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A brief guide to the wraparound universe

Is imagination the most important ability of the human mind? Is science an intellectual adventure? What is infinity and what do we mean when we say the universe is infinite? Can we find infinity in nature and the real world or is it a creation of the human mind to rationalize what is impossible to grasp? Jean-Pierre Luminet may be able to answer or attempt to answer some of these questions. Luminet, who has published numerous books and given many lectures, is well known for his unique ability to explain to the wider public exceptionally difficult notions on cosmology and astrophysics. He is not only an astrophysicist but also a writer, artist and poet. He is a leading expert on black holes, cosmic topology and the history of cosmology. Luminet’s main interest lies in where science, poetry and art converge and related forms of human creativity. It is evident that his artistic activities have been inspired by scientific discoveries. Luminet will be in Athens over the next few days to give a lecture at the Athens Concert Hall as part of the Megaron Plus program on «The Shape of the Universe: From Black Holes to a Wraparound Universe.» «A scientist does not become a writer and artist but is a writer or artist from the start. When I was a teenager I played music, painted and wrote; I was an artist before I decided to become a scientist. As I cannot work or think about the same thing for a long time I prefer to pass from science to literature or art and vice versa. When I do many activities at the same time, I work faster than if I did each one separately. But of course I devote all my time to these activities and often deprive myself of holidays and other social activities or trivialities. Competition is fierce in the world of science and even more so among theoretical physicists, all of whom dream of leaving their mark. Among writers and artists matters are worse. It’s necessary to be indifferent, modest and regard all this with a touch of humor. For a long time the scientific community was unaware of my writing and artistic activities. Now I can’t hide them. My non-scientific work is regarded with esteem, in particular my novels on the history of science. On the other hand, the artistic world has always been fascinated by astrophysics, the black holes, the Big Bang, and this has helped me a great deal in my artistic career. I am doing research in cosmology because I find it highly interesting. I devise complex models partly as a kind of challenge because I detest orthodox science. When I address the public I like to be accessible as I respect the public and believe that they can understand something. I also don’t like to pose as a professor, I use humor and simplicity, I listen to and answer all the questions. Contrary to what we think, a lay person is intrigued by abstract and complex astrophysical issues. What is the essence of science? To simplify the complexity of nature and reveal its subjective unity. Science does not search for truth. It devises models, which are temporary but effective and can withstand time until they can be replaced by better ones. A representation of the universe as we perceive it is constrained by the limitations of the human mind. We are a long way from reaching the limits of the universe, so much so that sometimes it seems imagination does not recognize limits. For example, the notion of infinity is a creation of human thought. It is necessary in maths as it helps solve various problems but it is not present in nature. That is why I support a finite model of the universe, albeit without limits.» Luminet’s idea is revolutionary, a model of the universe that resembles a crystallography, as if we were in a room surrounded by mirrors that reflect our image an infinite number of times in all directions. The more reflections there are, the fainter our image becomes. In such a universe, the stars that are less bright are not as far as we think and the universe is younger than we think. This revolutionary idea entails reviewing many theories accepted today. Luminet explains: «Cosmic topology – a term I coined in 1995 – is concerned with total properties of space: infinite or finite characteristics, shape etc. I called the models where space has a complex topology the wraparound universe, which creates an optical illusion that the universe is larger than it really is. This idea is strange but can be verified with extremely precise astrophysical observations (unlike the prevailing model of an infinite universe). Indeed the latest data from radiation trace – fossils of a newborn universe – are compatible with this idea; a spherical dodecahedral universe.»