His name is Gott--The German term for "god"--and he sits, blue marker in hand, describing his new model of The Creation.
He has abandoned the standard "big bang" theory of the creation of the universe. He is not alone, as many cosmologists are turning their doubts about the "big bang" into competing new theories.
J. Richard Gott, a 34-year-old astrophysicist, occupies a small Princeton University office, sketching with graphs his own theory of the birth of the universe.
With a bit of a Southern accent in his speech retained from a Kentucky childhood, he explains that his new creation begins, not with the usual empty cosmos and a big bang, but with a cosmos filled with hot, dense, and apparently eternal matter. Within this white, energetic soup, bubbles form.
They begin to expand as rapidly as the speed of light. Each bubble forms separately, like carbonation in a glass of soda water, and grows until it is the size of an entire universe.
There may be an infinite number of these bubble-universes in the cosmos, Gott says, including our own. He doesn't seem very perturbed by the next bit of information he imparts as he leans back in his chair: the many universes in the cosmos are, for technical reasons involving gravity and the curvature of space, doomed never to see or speak to one another.
As one observer notes, Gott's conception sounds much like the line from a science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke:
"Many and strange are the universes that drift like bubbles in the foam upon the River of Time."
Gott's version of what should replace the big bang is the big bubble, but there are other new versions of the creation.
Astrophysicists have for some time realized there are flaws in the standard big bang model, but only in the past few years have methods been discovered to deal with the faults.
The new methods have come out of experiments in particle physics, carried out on the great particle-smashing machines of Europe and America where elementary particles are collided at great speeds to recreate the events of creation.
The new particle physics work, which won Sheldon Glashow, Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam the Nobel Prize in 1979, seeks to unite the several forms of force in the world--gravity, magnetism, electricity, radiation, and nuclear energy--into a single "Grand Unified Theory."
The grand unification is not complete, but the new theories do explain how matter and energy might behave at incredibly high temperatures like that in the early moments of the life of the universe. The temperature of the universe at that time was 1027, or a billion quintillion, degrees.
The standard big bang explanation is that the universe started with a "singularity" amidst nothingness. All matter and energy were packed into an infinitely small, dense, hot point. This point suddenly exploded outward, and the still-flying debris from that explosion has become the galaxies, stars, planets--and ourselves.
How the original, infinitely small and massive point could exist is not explained within physical law, but is simply called a "singularity," an unexplained feature that does not exist in time or space. Astrophysical calculations start from there.
In the first fraction of a second after the unexplained explosion, nothing but dense, hot radiation existed. This expanded outward at the speed of light, and eventually cooled and congealed into atoms, then to gases, and finally into stars and planets.
There are several problems with this model and Gott, Alan M. Guth of MIT, A.D. Linde of the Lebedev Institute in Moscow, and others have created new theories to cope with them.
There is a "horizon problem." Astronomers recently have found a low, uniform level of "background radiation" in the universe, which until now was presumed to be leftover debris of the big bang.
But the problem is that the radiation is distributed with a near-perfect uniformity. No explosion could be expected to send debris out in a perfectly uniform spray.
So, astronomers reason, it is necessary to imagine a period in the early universe when all radiation from the explosion had a chance to mix thoroughly, and become as uniformly spread as the gas in a balloon.
The standard big bang theory does not allow this; from the instant of the big bang, no mixing of radiation such as light was possible. One area with less radiation and one area with more could never mix, since they are moving apart at the speed of light, and never catch up with one another to balance out.
But in Gott's model, the "background radiation" in the universe is not the remnant of an explosion. It is radiation given off naturally at the edge of the universe, similar to the radiation given off at the edge of a black hole.
Also, in Gott's and other models, the universe did not explode with the speed of light from the beginning, but passed through one or two earlier phases which would give plenty of time for radiation to spread smoothly around the universe.
The new models also solve the problem of the imbalance between the large amount of matter and the tiny amount of antimatter found in the universe. The standard big bang cosmology has no good explanation why the universe is not made up of half matter and half antimatter, since the processes which create the matter have been theoretically equal.
The change from one phase to another in the new models provides an opportunity for a process known as "spontaneous symmetry breaking," in which more matter than antimatter can be created.
There are other problems with the standard model that are solved by the new theories. But to the layman, part of the appeal of Gott's and others' versions of the creation is that they open the possibility that the universe did not begin with a singularity in the midst of nothingness.
Gott says that, although it's a matter of mathematics, he finds it somehow more comfortable to imagine the universe arising out of an apparently eternal mass, rather than bursting out of nothing.