Influenced by the renaissance of general relativity that came to pass in the 1950s, the character of cosmology fundamentally changed in the 1960s as it became a well-established empirical science. Although observations went to dominate its practice, extra-theoretical beliefs and principles reminiscent of methodological debates in the 1950s kept playing an important tacit role in cosmological considerations. Specifically, belief in cosmologies that modeled a “closed universe” based on Machian insights remained influential. The rise of the dark matter problem in the early 1970s serves to illustrate this hybrid methodological character of cosmological science.
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Contributions to methodological discussions on inflation, string theory, and the multiverse often emphasize either empirical data or deductive thought. For this opposition, see, e.g., Ellis and Silk (2014).
Note that the idea of an expanding universe did not intrinsically involve the hypothesis of a cosmic origin or what was known as Lemaître’s “primeval-atom” hypothesis. This idea was mainly celebrated by Lemaître and Gamov, but it was no integral part of relativistic cosmology at that time. Furthermore, note that the name “relativistic cosmology” is very much a convention. Some form of relativity was necessarily used in all cosmologies (cf. McCrea 1953, 350). For a detailed exposé on early relativistic cosmology, see especially Kragh (1996).
After the revision of the Hubble constant by Baade in 1952, the mentioned time-scale problem became less problematic for relativistic cosmology, although it did not fully disappear. See also Bondi (1952, 140).
Many authors used different terminology for these two styles. William McCrea, for example, wrote about “deductive” and “astrophysical” attitudes in cosmology (McCrea 1953, 332).
As with many physical concepts, the exact formulation of the cosmological principle differed between authors. Dennis Sciama formulated the cosmological principle as “[e]ach particle always sees an isotropic distribution of particles around it” (Sciama 1960, 312). McVittie put it slightly differently: “[t]he development of the universe appears to be the same for each observer of an equivalent set, every one of whom assigns co-ordinates by the same method” (McVittie 1952, 96).
In a review of cosmology in 1953, McCrea wrote: “All the theories to be discussed require their models to conform to the cosmological principle (CP), though we shall see that they do so for somewhat different reasons” (McCrea 1953, 326).
See Milne (1935). In 1958 Lemaître stated: “As far as I can see, the inclination to rely on an a priori principle is related to Leibnitz [sic] philosophical attitude which made him to believe that there is some esthetical design in the Universe or even that the Universe is determined as being the best possible one” (Lemaitre 1958, 2).
Many elaborate studies have been done on Mach’s principle, its general importance, and its role in the theory of general relativity. See specifically Barbour and Pfister (1995). The writing of a longue durée history of the principle seems to have not yet been attempted.
Einstein was the first who had formulated Mach’s ideas on inertia as a “principle” (Einstein 1918, 16).
For example, Bondi wrote that “[f]or in any theory which contemplates a changing universe, explicit and implicit assumptions must be made about the interactions between distant matter and local physical laws. These assumptions are necessarily of a highly arbitrary nature, and progress on such a basis can only be indefinite and uncertain. […] If the uniformity of the universe is sufficiently great none of these difficulties arise” (Bondi 1952, 12).
As both Chris Smeenk (2014) and Carl Hoefer (1995) have clearly spelled out, Einstein first tried to use Mach’s statement as a boundary condition to the field equations. Later, in his 1917 cosmology paper, he had turned away from this perspective. Instead, he used the fact that a spatially closed universe has no boundary region. Einstein noted: “[f]or if it were possible to regard the universe as a continuum which is finite (closed) with respect to its spatial dimensions, we should have no need at all of any such boundary conditions” (Einstein 1987, 427). For an in-depth discussion of Einstein’s 1917 paper, see O’Raifeartaigh et al. (2017).
In 1957, George Abell wrote that “[p]rior to 1949, only a few dozen clusters were known. […] In recent years, however, two independent photographic programs have indicated that clusters of galaxies are far more numerous than was formerly thought, and that indeed they may be fundamental condensations of matter in the universe” (Abell 1957, 3).
National Research Council (1973, 327).
More examples of textbooks are Robertson and Noonan’s “Relativity and Cosmology” (1968), Wolfgang Rindler’s “Essential Relativity: Special, General, and Cosmological” (1969), and Zeldovich and Novikov’s “Relativistic Astrophysics: Stars and Relativity” (1971).
National Research Council (1973, 349).
National Research Council (1972, 60).
This notion is related, although distinct, from what Blum et al. call “the astrophysical turn of general relativity” (Blum et al. 2018, 8). They introduce this term to signify the refocusing of the research agendas of relativists because of the astronomical discoveries of the 1960s. What I try to describe here with a “cosmological turn” is aimed to be more inclusive: it is the change during the 1960s, in which astronomical practices more generally – and not just relativity scholars – turned toward understanding the structure and evolution of the universe.
Merleau-Ponty and Morando (1976) seem to use two interpretations of “The Rebirth of Cosmology,” the title of their book: either as one of both cosmological revolutions instigated by Newton and Einstein or in the sense of the narrower period in which cosmology had transformed to be the frontier of science by 1976. I use it in the latter sense.
In the 1950s Ryle noted “[c]osmologists always lived in a happy state of being able to postulate theories which had no chance of being disproved […]” (Ryle quoted in Kragh 1996, 309).
“Press Release: The 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics.” https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1974/press-release/. Accessed 30 Jan 2018. For more on the curious relationship between the Nobel Prize and the astronomical sciences, see Kragh (2017).
In a universe without a cosmological constant, q 0 and ρ are directly related by the equation ρ∕ρ c = 2q 0, with ρ c the critical density.
J. Richard Gott received a Ph.D. in 1973, Jim Gunn in 1966, David Schramm in 1971, and Beatrice Tinsley in 1966.
In a 1972 review, George Field wrote that “[t]he main interest in IGM [inter-galactic matter] stems from the evidence that galactic matter constitutes only a small fraction of the critical cosmological density of matter and energy […]” (Field 1972, 227–228).
Note that it was even the case that a tenfold increase in galactic masses for the authors meant that “observations may be consistent” with a hundredfold increase in the universe mass density (from 0.01 to 1).
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I am most grateful to Helge Kragh, Sjang ten Hagen, and the editors of this volume, Alexander Blum, Roberto Lalli, and Jürgen Renn, for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Many thanks go also to Jeroen van Dongen and Gianfranco Bertone for their guidance, suggestions, and inspiring discussions on the project.
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de Swart, J. (2020). Closing in on the Cosmos: Cosmology’s Rebirth and the Rise of the Dark Matter Problem. In: Blum, A.S., Lalli, R., Renn, J. (eds) The Renaissance of General Relativity in Context. Einstein Studies, vol 16. Birkhäuser, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50754-1_8
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