The Cosmological Principles

by Konrad Rudnicki

136 pages, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland, 1995

Review: Frank Thomas Smith

If you are not a cosmologist (or even if you are) and you would like to read something on the subject by a very knowledgeable scientist who has made an effort to present a history of Cosmological Principles in language that the layman can understand, you will have gone to the right place by reading this book.

Let’s start with a definition of sorts:

“Cosmology is a science concerned with the Universe as a whole, while astronomy deals with celestial bodies, their systems and related phenomena. If the entire Universe were observable, cosmology could be considered as just the most general section of astronomy. But most cosmologists and astronomers do not believe that the entire Universe is observable.

While the ancient thinkers believed in the existence of non-observable parts of our Universe consisting of imponderable sublime and invisible matter, according to most contemporary astronomers there is a surface called the “cosmological horizon”. No physical signal, no information can reach us from beyond this horizon. Thus the profound question of bringing the unobservable parts of the Universe under investigation remains a central problem in modern cosmology.

There are two possibilities. One is to consider cosmology as not belonging to the exact sciences but rather as a domain of metaphysics. Another is to extrapolate from the observable to the unobservable."

Cosmological principles are the assumptions which allow us to deduce the whole of nature on the basis of the observable to the unobservable. Not surprisingly, any study of cosmological principles must combine elements of astronomy, physics and philosophy.

The problem is that astronomers don’t know much about philosophy; physicists often aren’t well versed in astronomy and philosophy, and philosophers aren’t astronomers or physicists. Rudnicki nevertheless must assume that his readers will be aware of at least the basic elements of all three disciplines.

We may wonder what philosophy has to do with scientific research. But Rudnicki asserts that at least basic individual philosophy is found in every science. Looked at this way it seem obvious. Every scientist, after all, has some basic notions about the world and the Universe, as we all do. He may interpret facts materialistically or from a more spiritual viewpoint – or a combination of both. Cosmological results are especially conditioned by personal ways of thinking. This is what has cast doubts as to whether cosmology should count as an exact science at all.

Rudnicki starts about as far back as you can go; farther even than most scientists would admit. He starts with the cosmological principle of Ancient India. Naturally we can’t go very deeply here into all the Cosmological Principles from India to the present, but I’ll try to give you at least an idea at what the author attempts.

“According to the oldest Indian traditions, the Universe is understood to be the body of the highest, infinite spiritual being, and thus has some of his properties. If we attempt to render this into the language of contemporary science, we arrive at the following formulation: The Universe is infinite in space and time and is infinitely heterogeneous.”

This implies that our Earth is not a unique celestial body, and that many such “earths” preceded ours and that others will follow. Also, that there are many other “earths” of equal significance in the Universe. The fractal model of the Universe tends in this direction. However, cosmology based on the fractal structure is still far from the Indian worldview. An ancient Indian sage would probably complain that the Universe is much too complicated to be crammed into modern mathematical formulae. Although Rudnicki finds the ancient principles fascinating and an important forerunner of science, he definitely rejects any notion that scientific results of any importance can be achieved using ancient Indian or Egyptian methods. He has received no less than a hundred “scientific “ papers of that sort. He has no objection to them, “except that they were late by a few thousand years.”

The Ancient Greek Cosmological Principle

Several cultures arising after Ancient India, such as Iran, Egypt, Chaldea and Babylon, had definite views on celestial phenomena and contributed much to astronomy as a whole. However, no documents have been found to elucidate their views on the entire cosmos have been found – as is the case with the Bhagavad-Gita in respect to Ancient India. Greece, however, is very different. There are many documents describing the general philosophical assumption on which mathematical models of the Universe have been based.

The Greeks were probably the first culture to discover atheism – not quite in the same way we understand the word today, but a kind of intermediate stage to atheism. Most Greeks believed in gods, of course, but these gods were mostly concerned with earthly affairs. They believed in gods, but did not believe in God; they believed in spirits, but not in the spirit. Of course there were important exceptions, such as the highly spiritualized notion of the LOGOS of Heraclitus, or NUOS of Anaxagoras. But in general:

“There are two positive ways towards atheism. In the first, on does not accept the existence of the highest creator and ruler of the world, accepting only lower hierarchies of spirits … This way usually leads to superstitious belief in spirits of nature, and … to accepting the notion of inanimate laws of nature. The other way consists in accepting the existence of the highest creator or the highest principle of all being but denying the existence of lower spiritual hierarchies, especially those that have contact with the earth and individuals dwelling on it. This leads through sublime but usually dry considerations and adoration of the Creator towards searching for a philosophical principle of the highest necessity…. In present times this other tendency reappears as an attempt at reducing all spiritual phenomena to intellectual ones, all intellectual to mental, all mental to biological, all biological to chemical, all chemical to physical, and all physical to the unified theory of interactions. The entire content of the Universe thus is comprised in one set of mathematical equations – what a lofty goal! It makes Men gods, knowing everything good and evil. Both these opposite trends can be seen in the classical Greek culture, each of them tended from a different side to the same point: atheism.”
For the Greeks every reasonable, logical description of astronomical reality had to be geocentric. The Cosmological Principle of the Ancients, reflecting the common Greek outlook, can be described as follows:

Our Earth is the natural center of the Universe.

Generalizing further: the Universe does posses a distinguished center. This generalized assumption is fulfilled not only by the Ancients with spheres and circles, but also by models of Copernicus and Kepler (with the Sun as the center).

The Genuine Copernican Cosmological Principle

Copernicus constructed a new model of the Universe, with the sun at the center and our Earth and the other planets circling it. About a hundred years later it was replaced by Kepler’s model with elliptical orbits. But Giordano Bruno, born five years after Copernicus’ death, went farther and proclaimed that other stars are also suns with their own planetary systems. Thus the sun was no longer the center of the universe.
But the most important aspect of Copernicus’ work was what is called the Genuine Copernican Cosmological Principle:

“The Universe as observed from any planet looks much the same.”

Three models based on the Copernican Principle were developed: Copernicus’ own, Kepler’s and the lesser known model by Tycho Brahe, according to which the central place is occupied by the Earth (the Cosmological Principle of the Ancients), but the universe observed from any planet looks much alike (Copernican Principle).

We cannot go into all the variations of the “genuine” Copernican Principle here, but Rudnicki has something to say about them all, as steps to the more modern principles.

Copernicus essentially “materialized” the Universe. Although he did not go so far as to say that all celestial bodies have the same status as the earth, that is, material, he did so as far as the planets are concerned. This as of immense importance for our present worldview, for it soon followed that all celestial bodies must be material. The Church philosophers of the Middle Ages reserved an invisible place in the Universe (the Empyrean) for the highest spirituality – located in space beyond the fixed stars. They needed to protect at least heaven from materialism.   

“The progress of materialist knowledge brought about the situation of modern humanity which has to make use of many sharply distinct theoretical ideas in the fields of science and technology; these are its objects of everyday contemplation. The feelings and interests of humanity are at present connected almost exclusively with matter, not with any higher planes of existence. And so it happened that with Copernicus ontological materialism, which was first initiated as long ago as the Greco-Roman period, penetrated not only into cosmology but also throughout all science and even into the tenor of everyday life.”
One variation of the Copernican Principle is the “Perfect” or “Strong” Cosmological Principle. This principle attempts to overcome a basic problem in cosmology. Most contemporary cosmologists are convinced that our Universe is, beyond some point in its past, impenetrable for scientific investigation. Therefore, the problem of how to approach the time horizon is fundamental. The Perfect or Strong Principle states:

“The Universe observed from every point, in every direction, and at every time looks roughly the same”. This principle demands mathematical infinity of time and, in most cases, space. It neatly overcomes the time horizon, however.

The Perfect Principle’s adherents’ materialistic thinking is described by Rudnicki as follows:
“..if one accepts that all knowledge must be attained through physical means only, if one accepts that the human mind is the highest intelligence throughout the Universe, if one accepts that all knowledge about the Universe should be attainable for humanity, then all the physically constructed cosmological horizons have to be overcome. The Perfect Principle is considered a method of overcoming these horizons. But when we adopt the Steady-State model, the creation of matter must also be acknowledged. Can such creation be reconciled with the materialist worldview? Some people (cf. Rudnicki 1982) are of the opinion that the materialistic worldview is self-destructive”.
Copernicanism versus General Relativity

Strangely enough, Copernicanism and the Theory of Relativity are in a sense contradictory concepts. Einstein’s theory tends towards diversity, more individual, whereas Copernicus leads us to the homogeneous. According to Rudnicki, General Relativity is not responsible for producing Hubble’s Law (and thus the Big Bank theory), which derives from the Generalized Copernican Principle. In fact, General Relativity and the Copernican Principle tend to opposite directions. However, in 1927 Einstein created a “misalliance” of the two with his Universe model. Was this a mistake, Rudnicki asks, or another of Einstein’s great inventions. “However,” he writes, “it will be of interest to see, when the future development of mathematics permits, what kind of Universe models could be obtained by combining General Relativity with, for example, the Ancient Indian Cosmological Principle”.

The “Static” Model

In short: a homogeneously populated everlasting Universe with no expansion. A classic materialist model. What makes it interesting is that it was the official Soviet cosmology during Stalin’s time. The communist party proclaimed it as the only model corresponding to the actual Universe. Propagation of any other model was prohibited by law!         

However, “The simpler, the more elegant the theory, the less it is concerned with reality…”

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

The first scholarly antecedents to the Anthropic Principle were, according to Barrow and Tipler (1987), around 500 B.C. However, as far as modern science is concerned, we only have to go back as far as 1974, when Igor Karachentsev and Brandon Carter opined that, although the Copernican Principle was acceptable, it needed an “ecological correction”. The gist of the meaning is that the probability of our existence in the Universe is extremely low: the location of our galaxy, our particular place in the galaxy, the presence of water and carbon, etc., etc. Therefore, the probability that similar intelligent life-forms exist anywhere else in the observable Universe is at least just as low. (Sorry to disappoint extraterrestrial fans.) The location of a conscious observer in the Universe is, necessarily, a very special one, due to this “ecological correction” to the Copernican Principle. “It could be said that the Copernican Principle removed man from cosmological considerations. The ecological correction brought man back into focus…” In order to make the theoretical observer in Einstein’s General Relativity, who could be anywhere in the Universe, real, we must place him in on our earth. Hawking (1988) said that “We see the Universe the way it is because if it were different, we would not be here to observe it.”  There are, however, many objections to the anthropic principle, such as: in other Universes with different physical properties, conscious beings who are not human could exist. Rudnicki goes into considerable detail about the idea of numerous, or even infinite universes, and quantum mechanics, but seems to remain neutral on the subject.

The Final Anthropic Principle and The Big Bang/Crunch

According to Barrow and Tipler, there are three versions of the Anthropic Principle: the weak and the strong version and the third, the Final Anthropic Principle. We can only deal briefly with the latter here. It is provided in the form of a hypothesis:
“Every civilization is able to attain a point from where it can not only defend itself from inner and outer perils but can also create (construct) other beings more intelligent and more resistant to the physical condition of the Universe than the members of the civilization themselves (computer construction, genetic engineering, etc.)”
Computers count as intelligent beings since, as the authors put it, “in the behavioristic sense”, they do act as living, intelligent beings. Such a civilization can conquer ever-larger parts of the Universe and get in contact with other civilizations. It can survive up to the moment of the Big Crunch (when the Universe collapses on itself) or, if the Universe is to expand forever, survive over enormous cosmic epochs.

In either case, however, the time spans are so enormous that conditions will change to such an extent that neither today’s people nor their natural offspring are likely to survive. No problema: we are becoming so smart that we will be able to construct artificial descendents which can live on ... and on … under adverse conditions such as extremely lower density of matter (perpetual expansion) or infinite density (Big Crunch). By the time the Crunch becomes immanent, the civilized, intelligent automata will have infinite knowledge. That will be the happy (sic) end of human (sic) civilization. (If you, dear reader, consider this to be the most absurd idea you ever heard, well, in a way I agree with you. Nevertheless, it worries me, for things seem to be going in that direction.)

John A. Wheeler, in his forward to Barrow’s and Tipler’s book (1986) writes:

“What is the Anthropic Principle? Is it a theorem? No. Is it a mere tautology, equivalent to the trivial statement 'The universe has to be such as to admit life, somewhere, at some point in history, because we are here?’ No. Is it a proposition testable by its predictions? Perhaps. Then what is the status of the anthropic principle?”

The he urges the reader to make his own judgment.

Georg Unger (1991) after discussing the question from the Goethean viewpoint, considers the anthropic principle to be nothing more than the idle musing of frustrated scientists!

The Principle of Aesthetic Appeal

A hypothesis about the Universe should not avoid multiplying entities merely for the sake of simplicity (Ockham’s Razor), but should be simple in the aesthetic sense of the word. “Cosmos” is the Greek word for something ordered - beautiful, aesthetic and not too complicated. “When we comprehend the etymology of the word ‘cosmos’, then the principle of aesthetic appeal is inherent in the very expression ‘cosmological principle’. We should keep it in mind.”

The Gaia Hypothesis

This hypothesis (Lovelock 1979) arose simultaneously with the anthropic principle. The latter states that the Universe is capable of producing and maintaining intelligent beings. Gaia considers the earth as a self-aware organism endowed with some kind of “feelings” towards earthlings. Extending this hypothesis to all the celestial bodies, we obtain a Universe which is not only able to produce and maintain intelligent beings, but is also intelligent itself. This is close to the ancient Indian view that the Universe is the body of some spiritual being – possibly the highest spiritual being.

Goetheanism in Science

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is known as Germany’s greatest poet, but he once described himself as a scholar who wrote poetry at his leisure. He wrote scientific papers in many fields, perhaps the most famous once being his theory of colors. In total, these are small contributions to science. But it is more his method of thinking (or theory of knowledge) rather than the results of his research which appeals to scientists who call themselves Goetheanists. A theory of knowledge should not rely on any particular research discipline. It cannot depend on any logical or scientific assumptions. To construct such a theory, the Goetheanists propose a picture of the process of cognition which can be taken for granted or rejected outright. This is obviously a matter of personal preference.
Rudnicki relies mainly on Rudolf Steiner’s interpretation of Goetheanism (1886), and goes on the say:

“The process of cognition (i.e., the association of a perception with the perception of a thought) is a kind of revelation. Goetheanism sees no fundamental difference between research done in mathematics, physics, humanities or theology, provided that we mean real research and not just the construction of arbitrary images.”

There are several levels of thinking:
1)    notions – able to explain the perceptions in the domain of physical and chemical phenomena.
2)    Ideas – complex associations of notions required to explain concepts subject to inner metamorphoses, i.e., plant life.
3)    A “higher level of thinking” – needed if we wish to investigate feeling creatures such as animals.
4)    A “still higher level” when studying self-conscious human beings.

According to the author, in physical cosmology we do not go beyond the physical phenomena, not even with the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, which so far has only been applied to the physical shape of the Universe. In order to do so, he suggests that we would have to develop the aforementioned higher levels of thinking.
“Thinking is able to overcome the illusions of the senses as well as logical errors by recognizing them and explaining them. After all, the illusions are real illusions and the errors are actual errors; in other words, they too belong to reality. The phenomenon of the Sun moving around the Earth is commonly perceived and is as real as that of the Earth moving around the Sun, which is established by the mental ordering of other perceptions. By thinking we decide which way of looking at things is the most suitable one for a particular problem. Thus it does not surprise a Goetheanist that geocentric coordinates are still used for some astronomical purposes.”
In one of his famous aphorisms, Goethe said:

“Whoever cannot distinguish theory from reality is like someone who cannot distinguish between the scaffolding and the building itself.”

A Goetheanist (and Rudnicki obviously considers himself to be one) working in cosmology hopes to gain new perspectives on the construction of the Universe as a whole. He attempts to do this with the help of basic cosmological phenomena and without any cosmological principles – not an easy task. But even when he does consider them, he does not stick to one, but considers them all as various values of one parameter within the morphological box used.

In a way this is a strange book, published in English by a Polish university, poorly bound (my copy is already falling apart). Although the English is very good, there are errors involving missing articles typical for a Slavic native speaker, not to mention the typographical errors. If this is the extremely important and well-written book I consider it to be, it deserves much better, including a professional editor.    

 Konrad Rudnicki is a professor at the Jagiellonian University and former Director of the University Observatory in Cracow. He is a member of the Free European Academy of Science (Holland), and of the Commission of Galaxies of the International Astronomical Union, Senior Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology (1965-67), visiting professor at Rice University, USA and member of the Mathematical-Astronomical Section at the Goetheanum, Switzerland.