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Cosmic Question

Linde sees this as a potential means of surviving the demise of our own universe.

"Maybe we can create the universe and transfer our knowledge to the inhabitants of the universe that is created in our laboratory," Linde says.

There's a story there, written in starlight: The deepest portrait of the universe ever recorded, by a Hubble camera. (Nasa Via Reuters)

Or maybe, he suggests, someone already did that. The creator of our cosmos might be a "physicist hacker" in some other universe, he says. Again, this is a theory that has yet to yield a lot of support.

The ultimate question is why the universe exists at all. Guth says the equations for inflation allow the universe to expand forever, with new universes constantly popping into existence, but the equations don't permit an eternal past. There has to be a beginning, back there somewhere. Where did that first pulse, that first little spark, come from?

Guth says he's worked out scenarios in which the laws of physics allow something to pop into existence from nothing. But he adds, "I was implicitly assuming that the laws of physics already existed, even when there was no space, no time, no matter. I think that's all I need to assume. Nevertheless I am clearly making a big assumption there. That does raise the question of what caused the laws of physics, where they came from."

What's his answer?

"I don't have the foggiest idea."

So let's quickly summarize where we are: We're not sure if the universe will keep expanding or start contracting. We don't know if The End, if there ever is such a thing, is many billions of years away or many trillions of years away. We don't know the nature of dark energy, this strange force that's shaping the universe. We don't know if constants are constant. We don't know why there are laws of physics. We don't know why there's something rather than nothing.

And thus we might guess that scientists will not soon put theologians out of business.

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