Das Letzte Gericht

Apparently the world is due to end tomorrow, so I’ve saved quite a lot of money by not having done my Christmas shopping yet. Anyway, the forthcoming Apocalypse reminded me of the painting that I often use to introduce cosmology talks. I usually use this piece of Hieronymus Bosch Das letzte Gericht (The Last Judgement) to illustrate my feelings about the standard cosmological model:


The top part represents the concordance cosmology. It clearly features an eminent cosmologist surrounded by postdoctoral researchers. Everything appears to be in heavenly harmony, surrounded by a radiant glow of self-satisfaction. The trumpets represent various forms of exaggerated press coverage.

But if you step back from it, and get the whole thing in a proper perspective, you realise that there’s an awful lot going on underneath that’s not so pleasant or easy to interptet. I don’t know what’s going down below there, although the unfortunate figures slaving away in miserable conditions and suffering unimaginable torments, are obviously supposed to represent graduate students. The large knife visible in the bottom right corner clearly symbolises budget cuts looming in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

The main point is that the concordance model is based on rather strange foundations: nobody understands what the dark matter and dark energy are, for example. Even more fundamentally, the whole thing is based on a shotgun marriage between general relativity and quantum field theory which is doomed to fail somewhere along the line.

Far from being a final theory of the Universe I think we should treat our standard model as a working hypothesis and actively look for departures from it. I’m not at all against the model. As models go, it’s very successful. It’s a good one, but it’s still just a model.

5 Responses to “Das Letzte Gericht”

  1. SandraFromAcrossTheChannel Says:

    Very interesting and witty point of view !

  2. The physics we are so fond of is a magic product of our love for mathematical models. We say that nature is elegant in mathematical framework. Dirac always said beautiful equations will specify our reality though we do not have a mathematics for quantum methods except statistical probability. We very easily think of electrons in many orbits or even all joker quarks giving color and flavor to appease our ego Now time has come to re think and guide our post grads for a NEW PHYSICS but all Govt. thinking of fund cut when it is required more . New ideas are coming for long as crackpot wisdom which now we have to look into. All failed physics students are becoming crackpots to take revenge of old wrong doings by their examiners for giving zeros and infinities. Wrong ideas of Einstein gone unchecked where little correction could have saved the situation as early as 1930. Today the earth will be destroyed and we do not have much time. dt.21/12/12.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I hope you are right Phillip.

      Some people wasted a lot of money on apocalypse shelters, but they shouldn’t worry – it’s not the end of the world.

      • telescoper Says:

        You wait ages for a Horseman of the Apocalypse and then Four come along all at the same time!

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