to unfurl each instant of cosmic existence. In the beginning space foamed forth to create the vast billowing event of the expanding universe. The universe venture was under way. Had the originating powers not gushed forth a world-creating space andtime, our cosmos would have existed a quintillionth of a second, just a pinprick event that would have instantly snuffed itself out. The cosmic adventure of fifteen billion years has depended upon the ever-fresh unfurling of nascent space.
The rate of the spatial emergence reveals a primordial elegance. Had space unfurled in a more retarded fashion, the expanding universe would have collapsed back into quantum foam billions of years ago. Such a collapse would have taken place even if space had unfurled one trillionth of a percent more slowly. If space had emerged more rapidly, equally disastrous results would have followed. The constituents of the universe would have been too widely separated for anything truly interesting to happen.
The original body of the universe maintained itself in a delicate balance. If either the rate of spatiation or the power of gravitation had wavered too far one way or the other, the adventure of the universe would have ceased. For instance, the universe would never have reached the moment when living cells sprouted forth. The vitality of a dolphin as it squiggles high in the summer sun, then, is directly dependent upon the elegance of the dynamics at the beginning of time. We cannot regard the dolphin and the first Flaring Forth as entirely separate events. The universe is a coherent whole, a seamless multileveled creative event. The graceful expansion of the original body is the life blood of all future bodies in the universe.
Though this law of expansion was fixed from the earliest instant of existence, other laws were not yet formed at that time. The first particle interactions were not fixed and determined in the way they are today. There was anelement of freedom, of randomness, associated with these interactions. The electrons, positrons, the quarks, the neutrinos had not yet achieved their identity. They enjoyed a chaotic freedom of possibilities they would later be denied. Most likely there were even from the beginning innate biases for certain kinds of intensities to these interactions, but there were also in every interaction degrees of freedom that would disappear in later eras.
The first epoch of the Flaring Forth reached its end when the freely symmetric interactions hardened into a structure. Suddenly the universe as a whole changed phases. What had been symmetric and free was now fixed into particular interactions with determined intensities--the gravitational, the electromagnetic, and the two nuclear interactions.
These four laws theoretically could have been very different: different in number, intensity, character. Why did these particular four emerge? Perhaps their final form even depended to some extent on the experimentation and exploration of the former, freer era. Perhaps their structure was determined to some degree by what had preceded the moment of symmetry, when a pure or at least original activity had settled into a particular fixed form. If so, these four interactions can be regarded as analogous to habits that the universe adopted for its primary actions. Thus the one primordial act of the universe now appeared as four different activities.
In this phase transition the fundamental architecture of the universe's interactions was set for all time. It was not yet certain where the largest stars would appear, but the upper limits to their sizes and intensities were already fixed. It was not yetcertain how many planets would come into existence, but an invisible ceiling for their highest mountains was already in place because the strengths of the interactions of the mountains' constituents were now in place. It was not at all certain if bivalve mollusks would ever exist, but the possibilities for shell sizes were now determined. It was certainly far from obvious whether or not there would ever exist anything like a mammal, but the fundamental range for how high they could leap or how powerfully they could clamp their jaws was now set into the sinews of the universe.
The universe established its fundamental physical interactions in a manner similar to the way it unfurled its space--with stunning elegance. Had it settled on a slightly different strong interaction, all the future stars would have exploded in a brief time, making an unfurling of life impossible.
Grounded in contemporary scientific understanding and inspired by the world's great wisdom traditions, cosmologist Brian Swimme and cultural historian Thomas Berry meld the findings of contemporary science - cosmology, geology, biology, and sociology with the human search for meaning. The resulting account articulates fifteen billion years of existence with awe, delight, and vision. Swimme and Berry remind us of the importance of story "story is the only way of providing, in our times, what the mythic stories of the universe provided for tribal peoples and for the earlier classical civilizations in their times." In a richly detailed narrative of epic sweep, they recount the unfolding of the universe, from the "primordial flaring forth" and the formation of galaxies and supernovas to the "human emergence," classical civilizations, and imminent Ecozoic era. The Universe Story compellingly explores humanity's place in the evolving cosmos and our ecological imperative. Crippling the Earth's biodiversity, "we are deciding what species will live or perish, we are determining the chemical structure of the soil and the air and the water, we are mapping out the areas of wilderness that will be allowed to function in their own natural modalities." This, Swimme and Berry remind us, "is filled with risk and presumption," for "the story of the Earth is also the story of the human." Honoring "the special capacity of the human to enable the universe and the planet Earth to reflect on and to celebrate...in our music and our art, our dance and our poetry, and in our religious rituals," Swimme and Berry urge that we honor the knowledge gained by centuries of scientific inquiry with reverence, entrancement, and a commitment to renewal. Such joyous commitment is essential, for "there is eventually only one story, the story of the universe. Every form of being is integral with this comprehensive story. Nothing is itself without everything else."
From the big bang to the present and into the next millenium, The Universe Story
unites science and the humanities in a dramatic exploration of the unfolding of the universe, humanity's evolving place in the cosmos, and the boundless possibilities for our future.
About the Author
Brian Swimme, Ph.D., is a mathematical cosmologist and author of The Universe Is a Green Dragon. He is director of the Center of the Story of the Universe at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.