Martin Bojowald

 

On his book Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe

Cover Interview of March 09, 2011

A close-up

This book contains a chapter on cosmology from a wide perspective.  Before the scientific method was used to understand the universe, various cultures across the globe developed their own theories on the origins of the cosmos.  The story began with myths and pre-Socratic philosophy, and continued until roughly one hundred years ago, when science became sophisticated and confident enough to answer many questions about the universe.

As opposed to science’s outward exploration of the cosmos, previous cultures relied on introspection, and projected their own cultural bias onto the universe.  Using their cosmic models, we can appreciate human nature, and a less systematic approach to follow logical conclusions.

Even though we could view ancient ideas with condescension today, perceiving them as simple-minded, ancient ideas remain an important part of humankind’s natural drive to understand the world.  This desire, which we share with past cultures, continues to propel our exploratory endeavors, scientific and cultural.

Searching for the universe’s origins, over the last thousands of years, has been an issue of outstanding importance in different ways.  Rightfully or not, different schools of thought regarding the origin have served to consolidate power in or between cultures.  By looking closely at different versions of myths or early philosophical ideas, one can surmise how the all-too-human nature enters the game.  Sometimes modern physics follows this tradition—using different means, such as mathematical machinery, to solidify professional prowess.

Human imagination does not seem inventive enough to produce entirely novel, crucial differences in our theories of how the universe began.  Several aspects in contemporary cosmological scenarios are simply derivative of past ideas—even while more details are being filled in and deeper explanations provided.

Nevertheless, when one considers the history of cosmology, science clearly has an unbeatable advantage, because it gives us a means to test our theories by independent observation and critique.