Cosmology and 21st Century Culture
The theory of Cosmic Inflation was proposed two decades ago by Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, and others. It is the only explanation we have today for the initial conditions that led to the Big Bang.# It says that for an extremely small fraction of a second at the beginning of the Big Bang, the universe expanded exponentially, inflating countless random quantum events in the process, and leaving the newly created spacetime faintly wrinkled on all size scales. All large structures in the universe today grew from these quantum fluctuations, enormously inflated in scale.
Inflation is also the controlling metaphor of our culture in the present epoch. Not only is the human population inflating; so too are the average technological power and the resource use of each individual. The human race is addicted to exponential growth, but this obviously cannot continue at the present rate. In a finite environment, inflation must end, however cleverly we may postpone or disguise the inevitable.
The single most important question for the present generation may be how global civilization can make the transition gracefully from inflating consumption to a sustainable level. But the cosmic transition from inflation to the slow and steady expansion that followed the Big Bang shows that ending inflation does not mean that all growth must stop, even though many people trying to save the planet assume so.
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