Stargate: Universe, Roger Penrose, and the Time Before Time

Stargate: Universe has started playing around with cosmology. (Warning: major plot spoiler ahead.) In a recent episode, it was revealed that there seems to be a message from a pre-big-bang universe coded into the cosmic microwave background radiation. Piecing together and deciphering this message appears to be starship Destiny’s mission.

Ironic, then, that this week in the real world, physicist Roger Penrose has put forward a scientific paper claiming to have discovered a signal from a pre-big-bang universe coded into the cosmic microwave background.

The new paper by Roger Penrose and V. G. Gurzadyan presents empirical evidence supporting Penrose’s theory of an infinitely old cyclic universe. (It’s a big-bang-without-big-crunch universe where the infinite expansion of the universe actually leads to a new big bang.) What Penrose and Gurzadyan have done is predict a kind of fossil signal from the previous incarnation of the universe, said where it might be found, and have found it. Whether the signal they’ve discovered in the cosmic microwave background radiation is spurious or the result of some other cause, nobody can yet say. It is, however, a compelling argument for the Conformal Cyclic Cosmology theory, and if this turns out to be true, it changes everything.

You know of the Fermi Paradox? The famous question of, “if aliens exist, why aren’t they here?” There’s a variant of it that applies to cyclic universes, which goes: “if aliens ever did exist, why can’t we see the evidence?” In other words, if any information can leak between the previous universe and a new one, then intelligent beings should be able to send a signal from their (dying) universe into the next, reborn one. This is exactly what’s happened in Stargate: Universe. In fact, we can go further: if an infinite series of universes preceded ours, then intelligence has had infinite time to perfect the transmission of information between universes, and therefore our universe should come with a manual…in fact, a whole encyclopedia, painted on the sky in the form of the microwave background.

This is where it gets interesting. Because Penrose’s empirical evidence is a random distribution of circular structures in the sky. If he’s right, and this really is a signal from a previous universe, then there are two basic possibilities:

  1. The pattern’s not random. It is, in fact, a signal, and Stargate: Universe is not actually science fiction at all…
  2. It is random, and therefore a sign that even over infinite time, intelligence has never had a significant enough impact on the universe to make any long-term difference whatsoever.

I vote for #1, just because I want us to launch our own Destiny some day. Of course, with questions like whether you can actually communicate between universes, the devil’s in the details. If you’ve got the time and the math you can delve further by investigating the cosmic censorship hypothesis.

Meanwhile, I’ll be watching TV. It turns out that it really can teach you the secrets of the universe.

Karl Schroeder has published seven novels through Tor Books. He divides his time between writing science fiction and consulting in the area of technology foresight. He is currently finishing a Masters degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation. Karl lives in Toronto with his wife and daughter, and a small menagerie.


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