Sitting in the top-floor study of his childhood Niskayuna home, Paul LaViolette puzzles over the deepest questions of the universe.
Massive bound volumes of his doctoral thesis in general systems theory, old science journals and a series of volumes of his self-published book line shelves in the house designed by famous GE architect Victor Civkin.
Working through dense calculations and decoding pictures of faraway stars and galaxies, LaViolette has spent decades refining his own theories about the universe. He doesn’t work with massive telescopes or particle accelerators, tools used by enormous teams of scientists across the planet to refine their theories about how the universe originated and how it operates. But he asks the same questions. Where did the universe come from and how did it start? How is matter created? Why does it appear the universe is expanding so quickly?
LaViolette, though, has come up with very different answers to those questions than the mainstream scientists who populate university faculties, government agencies and research laboratories.
“I disproved the Big Bang theory,” LaViolette said in a phone call last month, adding that he recently published a pair of papers this summer in the International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, a peer-reviewed journal, outlining his definitive takedown of what has been considered the definitive scientific model of the origin of the universe.
The first article’s title, “Expanding or Static Universe: Emergence of a New Paradigm,” understates what LaViolette is proposing: scrap the dominant theory of the history of the universe taught in nearly every grade in nearly every school in the country.
The Big Bang theory basically holds that the history of our universe traces back to a single point of energy that exploded into existence and over a long period of time expanded into the universe we know today.
But LaViolette thinks most scientists are looking at the data from the wrong perspective, misunderstanding shifts on the light spectrum as they observe faraway galaxies as evidence of an expanding universe. Rather, he thinks the so-called “redshift” most scientists point to as evidence of an expanding universe is just a sign of the loss of energy that photons from distant galaxies have as they travel through space. That theory of the redshift, known as the “tired light” theory, has been around for decades. But LaViolette has repurposed it to demonstrate that a static universe, one that is not expanding as is commonly understood, makes a simpler explanation of numerous astronomical phenomena. His paper presents a series of cosmology tests, used to test different theories of the universe against various data sets, and argues that a static model of the universe bests an expanding model of the universe on all of the tests he presents — unless various assumptions are added into the models about anything from the angles of galaxies to factors about their distance. Even then, LaViolette argues, assumptions made to improve the performance of a traditional expanding-universe model on one test worsen the theory’s performance on other tests.
“In overview, it is concluded that a static universe cosmology must be sought to explain the origin of the universe,” he declared in the paper’s abstract.
LaViolette, now in his 70s, grew up in Niskayuna, where his parents worked in the area’s scientific research industry, including at Knolls labs. After two years of high school in Niskayuna, his family moved to Greece. He studied at Johns Hopkins and University of Chicago, and worked at the Harvard School of Public Health. During the Vietnam era, he conducted research into ventilation systems used on masks. He earned a patent on new mask technology in 1973, but said he was unable to gain traction as he spent a few years trying to sell his idea — he couldn’t induce the wide-scale adoption he had hoped for.
“Because they used to make [masks] a certain way, they didn’t want to change,” he said.
He eventually moved to Portland, Oregon, to study at the country’s only doctoral program in general systems theory at the time. As he worked on his tome of a dissertation, LaViolette started to think of the universe in terms of an open system, one where matter could effectively generate out of itself, especially in the most volatile parts of the universe.
“It was the longest Ph.D. in the history of the program, and it still is,” he said of his dissertation. “They bring it out to intimidate people.”
Since then he has continued to develop and fine-tune his arguments against an expanding-universe model, hoping his ideas would gain traction.
In an article titled “Is the Universe Really Expanding?” published in 1985, LaViolette relies on a smaller set of cosmology tests and data than his most recent papers to build a case that a static-universe model can offer a better explanation than the Big Bang.
“I thought that one had disproved Big Bang,” he said of the earlier paper.
The theory, though, has proved stubbornly resistant to its demise. As scientists collect more and more data about the universe, they have fine-tuned their own models, theories and equations — but major holes and uncertainty still persist (no model has yet tied together large-scale and subatomic theories of physics, for example).
If mainstream science ever does adopt LaViolette’s theory of the universe, it will spell doom for many fundamental tenets of physics and astronomy. No black holes, he said. No quantum mechanics (which helps explain physics at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles). No Einstein’s theory of general relativity (which helps explain gravitational physics at a large scale).
“You have to throw it out,” he said. “Even the ages of stars change.”
He has also inched toward his own novel cosmology — a broad theory of the origin of the universe — developed over decades called “subquantum kinetics.” He has written numerous editions of a book on the topic. The model, which replaces the void left by the destruction wrought by disproving the Big Bang theory, predicts that a cosmic ether at the subatomic level is capable of producing energy fluctuations that in some scenarios can nucleate a subatomic particle. He calls it a continuous-creation theory, where matter is constantly being created within a static universe.
“Matter produces more matter — it’s like biological reproduction in a way,” he said.
LaViolette argues that most scientists stubbornly adhere to the law of energy conservation — that the total amount of energy in a system remains constant — and should instead accept a model where new energy can emerge.
“They [mainstream scientists] believe in taking the first law of thermodynamics and applying it down to the minutest detail,” he said. “The whole thing is based on faith that energy is conserved so rigorously.”
He said mainstream scientists are often clouded by their beliefs in their own models and create theoretical assumptions that ensure those models work. Using an unflattering analogy to tree monkeys, he explained that scientists will hold fast to the Big Bang theory until an alternative gains broader acceptance — fearing the metaphorical limb.
“They’ve already assumed their model is correct. They don’t want to admit another way of looking at things,” he said. “Physicists, they are like monkeys clinging to a tree. Unless they see another tree to jump to, they won’t.”
Heidi Jo Newberg, an astrophysicist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute known for her work understanding the structure of the Milky Way galaxy, earth’s home galaxy, said the broader field often hears from out-of-the-box thinkers with a hodgepodge of their own theories. She said the ideas fall on a wide spectrum of seriousness and rigor.
“I regularly get books and manuscripts from people all of the time, and they range from people who are just crazy, have crazy, crazy things, to people who are very knowledgeable and have a really good sense of science and terminology and the fields they are in,” she said in an interview.
While Newberg had not studied LaViolette’s recent papers and did not offer direct support or rebuttal of his theory, she noted that it was published in a refereed journal and appeared to be scientifically rigorous.
“It looks to me like this is on the more knowledgeable side of it,” she said.
Newberg explained that the scientific field’s dominant understanding of the origin of the universe is both highly detailed and supported by vast data, while also containing huge holes filled by yet-to-be-proven explanations.
“There are a lot of things we think we do know and some of them are really amazing, but there is a huge amount, almost an embarrassing amount, we don’t understand about our standard model,” she said.
The standard model — the framework broadly accepted by scientists and taught at different academic levels — holds that our universe expanded out of an “infinitely dense source point,” Newberg said, expanding at fluctuating rates over vast amounts of time as gravitational forces pulled together galaxies and ever-bigger astronomical structures.
Scientists have accumulated enormous quantities of data on the size and scale of different formations in the universe. The intergalactic distances light must travel to be observed by satellites and telescopes offers a glimpse of stars as they existed billions of years ago.
“We have a kind of working understanding of the history of the universe that explains everything that we see,” she said. “In the last few decades, we have been in a really, really strong period for constraining the universe and how it’s evolved.”
While much of the data lends further support to the standard model and further refines scientific understanding of different dimensions of that model, the explanations underpinning the standard model rely on some theoretical patches to cover enormous gaps of knowledge.
For the standard model to work, for instance, scientists posit the existence of so-called “dark matter,” which accounts for the majority of the matter in the universe and helps explain various observations and patterns in astronomy.
But one big problem remains for dark matter theorists: After decades of theorizing and building highly tuned detectors aimed at identifying an actual dark matter particle, scientists have still come up short in doing so.
“People have been looking for 30 years. We think eventually someone will find this,” Newberg said, noting that the theoretical presence of dark matter helps tie together numerous theories around how things work on a large scale.
“There are very big pieces that are notional,” she said of the dominant cosmological model. “Dark matter is notional, but when you put it in everything works.”
For LaViolette, the holes in the standard model bolster his theory that it doesn’t actually hold together without the “ad-hoc assumptions” he said scientists plug into their equations to make their theories work. He argues that scientists at mainstream institutions are too wedded to their theories to accept an alternative model — or allow consideration of paradigm-shifting ideas.
Newberg countered that scientists broadly are independently minded fact-finders who regularly contest one another’s theories, ideas, data and approaches, forcing further refinement and defense of their ideas on a regular basis. “I think the science establishment isn’t so monolithic as people think,” she said. “We are all individuals and we argue all the time. In my work, I’m constantly challenged by people who have all the data that is available and make sure what I do is consistent with what we know.”
Newberg said it is possible that cosmology may be more susceptible to a dramatic paradigm shift because of the large unknowns and vast space and time at play. The mystique and allure of questions about the universe and its history serve as a further accelerant that draws contrarian thinkers to propose ideas and theories that counter the dominant model. She said she is working with an artist-inventor who proposed to her an alternative idea for a space telescope.
“Where you have a big problem that is very exciting and interesting, and has such huge unknowns, that’s going to be a big draw for people that are really interesting … and in some ways, there is an opportunity for someone to come with an idea from outside the field that changes everything,” she said.
She noted that over the years various scientists have proffered alternative theories to different components of the standard model, but that they don’t hold up against a deluge of observational data the same way theories attached to the standard expanding-universe model do. An alternative theory might explain one phenomenon but not another. Among most scientists, though, there is no leading competitor to the Big Bang theory, she said.
“I think there is an opportunity to come up with other versions of cosmology, but it’s challenging to fit all of the data,” she said. “It’s easy to come up with something that is consistent with some things but not everything.”
For his part, LaViolette isn’t waiting for the rest of science to catch up, working on a new edition to his book, “Subquantum Kinetics: A Systems Approach to Physics and Cosmology,” and taking comfort in his confidence that science will eventually follow the path he has tried to lay out. Whether or not he’s around to see the day that happens is another question.
“I totally believe this is the way physics will go in the future,” he said.