This week's Nobel prize announcement got me thinking again about something that has bugged me for a long time. Namely, why aren't we more skeptical of our current theories of the the universe?
This will be long, most of you will pass. Perhaps those with knowledge and who share my interest in cosmology, theoretical physics and space in general will join in.
So, Hubble discovers that the universe is expanding, conclusion: everything came from an infinitesimally small point smaller than an atom (?) and blew out into everything we see now in the Big Bang. Seems like a stretch but it's pretty much settled these days that that's how things started.
Using the observed expansion we measure back and deduce the universe is on the order of 13 billion years old, give or take. However, we discover structures in the universe that couldn't have formed in that time and appear to be much older. To fix that inconsistency we come up with inflation - for a brief moment soon after the Big Bang things expanded much faster than previously thought and then slowed down to the rate Hubble observed.
When we discover galaxies and acquire the technology to observe their rotation we find that the outer edges more faster than they should for the amount of observable matter in apparent violation of General Relativity's description of gravity. To fix that inconsistency we come up with dark matter to provide an infusion of gravity and account for the observed motion. For dark matter to be the explanation it has to account for something like 83% of the matter in the universe. Meaning that everything we see - you, me, stars, planets, dust, nebulae, etc. is a miniscule 17% of all the "stuff" in the universe. There is more out there that we can't see than we can.
Now, we've determined that rather than slowing due to gravity the universe's expansion is actually speeding up. We've come up with dark energy to explain that, and for it to fit with observation it has to account for something like 73% of the mass-energy out there. Again the energy we can directly observe and measure is miniscule compared to the stuff we can only deduce by observation.
It feels to me like we're inventing things to fit our observations akin to how we stuck to the idea of an earth centered system for so long:
The sun, moon and stars appeared to move around our seemingly still earth, so we concluded earth is at the center and everything orbits in in perfect circles.
Then we found some stars move in retrograde and named them the "wanderers" - planetos in Greek, now planets. Instead of rethinking the original earth-centered idea the first instinct was to come up with a theory that allowed the earth to remain at the center while explaining the observed planetary motion and we got epicycles - the planets must move in little circles while orbiting the earth.
When the first detailed measurements showed that the motions weren't perfect circles we just added epicycles to epicycles to make the idea fit the observation.
Then we discovered moons orbiting some of those planets, proof that things can orbit something other than the earth. However the insistence on an earth-centric system remained even though there was a much cleaner heliocentric system out there - put the sun at the center and make the orbits eccentric rather than circular and all those little epicycles go away.
I get that the Church was primary force perpetuating the earth centered system because it played into its theology and enabled it to maintain dominance. Without the Church we may have settled upon the heliocentric system centuries or millennia earlier (I believe a number of ancient civilizations grasped the concept).
I feel like we're in a similar position now. We've become so wedded to our current understanding (Big Bang, General Relativity, etc). that we keep bending over backwards to come up with outlandish ideas when our observations don't fit what the theories predict. I feel like there must be a simpler explanation out there.
I've heard of plasma cosmology which suggests a lot of the motion and structure we observe in the universe can be explained if the universe is even bigger and older than we think and not born of a big bang. What other scientific theories have you encountered out of the mainstream that seem to have a decent argument? I'd love to read up on them.