爱 因斯坦广义相对论本身预言了：空间—时间在大爆炸奇点处开始，并会在大挤压奇点处（如果整个宇宙坍缩的话）或在黑洞中的一个奇点处（如果一个局部区域，譬 如恒星要坍缩的话）结束。任何抛进黑洞的东西都会在奇点处被毁灭，只有它的质量的引力效应能继续在外面被感觉得到。另一方面，当计入量子效应时，物体的质 量和能量会最终回到宇宙的其余部分，黑洞和在它当中的任何奇点一道被蒸发掉并最终消失。量子力学对大爆炸和大挤压奇点也能有同样戏剧性的效应吗？在宇宙的 极早或极晚期，当引力场是如此之强，以至于量子效应不能不考虑时，究竟会发生什么？宇宙究竟是否有一个开端或终结？如果有的话，它们是什么样子的？
整 个70年代我主要在研究黑洞，但在1981年参加在梵蒂冈由耶稣会组织的宇宙学会议时，我对于宇宙的起源和命运问题的兴趣重新被唤起。天主教会试图对科学 的问题立法，并宣布太阳是绕着地球运动时，对伽利略犯下了大错误。几个世纪后的现在，它决定邀请一些专家就宇宙学问题提出建议。在会议的尾声，所有参加者 应邀出席教皇的一次演讲。他告诉我们，在大爆炸之后的宇宙演化是可以研究的，但是我们不应该去过问大爆炸本身，因为那是创生的时刻，因而是上帝的事务。那 时候我心中暗喜，他并不知道，我刚在会议上作过的演讲的主题——空间—时间是有限而无界的可能性，就表明着没有开端、没有创生的时刻。我不想去分享伽利略 的厄运。我对伽利略之所以有一种强烈的认同感，其部分原因是刚好我出生于他死后的300年！
为 了解释我和其他人关于量子力学如何影响宇宙的起源和命运的思想，必须首先按照“热大爆炸模型“来理解为大家所接受的宇宙历史。它是假定从早到大爆炸时刻起 宇宙就用弗利德曼模型描述。在此模型中，人们发现当宇宙膨胀时，其中的任何物体或辐射都变得更凉。（当宇宙的尺度大到二倍，它的温度就降低到一半。）由于 温度即是粒子的平均能量——或速度的测度，宇宙的变凉对于其中的物质就会有较大的效应。在非常高的温度下，粒子会运动得如此之快，以至于能逃脱任何由核力 或电磁力将它们吸引一起的作用。但是可以预料，当它们变冷下来时，互相吸引的粒子开始结块。更有甚者，连存在于宇宙中的粒子的种类也依赖于温度。在足够高 的温度下，粒子的能量是如此之高，只要它们碰撞就会产生出来很多不同的粒子／反粒子对——并且，虽然其中一些粒子打到反粒子上去时会湮灭，但是它们产生得 比湮灭得更快。然而，在更低的温度下，碰撞粒子具有较小的能量，粒子／反粒子对产生得不快，而湮灭则变得比产生更快。
就 在大爆炸时，宇宙体积被认为是零，所以是无限热。但是，辐射的温度随着宇宙的膨胀而降低。大爆炸后的1秒钟，温度降低到约为100亿度，这大约是太阳中心 温度的1千倍， 亦即氢弹爆炸达到的温度。此刻宇宙主要包含光子、电子和中微子（极轻的粒子，它只受弱力和引力的作用）和它们的反粒子，还有一些质子和中子。随着宇宙的继 续膨胀，温度继续降低，电子／反电子对在碰撞中的产生率就落到它们湮灭率之下。这样只剩下很少的电子，而大部分电子和反电子相互湮灭，产生出更多的光子。 然而，中微子和反中微子并没有互相湮灭掉，因为这些粒子和它们自己以及其他粒子的作用非常微弱，所以直到今天它们应该仍然存在。如果我们能观测到它们，就 会为非常热的早期宇宙阶段的图象提供一个很好的证据。可惜现今它们的能量太低了，以至于我们不能直接地观察到。然而，如果中微子不是零质量，而是如苏联在 1981年进行的一次没被证实的实验所暗示的，自身具有小的质量，我们则可能间接地探测到它们。正如前面提到的那样，它们可以是“暗物质“的一种形式，具 有足够的引力吸引去遏止宇宙的膨胀，并使之重新坍缩。
在 大爆炸后的大约100秒， 温度降到了10亿度，也即最热的恒星内部的温度。在此温度下，质子和中子不再有足够的能量逃脱强核力的吸引，所以开始结合产生氘（重氢）的原子核。氘核包 含一个质子和一个中子。然后，氘核和更多的质子中子相结合形成氦核，它包含二个质子和二个中子，还产生了少量的两种更重的元素锂和铍。可以计算出，在热大 爆炸模型中大约4分之1的质子和中子转变了氦核，还有少量的重氢和其他元素。所余下的中子会衰变成质子，这正是通常氢原子的核。
1948 年，科学家乔治·伽莫夫和他的学生拉夫·阿尔法在合写的一篇著名的论文中，第一次提出了宇宙的热的早期阶段的图像。伽莫夫颇有幽默——他说服了核物理学家 汉斯·贝特将他的名字加到这论文上面，使得列名作者为“阿尔法、贝特、伽莫夫“，正如希腊字母的前三个：阿尔法、贝他、伽玛，这特别适合于一篇关于宇宙开 初的论文！他们在此论文中作出了一个惊人的预言：宇宙的热的早期阶段的辐射（以光子的形式）今天还应在周围存在，但是其温度已被降低到只比绝对零度（一 273℃） 高几度。这正是彭齐亚斯和威尔逊在1965年发现的辐射。在阿尔法、贝特和伽莫夫写此论文时，对于质子和中子的核反应了解得不多。所以对于早期宇宙不同元 素比例所作的预言相当不准确，但是，在用更好的知识重新进行这些计算之后，现在已和我们的观测符合得非常好。况且，在解释宇宙为何应该有这么多氦时，用任 何其他方法都是非常困难的。所以，我们相当确信，至少一直回溯到大爆炸后大约一秒钟为止，这个图像是正确无误的。
大 爆炸后的几个钟头之内， 氦和其他元素的产生就停止了。之后的100万年左右，宇宙仅仅只是继续膨胀，没有发生什么事。最后，一旦温度降低到几千度，电子和核子不再有足够能量去抵 抗它们之间的电磁吸引力，它们就开始结合形成原子。宇宙作为整体，继续膨胀变冷，但在一个略比平均更密集的区域，膨胀就会由于额外的引力吸引而慢下来。在 一些区域膨胀会最终停止并开始坍缩。当它们坍缩时，在这些区域外的物体的引力拉力使它们开始很慢地旋转；当坍缩的区域变得更小，它会自转得更快——正如在 冰上自转的滑冰者，缩回手臂时会自转得更快；最终，当这些区域变得足够小，自转的速度就足以平衡引力的吸引，碟状的旋转星系就以这种方式诞生了。另外一些 区域刚好没有得到旋转，就形成了叫做椭圆星系的椭球状物体。这些区域之所以停止坍缩是因为星系的个别部分稳定地绕着它的中心旋转，但星系整体并没有旋转。
随 着时间流逝，星系中的氢和氦气体被分割成更小的星云，它们在自身引力下坍缩。当它们收缩时，其中的原子相碰撞，气体温度升高，直到最后，热得足以开始热骤 变反应。这些反应将更多的氢转变成氦，释放出的热升高了压力，因此使星云不再继续收缩。正如同我们的太阳一样，它们将氢燃烧成氦，并将得到的能量以热和光 的形式辐射出来。它们会稳定地在这种状态下停留一段很长的时间。质量更大的恒星需要变得更热，以去平衡它们更强的引力，使得其核聚变反应进行得极快，以至 于它们在1亿年这么短的时间里将氢用光。 然后，它们会稍微收缩一点。当它们进一步变热，就开始将氦转变成像碳和氧这样更重的元素。但是，这一过程没有释放出太多的能量，所以正如在黑洞那一章描述 的，危机就会发生了。人们不完全清楚下面还会发生什么，但是看来恒星的中心区域会坍缩成一个非常紧致的状态，譬如中子星或黑洞。恒星的外部区域有时会在叫 做超新星的巨大爆发中吹出来，这种爆发会使星系中的所有恒星相形之下显得黯淡无光。一些恒星接近生命终点时产生的重元素就抛回到星系里的气体中去，为下一 代恒星提供一些原料。我们自己的太阳包含大约2％这样的重元素， 因为它是第二代或第三代恒星，是由50亿年前从包含有更早的超新星的碎片的旋转气体云形成的。云里的大部分气体形成了太阳或者喷到外面去，但是少量的重元 素集聚在一起，形成了像地球这样的、现在绕太阳公转的物体。
地 球原先是非常热的，并且没有大气。在时间的长河中它冷却下来，并从岩石中溢出的气体里得到了大气。这早先的大气不能使我们存活。因为它不包含氧气，但有很 多对我们有毒的气体，如硫化氢（即是使臭鸡蛋难闻的气体）。然而，存在其他在这条件下能繁衍的生命的原始形式。人们认为，它们可能是作为原子的偶然结合形 成叫做宏观分子的大结构的结果而在海洋中发展，这种结构能够将海洋中的其他原子聚集成类似的结构。它们就这样地复制了自己并繁殖。在有些情况下复制有误 差。这些误差多数使得新的宏观分子不能复制自己，并最终被消灭。然而，有一些误差会产生出新的宏观分子，在复制它们自己时会变得更好。所以它们具有优点， 并趋向于取代原先的宏观分子。进化的过程就是用这种方式开始，它导致了越来越复杂的自复制的组织。第一种原始的生命形式消化了包括硫化氢在内的不同物质而 放出氧气。这样就逐渐地将大气改变到今天这样的成份，允许诸如鱼、爬行动物、哺乳动物以及最后人类等生命的更高形式的发展。
（2） 为何在大尺度上宇宙是如此一致？为何在空间的所有地方和所有方向上它显得是一样的？尤其是，当我们朝不同方向看时，为何微波辐射背景的温度是如此之相同？ 这有点像问许多学生一个考试题。如果所有人都刚好给出相同的回答，你就会十分肯定，他们互相之间通过话。在上述的模型中，从大爆炸开始光还没有来得及从一 个很远的区域传到另一个区域，即使这两个区域在宇宙的早期靠得很近。按照相对论，如果连光都不能从一个区域走到另一个区域，则没有任何其他的信息能做到。 所以，除非因为某种不能解释的原因，导致早期宇宙中不同的区域刚好从同样的温度开始，否则，没有一种方法能使它们有互相一样的温度。
（3） 为何宇宙以这样接近于区分坍缩和永远膨胀模型的临界膨胀率的速率开始， 以至于即使在100亿年以后的现在，它仍然几乎以临界的速率膨胀？如果在大爆炸后的1秒钟那一时刻其膨胀率甚至只要小十亿亿分之一， 那么在它达到今天这么大的尺度之前宇宙就已坍缩。
广 义相对论本身不能解释这些特征或回答这些问题，因为它预言，在大爆炸奇点宇宙是从无限密度开始的。在奇点处，广义相对论和所有其他物理定律都失效：人们不 能预言从奇点会出来什么。正如以前解释的，这表明我们可以从这理论中除去大爆炸奇点和任何先于它的事件，因为它们对我们没有任何观测效应。空间一时间就会 有边界——大爆炸处的开端。
看 来科学揭露了一组定律，在不确定性原理极限内，如果我们知道宇宙在任一时刻的状态，这些定律就会告诉我们，它如何随时间发展。这些定律也许原先是由上帝颁 布的，但是看来从那以后他就让宇宙按照这些定律去演化，而不再对它干涉。但是，它是如何选择宇宙的初始状态和结构的？在时间的开端处“边界条件“是什么？
一 种可能的回答是，上帝选择宇宙的这种初始结构是因为某些我们无望理解的原因。这肯定是在一个全能造物主的力量之内。但是如果他使宇宙以这种不可理解的方式 开始，何以他又选择让它按照我们可理解的定律去演化？整部科学史是对事件不是以任意方式发生，而是反映了一定的内在秩序的逐步的意识。这秩序可以是、也可 以不是由神灵主宰的。只有假定这种秩序不但应用于定律，而且应用于在空间—时间边界处所给定的宇宙初始条件才是自然的。可以有大量具有不同初始条件的宇宙 模型，它们都服从定律。应该存在某种原则去抽取一个初始状态，也就是一个模型去代表我们的宇宙。
所 谓的紊乱边界条件即是这样的一种可能性。这里含蓄地假定，或者宇宙是空间无限的，或者存在无限多宇宙。在紊乱边界条件下，在刚刚大爆炸之后，寻求任何空间 的区域在任意给定的结构的概率，在某种意义上，和它在任何其他的结构的概率是一样的：宇宙初始态的选择纯粹是随机的。这意味着，早期宇宙可能是非常紊乱和 无规则的。因为与光滑和有序的宇宙相比，存在着更多得多的紊乱和无序的宇宙。（如果每一结构都是等几率的，多半宇宙是从紊乱无序态开始，就是因为这种态多 得这么多。）很难理解，从这样紊乱的初始条件，如何导致今天我们这个在大尺度上如此光滑和规则的宇宙。人们还预料，在这样的模型中，密度起伏导致了比由伽 玛射线背景所限定的多得多的太初黑洞的形成。
如 果宇宙确实是空间无限的，或者如果存在无限多宇宙，则就会存在某些从光滑和一致的形态开始演化的大的区域。这有一点像著名的一大群猴子敲打打字机的故事 ——它们大部分所写的都是废话。但是纯粹由于偶然，它们可能碰巧打出莎士比亚的一首短诗。类似地，在宇宙的情形，是否我们可能刚好生活在一个光滑和一致的 区域里呢？初看起来，这是非常不可能的，因为这样光滑的区域比紊乱的无序的区域少得多得多。然而，假定只有在光滑的区域里星系、恒星才能形成，才能有合适 的条件，让像我们这样复杂的、有能力质疑为什么宇宙是如此光滑的问题、能自然复制的组织得以存在。这就是被称为人择原理的一个应用的例子。人择原理可以释 义作：“我们看到的宇宙之所以这个样子，乃是因为我们的存在。“
人 择原理有弱的和强的意义下的两种版本。弱人择原理是讲，在一个大的或具有无限空间和／或时间的宇宙里，只有在空间一时间有限的一定区域里，才存在智慧生命 发展的必要条件。在这些区域中，如果智慧生物观察到他们在宇宙的位置满足那些为他们生存所需的条件，他们不应感到惊讶。这有点像生活在富裕街坊的富人看不 到任何贫穷。
应 用弱人择原理的一个例子是“解释“ 为何大爆炸发生于大约100亿年之前——智慧生物需要那么长时间演化。正如前面所解释的，一个早代的恒星首先必须形成。这些恒星将一些原先的氢和氦转化成 像碳和氧这样的元素，由这些元素构成我们。然后恒星作为超新星而爆发，其裂片形成其他恒星和行星，其中就包括我们的太阳系，太阳系年龄大约是50亿年。地 球存在的头10亿或20亿年，对于任何复杂东西的发展都嫌太热。余下的30亿年左右才用于生物进化的漫长过程，这个过程导致从最简单的组织到能够测量回溯 到大爆炸那一瞬间的生物的形成。
很 少人会对弱人择原理的有效性提出异议。然而，有的人走得更远并提出强人择原理。按照这个理论，存在许多不同的宇宙或者一个单独宇宙的许多不同的区域，每一 个都有自己初始的结构，或许还有自己的一套科学定律。在这些大部分宇宙中，不具备复杂组织发展的条件；只有很少像我们的宇宙，在那里智慧生命得以发展并质 疑：“为何宇宙是我们看到的这种样子？“这回答很简单：如果它不是这个样子，我们就不会在这儿！
我 们现在知道，科学定律包含许多基本的数，如电子电荷的大小以及质子和电子的质量比。至少现在，我们不能从理论上预言这些数值——我们必须由观察找到它们。 也许有一天，我们会发现一个将它们所有都预言出来的一个完整的统一理论，但是还可能它们之中的一些或全部，在不同的宇宙或在一个宇宙之中是变化的。令人吃 惊的事实是，这些数值看来是被非常细致地调整到使得生命的发展成为可能。例如，如果电子的电荷只要稍微有点不同，则要么恒星不能够燃烧氢和氦，要么它们没 有爆炸过。当然，也许存在其他形式的、甚至还没被科学幻想作家梦想过的智慧生命。它并不需要像太阳这样恒星的光，或在恒星中制造出并在它爆炸时被抛到空间 去的更重的化学元素。尽管如此，看来很清楚，允许任何智慧生命形式的发展的数值范围是比较小的。对于大部份数值的集合，宇宙也会产生，虽然它们可以是非常 美的，但不包含任何一个能为如此美丽而惊讶的人。人们既可以认为这是在创生和科学定律选择中的神意的证据，也可以认为是对强人择原理的支持。
人 们可以提出一系列理由，来反对强人择原理对宇宙的所观察到的状态的解释。首先，在何种意义上可以说，所有这些不同的宇宙存在？如果它们确实互相隔开，在其 他宇宙发生的东西，怎么可以在我们自己的宇宙中没有可观测的后果？所以，我们应该用经济学原理，将它们从理论中割除去。另一方面，它们若仅仅是一个单独宇 宙的不同区域，则在每个区域里的科学定律必须是一样的，因为否则人们不能从一个区域连续地运动到另一区域。在这种情况下，不同区域之间的仅有的不同只是它 们的初始结构。这样，强人择原理即归结为弱人择原理。
对 强人择原理的第二个异议是，它和整个科学史的潮流背道而驰。我们是从托勒密和他的党人的地心宇宙论发展而来，通过哥白尼和伽利略日心宇宙论，直到现代的图 象，其中地球是一个中等大小的行星，它绕着一个寻常的螺旋星系外圈的普通恒星作公转，而这星系本身只是在可观察到的宇宙中万亿个星系中的一个。然而强人择 原理却宣布，这整个庞大的构造仅仅是为我们的缘故而存在，这是非常难以令人置信的。我们太阳系肯定是我们存在的前提，人们可以将之推广于我们的星系，使之 允许早代的恒星产生重元素。但是，丝毫看不出存在任何其他星系的必要，在大尺度上也不需要宇宙在每一方向上必须如此一致和类似。
如 果人们能够表明，相当多的宇宙的不同初始结构会演化产生像我们今天看到的宇宙，至少在弱的形式上，人们会对人择原理感到更满意。如果这样，则一个从某些随 机的初始条件发展而来的宇宙，应当包含许多光滑的、一致的并适合智慧生命演化的区域。另一方面，如果宇宙的初始条件必须极端仔细地选择，才能导致在我们周 围所看到的一切，宇宙就不太可能包含任何会出现生命的区域。在上述的热大爆炸模型中，没有足够的方向使热从一个区域流到另一区域。这意味着宇宙的初始态在 每一处必须刚好有同样的温度，才能说明我们在每一方向上看到的微波背景辐射都有同样温度，其初始的膨胀率也要非常精确地选择，才能使得现在的膨胀率仍然是 如此接近于需要用以避免坍缩的临界速率。这表明，如果直到时间的开端热大爆炸模型都是正确的，则必须非常仔细地选择宇宙的初始态。所以，除非作为上帝有意 创造像我们这样生命的行为，否则要解释为何宇宙只用这种方式起始是非常困难的。
固 斯提出，宇宙是以一个非常热而且相当紊乱的状态从大爆炸开始的。这些高温表明宇宙中的粒子运动得非常快并具有高能量。正如早先我们讨论的，人们预料在这么 高的温度下，强和弱核力及电磁力都被统一成一个单独的力。当宇宙膨胀时它会变冷，粒子能量下降。最后出现了所谓的相变，并且力之间的对称性被破坏了：强力 变得和弱力以及电磁力不同。相变的一个普通的例子是，当水降温时会冻结成冰。液态水是对称的，它在任何一点和任何方向上都是相同的。然而，当冰晶体形成 时，它们有确定的位置，并在某一方向上整齐排列，这就破坏了水的对称。
处 理水的时候，只要你足够小心，就能使之“过冷“，也就是可以将温度降低到冰点（0℃） 以下而不结冰。固斯认为，宇宙的行为也很相似：宇宙温度可以低到临界值以下，而没有使不同的力之间的对称受到破坏。如果发生这种情形，宇宙就处于一个不稳 定状态，其能量比对称破缺时更大。这特殊的额外能量呈现出反引力的效应：其作用如同一个宇宙常数。宇宙常数是当爱因斯坦在试图建立一个稳定的宇宙模型时， 引进广义相对论之中去的。由于宇宙已经像大爆炸模型那样膨胀，所以这宇宙常数的排斥效应使得宇宙以不断增加的速度膨胀，即使在一些物质粒子比平均数多的区 域，这一有效宇宙常数的排斥作用超过了物质的引力吸引作用。这样，这些区域也以加速暴涨的形式而膨胀。当它们膨胀时，物质粒子越分越开，留下了一个几乎不 包含任何粒子，并仍然处于过冷状态的膨胀的宇宙。宇宙中的任何不规则性都被这膨胀抹平，正如当你吹胀气球时，它上面的皱纹就被抹平了。所以，宇宙现在光滑 一致的状态，可以是从许多不同的非一致的初始状态演化而来。
在 这样一个其膨胀由宇宙常数加速、而不由物质的引力吸引使之减慢的宇宙中，早期宇宙中的光线就有足够的时间从一个地方传到另一个地方。这就解答了早先提出 的，为何在早期宇宙中的不同区域具有同样性质的问题。不但如此，宇宙的膨胀率也自动变得非常接近于由宇宙的能量密度决定的临界值。这样，不必去假设宇宙初 始膨胀率曾被非常仔细地选择过，就能解释为何现在的膨胀率仍然是如此地接近于临界值。
暴 涨的思想还能解释为何宇宙存在这么多物质。在我们能观察到的宇宙里大体有1亿亿亿亿亿亿亿亿亿亿（1后面跟80个0） 个粒子。它们从何而来？答案是，在量子理论中，粒子可以从粒子／反粒子对的形式由能量中创生出来。但这只不过引起了能量从何而来的问题。答案是，宇宙的总 能量刚好是零。宇宙的物质是由正能量构成的；然而，所有物质都由引力互相吸引。两块互相靠近的物质比两块分得很开的物质具有更少的能量，因为你必须消耗能 量去克服把它们拉在一起的引力而将其分开。这样，在一定意义上，引力场具有负能量。在空间上大体一致的宇宙的情形中，人们可以证明，这个负的引力能刚好抵 消了物质所代表的正能量，所以宇宙的总能量为零。
零 的两倍仍为零。这样宇宙可以同时将其正的物质能和负的引力能加倍，而不破坏其能量的守恒。在宇宙的正常膨胀时，这并没有发生。这时当宇宙变大时，物质能量 密度下降。然而，这种情形确实发生于暴涨时期。因为宇宙膨胀时，过冷态的能量密度保持不变：当宇宙体积加倍时，正物质能和负引力能都加倍，总能量保持为 零。在暴涨相，宇宙的尺度增大了一个非常大的倍数。这样，可用以制造粒子的总能量变得非常大。正如固斯所说的：“都说没有免费午餐这件事，但是宇宙是最彻 底的免费午餐。“
今 天宇宙不是以暴涨的方式膨胀。这样，必须有一种机制，它可以消去这一非常大的有效宇宙常数，从而使膨胀率从加速的状态，改变为正如同今天这样由引力减慢下 的样子。人们可以预料，在宇宙暴涨时不同力之间的对称最终会被破坏，正如过冷的水最终会凝固一样。这样，未破缺的对称态的额外能量就会释放，并将宇宙重新 加热到刚好低于使不同力对称的临界温度。以后，宇宙就以标准的大爆炸模式继续膨胀并变冷。但是，现在找到了何以宇宙刚好以临界速率膨胀，并在不同的区域具 有相同温度的解释。
在 固斯的原先设想中，有点像在非常冷的水中出现冰晶体，相变是突然发生的。其想法是，正如同沸腾的水围绕着蒸汽泡，新的对称破缺相的“泡泡“在原有的对称相 中形成。泡泡膨胀并互相碰撞，直到整个宇宙变成新相。麻烦在于，正如同我和其他几个人所指出的，宇宙膨胀得如此之快，甚至即使泡泡以光速涨大，它们也要互 相分离，并因此不能合并在一起。结果宇宙变成一种非常不一致的状态，有些区域仍具有不同力之间的对称。这样的模型跟我们所观察到的宇宙并不吻合。
1981 年10月，我去莫斯科参加量子引力的会议。会后，我在斯特堡天文研究所做了一个有关暴涨模型和它的问题的讲演。听众席中有一年轻的苏联人——莫斯科列别提 夫研究所的安德雷·林德——他讲，如果泡泡是如此之大，以至于我们宇宙的区域被整个地包含在一个单独的泡泡之中，则可以避免泡泡不能合并在一起的困难。为 了使这个行得通，从对称相向对称破缺相的改变必须在泡泡中进行得非常慢，而按照大统一理论这是相当可能的。林德的缓慢对称破缺思想是非常好的，但过后我意 识到，他的泡泡在那一时刻必须比宇宙的尺度还要大！我指出，那时对称不仅仅在泡泡里，而且在所有的地方同时被破坏。这会导致一个正如我们所观察到的一致的 宇宙。我被这个思想弄得非常激动，并和我的一个学生因·莫斯讨论。然而，当我后来收到一个科学杂志社寄来的林德的论文，征求是否可以发表时，作为他的朋 友，我感到相当难为情。我回答说，这里有一个关于泡泡比宇宙还大的瑕疵，但是里面关于缓慢对称破缺的基本思想是非常好的。我建议将此论文照原样发表。因为 林德要花几个月时间去改正它，并且他寄到西方的任何东西都要通过苏联的审查，这种对于科学论文的审查既无技巧可言又很缓慢。我和因·莫斯便越俎代庖，为同 一杂志写了一篇短文。我们在该文中指出这泡泡的问题，并提出如何将其解决。
我 从莫斯科返回的第二天，即去费城接受富兰克林研究所的奖章。我的秘书朱迪·费拉以其不差的魅力说服了英国航空公司向她和我免费提供协和式飞机的宣传旅行座 席。然而，在去机场的路上被大雨耽搁，我没赶上航班。尽管如此，我最终还是到了费城并得到奖章。之后，应邀作了关于暴涨宇宙的讲演。正如在莫斯科那样，我 用大部分时间讲授关于暴涨模型的问题。但在结尾时，我提到林德关于缓慢对称破缺的思想，以及我的修正意见。听众中有一位年轻的宾夕凡尼亚大学的助理教授保 罗·斯特恩哈特， 讲演后他和我讨论暴涨的问题。次年2月份，他寄给我一篇由他和一个学生安德鲁斯·阿尔伯勒希特合写的论文。在该文中，他们提出了某种非常类似林德缓慢对称 破缺的思想。后来他告诉我，他不记得我描述过林德的思想，并且只是在他们几乎完成论文之时，才看到林德的文章。在西方，现在他们和林德分享以缓慢对称破缺 的思想为基础，并发现所谓新暴涨模型的荣誉。（旧的暴涨模型是指固斯关于形成泡泡后快速对称破缺的原始设想。）
新 暴涨模型是一个好的尝试，它能解释宇宙为何是这种样子。然而我和其他几个人指出，至少在它原先的形式，它预言的微波背景辐射的温度起伏比所观察到的情形要 大得多。后来的工作还对极早期宇宙中是否存在这类所需要的相变提出怀疑。我个人的意见是，现在新暴涨模型作为一个科学理论是气数已尽。虽然有很多人似乎没 有听进它的死讯，还继续写文章，好像那理论还有生命力。林德在1983年提出了一个更好的所谓紊乱暴涨模型。这里没有相变和过冷，而代之以存在一个自旋为 0的场， 由于它的量子涨落，在早期宇宙的某些区域有大的场量。在那些区域中，场的能量起到宇宙常数的作用，它具有排斥的引力效应，因此使得这些区域以暴涨的形式膨 胀。当它们膨胀时，它们中的场的能量慢慢地减小，直到暴涨改变到犹如热大爆炸模型中的膨胀时为止。这些区域之一就成为我们看到的宇宙。这个模型具有早先暴 涨模型的所有优点，但它不是取决于使人生疑的相变，并且还能给出微波背景辐射的温度起伏，其幅度与观测相符合。
暴 涨模型的研究指出：宇宙现在的状态可以从相当大量的不同初始结构引起的。这是重要的，因为它表明不必非常细心地选取我们居住的那部份宇宙区域的初始状态。 所以，如果愿意的话，我们可以利用弱人择原理解释宇宙为何是这个样子。然而，绝不是任何一种初始结构都会产生像我们所观察到的宇宙。这一点很容易说明，考 虑现在宇宙处于一个非常不同的态，例如一个非常成团的、非常无规则的态，人们可以利用科学定律，在时间上将其演化回去，以确定宇宙在更早时刻的结构。按照 经典广义相对论的奇点定理，仍然存在一个大爆炸奇点。如果你在时间前进方向上按照科学定律演化这样的宇宙，你就会得到你一开始给定的那个成团的无规则的 态。这样，必定存在不会产生我们今天所观察到的宇宙的初始结构。所以，就连暴涨模型也没有告诉我们，为何初始结构不是那种产生和我们观测到的非常不同的宇 宙的某种态。我们是否应该转去应用人择原理以求解释呢？难道所有这一切仅仅是因为好运气？看来，这只是无望的遁词，是对我们理解宇宙内在秩序的所有希望的 否定。
为 了预言宇宙应该是如何开始的，人们需要在时间开端处有效的定律。罗杰·彭罗斯和我证明的奇点定理指出，如果广义相对论的经典理论是正确的，则时间的开端是 具有无限密度和无限空间——时间曲率的一点，在这一点上所有已知的科学定律都失效。人们可以设想存在在奇点处成立的新定律，但是在如此不守规矩的点处，甚 至连表述这样的定律都是非常困难的，而且从观察中我们没有得到关于这些定律应是什么样子的任何提示。然而，奇点定理真正表明的是，该处引力场变得如此之 强，以至于量子引力效应变得重要：经典理论不再能很好地描述宇宙。所以，人们必须用量子引力论去讨论宇宙的极早期阶段。我们将会看到，在量子力学中，通常 的科学定律有可能在任何地方都有效，包括时间开端这一点在内：不必针对奇点提出新的定律，因为在量子理论中不须有任何奇点。
我 们仍然没有一套完整而协调的理论，它将量子力学和引力结合在一起。然而，我们相当清楚这样一套统一理论所应该具有的某些特征。其中一个就是它必须和费因曼 提出的按照对历史求和的量子力学表述相一致。在这种方法里，一个粒子不像在经典理论中那样，不仅只有一个历史。相反的，它被认为是通过空间——时间里的每 一可能的路径，每一条途径有一对相关的数，一个代表波的幅度，另一个代表它的相位。粒子通过一指定点的概率是将通过此点的所有可能途径的波迭加而求得。然 而，当人们实际去进行这些求和时，就遇到了严重的技术问题。回避这个问题的唯一独特的方法是：你必须不是对发生在你我经验的“实“的时间内的，而是对发生 在所谓“虚“的时间内的粒子的途径的波进行求和。虚时间可能听起来像科学幻想，但事实上，它是定义得很好的数学概念。如果你取任何平常的（或“实的“）数 和它自己相乘， 结果是一个正数。（例如2乘2是4，但－2乘－2也是这么多）。然而，有一种特别的数（叫虚数），当它们自乘时得到负数。（在这儿的虚数单位叫做i， 它自乘时得－1，2i自乘得－4，等等。）人们必须利用虚时间，以避免在进行费因曼对历史求和的技术上的困难。也就是为了计算的目的人们必须用虚数而不是 用实数来测量时间。这对空间—时间有一有趣的效应：时间和空间的区别完全消失。事件具有虚值时间坐标的空间—时间被称为欧几里德型的，它是采用建立了二维 面几何的希腊人欧几里德的名字命名的。我们现在称之为欧几里德空间—时间的东西除了是四维而不是二维以外，其余的和它非常相似。在欧几里德空间—时间中， 时间方向和空间方向没有不同之处。另一方面，在通常用实的时间坐标来标记事件的实的空间—时间里，人们很容易区别这两种方向——在光锥中的任何点是时间方 向，之外为空间方向。就日常的量子力学而言，在任何情况下，我们利用虚的时间和欧几里德空间—时间可以认为仅仅是一个计算实空间—时间的答案的数学手段 （或技巧）。
我 们相信，作为任何终极理论的一部分而不可或缺的第二个特征是爱因斯坦的思想，即引力场是由弯曲的空间—时间来代表：粒子在弯曲空间中试图沿着最接近于直线 的某种途径走，但因为空间—时间不是平坦的。它们的途径看起来似乎被引力场折弯了。当我们用费因曼的路径求和方法去处理爱因斯坦的引力观点时，和粒子的历 史相类似的东西则是代表整个宇宙历史的完整的弯曲的空间—时间。为了避免实际进行历史求和的技术困难，这些弯曲的空间—时间必须采用欧几里德型的。也就 是，时间是虚的并和空间的方向不可区分。为了计算找到具有一定性质，例如在每一点和每一方向上看起来都一样的实的空间—时间的概率，人们将和所有具有这性 质的历史相关联的波迭加起来即可。
在 广义相对论的经典理论中，有许多不同的可能弯曲的空间—时间，每一个对应于宇宙的不同的初始态。如果我们知道宇宙的初始态，我们就会知道它的整个历史。类 似地，在量子引力论中，存在许多不同的可能的宇宙量子态。如果我们知道在历史求和中的欧几里德弯曲空间—时间在早先时刻的行为，我们就会知道宇宙的量子 态。
在 以实的空间—时间为基础的经典引力论中，宇宙可能的行为只有两种方式：或者它已存在了无限长时间，或者它在有限的过去的某一时刻的奇点上有一个开端。而在 量子引力论中，还存在第三种可能性。因为人们是用欧几里德空间—时间，在这儿时间方向和空间方向是同等的，所以空间—时间只有有限的尺度，却没有奇点作为 它的边界或边缘是可能的。空间—时间就像是地球的表面，只不过多了两维。地球的表面积是有限的，但它没有边界或边缘：如果你朝着落日的方向驾船，你不会掉 到边缘外面或陷入奇点中去。（因为我曾经环球旅行过，所以知道！）
如 果欧几里德空间—时间延伸到无限的虚时间，或者在一个虚时间奇点处开始，我们就有了和在经典理论中指定宇宙初态的同样问题，即上帝可以知道宇宙如何开始， 但是我们提不出任何特别原因，认为它应以这种而不是那种方式开始。另一方面，量子引力论开辟了另一种新的可能性，在这儿空间—时间没有边界，所以没有必要 指定边界上的行为。这儿就没有使科学定律失效的奇点，也就是不存在在该处必须祈求上帝或某些新的定律给空间一时间设定边界条件的空间—时间边缘。人们可以 说：“宇宙的边界条件是它没有边界。“宇宙是完全自足的，而不被任何外在于它的东西所影响。它既不被创生，也不被消灭。它就是存在。
我 正是在早先提到的那次梵帝冈会议上第一次提出，时间和空间可能会共同形成一个在尺度上有限而没有任何边界或边缘的面。然而我的论文数学气息太浓，所以文章 中包含的上帝在创造宇宙的作用的含义在当时没有被普遍看出来（对我也正是如此）。在梵蒂冈会议期间，我不知道如何用“无边界“思想去预言宇宙。然而，第二 年夏天我在加州大学的圣他巴巴拉分校渡过。我的一位朋友兼合作者詹姆·哈特尔在那里，他和我共同得出了如果空间—时间没有边界时宇宙应满足的条件。回到剑 桥后，我和我的两个研究生朱丽安·拉却尔和约纳逊·哈里威尔继续从事这项工作。
我 要着重说明，时间一空间是有限而无界的思想仅仅只是一个设想，它不能从其他原理导出。正如任何其他的科学理论，它原先可以是出于美学或形而上学的原因而被 提出，但是对它的真正检验在于它所给出的预言是否与观测相一致。然而，在量子引力的情况下，由于以下两个原因这很难确定。首先，正如将在下一章所要解释 的，虽然我们对能将广义相对论和量子力学结合在一起的理论所应具有的特征，已经知道得相当多，但我们还不能准确地认定这样一个理论。其次，任何详尽描述整 个宇宙的模型在数学上都过于复杂，以至于我们不能通过计算做出准确的预言。所以，人们不得不做简化的假设和近似——并且甚至这样，要从中引出预言仍是令人 生畏的问题。
在 对历史求和中的每一个历史不只描述空间—时间，而且描述在其中的任何东西——包括像能观察宇宙历史的人类那样复杂的生物。这可对人择原理提供另一个支持， 因为如果任何历史都是可能的，就可以用人择原理去解释为何我们发现宇宙是现今这样子。尽管我们对自己并不生存于其中的其他历史究竟有什么意义还不清楚。然 而，如果利用对历史求和可以显示，我们的宇宙不只是一个可能的，而且是最有可能的历史，则这个量子引力论的观点就会令人满意得多。为此，我们必须对所有可 能的没有边界的欧几里德空间—时间进行历史求和。
人 们从无边界假定得知，宇宙沿着大多数历史的机会是可以忽略不计的，但是有一族特别的历史比其他的历史有更多机会。这些历史可以描绘得像是地球的表面。在那 儿与北极的距离代表虚的时间，并且离北极等距离的圆周长代表宇宙的空间尺度。宇宙是从作为单独一点的北极开始的。当你一直往南走去，离开北极等距离的纬度 圈变大， 这是和宇宙随虚时间的膨胀相对应（图8.1）。宇宙在赤道处达到最大的尺度，并且随着虚时间的继续增加而收缩，最后在南极收缩成一点。尽管宇宙在北南二极 的尺度为零，这些点不是奇点，并不比地球上的北南二极更奇异。科学定律在这儿有效，正如同它仍在地球上的北南二极有效一样。
然 而，在实的时间里宇宙的历史显得非常不一样。大约在100或200亿年以前，它有一个最小的尺度，这相当于在虚时间里的最大的半径。在后来的实时间里，宇 宙就像由林德设想的紊乱暴涨模型那样地膨胀（但是现在人们不必假定宇宙是从某一类正确的状态产生出来）。宇宙会膨胀到一个非常大的尺度，并最终重新坍缩成 为在实时间里看起来像是奇点的一个东西。这样，在某种意义上说，即使我们躲开黑洞，仍然是注定要毁灭的。只有当我们按照虚时间来描绘宇宙时才不会有奇点。
如 果宇宙确实处在这样的一个量子态里，在虚时间里宇宙就没有奇点。所以，我近期的工作似乎完全使我早期研究奇点的工作成果付之东流。但是正如上面所指出的， 奇点定理的真正重要性在于，它们指出引力场必然会强到不能无视量子引力效应的程度。这接着导致也许在虚时间里宇宙的尺度有限但没有边界或奇点的观念。然 而，当人们回到我们生活于其中的实时间，那儿仍会出现奇点。陷进黑洞那位可怜的航天员的结局仍然是极可悲的；只有当他在虚时间里生活，才不会遭遇到奇点。
上 述这些也许暗示所谓的虚时间是真正的实时间，而我们叫做实时间的东西恰恰是子虚乌有的空想的产物。在实时间中，宇宙的开端和终结都是奇点。这奇点构成了科 学定律在那儿不成立的空间—时间边界。但是，在虚时间里不存在奇点或边界。所以，很可能我们称之为虚时间的才真正是更基本的观念，而我们称作实时间的反而 是我们臆造的，它有助于我们描述宇宙的模样。但是，按照我在第一章所描述的方法，科学理论仅仅是我们用以描述自己所观察的数学模型，它只存在于我们的头脑 中。所以去问诸如这样的问题是毫无意义的：“实“的或“虚“的时间，哪一个是实在的？这仅仅是哪一个描述更为有用的问题。
人 们还可以利用对历史求和以及无边界假设去发现宇宙的哪些性质可能发生。例如，人们可以计算，当宇宙具有现在密度的某一时刻，在所有方向上以几乎同等速率膨 胀的概率。在迄今已被考察的简化的模型中，发现这个概率是高的；也就是，无边界假设导致一个预言，即宇宙现在在每一方向的膨胀率几乎相同是极其可能的。这 与微波背景辐射的观测相一致，它指出在任何方向上具有几乎完全同样的强度。如果宇宙在某些方向比其他方向膨胀得更快，在那些方向辐射的强度就会被一个附加 的红移所减小。
人 们正在研究无边界条件的进一步预言。一个特别有趣的问题是，早期宇宙中物质密度对其平均值小幅度的偏离，这些偏离首先引起星系，然后是恒星，最后是我们自 身的形成。测不准原理意味着，早期宇宙不可能是完全均匀的，因为粒子的位置和速度必定有一些不确定性或起伏。利用无边界条件，我们发现，宇宙事实上必须是 从仅仅由测不准原理允许的最小的可能的非均匀性开始的。然后，正如在暴涨模型中预言的一样，宇宙经历了一个快速膨胀时期。在这个期间，开初的非均匀性被放 大到足以解释在我们周围观察到的结构的起源。在一个各处物质密度稍有变化的膨胀宇宙中，引力使得较紧密区域的膨胀减慢，并使之开始收缩。这就导致星系、恒 星和最终甚至像我们自己这样微不足道的生物的形成。因而，我们在宇宙中看到的所有复杂的结构，可由宇宙无边界条件和量子力学中的测不准原理给予解释。
空 间和时间可以形成一个没有边界的闭曲面的思想，对于上帝在宇宙事务中的作用还有一个深远的含义。随着科学理论在描述事件的成功，大部分人进而相信上帝允许 宇宙按照一套定律来演化，而不介入其间促使宇宙触犯这些定律。然而，定律并没有告诉我们，宇宙的太初应像什么样子——它依然要靠上帝卷紧发条，并选择如何 去启动它。只要宇宙有一个开端，我们就可以设想存在一个造物主。但是，如果宇宙确实是完全自足的、没有边界或边缘，它就既没有开端也没有终结——它就是存 在。那么，还会有造物主存身之处吗？
Einstein’s general theory of relativity, on its own, predicted that space-time began at the big bang singularity and would come to an end either at the big crunch singularity (if the whole universe recollapsed), or at a singularity inside a black hole (if a local region, such as a star, were to collapse). Any matter that fell into the hole would be destroyed at the singularity, and only the gravitational effect of its mass would continue to be felt outside. On the other hand, when quantum effects were taken into account, it seemed that the mass or energy of the matter would eventually be returned to the rest of the universe, and that the black hole, along with any singularity inside it, would evaporate away and finally disappear. Could quantum mechanics have an equally dramatic effect on the big bang and big crunch singularities? What really happens during the very early or late stages of the universe, when gravitational fields are so strong that quantum effects cannot be ignored? Does the universe in fact have a beginning or an end? And if so, what are they like? Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference – the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death! In order to explain the ideas that I and other people have had about how quantum mechanics may affect the origin and fate of the universe, it is necessary first to understand the generally accepted history of the universe, according to what is known as the “hot big bang model.“ This assumes that the universe is described by a Friedmann model, right back to the big bang. In such models one finds that as the universe expands, any matter or radiation in it gets cooler. (When the universe doubles in size, its temperature falls by half.) Since temperature is simply a measure of the average energy – or speed – of the particles, this cooling of the universe would have a major effect on the matter in it. At very high temperatures, particles would be moving around so fast that they could escape any attraction toward each other due to nuclear or electromagnetic forces, but as they cooled off one would expect particles that attract each other to start to clump together. Moreover, even the types of particles that exist in the universe would depend on the temperature. At high enough temperatures, particles have so much energy that whenever they collide many different particle/antiparticle pairs would be produced – and although some of these particles would annihilate on hitting antiparticles, they would be produced more rap-idly than they could annihilate. At lower temperatures, however, when colliding particles have less energy, particle/antiparticle pairs would be produced less quickly – and annihilation would become faster than production.
At the big bang itself the universe is thought to have had zero size, and so to have been infinitely hot. But as the universe expanded, the temperature of the radiation decreased. One second after the big bang, it would have fallen to about ten thousand million degrees. This is about a thousand times the temperature at the center of the sun, but temperatures as high as this are reached in H-bomb explosions. At this time the universe would have contained mostly photons, electrons, and neutrinos (extremely light particles that are affected only by the weak force and gravity) and their antiparticles, together with some protons and neutrons. As the universe continued to expand and the temperature to drop, the rate at which electron/antielectron pairs were being produced in collisions would have fallen below the rate at which they were being destroyed by annihilation. So most of the electrons and antielectrons would have annihilated with each other to produce more photons, leaving only a few electrons left over. The neutrinos and antineutrinos, however, would not have annihilated with each other, because these particles interact with themselves and with other particles only very weakly. So they should still be around today. If we could observe them, it would provide a good test of this picture of a very hot early stage of the universe. Unfortunately, their energies nowadays would be too low for us to observe them directly. However, if neutrinos are not massless, but have a small mass of their own, as suggested by some recent experiments, we might be able to detect them indirectly: they could be a form of “dark matter,“ like that mentioned earlier, with sufficient gravitational attraction to stop the expansion of the universe and cause it to collapse again.
About one hundred seconds after the big bang, the temperature would have fallen to one thousand million degrees, the temperature inside the hottest stars. At this temperature protons and neutrons would no longer have sufficient energy to escape the attraction of the strong nuclear force, and would have started to combine together to produce the nuclei of atoms of deuterium (heavy hydrogen), which contain one proton and one neutron. The deuterium nuclei would then have combined with more protons and neutrons to make helium nuclei, which contain two protons and two neutrons, and also small amounts of a couple of heavier elements, lithium and beryllium. One can calculate that in the hot big bang model about a quarter of the protons and neutrons would have been converted into helium nuclei, along with a small amount of heavy hydrogen and other elements. The remaining neutrons would have decayed into protons, which are the nuclei of ordinary hydrogen atoms.
This picture of a hot early stage of the universe was first put forward by the scientist George Gamow in a famous paper written in 1948 with a student of his, Ralph Alpher. Gamow had quite a sense of humor – he persuaded the nuclear scientist Hans Bethe to add his name to the paper to make the list of authors “Alpher, Bethe, Gamow,“ like the first three letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha, beta, gamma: particularly appropriate for a paper on the beginning of the universe! In this paper they made the remarkable prediction that radiation (in the form of photons) from the very hot early stages of the universe should still be around today, but with its temperature reduced to only a few degrees above absolute zero (–273oC). It was this radiation that Penzias and Wilson found in 1965. At the time that Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow wrote their paper, not much was known about the nuclear reactions of protons and neutrons. Predictions made for the proportions of various elements in the early universe were therefore rather inaccurate, but these calculations have been repeated in the light of better knowledge and now agree very well with what we observe. It is, moreover, very difficult to explain in any other way why there should be so much helium in the universe. We are therefore fairly confident that we have the right picture, at least back to about one second after the big bang.
Within only a few hours of the big bang, the production of helium and other elements would have stopped. And after that, for the next million years or so, the universe would have just continued expanding, without anything much happening. Eventually, once the temperature had dropped to a few thousand degrees, and electrons and nuclei no longer had enough energy to overcome the electromagnetic attraction between them, they would have started combining to form atoms. The universe as a whole would have continued expanding and cooling, but in regions that were slightly denser than average, the expansion would have been slowed down by the extra gravitational attraction.
This would eventually stop expansion in some regions and cause them to start to recollapse. As they were collapsing, the gravitational pull of matter outside these regions might start them rotating slightly. As the collapsing region got smaller, it would spin faster – just as skaters spinning on ice spin faster as they draw in their arms.
Eventually, when the region got small enough, it would be spinning fast enough to balance the attraction of gravity, and in this way disklike rotating galaxies were born. Other regions, which did not happen to pick up a rotation, would become oval-shaped objects called elliptical galaxies. In these, the region would stop collapsing because individual parts of the galaxy would be orbiting stably round its center, but the galaxy would have no overall rotation.
As time went on, the hydrogen and helium gas in the galaxies would break up into smaller clouds that would collapse under their own gravity. As these contracted, and the atoms within them collided with one another, the temperature of the gas would increase, until eventually it became hot enough to start nuclear fusion reactions. These would convert the hydrogen into more helium, and the heat given off would raise the pressure, and so stop the clouds from contracting any further. They would remain stable in this state for a long time as stars like our sun, burning hydrogen into helium and radiating the resulting energy as heat and light. More massive stars would need to be hotter to balance their stronger gravitational attraction, making the nuclear fusion reactions proceed so much more rapidly that they would use up their hydrogen in as little as a hundred million years. They would then contract slightly, and as they heated up further, would start to convert helium into heavier elements like carbon or oxygen. This, however, would not release much more energy, so a crisis would occur, as was described in the chapter on black holes. What happens next is not completely clear, but it seems likely that the central regions of the star would collapse to a very dense state, such as a neutron star or black hole. The outer regions of the star may sometimes get blown off in a tremendous explosion called a supernova, which would outshine all the other stars in its galaxy. Some of the heavier elements produced near the end of the star’s life would be flung back into the gas in the galaxy, and would provide some of the raw material for the next generation of stars. Our own sun contains about 2 percent of these heavier elements, because it is a second- or third-generation star, formed some five thousand million years ago out of a cloud of rotating gas containing the debris of earlier supernovas. Most of the gas in that cloud went to form the sun or got blown away, but a small amount of the heavier elements collected together to form the bodies that now orbit the sun as planets like the earth.
The earth was initially very hot and without an atmosphere. In the course of time it cooled and acquired an
atmosphere from the emission of gases from the rocks. This early atmosphere was not one in which we could have survived. It contained no oxygen, but a lot of other gases that are poisonous to us, such as hydrogen sulfide (the gas that gives rotten eggs their smell). There are, however, other primitive forms of life that can flourish under such conditions. It is thought that they developed in the oceans, possibly as a result of chance combinations of atoms into large structures, called macromolecules, which were capable of assembling other atoms in the ocean into similar structures. They would thus have reproduced themselves and multiplied. In some cases there would be errors in the reproduction. Mostly these errors would have been such that the new macromolecule could not reproduce itself and eventually would have been destroyed. However, a few of the errors would have produced new macromolecules that were even better at reproducing themselves. They would have therefore had an advantage and would have tended to replace the original macromolecules. In this way a process of evolution was started that led to the development of more and more complicated, self-reproducing organisms. The first primitive forms of life consumed various materials, including hydrogen sulfide, and released oxygen. This gradually changed the atmosphere to the composition that it has today, and allowed the development of higher forms of life such as fish, reptiles, mammals, and ultimately the human race.
This picture of a universe that started off very hot and cooled as it expanded is in agreement with all the observational evidence that we have today. Nevertheless, it leaves a number of important questions unanswered: 1. Why was the early universe so hot? 2. Why is the universe so uniform on a large scale? Why does it look the same at all points of space and in all directions? In particular, why is the temperature of the microwave back-ground radiation so nearly the same when we look in different directions? It is a bit like asking a number of students an exam question. If they all give exactly the same answer, you can be pretty sure they have communicated with each other. Yet, in the model described above, there would not have been time since the big bang for light to get from one distant region to another, even though the regions were close together in the early universe. According to the theory of relativity, if light cannot get from one region to another, no other information can. So there would be no way in which different regions in the early universe could have come to have the same temperature as each other, unless for some unexplained reason they happened to start out with the same temperature.
3. Why did the universe start out with so nearly the critical rate of expansion that separates models that recollapse from those that go on expanding forever, that even now, ten thousand million years later, it is still expanding at nearly the critical rate? If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it ever reached its present size.
4. Despite the fact that the universe is so uniform and homogeneous on a large scale, it contains local irregularities, such as stars and galaxies. These are thought to have developed from small differences in the density of the early universe from one region to another. What was the origin of these density fluctuations? The general theory of relativity, on its own, cannot explain these features or answer these questions because of its prediction that the universe started off with infinite density at the big bang singularity. At the singularity, general relativity and all other physical laws would break down: one couldn’t predict what would come out of the singularity.
As explained before, this means that one might as well cut the big bang, and any events before it, out of the theory, because they can have no effect on what we observe. Space-time would have a boundary – a beginning at the big bang.
Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws that, within the limits set by the uncertainty principle, tell us how the universe will develop with time, if we know its state at any one time. These laws may have originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not now intervene in it.
But how did he choose the initial state or configuration of the universe? What were the “boundary conditions“ at the beginning of time? One possible answer is to say that God chose the initial configuration of the universe for reasons that we cannot hope to understand. This would certainly have been within the power of an omnipotent being, but if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. It would be only natural to suppose that this order should apply not only to the laws, but also to the conditions at the boundary of space-time that specify the initial state of the universe. There may be a large number of models of the universe with different initial conditions that all obey the laws. There ought to be some principle that picks out one initial state, and hence
one model, to represent our universe.
One such possibility is what are called chaotic boundary conditions. These implicitly assume either that the universe is spatially infinite or that there are infinitely many universes. Under chaotic boundary conditions, the probability of finding any particular region of space in any given configuration just after the big bang is the same, in some sense, as the probability of finding it in any other configuration: the initial state of the universe is chosen purely randomly.
This would mean that the early universe would have probably been very chaotic and irregular because there are many more chaotic and disordered configurations for the universe than there are smooth and ordered ones. (If each configuration is equally probable, it is likely that the universe started out in a chaotic and disordered state, simply because there are so many more of them.) It is difficult to see how such chaotic initial conditions could have given rise to a universe that is so smooth and regular on a large scale as ours is today. One would also have expected the density fluctuations in such a model to have led to the formation of many more primordial black holes than the upper limit that has been set by observations of the gamma ray background.
If the universe is indeed spatially infinite, or if there are infinitely many universes, there would probably be some large regions somewhere that started out in a smooth and uniform manner. It is a bit like the well-known horde of monkeys hammering away on typewriters – most of what they write will be garbage, but very occasionally by pure chance they will type out one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Similarly, in the case of the universe, could it be that we are living in a region that just happens by chance to be smooth and uniform? At first sight this might seem very improbable, because such smooth regions would be heavily outnumbered by chaotic and irregular regions. However, suppose that only in the smooth regions were galaxies and stars formed and were conditions right for the development of complicated self-replicating organisms like ourselves who were capable of asking the question: why is the universe so smooth.? This is an example of the application of what is known as the anthropic principle, which can be paraphrased as “We see the universe the way it is because we exist.“ There are two versions of the anthropic principle, the weak and the strong. The weak anthropic principle states that in a universe that is large or infinite in space and/or time, the conditions necessary for the development of intelligent life will be met only in certain regions that are limited in space and time. The intelligent beings in these regions should therefore not be surprised if they observe that their locality in the universe satisfies the conditions that are necessary for their existence. It is a bit like a rich person living in a wealthy neighborhood not seeing any poverty.
One example of the use of the weak anthropic principle is to “explain“ why the big bang occurred about ten thousand million years ago – it takes about that long for intelligent beings to evolve. As explained above, an early generation of stars first had to form. These stars converted some of the original hydrogen and helium into elements like carbon and oxygen, out of which we are made. The stars then exploded as supernovas, and their debris went to form other stars and planets, among them those of our Solar System, which is about five thousand million years old. The first one or two thousand million years of the earth’s existence were too hot for the development of anything complicated. The remaining three thousand million years or so have been taken up by the slow process of biological evolution, which has led from the simplest organisms to beings who are capable of measuring time back to the big bang.
Few people would quarrel with the validity or utility of the weak anthropic principle. Some, however, go much further and propose a strong version of the principle. According to this theory, there are either many different universes or many different regions of a single universe, each with its own initial configuration and, perhaps, with its own set of laws of science. In most of these universes the conditions would not be right for the development of complicated organisms; only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop and ask the question, “Why is the universe the way we see it?“ The answer is then simple: if it had been different, we would not be here! The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. We cannot, at the moment at least, predict the values of these numbers from theory – we have to find them by observation. It may be that one day we shall discover a complete unified theory that predicts them all, but it is also possible that some or all of them vary from universe to universe or within a single universe. The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example, if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. Of course, there might be other forms of intelligent life, not dreamed of even by writers of science fiction, that did not require the light of a star like the sun or the heavier chemical elements that are made in stars and are flung back into space when the stars explode. Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty. One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the
laws of science or as support for the strong anthropic principle.
There are a number of objections that one can raise to the strong anthropic principle as an explanation of the observed state of the universe. First, in what sense can all these different universes be said to exist? If they are really separate from each other, what happens in another universe can have no observable consequences in our own universe. We should therefore use the principle of economy and cut them out of the theory. If, on the other hand, they are just different regions of a single universe, the laws of science would have to be the same in each region, because otherwise one could not move continuously from one region to another. In this case the only difference between the regions would be their initial configurations and so the strong anthropic principle would reduce to the weak one.
A second objection to the strong anthropic principle is that it runs against the tide of the whole history of science. We have developed from the geocentric cosmologies of Ptolemy and his forebears, through the heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo, to the modern picture in which the earth is a medium-sized planet orbiting around an average star in the outer suburbs of an ordinary spiral galaxy, which is itself only one of about a million million galaxies in the observable universe. Yet the strong anthropic principle would claim that this whole vast construction exists simply for our sake. This is very hard to believe. Our Solar System is certainly a prerequisite for our existence, hand one might extend this to the whole of our galaxy to allow for an earlier generation of stars that created the heavier elements. But there does not seem to be any need for all those other galaxies, nor for the universe to be so uniform and similar in every direction on the large scale.
One would feel happier about the anthropic principle, at least in its weak version, if one could show that quite a number of different initial configurations for the universe would have evolved to produce a universe like the one we observe. If this is the case, a universe that developed from some sort of random initial conditions should contain a number of regions that are smooth and uniform and are suitable for the evolution of intelligent life. On the other hand, if the initial state of the universe had to be chosen extremely carefully to lead to something like what we see around us, the universe would be unlikely to contain any region in which life would appear. In the hot big bang model described above, there was not enough time in the early universe for heat to have flowed from one region to another.
This means that the initial state of the universe would have to have had exactly the same temperature everywhere in order to account for the fact that the microwave back-ground has the same temperature in every direction we look.
The initial rate of expansion also would have had to be chosen very precisely for the rate of expansion still to be so close to the critical rate needed to avoid recollapse. This means that the initial state of the universe must have been very carefully chosen indeed if the hot big bang model was correct right back to the beginning of time. It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.
In an attempt to find a model of the universe in which many different initial configurations could have evolved to something like the present universe, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Alan Guth, suggested that the early universe might have gone through a period of very rapid expansion. This expansion is said to be “inflationary,“ meaning that the universe at one time expanded at an increasing rate rather than the decreasing rate that it does today. According to Guth, the radius of the universe increased by a million million million million million (1 with thirty zeros after it) times in only a tiny fraction of a second.
Guth suggested that the universe started out from the big bang in a very hot, but rather chaotic, state. These high temperatures would have meant that the particles in the universe would be moving very fast and would have high energies. As we discussed earlier, one would expect that at such high temperatures the strong and weak nuclear forces and the electromagnetic force would all be unified into a single force. As the universe expanded, it would cool, and particle energies would go down. Eventually there would be what is called a phase transition and the symmetry between the forces would be broken: the strong force would become different from the weak and electromagnetic forces. One common example of a phase transition is the freezing of water when you cool it down. Liquid water is symmetrical, the same at every point and in every direction. However, when ice crystals form, they will have definite positions and will be lined up in some direction. This breaks water’s symmetry.
In the case of water, if one is careful, one can “supercool“ it: that is, one can reduce the temperature below the freezing point (OoC) without ice forming. Guth suggested that the universe might behave in a similar way: the temperature might drop below the critical value without the symmetry between the forces being broken. If this happened, the universe would be in an unstable state, with more energy than if the symmetry had been broken. This special extra energy can be shown to have an antigravitational effect: it would have acted just like the cosmological constant that Einstein introduced into general relativity when he was trying to construct a static model of the universe. Since the universe would already be expanding just as in the hot big bang model, the repulsive effect of
this cosmological constant would therefore have made the universe expand at an ever-increasing rate. Even in regions where there were more matter particles than average, the gravitational attraction of the matter would have been outweighed by the repulsion of the effective cosmological constant. Thus these regions would also expand in an accelerating inflationary manner. As they expanded and the matter particles got farther apart, one would be left with an expanding universe that contained hardly any particles and was still in the supercooled state. Any irregularities in the universe would simply have been smoothed out by the expansion, as the wrinkles in a balloon are smoothed away when you blow it up. Thus the present smooth and uniform state of the universe could have evolved from many different non-uniform initial states.
In such a universe, in which the expansion was accelerated by a cosmological constant rather than slowed down by the gravitational attraction of matter, there would be enough time for light to travel from one region to another in the early universe. This could provide a solution to the problem, raised earlier, of why different regions in the early universe have the same properties. Moreover, the rate of expansion of the universe would automatically become very close to the critical rate determined by the energy density of the universe. This could then explain why the rate of expansion is still so close to the critical rate, without having to assume that the initial rate of expansion of the universe was very carefully chosen.
The idea of inflation could also explain why there is so much matter in the universe. There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty zeros after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity.
Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together.
Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero.
Now twice zero is also zero. Thus the universe can double the amount of positive matter energy and also double the negative gravitational energy without violation of the conservation of energy. This does not happen in the normal expansion of the universe in which the matter energy density goes down as the universe gets bigger. It does happen, however, in the inflationary expansion because the energy density of the supercooled state remains constant while the universe expands: when the universe doubles in size, the positive matter energy and the negative gravitational energy both double, so the total energy remains zero. During the inflationary phase, the universe increases its size by a very large amount. Thus the total amount of energy available to make particles becomes very large. As Guth has remarked, “It is said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch.“ The universe is not expanding in an inflationary way today. Thus there has to be some mechanism that would eliminate the very large effective cosmological constant and so change the rate of expansion from an accelerated one to one that is slowed down by gravity, as we have today. In the inflationary expansion one might expect that eventually the symmetry between the forces would be broken, just as super-cooled water always freezes in the end.
The extra energy of the unbroken symmetry state would then be released and would reheat the universe to a temperature just below the critical temperature for symmetry between the forces. The universe would then go on to expand and cool just like the hot big bang model, but there would now be an explanation of why the universe was expanding at exactly the critical rate and why different regions had the same temperature.
In Guth’s original proposal the phase transition was supposed to occur suddenly, rather like the appearance of ice crystals in very cold water. The idea was that “bubbles“ of the new phase of broken symmetry would have formed in the old phase, like bubbles of steam surrounded by boiling water. The bubbles were supposed to expand and meet up with each other until the whole universe was in the new phase. The trouble was, as I and several other people pointed out, that the universe was expanding so fast that even if the bubbles grew at the speed of light, they would be moving away from each other and so could not join up. The universe would be left in a very non-uniform state, with some regions still having symmetry between the different forces. Such a model of the universe would not correspond to what we see.
In October 1981, I went to Moscow for a conference on quantum gravity. After the conference I gave a seminar on the inflationary model and its problems at the Sternberg Astronomical Institute. Before this, I had got someone else to give my lectures for me, because most people could not understand my voice. But there was not time to prepare this seminar, so I gave it myself, with one of my graduate students repeating my words. It worked well, and gave me
much more contact with my audience. In the audience was a young Russian, Andrei Linde, from the Lebedev Institute in Moscow. He said that the difficulty with the bubbles not joining up could be avoided if the bubbles were so big that our region of the universe is all contained inside a single bubble. In order for this to work, the change from symmetry to broken symmetry must have taken place very slowly inside the bubble, but this is quite possible according to grand unified theories. Linde’s idea of a slow breaking of symmetry was very good, but I later realized that his bubbles would have to have been bigger than the size of the universe at the time! I showed that instead the symmetry would have broken everywhere at the same time, rather than just inside bubbles. This would lead to a uniform universe, as we observe. I was very excited by this idea and discussed it with one of my students, Ian Moss.
As a friend of Linde’s, I was rather embarrassed, however, when I was later sent his paper by a scientific journal and asked whether it was suitable for publication. I replied that there was this flaw about the bubbles being bigger than the universe, but that the basic idea of a slow breaking of symmetry was very good. I recommended that the paper .
published as it was because it would take Linde several months to correct it, since anything he sent to the West would have to be passed by Soviet censorship, which was neither very skillful nor very quick with scientific papers.
Instead, I wrote a short paper with Ian Moss in the same journal in which we pointed out this problem with the bubble and showed how it could be resolved.
The day after I got back from Moscow I set out for Philadelphia, where I was due to receive a medal from the Franklin Institute. My secretary, Judy Fella, had used her not inconsiderable charm to persuade British Airways to give herself and me free seats on a Concorde as a publicity venture. However, I .was held up on my way to the airport by heavy rain and I missed the plane. Nevertheless, I got to Philadelphia in the end and received my medal. I was then asked to give a seminar on the inflationary universe at Drexel University in Philadelphia. I gave the same seminar about the problems of the inflationary universe, just as in Moscow.
A very similar idea to Linde’s was put forth independently a few months later by Paul Steinhardt and Andreas Albrecht of the University of Pennsylvania. They are now given joint credit with Linde for what is called “the new inflationary model,“ based on the idea of a slow breaking of symmetry. (The old inflationary model was Guth’s original suggestion of fast symmetry breaking with the formation of bubbles.) The new inflationary model was a good attempt to explain why the universe is the way it is. However, I and several other people showed that, at least in its original form, it predicted much greater variations in the temperature of the microwave background radiation than are observed. Later work has also cast doubt on whether there could be a phase transition in the very early universe of the kind required. In my personal opinion, the new inflationary model is now dead as a scientific theory, although a lot of people do not seem to have heard of its demise and are still writing papers as if it were viable. A better model, called the chaotic inflationary model, was put forward by Linde in 1983. In this there is no phase transition or supercooling. Instead, there is a spin 0 field, which, because of quantum fluctuations, would have large values in some regions of the early universe. The energy of the field in those regions would behave like a cosmological constant. It would have a repulsive gravitational effect, and thus make those regions expand in an inflationary manner. As they expanded, the energy of the field in them would slowly decrease until the inflationary expansion changed to an expansion like that in the hot big bang model. One of these regions would become what we now see as the observable universe. This model has all the advantages of the earlier inflationary models, but it does not depend on a dubious phase transition, and it can moreover give a reasonable size for the fluctuations in the temperature of the microwave background that agrees with observation.
This work on inflationary models showed that the present state of the universe could have arisen from quite a large number of different initial configurations. This is important, because it shows that the initial state of the part of the universe that we inhabit did not have to be chosen with great care. So we may, if we wish, use the weak anthropic principle to explain why the universe looks the way it does now. It cannot be the case, however, that every initial configuration would have led to a universe like the one we observe. One can show this by considering a very different state for the universe at the present time, say, a very lumpy and irregular one. One could use the laws of science to evolve the universe back in time to determine its configuration at earlier times. According to the singularity theorems of classical general relativity, there would still have been a big bang singularity. If you evolve such a universe forward in time according to the laws of science, you will end up with the lumpy and irregular state you started with. Thus there must have been initial configurations that would not have given rise to a universe like the one we see today. So even the inflationary model does not tell us why the initial configuration was not such as to produce something very different from what we observe. Must we turn to the anthropic principle for an explanation? Was it all just a lucky chance? That would seem a counsel of despair, a negation of all our hopes of understanding the underlying order of the universe.
In order to predict how the universe should have started off, one needs laws that hold at the beginning of time. If the classical theory of general relativity was correct, the singularity theorems that Roger Penrose and I proved show that
the beginning of time would have been a point of infinite density and infinite curvature of space-time. All the known laws of science would break down at such a point. One might suppose that there were new laws that held at singularities, but it would be very difficult even to formulate such laws at such badly behaved points, and we would have no guide from observations as to what those laws might be. However, what the singularity theorems really indicate is that the gravitational field becomes so strong that quantum gravitational effects become important: classical theory is no longer a good description of the universe. So one has to use a quantum theory of gravity to discuss the very early stages of the universe. As we shall see, it is possible in the quantum theory for the ordinary laws of science to hold everywhere, including at the beginning of time: it is not necessary to postulate new laws for singularities, because there need not be any singularities in the quantum theory.
We don’t yet have a complete and consistent theory that combines quantum mechanics and gravity. However, we are fairly certain of some features that such a unified theory should have. One is that it should incorporate Feynman’s proposal to formulate quantum theory in terms of a sum over histories. In this approach, a particle does not have just a single history, as it would in a classical theory. Instead, it is supposed to follow every possible path in space-time, and with each of these histories there are associated a couple of numbers, one represent-ing the size of a wave and the other representing its position in the cycle (its phase). The probability that the particle, say, passes through some particular point is found by adding up the waves associated with every possible history that passes through that point. When one actually tries to perform these sums, however, one runs into severe technical problems. The only way around these is the following peculiar prescription: one must add up the waves for particle histories that are not in the “real“ time that you and I experience but take place in what is called imaginary time.
Imaginary time may sound like science fiction but it is in fact a well-defined mathematical concept. If we take any ordinary (or “real“) number and multiply it by itself, the result is a positive number. (For example, 2 times 2 is 4, but so is – 2 times – 2.) There are, however, special numbers (called imaginary numbers) that give negative numbers when multiplied by themselves. (The one called i, when multiplied by itself, gives – 1, 2i multiplied by itself gives – 4, and so on.) One can picture real and imaginary numbers in the following way: The real numbers can be represented by a line going from left to right, with zero in the middle, negative numbers like – 1, – 2, etc. on the left, and positive numbers, 1, 2, etc. on the right. Then imaginary numbers are represented by a line going up and down the page, with i, 2i, etc.
above the middle, and – i, – 2i, etc. below. Thus imaginary numbers are in a sense numbers at right angles to ordinary real numbers.
To avoid the technical difficulties with Feynman’s sum over histories, one must use imaginary time. That is to say, for the purposes of the calculation one must measure time using imaginary numbers, rather than real ones. This has an interesting effect on space-time: the distinction between time and space disappears completely. A space-time in which events have imaginary values of the time coordinate is said to be Euclidean, after the ancient Greek Euclid, who founded the study of the geometry of two-dimensional surfaces. What we now call Euclidean space-time is very similar except that it has four dimensions instead of two. In Euclidean space-time there is no difference between the time direction and directions in space. On the other hand, in real space-time, in which events are labeled by ordinary, real values of the time coordinate, it is easy to tell the difference – the time direction at all points lies within the light cone, and space directions lie outside. In any case, as far as everyday quantum mechanics is concerned, we may regard our use of imaginary time and Euclidean space-time as merely a mathematical device (or trick) to calculate answers about real space-time.
A second feature that we believe must be part of any ultimate theory is Einstein’s idea that the gravitational field is represented by curved space-time: particles try to follow the nearest thing to a straight path in a curved space, but because space-time is not flat their paths appear to be bent, as if by a gravitational field. When we apply Feynman’s sum over histories to Einstein’s view of gravity, the analogue of the history of a particle is now a complete curved space-time that represents the history of the whole universe. To avoid the technical difficulties in actually performing the sum over histories, these curved space-times must be taken to be Euclidean. That is, time is imaginary and is indistinguishable from directions in space. To calculate the probability of finding a real space-time with some certain property, such as looking the same at every point and in every direction, one adds up the waves associated with all the histories that have that property.
In the classical theory of general relativity, there are many different possible curved space-times, each corresponding to a different initial state of the universe. If we knew the initial state of our universe, we would know its entire history.
Similarly, in the quantum theory of gravity, there are many different possible quantum states for the universe. Again, if we knew how the Euclidean curved space-times in the sum over histories behaved at early times, we would know the quantum state of the universe.
In the classical theory of gravity, which is based on real space-time, there are only two possible ways the universe can behave: either it has existed for an infinite time, or else it had a beginning at a singularity at some finite time in the past. In the quantum theory of gravity, on the other hand, a third possibility arises. Because one is using Euclidean space-times, in which the time direction is on the same footing as directions in space, it is possible for space-time to be finite in extent and yet to have no singularities that formed a boundary or edge. Space-time would be like the surface of the earth, only with two more dimensions. The surface of the earth is finite in extent but it doesn’t have a boundary or edge: if you sail off into the sunset, you don’t fall off the edge or run into a singularity. (I know, because I have been round the world!) If Euclidean space-time stretches back to infinite imaginary time, or else starts at a singularity in imaginary time, we have the same problem as in the classical theory of specifying the initial state of the universe: God may know how the universe began, but we cannot give any particular reason for thinking it began one way rather than another. On the other hand, the quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down, and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: “The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.“ The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed, It would just BE.
It was at the conference in the Vatican mentioned earlier that I first put forward the suggestion that maybe time and space together formed a surface that was finite in size but did not have any boundary or edge. My paper was rather mathematical, however, so its implications for the role of God in the creation of the universe were not generally recognized at the time (just as well for me). At the time of the Vatican conference, I did not know how to use the “no boundary“ idea to make predictions about the universe. However, I spent the following sum-mer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There a friend and colleague of mine, Jim Hartle, worked out with me what conditions the universe must satisfy if space-time had no boundary. When I returned to Cambridge, I continued this work with two of my research students, Julian Luttrel and Jonathan Halliwell.
I’d like to emphasize that this idea that time and space should be finite “without boundary“ is just a proposal: it cannot be deduced from some other principle. Like any other scientific theory, it may initially be put forward for aesthetic or metaphysical reasons, but the real test is whether it makes predictions that agree with observation. This, how-ever, is difficult to determine in the case of quantum gravity, for two reasons. First, as will be explained in Chapter 11, we are not yet sure exactly which theory successfully combines general relativity and quantum mechanics, though we know quite a lot about the form such a theory must have. Second, any model that described the whole universe in detail would be much too complicated mathematically for us to be able to calculate exact predictions. One therefore has to make simplifying assumptions and approximations – and even then, the problem of extracting predictions remains a formidable one.
Each history in the sum over histories will describe not only the space-time but everything in it as well, including any complicated organisms like human beings who can observe the history of the universe. This may provide another justification for the anthropic principle, for if all the histories are possible, then so long as we exist in one of the histories, we may use the anthropic principle to explain why the universe is found to be the way it is. Exactly what meaning can be attached to the other histories, in which we do not exist, is not clear. This view of a quantum theory of gravity would be much more satisfactory, however, if one could show that, using the sum over histories, our universe is not just one of the possible histories but one of the most probable ones. To do this, we must perform the sum over histories for all possible Euclidean space-times that have no boundary.
Under the “no boundary“ proposal one learns that the chance of the universe being found to be following most of the possible histories is negligible, but there is a particular family of histories that are much more probable than the others. These histories may be pictured as being like the surface of the earth, with the distance from the North Pole representing imaginary time and the size of a circle of constant distance from the North Pole representing the spatial size of the universe. The universe starts at the North Pole as a single point. As one moves south, the circles of latitude at constant distance from the North Pole get bigger, corresponding to the universe expanding with imaginary time Figure 8:1. The universe would reach a maximum size at the equator and would contract with increasing imaginary time to a single point at the South Pole. Ever though the universe would have zero size at the North and South Poles, these points would not be singularities, any more than the North aid South Poles on the earth are singular. The laws of science will hold at them, just as they do at the North and South Poles on the earth.
Figure 8:1 The history of the universe in real time, however, would look very different. At about ten or twenty thousand million years ago, it would have a minimum size, which was equal to the maximum radius of the history in imaginary time. At later real times, the universe would expand like the chaotic inflationary model proposed by Linde (but one would not now have to assume that the universe was created somehow in the right sort of state). The universe would expand to a very large size Figure 8:1 and eventually it would collapse again into what looks like a singularity in real time. Thus, in a sense, we are still all doomed, even if we keep away from black holes. Only if we could picture the universe in terms of imaginary time would there be no singularities.
If the universe really is in such a quantum state, there would be no singularities in the history of the universe in imaginary time. It might seem therefore that my more recent work had completely undone the results of my earlier work on singularities. But, as indicated above, the real importance of the singularity theorems was that they showed that the gravitational field must become so strong that quantum gravitational effects could not be ignored. This in turn led to the idea that the universe could be finite in imaginary time but without boundaries or singularities. When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities. The poor astronaut who falls into a black hole will still come to a sticky end; only if he lived in imaginary time would he encounter no singularities.
This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real time, and that what we call real time is just a figment of our imaginations. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like. But according to the approach I described in Chapter 1, a scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds. So it is meaningless to ask: which is real, “real“ or “imaginary“ time? It is simply a matter of which is the more useful description.
One can also use the sum over histories, along with the no boundary proposal, to find which properties of the universe are likely to occur together. For example, one can calculate the probability that the universe is expanding at nearly the same rate in all different directions at a time when the density of the universe has its present value. In the simplified models that have been examined so far, this probability turns out to be high; that is, the proposed no boundary condition leads to the prediction that it is extremely probable that the present rate of expansion of the universe is almost the same in each direction. This is consistent with the observations of the microwave background radiation, which show that it has almost exactly the same intensity in any direction. If the universe were expanding faster in some directions than in others, the intensity of the radiation in those directions would be reduced by an
additional red shift.
Further predictions of the no boundary condition are currently being worked out. A particularly interesting problem is the size of the small departures from uniform density in the early universe that caused the formation first of the galaxies, then of stars, and finally of us. The uncertainty principle implies that the early universe cannot have been completely uniform because there must have been some uncertainties or fluctuations in the positions and velocities of the particles. Using the no boundary condition, we find that the universe must in fact have started off with just the minimum possible non-uniformity allowed by the uncertainty principle. The universe would have then undergone a period of rapid expansion, as in the inflationary models. During this period, the initial non-uniformities would have been amplified until they were big enough to explain the origin of the structures we observe around us. In 1992 the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE) first detected very slight variations in the intensity of the microwave background with direction. The way these non-uniformities depend on direction seems to agree with the predictions of the inflationary model and the no boundary proposal. Thus the no boundary proposal is a good scientific theory in the sense of Karl Popper: it could have been falsified by observations but instead its predictions have been confirmed. In an expanding universe in which the density of matter varied slightly from place to place, gravity would have caused the denser regions to slow down their expansion and start contracting. This would lead to the formation of galaxies, stars, and eventually even insignificant creatures like ourselves. Thus all the complicated structures that we see in the universe might be explained by the no boundary condition for the universe together with the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics.
The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started – it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?