Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have questioned the workings of the natural world around them and their own place in the Universe. Through a long process of investigation over millennia, mankind has built up an understanding of Nature and the wider cosmos. Each successive generation has expanded the horizon of our knowledge and in the process extended the boundary of the known Universe. From Ptolemy and Copernicus and through to the modern day, at every stage scientific discoveries have refined and redefined our picture of the Cosmos and our place within it.
But this journey of discovery, as with all fields of science, has not been a smooth ascent from lower to higher planes of knowledge. Rather, the process develops in a dialectical manner: in each case, an accumulation of evidence builds up that is in contradiction with the established theory; a radical change in outlook is needed to square the circle and continue taking understanding forward; and with gradual improvements in our models, we pave the way for qualitative theoretical changes, which in turn allow for further advances.
Such qualitative leaps, meanwhile, are rarely easy, but require a dramatic and revolutionary break with the established scientific paradigm, which is frequently backed up by the weight of past prejudices and the conservative interests of the status quo. Thus it was with the Copernican and Galilean revolution, which challenged the old geocentric view of the world – championed and defended vehemently by the Church – that placed the Earth at the centre of the solar system.
Now, in the 21st century, standing on the shoulders of giants such as Einstein and many others, we are able to see further than ever before. Thanks to the research of previous generations, we have developed an extraordinary understanding of the Universe and its laws – from the accurate predictions provided at the atomic and sub-atomic level by quantum mechanics, to the theories of special and general relativity and their explanations of gravity, motion, space and time.
For many years now, however, storm clouds have been amassing on the horizon. There has been an accumulation of evidence and inconsistencies that bring the current cosmic models into question. Deep and fundamental problems with the existing theories remain unanswered and years of research into new ideas have led nowhere. In short, modern cosmology is in crisis.
What do we know?
The current cosmological theories can be broadly divided in two – and then in two again. At the atomic and sub-atomic scale we have quantum mechanics and the Standard Model of Particle Physics (SMPP). At the scale of stars and galaxies – and even larger – we have Einstein’s theories of general relativity and the Standard Model of Big Bang Cosmology (SMBBC).
The SMPP describes the veritable zoo of particles that are said to be the “fundamental building blocks” of matter, consisting of small particles called leptons, such as the electron and neutrinos and a variety of larger particles called quarks, which make up protons and neutrons. In addition, the SMPP explains the behaviour of three of the four forces of nature: the electromagnetic force (electromagnetism, including light and magnetic repulsion and attraction); the weak nuclear force, (responsible for radioactive decay) and the strong nuclear force (which binds protons and neutrons). The fourth force is gravity, which causes all matter to be mutually attracted; this is significantly weaker than the other three, but operates on a vast scale and is not included in the SMPP, but is explained instead by general relativity.
The three forces within the SMPP are said to be transmitted between particles of matter by bosons – force-carrying particles – such as the photon, which carries the electromagnetic force. Furthermore, the SMPP explains that all matter has the property of mass because of its interaction with the Higgs field, via the Higgs boson – the so-called “God particle” the discovery of which was announced by scientists initially in July 2012, with later confirmation in March 2013. This was after a 40-year search, which included the construction of the Large Hadron Collider.
Quantum mechanics aims to describe the behaviour of the particles covered by the SMPP. In particular, quantum mechanics attempts to explain how such particles can be considered to behave like both particles and like waves. Light, for example, long considered an electromagnetic wave, was shown by Einstein in 1905 to be composed of massless particles, photons, with discrete values of energy proportional to the frequency of the wave. Vice-versa, the famous “double-slit experiment” showed that a stream of quantum particles, when fired at a sheet with two slits in it, would produce a pattern on photographic film normally associated with the interference produced by interacting waves.
In the quantum world, the mechanical notions of Newton’s laws of motion are replaced with probabilities. According to certain interpretations – such as that of the “Copenhagen school” – the properties of particles do not exist objectively, i.e. independently of the subjective observer, but are determined by the very act of measurement and observation itself. Particles appear and disappear; they both exist and do not exist at the same time. In place of predictability, quantum mechanics introduces only uncertainty. Where we once had cause-and-effect, suddenly we find ourselves plunged into randomness.
At the other end of the scale we have Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which explains the relative nature of space and time; that is, the way in which space curves and time slows down for matter as it approaches the speed of light, which (in a vacuum) is constant, usually denoted as c. Einstein’s theories include the important assumption that nothing in the Universe can travel faster than the speed of light.
General relativity, meanwhile, explains the gravitational force in terms of the interaction between matter and the notion of space-time. Space-time is a joint fabric of the three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time that is curved under the influence of matter. According to general relativity, the curvature of space-time, which is caused by matter, in turn affects the motion of matter. Thus we see a dynamic interaction between matter and space-time, in which one conditions the other, and from which the force of gravity emerges.
Finally, we have the Standard Model of Big Bang Cosmology (SMBBC), which ultimately attempts to explain the nature of the Universe as a whole, including its origins and its history. The fundamental basis of the SMBBC is the idea that the Universe has a beginning, and before this beginning there was nothing: neither space nor time existed. Up until 1917, when Einstein tried to apply the equations of general relativity to the Universe as a whole, the prevailing scientific opinion was that the Universe was static and eternal. Einstein’s calculations, however, showed that the Universe is dynamic; his conclusion was that the mutual force of gravity between matter would cause instability, with the Universe ultimately collapsing in on itself.
In 1931, observations by the American astronomer Edward Hubble provided evidence which suggested that galaxies, far from collapsing in, are in fact moving away from one another. The conclusion drawn from these observations was that, if everything is moving away from everything else, there must have been a point in time and space when everything was together; a point of origin for the entire Universe. This “origin” event was coined the “Big Bang”, a term first used disparagingly by the English astronomer Fred Hoyle to describe this cosmological creationism.
Together these modern theories – the SMPP, quantum mechanics, special and general relativity, and the SMBBC – form the current cosmological models used to describe the fundamental laws of the Universe. For the best part of a century, attempts have been made by theoretical physicists, including Einstein and his contemporaries, to combine all four natural forces into a single “Theory of Everything”, but to no avail. And, as quickly becomes apparent upon further description and investigation, rather than explaining the fundamentals laws, these models are themselves full of contradictions and fundamental flaws.
Dark matter and dark energy
It seems that the ability of the current models and theories to explain the observations and evidence at our disposal has reached its limit. From the small, sub-atomic scale to the cosmologically large, contradictions have emerged at every turn.
Starting backwards with the SMBBC, we immediately encounter problems that are, quite literally, massive. To be specific: where is all the mass? From measurements of the speeds of astronomically large objects, such as galaxies and stars, and the strength of the gravitational effects needed for such speeds, it has been consistently inferred that the vast majority of the mass in the Universe appears to be “missing”. Estimates for this apparently non-existent matter are astonishingly high, with 90% of the mass needed for observations to make sense (based on current theories) apparently missing. This is not exactly a small statistical error!
The term “dark matter” is now commonly used to describe this missing mass. To account for this, scientists have begun a search for “WIMPs”, or weakly interacting massive particles; that is, for a type of matter that is hard to see or detect, but which has powerful gravitational effects. Up to now, the search for possible WIMP candidates has proved elusive and none of the standard cosmological theories shed any light on where this enormous quantity of so-called dark matter may be hiding.
Next on the list of glaring problems is “dark energy”. Despite its similar name to dark matter, this is an entirely different problem within the SMBBC, and is related to the question of the expanding Universe. In the late 1990s, further astronomical observations indicated that not only are galaxies all moving away from one-another, but that the speed of this expansion is actual increasing. The galaxies are, it seems, accelerating away from one-another. It is understood in all standard physics that acceleration only comes about when a force is applied. The implication of accelerating galaxies, therefore, is that there must be a force, opposite to and greater than the mutual attraction of gravity, and that this force is accelerating matter apart in all directions.
Einstein had originally introduced this idea with his famous “cosmological constant” – effectively an arbitrary number introduced to fudge his equations to create a Universe that was held in a steady and stable equilibrium, rather than collapsing in on itself due to the effects of gravity. Einstein later admitted that this was indeed simply a fudge, with no empirical or sound theoretical evidence behind it, and he described the cosmological constant as “the biggest blunder of his life.”
With the latest observations, however, the cosmological constant was reintroduced in the form of “dark energy” – energy associated with empty space that would act to push matter apart. But again, this is no small error: the latest calculation indicate that dark energy should account for 73% of all mass-energy in the Universe; dark matter should make up a further 22% - leaving the actual physical matter and radiation that we can actually detect to account for only 5% of all mass-energy of what observation suggests there must be![i]
To give a name to phenomena, however, does not explain them. Frederick Engels, with Karl Marx, was one of the founders of scientific socialism and when arguing against those scientists who were satisfied with simply attaching the label “force” as an explanation to cover any gap in their knowledge, he commented,
“Just because we are not yet clear about the “rather complicated conditions” of these phenomena, we often take refuge here in the word force. We express thereby not our knowledge, but out lack of knowledge of the nature of the law and its mode of action.”[ii]
Just as Engels polemicised against nineteenth century scientists, in the twentieth century we can justifiably criticise those scientists who are happy with covering up gaping holes in the their theories with phrases like “dark matter” and “dark energy”.
The Big Bang
An even more fundamental issue in relation to the Standard Model of Big Bang Cosmology is the question of the Big Bang itself. The main evidence for the theory of a “Big Bang”, an event in time and space when all matter in the Universe was concentrated at a single point, is the observation that astronomical objects, such as galaxies, are moving away from one-another, implying a common point from which this motion began.
This concept of a “Big Bang”, involving a single concentrated point of all matter – known as a singularity – throws up a whole host of problems for cosmologists that are as yet unresolved. The first is that in such a theoretical singularity the density of matter would be infinite, at which point all the known laws of physics would break down. Secondly, the question arises as to where the energy for such an almighty explosion would come from? Some have suggested that the Big Bang, and the resultant creation of the Universe, was simply the produce of a “quantum fluctuation”, that is, a random disturbance in space-time. But if nothing – no matter, energy, motion, space, or time – existed before the Big Bang, how could there be any physical laws – including quantum mechanics – that would have any meaning? A “quantum fluctuation” of what, from what and inside of what?
Finally, and most importantly, on a related note to the above: what was said to have existed before the Big Bang? Some suggest that this moment was the point of creation for the entire Universe; the original source of all motion; the prime mover. So what came before? Some modern theories suggest there was a Universe of matter in pure stasis – that is, a Universe with no motion. What then set the Universe in motion? What force – external to the Universe – could provide this leap from stasis to dynamism? As Engels explains in his polemics against Dühring, in order to suggest such a leap from the static to the dynamic, one must ultimately resort to God:
“If the world had ever been in a state in which no change whatever was taking place, how could it pass from this state to alternation? The absolutely unchanging, especially when it has been in this state from eternity, cannot possibly get out of such a state by itself and pass over into a state of motion and change. An initial impulse must therefore have come from outside, from outside the Universe, an impulse which set it in motion. But as everyone knows, the “initial impulse” is only another expression for God.”[iii]
The idea that, rather than a leap from pure stasis to dynamism, there was perhaps nothing at all and then something – i.e. the creation of the entire Universe from nothing, including all matter and energy – is equally as absurd and amounts to the same thing. As Engels continues:
“Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be...Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself...the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transferred.”[iv]
From nothing can come precisely nothing – this is a fundamental tenet of physics and of dialectical materialism, and it is expressed by the scientific law of the conservation of energy: energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Such talk of the “beginning of time”, therefore, is pure nonsense. And yet this – this modern day creation myth – is the dominant paradigm within the SMBBC.
Time and space
As explained above, the current SMBBC model is based on the idea of the Big Bang at a moment when all the matter of the Universe had been supposedly compressed into a single, infinitesimally small point. After this initial creation, according to the model, the Universe underwent a rapid expansion known as inflation.
Recent widely-reported observations have been cited as evidence in support of this inflationary model of the early Universe. It should be noted, however, that, whilst the inflation theory helps to answer several empirically observed inconsistencies, in its current form the theory still generates a whole new set of questions and problems. For example, what is the cause of this inflation? And where does the energy for such a rapid expansion come from?
The main contender for the answer to these questions is the purely speculative hypothesis of a new particle, the inflaton, which is said to drive the process of inflation. But such an answer is, in reality, not an answer at all. As with so many other areas of modern cosmology, such as the examples of WIMPs and dark matter, the theoretical physicists have simply tried to explain a phenomenon by assigning it a new, never-before-existed particle. Such an “explanation” does nothing but push the problem back by one step. One must now ask: what are the properties of the inflaton particle? How do these properties arise? And why do these properties cause the process of inflation?
Most importantly, however, such inflationary theories – whether true or false – do not help to overcome the main contradiction in the Big Bang model: the fact that you cannot have a “beginning of time” which marks the creation of something from nothing.
Einstein’s initial preference was for a “steady-state” Universe – one of fixed size that had no beginning and no end. Following the Hubble observations that galactic objects were moving away from one-another, Einstein proposed an “oscillating” or “cyclic” Universe to allow for the idea of a Big Bang, but without having to resort to the idea of a “beginning of time”. In the cyclic Universe, there is a perpetual cycle of expansion and contraction, leading to a series of Big Bangs and so-called Big Crunches.
A modern version of the cyclic Universe has been proposed by the proponents of M-theory, an extension of string theory, which is an attempt to create a cosmological “Theory of Everything”. This M-theory cyclic Universe is based on the idea that our Universe exists as a four-dimensional membrane – or simply “brane” – within another higher dimensional space containing other “branes”. These branes oscillate and at certain points meet. Such collisions, which occur cyclically, lead to an enormous release of energy and creation of matter, which from the perspective of the observer on the brane gives the impression of a Big Bang.
Unfortunately for the proponents of this cyclical “brane” theory, there is no actual observable evidence or proof for such a hypothesis, nor can there ever be. Such “science” is mere conjecture, based, like so much in modern cosmology, on nothing but mathematical constructions – equations that are increasingly abstracted and divorced from all reality.
All of these theories – whether it is the standard SMBBC model, the steady-state Universe, or the cyclic Universe – suffer from a similar problem, in that they envisage a closed, finite Universe, a bounded space that exists with nothing outside of it. But how can there be a boundary to the Universe? What is beyond this boundary? Nothing? To talk of an “edge of the Universe” is as nonsensical as to talk of the beginning of time.
Any proposal of a finite, bounded Universe raises within itself the idea of something beyond this boundary, which in turn demonstrates the absurdity of placing limits to the Universe. As Hegel, the great German dialectician, remarked in his Science of Logic, “It is the very nature of the finite to transcend itself, to negate its negation and to become infinite.”[v]
To overcome the absurdity of the Universe having an “edge”, the analogy of a balloon’s surface is often used: the three-dimensional space of our Universe is, apparently, like the two-dimensional surface of a balloon – something that is finite, but which has no boundary. Like the balloon, the analogy follows, our bounded Universe is able to expand (or contract) without the need for any “edge”.
The balloon analogy, however, actually demonstrates the absurdity that the analogy aims to overcome, for the idea of a balloon’s curved surface expanding only makes sense if there is a third dimension – at right-angles (i.e. perpendicular) to the balloon’s surface – for the expansion to move in to. The surface of the balloon is itself a boundary. Similarly, if the Universe is thought to be finite but unbounded, any expansion requires there to be something outside of the Universe into which the expansion to take place. Such a concept of the Universe makes no sense. The Universe – by definition – means everything that exists. If there is something beyond the boundary, some unoccupied space or potential space, then this too is part of the Universe.
Furthermore, such concepts of a finite Universe are vague about what it is that is finite. The “Universe” is not a thing in itself, but a name for the collection of all things; a word for everything that exists – i.e. for all physical matter. A finite Universe, therefore, means a finite amount of matter, which again implies an “edge of the Universe”, beyond which no matter exists.
The whole history of science has been one in which the limits of the known Universe have constantly been expanded. Once we believed that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, with nothing above but the heavens. With the advance of more and more powerful telescopes, we have been able to look further into space, finding other planets, stars, and galaxies in the process. The further we look, the more we find. Where once there was scepticism about the existence of other planets, now hundreds have been found by sophisticated telescopic measurements, including apparently Earth-like planets hundreds of light-years away. Yet all talk of a finite Universe – with a beginning of time and a boundary in space – erects a barrier to what can be known, a mystical wall separating us from that which is apparently beyond the realms of science.
The problem for many, it seems, in terms of proposing both the beginning of time and a boundary to space, is the question of infinity. Mathematicians have sought to banish infinity at every step, considering it a seemingly unfathomable and impossible concept. But mathematics is only an abstraction – an approximation of an infinitely complex reality that can never be fully captured by any equation, model, or law.
To talk of a “beginning of time” is as absurd as to talk of an “end of time”, for, as Engels explains, to conceive of an infinity with a beginning and no end is the same as to imagine an infinity with an end but no beginning:
“It is clear that an infinity which has an end but no beginning is neither more nor less infinite than that which has a beginning but not end.”[vi]
The Universe can only be understood as a dialectical unity of opposites: an infinity of finite matter that is itself infinitely divisible and transformable. That is to say, there is an infinite amount of matter – matter that is itself finite in size and endlessly changing. All attempts to banish this infinity from cosmology have only led to even greater riddles and confusion, to talk of “singularities” where all the laws of physics break down. But a singularity is nothing but a theoretically infinitesimally small point, which, in turn is simply an inverted infinity. Far from removing infinity from the Universe, therefore, the cosmologists have merely re-introduced it by the back door.
All attempts to remove the contradiction of infinity from our explanations of the Universe, therefore, merely serve to create new insoluble contradictions elsewhere, as Engels explained:
“Infinity is a contradiction, and is full of contradictions. From the outset it is a contradiction that an infinity is composed of nothing but finites, and yet this is the case. The limitedness of the material world leads no less to contradictions than its unlimitedness, and every attempt to get over these contradictions leads, as we have seen, to new and worse contradictions. It is just because infinity is a contradiction that it is an infinite process, unrolling endlessly in time and in space. The removal of the contradiction would be the end of infinity.”[vii]
The infinity of the Universe is an objective reality that cannot be wished away by mathematical trickery. This reality of the Universe lies in the unity of opposites, of the infinite and the finite: an infinite collection of finite things, with no boundary, no beginning, and no end.
Various modern theories have attempted to overcome the absurdity of a “beginning of time” in different ways. First up is the concept that the Big Bang, rather than being a dramatic expansion from a singularity, was a moment of “phase change”, analogous to the way in which liquid water turns to ice. In this theory, the Universe is hypothesised to have been amorphous prior to the phase change, with space and time “crystallising” from this formlessness.
The idea of an evolving and developing Universe is a step forward as compared to the idea of an infinitely steady-state or cyclical, periodically repeating Universe. Both the idea of a steady equilibrium or a cyclic Universe portray a mechanical view of infinity – an idealistic infinity that arises out of the timelessness of abstract equations. All real equilibria in nature are dynamic equilibria involving change, the result of the mutual interactions of matter in motion.
For this very reason, real equilibria and periodic motions in the Universe are not eternal, but are temporary phenomena. Whilst we may see a certain repetition and stability (equilibrium) at all levels in nature, these are only ever phases in the continually and dialectically evolving development of processes. This relationship between stability, repetition and change is expressed by the dialectical law of quantity and quality, which shows how all change in nature, history, and society, takes place through the combination of gradual (and often imperceptible) quantitative changes, which eventually pave the way for qualitative change – tipping points of radical or revolutionary transformation.
In this way, the idea of the Big Bang being simply a “phase change” – representing not the beginning of time, but rather a qualitative turning point in the evolution of the Universe – is a step forward, compared to the idea of a steady-state or cyclical Universe, or a Big Bang that marks the “beginning of time”. However, the “phase change” theory is itself confused, for it talks of time and space as though they are themselves tangible, material things. Space and time, however, rather than being material things in-and-of themselves, are relational expressions between actual material things – relationships of matter in motion.
Matter and motion are inseparable. Motion is the mode of existence of matter. But for matter to have motion, it must change position over a given change in time. Space and time, therefore, are properties of motion in matter, which – like all other properties – express the relationships between things. The concepts of space, time, matter and motion are, therefore, inseparably interlinked. Without space and time, all talk of matter and motion is meaningless. Equally, to talk about space and time, without reference to matter and motion, is to deal with empty abstractions. As Engels comments, “the basic forms of all being are space and time, and being out of time is just as gross an absurdity as bring out of space.”[viii]
Explanations of the development of the Universe which involve an “amorphous” Universe that “crystallises” to create time and space are therefore empty and abstract also. The Universe is indeed undergoing a continual process of evolution and development – but it is not simply “The Universe” that is evolving; rather it is matter – present in infinite quantities and continuing eternally in all directions – that is continually in motion, producing evolution through the process of mutual interaction. This motion, which has no beginning and no end, gives rise to a dialectical development and evolution in the Universe – to an infinite process of interaction and change, with temporary dynamic equilibria forming, and with similar, but never precisely identical, developments unfolding over time.
Another theory in modern cosmology is the “eternal inflation” theory, which hypothises that our Universe is itself an inflating bubble within another Universe. The theory is based on a mixture of quantum fluctuations and vacuum energy (the energy of empty space), which cause new Universes to be born and grow within old ones. Whilst such a theory avoids the mechanical concept of infinity posed by the steady-state or cyclical Universe theories, the idea that new Universes can be created from bubbles of inflating vacuums is equally absurd and undialectical. The theory brings us again to the most obvious question regarding inflation: where does the energy for each new Universe come from? An article in New Scientist magazine explains:
“Inflation, a theory that [Alex] Vilenkin helped to create, starts with a vacuum in an unusually high energy state and with a negative pressure. Together these give the vacuum repulsive gravity that pushes things apart rather than draws them together. This inflates the vacuum, making it more repulsive, which causes it to inflate even faster.
“But the inflationary vacuum is quantum in nature, which makes it unstable. All over it, and at random, bits decay into a normal, everyday vacuum. Imagine the vacuum as a vast ocean of boiling water, with bubbles forming and expanding across its length and breadth. The energy of the inflationary vacuum has to go somewhere and it goes into creating matter and heating it to a ferocious temperature inside each bubble. It goes into creating big bangs. Our Universe is inside one such bubble that appeared in a big bang 13.7 billion years ago.”[ix]
We are told, it seems, that the energy for new universes is created from the energy of empty space, which increases as the vacuum bubbles expand. But again, energy cannot be created (or destroyed). You cannot create something from nothing. There is no such thing as a cosmological free lunch. The eternal inflationary theory, therefore, far from resolving the problem of the “beginning of time” that the traditional Big Bang model leads to, simply reintroduces the same problem in another form.
Alongside the concept of “universes within universes”, there are similar theories involving multiple or parallel universes, existing simultaneously as part of a “multiverse”. One such multiverse theory is that of the “branes”, as mentioned earlier, which collide against one-another in a higher-dimensional space. Another multiverse theory – born out of quantum mechanics – proposes that new universes are created in every quantum event. This “many worlds” interpretation hypothesises that, rather than there being one single real universe, with one actual history of events and processes, all possible alternative histories are real, existing in a (possibly infinite) number of parallel universes.
These “universes within universes” and “multiverse” ideas have led to all kinds of speculation and conjecture, much of which has a greater resemblance to science fiction than genuine scientific investigation. Most importantly, it should be stressed that there is no evidence – and never can be any evidence – for such theories.
All talk of infinity in relation to the Universe – whether it is in terms of a universe that is infinite in time and space, or of an infinite series of universes, or of an infinite number of parallel universes – inevitably provokes discussion on the concept of infinity itself. This, in turn, allows imaginations to run wild: if we have an infinite Universe, or an infinite number of universes, then surely anything that could happen – no matter how small the probability – would happen, and indeed must have happened already?!
This hypothesis is based on the formal mathematical logic that when an infinitesimal probability meets an infinite number of events, the outcome must be a definite or real event. For example, an infinite number of monkeys tapping away on an infinite number of typewriters, so we are told, will eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare. But such logic is an empty abstraction that is completely divorced from reality. There is a qualitative difference between an abstract possibility and a concrete possibility, between a possibility and a probability, and between a probability and an inevitability. What is theoretically possible is not necessarily probable; and what is probable is not always actual.
The real world – both in nature and in history – is not a series of random probabilistic events. Rather, we instead see processes, dialectically evolving due to internal contradictions; processes that develop with their own inner dynamics and logic. Out of the seemingly chaotic motion and interaction in the Universe arises a certain predictability: similar conditions produce similar results; patterns emerge; tendencies and generalised laws develop.
Take, for example, the process of evolution in the biological world. It is clear to modern science that human beings are neither the creation of intelligent design, not merely the product of random events. Instead, all evolution is a process of dialectical development – of quantity transforming into quality, and back into quantity. Of course, accident plays a role in this – the possibility of random variations and mixes in individual genes is an essential mechanism in evolution. But these “accidents” will only ever have the power to shape an entire population when they express a necessity – when that specific genetic mix provides an advantage to an organism within its given environment.
Similarly, the works of Shakespeare, or of any writer or artist, can never be the product of accident and random events. Accidental events play a role in shaping an individual, but great works of art and literature are the products of an entire history of cultural development. The works of Shakespeare would be inconceivable without the prior literature of the Hellenic or Classical epics and tragedies.
We see, therefore, how such theories, in trying to avoid the absurdity of a “beginning of time”, only end up creating new absurdities. Such attempts to overcome the contradiction of infinity instead end up displaying variations of “bad infinity” grouped at opposite poles: at the one end we see the mechanical concept of infinity – the idealistic infinity of stasis or cyclical repetition; at the other end we see the chaotic idea of infinity – an infinity composed of purely random events, with no potential for development, evolution, or process.
In contrast to these examples of “bad infinity”, which exist merely as abstractions in the minds of theoretical physicists, we can see every day what real infinity looks like by looking out of the window at the weather: a system that is dynamic and chaotic, but which can also be explained and predicted within limits; a case of matter in motion in which no two days are ever identical, but nevertheless one in which there are material limits and general tendencies that give rise to a certain degree of repetition and similarity.
Real infinity is neither purely mechanical nor completely random, but is a dialectical unity of opposites: of the new and the old, novelty and repetition, chaos and order, random and deterministic, accident and necessity. Such an infinity is an evolutionary process of development and dialectical change, with patterns and tendencies, but without exact repetition; a process of quantity transforming into quality, and back into quantity. Real infinity in the Universe, therefore, is not an infinity of The Universe, but the infinity of matter in motion – an infinity of finite things, with no beginning and no end.
[i] Physics crunch: the dark void at cosmology’s heart, New Scientist, 5th March 2013
[ii] Dialectics of Nature, Frederick Engels, Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 25, p.373, Progress Publishers edition
[iii] Anti-Dühring, Frederick Engels, Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 25, p.49-50, Progress Publishers edition
[iv] Ibid, p.55-56
[v] The Science of Logic, Georg Hegel, §274
[vi] Anti-Dühring, p.48
[viii] Anti-Dühring, p.48-49
[ix] Before the Big Bang: Something or Nothing?, New Scientist, 3rd December 2012