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In this lecture, I would like to discuss whether time itself has a beginning, and whether it will have an end. All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology. Yet it is now taken for granted. We are not yet certain whether the universe will have an end. When I gave a lecture in Japan, I was asked not to mention the possible re-collapse of the universe, because it might affect the stock market. However, I can re-assure anyone who is nervous about their investments that it is a bit early to sell: even if the universe does come to an end, it won’t be for at least twenty billion years. By that time, maybe the GATT trade agreement will have come into effect.The time scale of the universe is very long compared to that for human life. It was therefore not surprising that until recently, the universe was thought to be essentially static, and unchanging in time. On the other hand, it must have been obvious, that society is evolving in culture and technology. This indicates that the present phase of human history can not have been going for more than a few thousand years. Otherwise, we would be more advanced than we are. It was therefore natural to believe that the human race, and maybe the whole universe, had a beginning in the fairly recent past. However, many people were unhappy with the idea that the universe had a beginning, because it seemed to imply the existence of a supernatural being who created the universe. They preferred to believe that the universe, and the human race, had existed forever. Their explanation for human progress was that there had been periodic floods, or other natural disasters, which repeatedly set back the human race to a primitive state.This argument about whether or not the universe had a beginning, persisted into the 19th and 20th centuries. It was conducted mainly on the basis of theology and philosophy, with little consideration of observational evidence. This may have been reasonable, given the notoriously unreliable character of cosmological observations, until fairly recently. The cosmologist, Sir Arthur Eddington, once said, ‘Don’t worry if your theory doesn’t agree with the observations, because they are probably wrong.’ But if your theory disagrees with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it is in bad trouble. In fact, the theory that the universe has existed forever is in serious difficulty with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The Second Law, states that disorder always increases with time. Like the argument about human progress, it indicates that there must have been a beginning. Otherwise, the universe would be in a state of complete disorder by now, and everything would be at the same temperature. In an infinite and everlasting universe, every line of sight would end on the surface of a star. This would mean that the night sky would have been as bright as the surface of the Sun. The only way of avoiding this problem would be if, for some reason, the stars did not shine before a certain time.In a universe that was essentially static, there would not have been any dynamical reason, why the stars should have suddenly turned on, at some time. Any such “lighting up time” would have to be imposed by an intervention from outside the universe. The situation was different, however, when it was realised that the universe is not static, but expanding. Galaxies are moving steadily apart from each other. This means that they were closer together in the past. One can plot the separation of two galaxies, as a function of time. If there were no acceleration due to gravity, the graph would be a straight line. It would go down to zero separation, about twenty billion years ago. One would expect gravity, to cause the galaxies to accelerate towards each other. This will mean that the graph of the separation of two galaxies will bend downwards, below the straight line. So the time of zero separation, would have been less than twenty billion years ago.
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