University of Rochester

Smolin to Present Controversial Views on Origin of Universe

September 11, 1997

Lee Smolin, a physicist who has made waves with a new book comparing the development of the universe to a kind of cosmic natural selection, will present his views at the University of Rochester later this month.

Smolin's semi-technical talk, titled "Critical Phenomena in Cosmology and Astrophysics," will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, September 24 in Room 109 of Bausch & Lomb Hall on the University's River Campus. He will discuss cosmological and astrophysical applications of theories from biology and self-organized systems. The lecture will follow a 20-minute tea in Room 374 of Bausch & Lomb Hall. Both are free and open to the public.

In his new book, The Life of the Cosmos, Smolin, a physics professor at Pennsylvania State University, tries to explain the incredible combination of circumstances that have come together to create a universe capable of sustaining life. His final conclusion: Our universe is the product of a cosmological evolution that's worked steadily over billions of years to spawn new universes capable themselves of self-propagating and of supporting the formation of life. Just as human lineage can be traced back to small molecules in a primordial fog, Smolin asserts that our universe is the progeny of countless simpler ones.

Smolin holds that new universes arise from black holes, which form when large stars collapse into an area of gravity so intense that nothing -- not even light -- can escape. In his theory, our universe was born of a black hole in another universe, and the "Big Bang" thought to be responsible for our universe's formation may be only the latest of many throughout history. Smolin also believes that our universe, in turn, has the capacity to spawn many billions of others. The cosmos according to Smolin teems with universes, dominated by those that are "fittest" -- those best able to produce the stars and black holes that allow for cosmic reproduction.

Scientists of many stripes have reacted strongly to Smolin's work, which has drawn considerable attention even outside of academia. Some researchers have called it thought-provoking and original, while others deride it as baseless speculation.

Smolin's visit is sponsored by the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy.