Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Joseph Haydn's Schöpfung Performed by Camilla Tilling, Mark Padmore, Hanno Müller-Brachmann, Chores und Symphonieorchesters des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Directed by Bernard Haitink

Something to accompany your reading of this article about an astrophysicist and "his revolutionary prequel to the Big Bang theory" — Alan Guth: What made the Big Bang bang. The first few paragraphs:
    There’s a moment near the start of Joseph Haydn’s classical masterpiece The Creation, after the bass soloist slowly sings, “In the beginning, God made Heaven and Earth,” and after the angelic choir softly joins in with “And God said: Let there be light.” There is silence, and then the choir returns to intone, almost mistily, “And there was light.”

    On that last word, “light,” the choir and orchestra explode in a fortissimo C-major chord to create an experience that is both gorgeous and transcendent.

    If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine the Big Bang erupting around you.

    Of that musical moment, the late physicist Victor Weisskopf once said, “There cannot be a more beautiful and impressive artistic rendition of the beginning of everything.” Weisskopf, a crucial figure in the development of both the atomic bomb and the nuclear disarmament movement that followed it, regularly played the oratorio for his students at MIT.

    He was a lover of classical music. But on the cosmic question of how it all began, this giant of science knew there was another reason to seek insight from a deeply religious 18th-century composer. Weisskopf and his fellow 20th-century scientists fundamentally had no answer for how the universe began.

    The theory that came to be known as the Big Bang started its long gestation nearly a century ago. Eventually, it won the backing of science and, after it got its catchy name on a BBC broadcast in 1949, the general public. Today, most of us walk around assuming that the Big Bang explains how the universe began. But look at it closely, and you realize it doesn’t.

    The Big Bang theory offers an explanation for how the early universe expanded and cooled and how matter congealed, from a primordial soup into stars, planets, and galaxies. What it describes, then, is the aftermath of the Bang. But it is effectively silent on why or how that first massive expansion happened or where all the original matter came from.

    As Alan Guth, the physicist who holds the MIT professorship named after Weisskopf, puts it, “The Big Bang theory says nothing about what banged, why it banged, or what happened before it banged.” Guth has been using that line for years, and it almost always draws an appreciative laugh from his audience, whether that audience is made up of scientists or laypeople. It has a piercing quality to it, reminding us that we’d overlooked something that should have been obvious, like leaving the house with a freshly pressed shirt and perfectly knotted tie but no pants.

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