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2018 September 03: What Universe? is now in its second editon thrid prnting in hardback. For more details go to: What Universe?.

2015 Janaury 15:


2015 July 24: As stated earlier, a concise edition of What Universe? is available as of today, 24 July. Pre-orders have indicated that the 100 copy, limited edition will not meet the demand. We are therefore making this edition available on a “print by order” basis for the foreseeable future.

Richard Helmann
Spring Ast LIX

What Universe?


J C Vetterlein (2015).


A review by Derek Hands.  


The author makes his case for a fresh look at cosmology by rejecting at the outset any notion of "a" (indefinite article) or "the" (definite article) universe or cosmos. He challenges cosmologists to define unambiguously their terms of reference, explaining what they signify when they use the words cosmos and universe. 


Are we to infer that most people's understanding of universe refers to a physical form, a physical "entity" (the precise word used by the author) with defined boundaries? Vetterlein rejects the notion of structure and goes instead for "process". If asked for a definition of universe he gives us: “All the phenomenon we have observed to date in our physical environment, from viruses to nascent galaxies at the threshold of visibility from planet Earth.” But, as he points out, that moment of "knowledge" is changing with time, there is no instant precise enough to give us a comprehensive picture of what we are attempting to talk about!


Furthermore: " Of course, this is a compromise definition since it would appear to leave out all the phenomenon we human creatures have not observed, opening up territory on another vast scale. And it should be noted emphatically that the two words “to date” have momentous significance".


For the author there can be no definitive, no everythingthe only reality is transience. Time is the only true dimension in that it affords the realisation of substance through process. To think of time as being created is itself a nonsense since for any event to occur a continuum is required and time, for all its ambiguities, is the only continuum of which we have cognizance.


The author avoids analogy wherever possible and eschews the use of advanced mathematical argument. (Mathematics is good at proving itself right but seldom admits to being wrong. "The physical world recognizes neither number nor formula".) And so contrary to others in the field who wish to dismiss metaphysics and philosophy as irrelevant in cosmological discussions, the author prefers to keep an "open mind".


Clarity of expression is at the heart of this book. To talk of universe without laying down the parameters for meaning and understanding for the word would be like discussing water without any mention of pressure or temperature (if you will excuse the analogy!). 


Derek Hands






The use of the word matter on page 3 (What Univeres?), it is worth bearing in mind the following:


Wikipedia in its extensive article on “Matter” in a brief summary states:


The term "matter" is used throughout physics in a bewildering variety of contexts: for example, one refers to "condensed matter physics",[85] "elementary matter", "partonic" matter, "dark" matter, "anti"-matter, "strange" matter, and "nuclear" matter. In discussions of matter and antimatter, normal matter has been referred to by Alfvén as koinomatter (Gk. common matter). It is fair to say that in physics, there is no broad consensus as to a general definition of matter, and the term "matter" usually is used in conjunction with a specifying modifier.


 What Universe?


12 Septemebr 2014. Dr Margaret (Maggie) Ebuoluwa Aderin-Pocock on "Big Bang".


Dr Margaret (Maggie) Ebuoluwa Aderin-Pocock has recently become involved with the BBC's "Sky at Night" series.

“Maggie”, as she is known widely, has had a very varied and interesting career. In a recent article she is found joining in discussions on “Big Bang”. Thus:


We had high hopes that perhaps for once somebody might explain what they meant when they use the word “universe”, but NO!

The article continues:

“People talk about the universe starting with a Big Bang, but how could we possibly know anything about an event that happened billions of years ago – before our planet was even formed?

Even if the birth of the universe came out of the most violent expansion, then could it be possible that evidence of the Big Bang still resounds today?

Such was the force of that expansion that maybe there is evidence of that tremendous energy that we can still detect.

As light takes millions of years to travel the vast distances of the universe, looking out into space is a bit like looking back in time. Could that tell us what the universe was like just after the Big Bang?

By observing how galaxies are moving away from us, we might be able to work out where they came from. Could that tell us that everything started from a single point?

So is it possible to know whether the Big Bang actually happened?”

All rather run of the mill stuff, I’m afraid, a sort of talking down to we mere mortals whom, it would appear, lack a grain of common sense.

We offer the following as antidote:

In our humble opinion any discussion on matters cosmological should commence with a thorough enunciation in the use of the words "cosmos" and/or "universe". All too frequently such discussions are launched a priori, that is to say with the assumption that we all agree on the meaning of the word/s used.

The discussion will then ensue on the lines that what is to be implied by the word “universe” is something akin to a physical entity and, moreover, a nonpareil to boot!

Scale (dimensions) will emphasize the immensity of this structure (again “structure” is to be implied) with distances soon being quoted in terms of “light years”.

All this is done, it would appear, in order to seek an answer to a fundamental question, viz: how “old” might this universe be in years, and of course, where did it all come from?

To our limited intelligence all this smacks of sensationalism rather than a process of scientific reasoning. Why?

First, let us have a definition for “universe” or “cosmos”. We offer the following:

“All the phenomenon we have observed to date in our physical environment, from viruses to nascent galaxies at the threshold of visibility from planet Earth.”

Of course, this is a compromise definition since it would appear to leave out all the phenomenon we human creatures have not observed, opening up territory on another vast scale.

Supposing we agree upon the definition for universe just given above, may we now attempt another even more tricky definition for “time”? Indeed, is it possible to come up with a formulation in words that will adequately demonstrate our understanding of the word in all its varied usage? Is everyday language (in any tongue) up to the task, or must we resort to the language of mathematics? (Be aware that mathematics is good a proving itself “right” but seldom, if ever, admits to being wrong.)

Time is so inexorably tied up with our awareness of space that it is often bracketed in words as one, thus “space-time”. At the outset of this account we saw how great (large) distances would be expressed in units of time in the form of light years. (In astronomy we have alternative units for distance, notably the parsec, but this is hardly practical when expressing distances beyond our galaxy, the Milky Way.)

So, inevitably where “time” is concerned our arguments become progressively detailed and complicated as no better illustrated in Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (distinguish from Special Relativity). Is there any hope, therefore, for we ordinary mortals to have an understanding of the route by which cosmologists come up with their sweeping statements on “Big Bang”?

We would suggest “time” itself can only be understood through function. Transience is the only reality from life, and in common with life, things (matter if you prefer) likewise come and go by processes permitted through what we refer to as time.

And what of this word "space"?

It would appear we may be in something of a cleft stick here, for in our very definition a word may occur that requires further elucidation until the process becomes a vicious circle. Such a condition is sometimes referred to as the "axiomatic bind", or where do we go from here?

We have given a definition for "universe". This embraces concepts of both space and time and so it would seem appropriate at this point to attempt a definition for both space and time.

Stephen Hawking, well-known for popularising cosmology as demonstrated in his two books "A Brief History of Time" and "The Universe in a Nutshell", uses the terms space-time and spacetime (meant to be taken as synonymous presumably). In the latter book, we have from the glossary. Spacetime: "The four dimensional space where points are events". The glossary does not give anything on "space". On the other hand, "A Brief History of Time", features at some length concepts for both space and space-time.

Hawking's discussions quickly evolve in a way that would have us believe that simple definitions for space are not possible without recourse to mathematical analysis. Indeed, Hawking takes a rather singular view on "enlightenment". Thus from Eureka (The Times) Issue 12 September 2010—Science, Life, The Planet, we have: “Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”


Referring to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), we have a wide range of definitions. Smaller editions of the OED give, for example: continuous expanse in which things exist and move; . . .

In the great tome itself, we have well down in the list of options:

7.II.7 Metaph. Continuous, unbounded, or unlimited extension in every direction, regarded as void of matter, or without reference to this. Freq. coupled with time.

This latter is of interest to us since it prompts a notion of the infinite.

If space is empty (unoccupied) it could be reasoned that it is boundless and therefore of inexpressible extent. Only when space commences to be host to matter have we any conception of degree.

It would appear, therefore, that in our language we make way for concepts of the infinite. From this, it would be reasonable, in our opinion, to credit what we might call a "universe" as boundless not so much in terms of physical size, but in its duration: there is no beginning, there is no end, there is only what is happening.

From this, we suggest there is only ONE true dimension and that is "time" itself.




17 March 2014: The most recent cosmological utterances.


Cosmic inflation: 'Spectacular' discovery hailed By Jonathan Amos (Science correspondent, BBC News).


17 March 2014 “Researchers believe they have found the signal left in the sky by the super-rapid expansion of space that must have occurred just fractions of a second after everything came into being.”


We would have to reflect on the naivety of such statements that include the word “everything”. It never ceases to amaze me how intelligent workers in the field of cosmology can continue to thrive on the notion of a universe as a physical entity. I have repeatedly to point out that cosmology is no more nor no less than an exercise in human ingenuity.

Amos continues:

“Everything we see today - the galaxies, the stars, the planets - was imprinted at that moment."


Comment. A sweeping statement by any standards but it omits to mention my protest!


Examine just the one word “moment”. The theory requires that time came into the equation along with the rest. So what do they offer as a “time” continuum in order for the word moment (instant) to have meaning or credibility?


Even clumsier is the use of the word “everything” then to be followed by a few familiar “items”.


Of course there is no reason why you should not believe in all this if you wish to, any more than those with a belief in God who find comfort in their faith should not believe in God. It all boils down to the same thing, namely the human desire to be in control.


Is the tenuous evidence for these hypotheses any more sound than the arguments for a God?


In both cases the seekers are after an omnipotent force to kick-start what we experience in life. Again, this arises out of a desire to have some assurance that there is logic or purpose embedded within the physical world.


The year 2013 is off to a good start it would appear. Here we have the BBC launching into the old BIG BANG debate with:

“BBC SCIENCE page 2012 January 10.

How do we know the Big Bang happened?

What happened before the Big Bang?

If there was a Big Bang, what caused it? And what existed before? This is one of the biggest questions in science today. Some scientists think that instead of expanding just once, the universe has grown and shrunk many times.

For others, this question doesn't need an answer. Stephen Hawking has suggested that the idea of time before the Big Bang is like the idea of a point North of the North Pole. Time begins with the Big Bang, and that's that.”

Two inferences, first the usual nonsense of assuming a time-like continuum for an event to take place in, but NOT “time” as we have yet to define it! (And of course the perennial stumbling block of treating a universe as a physical entity.)

Second, if the report is to be believed, friend Stephen Hawking is laying down the law again “Take it or leave it”. (We prefer to leave it, thank you.) In “point” of fact, there are an infinity of points north of the north pole, wherever that might be!
(In this symbolism, unlike Hawking who uses a latitude convention for direction, we take an extension of the Earth’s axis into space “above” the N pole.)


Other Planets Like Earth?

A BBC news item for 2013 January 08 States: “Astronomers say that one in six stars hosts an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit - suggesting a total of 17 billion such planets in our galaxy.”

The observational procedures upon which this inference is based need to be understood before we get too excited. The data comes from the “Kepler” telescopic observations to which readers my find references via the internet.

It will be seen that the interpretation derives from the apparent variability in a star’s apparent brightness (magnitude). Astronomer have been aware of this phenomenon in stars from many centuries of observation.

Both double star (my area of research) and variable star specialists attribute variability to: a) the mechanisms in the star/s themselves e.g. pulsating variables such as “Mira” (omicron Ceti) and, b) eclipsing binaries such as “Algol” (beta Persei).

The fact is that numerous stars in our own galaxy are known to be components of multiple systems of bodies ranging from near “twins” (two similar stars revolving about a common centre of gravity) to stars with “dark” companions, i.e. stars of differing character or of planet-like properties. It must be understood, therefore, that any assessment of a stars varying brightness calls upon a good deal of extrapolation and assumption. Moreover, the degree of variability is at the lower end of sensitivity in instrumental techniques.

All the above not withstanding, from a conjectural angle it would be very surprising if there were not stars from the many millions of stars  in our own galaxy alone that possessed properties similar to our own Sun.


8 January 2013


I am frequently invited to comment on current discussions/statements from recent publications/lectures and so forth, particularly in the area of cosmology:

From “Cold Comfort Farm”: Stella Gibbons – Penguin “Essentials” edition, page 57): "The Higher Common Sense", by the Abbe Fause-Maigre. "This work had been written as a philosophic treatise; it was an attempt, not to explain the Universe, but to reconcile Man to its inexplicability."

Higgs boson comment.

We have not altered our stance on this one in relation to what has been asserted about the “particle’s” role in the overall scheme of things. (Note “overall” is not the same as “everything”.)

Until these guys come clean about what they mean (implication is insufficient) by the terms “cosmos” and “universe”, and until they unshackle themselves from the concept of a universe as an entity, then this is little more than cyber talk in our opinion.

John C Vetterlein


Time and Nothingness—Mystery and Mechanics.

Whether theoretical physicists (what’s in a name?) like it or not the questions of existence and cosmology are very much the province of natural philosophy.

Cosmologists invariably use terms without qualification. The words “universe” and “time” themselves are given out a priori on the assumption that we all understand their interpretation. Take just two examples from current literature (not necessarily from cosmologists: the author of one is not given, the other is by no stretch of the imagination a scientist).

First from the booklet “The Essential Guide to Vitamin D” by Phillip Day (Credence Publications 2010) :

“The traditional scientific belief was that the universe had always existed. This was overturned once we had a proper understanding of the first three laws of thermodynamics”:

(These are then quoted.)

Then we have a quote from a Dr Chuck Missler:

“Heat always flows from hot bodies to cold bodies. If the universe were infinitely old, then the temperature throughout the universe would be uniform. It’s obviously not, so the universe cannot be infinitely old. This is a simple demonstration that the universe had a beginning.”  (A reference is given:
Second, from a short article in the Economist magazine February 18-24 2012, pages 75-77 (no author named):

From paragraph two we have: “ It has been known since the late 1920s that the universe is getting bigger”.

There follows an enlargement on this statement to the effect that later observations suggested this “expansion” was slowing down.

Both the above for me demonstrate a lamentable inadequacy in the powers of reasoning, not to say a degree of arrogance and presumption.

First, we are again expected to assume from both that by the word “universe” the authors have in mind an entity (a closed system).

From both Mr Day and Dr Missler we have statements with the implication that the meaning of “time” is fully understood. This would be necessary to justify their faith in the deductions from the “laws of thermodynamics” since, for example, the concept of heat flow involves the passage of time.

The two main stumbling blocks are as we stated at the outset, namely, a glib notion of both “time” and “universe”.

If we ask what preceded the universe we have in this short question the two imponderables just cited. If we imagine a universe “created” in which time is an essential ingredient, in what continuum was this event taking place? Our understanding of processes requires a continuum which we normally associate with time itself.

Of course, as I say, we have no clear definition for universe, but if we assume that the antonym for universe is nothingness then surely we have to admit of no time-like continuum for the event of  “creation”* of the so-called universe to materialize.

There is no escaping this bind or paradox until we have adequately defined our understanding of "time" and have given an unambiguous definition for “universe”.

*The notion of creation. From the OED: “Creation” The action or process of creating; the action of bringing into existence by divine power or its equivalent; the fact of being so created.

This brings us back to F J Haydn and D F Tovey:

“I do not willingly introduce so frivolous a note into a review either of the universe or Haydn’s representation of it. But popular science is the only kind of science I can understand, and the profoundest science can do no more than enjoy with Haydnesque zest each discovery that enlarges our apprehension of the Cosmos. The more effectively it does so, the more will it show the absurdity of regarding Chaos as a desert or morass from which science can reclaim any measurable area. Chaos will come again, not in poor Othello’s sense, but in the sense that the universe will always remain a mystery rather than a mechanism.”

(Donald Francis Tovey: Essays in Musical Analysis, Haydn ‘The Creation’ OUP 1937.)

From the addendum to “Big Bang—Fact or Fiction?” JCV



Mathematics is a powerful tool but one that needs to be treated with caution: it is adept at proving itself right but seldom admits to being wrong.

(Aphorisms: John (C) Vetterlein 2001)


Particles, light, speed and all that stuff.

24/09/11 (JCV)

From Eureka (The Times) Issue 12 September 2010—Science, Life, The Planet.

One hardly knows where to start!

This issue contains a contribution from Stephen Hawking entitled THE END OF THE UNIVERSE.

I should really stop here because the title is itself a nonsense, as should become apparent when you read the article itself.

Why do I hold this view? First we have to assume that by “end” we are talking of the disappearance all together of the item referred to as “the universe”. But it is not at all clear what is meant by “universe”.

From the article we have: “Is there, as Einstein thought, a single theory that would tell us everything about the Universe? Stephen Hawking in his first major work for nearly a decade, thinks the answer lies in a group of theories and even more universes."

How many universes? Several trillion it has been suggested.

If this isn’t enough (pun on “number” intended) then for me Hawking loses any credibility when he states: “Philosophy is dead. It has not kept up with modern developments in science. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”

Arrogance or ignorance, or both?

I find Hawking and many modern cosmologists guilty of framing questions that have no hope of an answer. This is not because the concepts are complex in themselves but simply that the questions lack coherence in many instances.

Essentially we have to emancipate our thinking from the drudgery of beginnings and endings. That done, then perhaps we would not be so naive as to look for theories of everything!

John (C) Vetterlein
2011 March 17.

Continual change is the only certainty offered to us in our quest for knowledge. (JCV Aphorisms)

What I prefer to describe as the cosmos is not an entity; the cosmos is the process by which matter is manifest through events made possible through the time continuum. (Time cannot therefore be created.)


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