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Book Summary:

Wrinkles in Time

by George Smoot

1994, Avon, New York, NY

ABSTRACT - A story, by perhaps the greatest living cosmologists, of his discovery, which Stephen Hawking called the "most important of the century, if not of all time" confirming the big bang theory and leading to an understanding that matter is not distributed uniformly throughout the universe. As he traces the development of the universe from the moment of creation until the present, he outlines some of the most basic principles of life, such as phase transitions and the increasing complexity of life’s systems.

Key Points:
  • "The most far-reaching implication of general relativity, however, is that the universe is not static, but is dynamic, either contracting or expanding." p. 36

  • "The evolution of the universe is effectively the change of distribution of matter through time - moving from virtual homogeneity in the early universe to a very lumpy universe today, with matter condensed as galaxies, clusters, super-clusters, and even larger structures. We can view that evolution as a series of phase transitions from one state to another under the influence of decreasing temperature (or energy)." P.284

  • "At a ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth (10 -42 ) of a second after the big bang - the earliest moment about which we can sensibly talk, and then only with some suspension of disbelief - all the universe we can observe today was the tiniest fraction of the size of a proton. space and time had only just begun...By 10-34 second inflation had expanded the universe (at an accelerating rate) a million trillion trillion (1030) times...The strong nuclear force had separated, and matter underwent its first phase transition, existing now as quarks...The next phase transition occurred at a ten-thousandth of a second, when quarks began to bind together to form protons and neutrons...When the temperature fell to about 3,000 degrees, at three hundred thousand years, a crucial further phase transition occurred. the photons were no longer energetic enough to dislodge electrons from around hydrogen and helium nuclei and so atoms of hydrogen and helium were formed ant stayed together." p. 284-285

  • "Had all matter been distributed evenly, the fabric of space would have been smooth, and the interaction of photons with particles would have been homogeneous, resulting in a completely uniform cosmic background radiation. Our discovery of the wrinkles reveals to us that matter was not uniformly distributed, that it was already structured, thus forming the seeds out of which today’s complex universe has grown." p. 285

  • "A powerful conviction for me, and one that I believe encourages confidence that one day we will understand the very essence of creation, is the idea that as we converge on the moment of creation, the constituents and laws of the universe become ever simpler." p. 290

  • "Cosmology - through the marriage of astrophysics and particle physics - is showing us that this complexity flowed from a deep simplicity as matter metamorphosed through a series of phase transitions." p. 291

  • "There is a clear order to the evolution of the universe, moving from simplicity and symmetry to greater complexity and structure. As time passes, simple components coalesce into more sophisticated building blocks spawning a richer, more diverse environment. Accidents and chance, in fact, are essential in developing the overall richness of the universe. In that sense, Einstein had the right idea: God does not play dice with the universe. Though individual events happen as a matter of chance, there is an overall inevitability to the development of sophisticated complex systems." p. 296

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