John Dobson's Talk to the AVAC, March 14, 2003

We were fortunate to have John Dobson come to speak to our club for the third time in as many years at our last Club meeting.  Although he had recently come back from an entire summer of touring Russia and the Ukraine, talking with amateur astronomy groups, he didn't want to talk about the trip.  He wanted to talk to us again about his ‘Recycling Model’ of the universe.  So, John being John, he did just that.  It certainly was an interesting lecture, and thought provoking too.  It's interesting to me to hear views that oppose mainstream Astrophysics and Cosmology, if only because they stir up the pot a little bit.  Even though the mainstream scientific community holds up evidence (and a whole lot of evidence) that points them in the direction of the Big Bang, John points at ‘dark matter’ as being a major inconsistency in their theory.  It is  seen as problematic by proponents of the Big Bang model, but theoretical astrophysicists are looking into ways of tying it into the Grand Unified Theory and to explain the underlying physics of everything along with it.  The problem of dark matter is not as much an insurmountable wall as an obstacle that cosmologists are working diligently to overcome – with every expectation of success at this point.


While much of John's talk was at a very high level, it's important that our members keep a balanced view of the talk as just ONE side of a cosmological debate that has many factions.  John's views are interesting, as are those presented by others.  For balance, the Club needs to bring in a "Big Bang" proponent to show us in simple terms, about all of the evidence that has swayed a large majority of the world’s top astrophysicists towards the Big Bang model of the universe.  There are other sides too, other models, other philosophies.  Perhaps this is what makes cosmology so interesting - there is no black and white, right and wrong.  Philosophy can be proposed, debated, accepted or rejected, but at the end of the day any debate would have to admit that much about the Truth about the origins of the universe is still unknown - despite our attempts at catching a glimpse of it through simulations and mathematical models.  Not a single one of us was there during the initial moments to tell the rest of us how it REALLY was.


I must offer a correction to one thing John said during his talk.  He mentioned a couple of times that the cosmologists putting forth the Big Bang model were developing new physics to match the model, instead of matching the model to the physics.  The inference was that scientists are playing funny games to get everything to work out in favor of their pet theory.  These top scientists, including Nobel Prize winning astrophysicists and astronomers, are very smart women and men.  They will not bend the truth just to get something to work out the right way.  Science at this level is subject to rigorous peer review of each and every concept.  An idea only gains acceptance after being subject to many different arguments and experimental criteria.  We have so much to learn about the universe, and the Big Bang model has held up extremely well to date.  Scientists use any apparent discrepancies to focus their research in specific directions that they need to understand better.  They have certainly found 'new physics' as they pursued their investigations, but they haven't adapted it to fit the Big Bang model, instead they have slightly evolved the Big Bang model itself.  In doing so they have gained further insight into the workings of the universe, and have been able to propose new quantifiable, testable hypotheses, to prop up their model.  (Please notice I did not say 'prove').


John's talk was ultimately one that mixed elements of physics, personal theory, and existentialism all together for a very entertaining talk.  Please accept it in the spirit it was intended; to provoke thought, question the status quo, and to encourage debate.  And John loves to debate nearly as much as the subject he speaks about!


Tossing flyers out to the members! John asking for questions..."What shall we talk about?"  (The answer is cosmology)
  John writes the first of three equations on the board.
John Answers Questions after the meeting. (John Dobson, seated, Fred Ley, Jeremy Amarant, and guest. John, Jeremy Amarant, and Donna Smith.