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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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Listen to 21 September
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 21 September 2006
to follow
Abell 1689 is one of the densest clusters of
galaxies known, but where did they all
come from? (credit: NASA Space
Telescope Science Institute)

Colliding Universes 
 
We've got used to the idea that the universe began with a Big Bang, but nobody mentioned what caused it. Things don't go bang for no reason! Or do they?

Quentin Cooper takes a mind blowing trip into the multidimensional world of cosmology. He meets Neil Turok from Cambridge and Ruth Gregory from Durham who discuss whether the present theory of the Big Bang is a satisfactory explanation for the origin of our universe.

The existing theory calls for a process called inflation to produce the rapid expansion of matter, energy, space and time from a tiny point. But Neil Turok is constructing a theory in which time continues back into a possibly infinite past.

His ideas are based on the concept of 'branes', entire universes held in a higher dimensional space. Two such brane-worlds would be attracted together until they collided like two hands clapping, releasing vast amounts of energy into each, enough to explain all the time, space, matter and energy that we now see.

Unlike the Big Bang, which was a one-off event, this ekpyrotic universe would go through cycles, colliding with the other brane-world every trillion years or so, triggering another big bang, cycle after cycle! 
 
Why Are We Superstitious?

Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood claims that humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years to be susceptible to magic and supernatural beliefs. He believes that, despite the advance of science, people are naturally hard-wired to believe in religion and to find the supernatural appealing.

His theory is based on what he calls intuitive reasoning, which is found in early childhood. The human mind is adapted to reason intuitively, so that it can generate theories about how the world works even when mechanisms cannot be seen or easily deduced.

Lawrence Barham, an anthropologist from Liverpool University has found evidence for belief in the supernatural in archaeology; mostly from cave paintings and the use of coloured pigments.
He has been working on dating colour pigments found in caves in Zambia. Pigment use in Africa pre-dates the evolution of homo-sapiens by 100,000 years and implies the use of symbols and language. Lawrence says it's part of a series of social behaviours which hold people together.
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