Weird Science: The Bootstrap Hypothesis

There are many topics in Astronomy that are fascinating, but one of the most intriguing is the Bootstrap Hypothesis. This cosmological idea contends that as we examine the larger and larger things in the universe, they are ultimately microscopic parts of a far larger universe, one that merges with the very small. In essence, it contends that we are all living in a universe inside ourselves.

“Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins”
-Victor Hugo

The scientific process is anchored in cold, hard facts, but some of the most tantalizing elements of it for me have always involved what is commonly (and improperly) known as ‘theoretical science.’ This is actually great leaps of postulation from minor pieces of evidence, the far fringe of speculation that can sometimes turn out to lead to the truth. For instance, in ancient times careful observers could infer that the Earth is round, and not flat due to the shape cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse. Though this likely defied the common beliefs at the time, it turned out to be true.

The aptly titled Bootstrap Hypothesis is the perfect example of speculative notions that are brilliant mind candy. This was the brain child of Theoretical Physicist Geoffrey F. Chew in the 1960s, and states that the macrocosm and microcosm literally meet, forming a sort of loop in our universe. Instead of thinking about the universe in size as linear (infinitely small to infinitely large), it is all self contained within itself.

The Macrocosm

The large scale universe is known in cosmology as the macrocosm. If we start with man, we move up with increasing size from planets to stars to solar systems to galaxies to clusters of galaxies to superclusters of galactic clusters and beyond. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a hard time truly visualizing how big a city like Los Angeles is, much less the true scope of the Milky Way.

To give you an idea about how astronomically large things can be, refer to the video below. It is a size comparison of the physical bodies in our galaxy.

These video above merely displays things up to the size of the largest known SuperGiant Stars, but the scale goes far beyond this.

The Microcosm

Now that we have examined the increasingly large scales in the cosmos, we will go the other direction. The small scale universe is known as the microcosm. Just as immense (inversely speaking), it is extremely difficult to wrap ones mind around the scope of it.

For an excellent way to explore the first part of the microcosm, check out the University of Utah’s Cell Size and Scale page with a handy slider to zoom in and out from things the size of a coffee bean to a carbon atom.

Genetic Science Learning Center (2010, February 18) Cell Size and Scale. Learn.Genetics. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from

Our understanding of the microcosm in the subatomic realm is not on the most solid foundation at the moment, although it is growing every year, and with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, our knowledge of it can only expand.

Another aspect of the similarities between the very big and very small (other than their immense scales and infinite scopes) is the patterns that emerge. In particular, we find the sphere and the disc.

According to Wikipedia, “Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek Neo-Platonic schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level). In the system the mid-point is Man.”

The Bootstrap Hypothesis may merge the infinitely big and small into a nice, contained package, but there is no actual evidence that it reflects reality. Never the less, it is delicious mind candy.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge”
-Albert Einstein

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