What Happened Before the Big Bang? The New Philosophy of Cosmology

Maudlin_615An interview with Tim Maudlin in The Atlantic (photo by Ross Anderson):

Your group has identified the central goal of the philosophy of cosmology to be the pursuit of outstanding conceptual problems at the foundations of cosmology. As you see it, what are the most striking of those problems?

Maudlin: So, I guess I would divide that into two classes. There are foundational problems and interpretational problems in physics, generally –say, in quantum theory, or in space-time theory, or in trying to come up with a quantum theory of gravity– that people will worry about even if they're not doing what you would call the philosophy of cosmology. But sometimes those problems manifest themselves in striking ways when you look at them on a cosmological scale. So some of this is just a different window on what we would think of as foundational problems in physics, generally.

Then there are problems that are fairly specific to cosmology. Standard cosmology, or what was considered standard cosmology twenty years ago, led people to the conclude that the universe that we see around us began in a big bang, or put another way, in some very hot, very dense state. And if you think about the characteristics of that state, in order to explain the evolution of the universe, that state had to be a very low entropy state, and there's a line of thought that says that anything that is very low entropy is in some sense very improbable or unlikely. And if you carry that line of thought forward, you then say “Well gee, you're telling me the universe began in some extremely unlikely or improbable state” and you wonder is there any explanation for that. Is there any principle that you can use to account for the big bang state?