No cosmological concept is as widely known as the big bang: from a state without physical order, lacking even space and time, matter appeared. How could so flippant a term denote so profound an idea?
A friend of ours at M.I.T., a skeptical experimenter, often finds himself at work amid that dreamier and indulgent society on our Pacific Coast. Last summer he was in a Caltech audience, his peers in celebratory mode. The stage was held by a performance artist who entertained with original songs. She describes herself as "Bette Midler meets Carl Sagan, with a touch of Tom Lehrer and Mae West." A spotlight lit the tall performer, her gleaming gown ornamented with patches that, though colorless, dispersed the white beam into rich spectral hues. Another performer might regard such visual effects as arcane stagecraft, but not this artist, whose day job is based on years of graduate studies in physics. For Lynda Williams, instructor in physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University, "physics is such a lyrical subject."
This article was originally published with the title The Big Bang: Wit or Wisdom?.