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
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
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 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.