One of the reQuests that I reCeived in this month's E2 Quest reads, "npecom sounds like the kind of man who could write about psychedelic revelations about the structure of the universe." So be it.
I decided to approach this one through a daylog because I feel summarily unqualified to write anything factual about the topic. That doesn't mean that I don't think about the subject and research it in a fairly haphazard manner, nor will it prevent me from writing about it. A daylog also seems a more appropriate vehicle for answering this because there will, of necessity, be a lot of personal background. Any "psychedelic revelations", if that means induced by psychoactive substances, were well in the past ('70's mostly) but I wouldn't deny that they exist. I wouldn't deny that they shape my world view either. BUT, long before that, the strongest influences on my world view were books. I credit my grandma Tessa for these but at the time I didn't know, or care, where they came from. I just knew they were cool. By the time I started Public School, I was reading well ahead of my grade level. More important than this at that time, though, were the pictures. One of my libraric treasures was a Time Life series on science and natural history. This book had amazing mural style pictures that spanned three pages using foldouts in full glossy color with descriptions of the individual inhabitants that crowded these graphic worlds. I spent countless hours studying panoramic layouts of dinosaurs and the formation of the solar system.
Despite my advanced age now, my ideas about the "structure of the universe" are still quite malleable, if only because it is a field that is constantly being flooded with new ideas and even quite a few hard facts. One of the books in the series I described above was on the Universe and I distinctly remember it referring to Island Universes. The story of The Great Debate between Harlow Shapley and Heber D. Curtis was mentioned, I'm sure, but I was less interested in that at the time. What I was interested in was wrapping my head around the idea that looking up at the night sky was looking into something vast and mysterious.
At some point, and in a more gradual way, I began to understand that the same vastness and mystery went in the other direction. A gift of a microscope, although the instrument itself was far from lab quality, drove this point home around 7 or 8 years of age. Mind expanded again, no drugs involved.
When I was in the third grade, I was asked if I would like to go to Mexico with my grandparents. Best I can recall now, at that age, it was like being asked if I wanted to go to the grocery or on errands. If someone is going and I'm asked, "Do you want to go along?", there's only one answer. "Yes". My grandparents were retired and had always loved vacationing south of the border. They decided their retirement income would go farther in pesos than dollars as long as we didn't try to live like tourists. Immersion in a foreign (to me) culture was my third big mind expansion. In two years I was fluent in Spanish and had learned that, although we inhabit the same planet, people in different places live in very different worlds.
Finally, when I came back to the USA I went through culture shock all over again. Not only Mexican culture to American but also straight culture to hippie culture. My grandparents were pretty progressive but I was a very straight laced kid. I remember seeing, "I saw God on LSD", as a title of a magazine article, can't recall now which magazine, but I expressed my outrage in my loud twelve year old voice to my grandparents. I remember them being very reserved and quiet which was quite surprising to me. I suspect, now, that this was because they knew some of what I would be returning home to.
I returned to the U.S. and my parents in 1967 and they were at the cutting edge of the psychedelic movement. I resisted, but feebly, and soon gave in. My point is that this movement was not a rebellion, for me, but rather a conformity. If you can't beat 'em join 'em. And, as one might expect, this culture was reflected in the books that shared a place on the family bookshelf. The Holy Bible was there right next to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads, and the I Ching. My mother read from all of them pretty much equally and sometimes aloud to us kids. She "threw" the I Ching at least daily (using three coins) and treated it as the oracle it was claimed to be. There was a Buddha on a small altar in the den and often incense and candles burned in front of it.
So, what does all of the above have to do with cosmology and the structure of the universe? For most of my life I've calmly accepted the default cosmological view commonly referred to as the Big Bang theory (no, not the sitcom). Lately, my perspective has changed and I'll try to focus on those changes in an attempt to answer the implied question, "What is the structure of the universe?". The ideas haven't emerged as a result of some psychedelic, drug-induced epiphany but rather have resulted from a long held dissatisfaction with accepting what seems obvious. They are not original ideas but are definitely what could be termed "fringe" theories.
Central to these fringe theories is an idea that the big bang was not an event in the dim past. The big bang is still banging. It is more a location in a multi-dimensional model which, itself, is much more complex than we are capable of visualizing. I don't know about you, but I can't even visualize four spatial dimensions, let alone the ten or eleven that theoretical physicists currently favor. Again, these are not conclusions on my part. They are attempts to make sense of things that I don't understand. Input is encouraged. Disclaimer: I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician and any ideas I put forth may be dismissed as pseudoscience. Moving right along.
In some ways, it seems reasonable to say that the universe has no structure. Yet we, as observers, see structure everywhere. Particles of matter which appear solid as, well, a rock, upon further analysis, can be experimentally proven to be just vast amounts of energy. Or, the rock can put a big lump on your head, as it transfers it's kinetic energy after being thrown at you. So how do we reconcile all of this contradictory evidence in the age of quantum mechanics? It seems there must be pieces of the puzzle missing, and the more we learn about the relatively new field of quantum mechanics, the deeper into the rabbit hole we get.
The observable universe is expanding. Not only is it expanding, the expansion is accelerating. Our knowledge of the universe is also expanding as the tools we use to measure it's vast size become more and more advanced. One key result of this is that cosmologists now make a clear distinction between the size of the universe and the size of the observable universe. I believe that, like the proverbial "blind men and the elephant", we make the assumption that the entire universe must be identical to the observable universe. I believe this to be a false assumption. In order to deal with increasingly problematic contradictions in our observations theoreticians have come up with hypothetical "dark matter" and "dark energy" which cannot be directly observed. I suspect there are more elegant ways of reconciling the observable with the "unobservable". If we visualize a different shape for the universe, it may help. It is important to keep in mind that I can't adequately describe the shape because we are locked into a world view of three spatial dimensions. The shape of the universe is not a three dimensional shape but there is an allegory which may come to our aid here. It is the torus. Using Einstein's popular allegory of spacetime as an expanding bubble, of which our observable universe is the surface, we simply substitute a toroidal shape for the spherical shape of the bubble. Now we will stipulate, using the same allegory, that our entire observable universe represents only a small part of this toroidal bubble's surface. Importantly, the entire observable universe is contained in the part which is expanding, and the expansion is accelerating because the amount of the bubble's surface area is expanding geometrically. Because our point of view is locked in a three dimensional frame of reference, we observe everything in the universe moving away from everything else but this is actually the geometric stretching of spacetime itself. If we could observe the other half of the torus (let's call it the southern hemisphere, just for fun), we would see something very strange. In the southern hemisphere, the arrow of time is reversed. Entropy decreases and the observable universe contracts rather than expanding. Eventually, the big crunch funnels all matter and energy into the singularity at the center of the torus and the cycle begins anew. Since topology, not gravity, is responsible for the causality, we still get to have a cyclic model.
So there you have it. As I've stated, this is not an idea that I came up with on my own. It is relatively new, very fringy and some observations seem to support it. If you want to research further, I recommend doing a google search using search terms such as "toroidal universe" and "three-torus model of the universe".