Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the universe, along come front-page stories in national newspapers this week saying it isn't. Stunned by new information on the breadth of the cosmos, science is revising its best guess about how the universe was formed. It's a Black Hole thing, you wouldn't understand.
Apparently, the Big Bang Theory is kaput, finito, sayonara, down the toidy. Cosmologists now say the universe wasn't created by a sudden, single explosive pop, a sound even louder than the opening chords of "In a Gadda Da Vida."
Briefly, the Big Bang Theory went like this: Once upon a time long ago -- even before, if you can imagine it, single-portion Lean Cuisine -- a certain Somebody or Something Up There called "The Big Banger," a distant cousin to The Big Bopper, was especially bored. So just for laughs he lit a match, and, boom, instant universe! (Admittedly, this differs somewhat from the Big Bang Theory of my adolescence, which was to spend one hour in the back seat with Jayne Mansfield.)
Scientists are forever seeking some convenient explanation for how come the universe exists the way it does -- a few clusters of stars and planets over here, some more over there, a gigantic void between Pluto and Busch Gardens -- and this Big Bang Theory seemed plausible. Not that they ever fully explained how the universe happened to come together in the first place, of course. Scientists asked us to trust them: Something was there. It blew up. One bang. Sure, maybe it took six days. Who's counting? As to why there doesn't seem to be a particular order to the way the pieces landed -- with clumps of stuff scattered hither and yon -- scientists assured us that "cold, dark matter" attracted other cold, dark matter. (For those of you having difficulty picturing "cold, dark matter," think of it as the blob lurking in the refrigerator late at night that looks like it was once something else, but before you actually eat it you give some to the dog and wait 30 seconds to see if he dies. Hot, dark matter, which we'll get to later, is that cold, dark matter after 10 minutes in the microwave so it's gray and steamy.)
Anyway, recent pictures of enormous new globs of space stuff beamed back by satellites we can trust -- not that tinpot Hubble Telescope that couldn't find its rear end with both hands -- have convinced scientists that the Big Bang Theory can't account for all this new moosh out there. (I adore new discoveries. George Carlin once said that scientists had discovered a new number, "bleen," between seven and eight.) According to the New York Times, "Astrophysicists said the difficulty now is to find a model that can account ... for superclusters and gigantic voids." We're supposed to account for gigantic voids? We can't even account for Eleanor Holmes Norton's missing tax returns. Gigantic voids, huh? You mean like that purple haze between 1965 and 1971 that I, uh, so many of my, uh, acquaintances speak of? What the heck is a gigantic void? If you can't see it, feel it or touch it, how can you find it? And who's in a gigantic void, Zager and Evans?
So if the Big Bang Theory is exploded, so to speak, all we have left is the Big Pfffttt Theory. That's the way the world began? Not with a bang, but with a whimper?
I generally refer all my cosmology questions to Estee Lauder. But it seems evident we're back to Square One on this universe deal. Maybe it was created by fire, maybe by ice, maybe Thor sent down a thunderbolt. Maybe we're the product of Steven Bochco's imagination. Those various God and Creationism theories that were out of vogue for the last three centuries? Guess what, Mr. Secular Humanist, they're back big time! The fact is, we don't know jack about how we got here. Cosmology and theology grow closer together the more we learn.
I'm reminded of the Judith Viorst book I read to my kids: "My mama says that a zombie with his eyes rolled back in his head, and his arms out stiff, and his skin as cold as ice isn't clonking up and up the stairs." How does she know? We're waiting for the scientists to tell us all what's out there. (My princely cousin Charles's consuming fear is that somewhere out there's an intergalactic Neiman Marcus holding First Call without him.) The Times reprinted a map of the universe from the scientific journal Nature that purports to show all the new superclusters and gaping voids that have thrown cosmologists into this turmoil. It has all sorts of bands and tiny bubbles, and it looks like what happens just before Pepto Bismol enters your stomach and begins its soothing, coating action.
I'm sorry to see cold matter discredited, as I was sorry to see cold fusion discredited. (They'd better not discredit cold filtering. Cosmology and physics I can live without. But don't screw around with my beer.) Scientists are studying hot, dark matter now in search of a new theory. They're examining tiny particles called "neutrinos." Neutrinos. Great. Soon we'll learn the world was created when God was hungry and craved a new Nabisco snack cracker.
I feel lost without the Big Bang Theory. I feel science has let me down. (I felt the same way when I found out it wasn't HAY-ley's comet, it was HAL-ley's comet. They couldn't have told me before? They had to wait until I was 40 years old?) And I wonder what else science isn't telling me? Maybe when you add the squares of the two small legs of a right triangle it doesn't equal the square of the big one. Maybe you do need a master's degree in engineering to put together that stupid end table from IKEA.
Where do we turn without the Big Bang Theory? Will anybody buy the Big Band Theory, that the creation of man and the universe is somehow linked to Xavier Cugat? ("Ooooh, Coogie, when I hear that marimba I feel so light I could float all the way to Heaven.") Or the Big Gulp Theory, that all matter and energy was concentrated in a single convenience store that exploded in Dothan, Ala., in 1962? Or the Big Bowl Theory, which holds that the universe is a giant toilet, and we're all just waiting for that final flush?
I take comfort in believing.