Philosophical Society of Washington


Science and the Beginning of Time

Raymond L. Orbach
Director, Office of Science, Department of Energy

2159th Meeting Abstract
Friday, March 7, 2003 at 8:15 PM


Humankind has always been concerned with its origins, its place in the universe, and its future prospects. The Bible, a sacred epic, begins with: “B'reishit bara' Elohim et ha-shamayim v'et ha-aretz,” or “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” The first three lines, Genesis I:1-3, are an inspiring statement of creation. Modern science is attempting to understand in its terms the evolution of our universe from “the beginning.” The purpose of this talk is to describe the discoveries, interpretations, and speculation that currently illuminate our perspective. We are privileged to live in an era where these fundamental questions can be addressed through experiment, theory, and computational simulations: “…greatly advancing our understanding of the universe, the laws that govern it, and perhaps even our place within it.

We start as close as we can come to the “Beginning,” the origin of the universe, proceeding through the steps that modern science believes map the path from the beginning, to the present, to the future. We pass through epochs where observation and theory describe events critical to the evolution and future of our world. These epochs represent “The BIG questions” which we are now able to place in theoretical perspective, and in many cases, measure directly. That the consequences of these primordial events are evident today shows how fortunate we are to live in this exciting period of discovery. There is so much more to learn, much of which will undoubtedly correct our conventional wisdom, if the future is anything like our past!

About the Author:

Raymond L. Orbach received his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1956. He received his Ph.D. degree in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960. He began his academic career as a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University in 1960 and became an assistant professor of applied physics at Harvard University in 1961. He joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) two years later as an associate professor, and became a full professor in 1966. From 1982 to 1992, he served as the Provost of the College of Letters and Science at UCLA. He served as Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside from April 1992 through March 2002; he now holds the title Chancellor Emeritus. Raymond L. Orbach was sworn in as the 14th Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy (DOE) on March 14, 2002. As Director of the Office of Science (SC), Dr. Orbach manages an organization that is the third largest Federal sponsor of basic research in the United States and is viewed as one of the premier science organizations in the world.

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