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Why simplicity works

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It’s May 1964 and, on a low hillside in New Jersey, the physicists Robert Woodrow Wilson and Arno Allan Penzias are listening in on the Universe. They are standing beneath what looks like a gargantuan ear trumpet attached to a garden shed: the Holmdel Horn Antenna, built by Bell Laboratories to investigate microwaves as an alternative to radio waves for telecommunication. When interest in microwave communication waned, Bell lent out the Holmdel horn to interested scientists.

Penzias and Wilson were interested. Both aged around 30, they planned to map the sky with microwaves. But they were baffled: when they pointed the horn at a dark region beyond the galaxy and only sparsely populated with stars, instead of the silence they expected, they detected a kind of background hiss – a hiss that filled the entire sky.

Meanwhile, the physicist Robert H Dicke was working on a related puzzle. Two decades earlier, Dicke had invented the microwave detector. Now he and his lab were trying to develop sensitive instruments to test the cosmological predictions that emerged from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, particularly how it related to Edwin Hubble’s astonishing discovery that the Universe is expanding. The reigning, steady-state theory claimed that the Universe had always been expanding, balanced by a continuous creation of new matter. The rival theorists, including Dicke, took expansion at its face value, running it backwards in time to propose that, about 14 billion years ago, the Universe burst into existence in a cataclysmic explosion from a very tiny point.

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The Holmdel Horn Antenna in New Jersey, United States. Courtesy Wikipedia

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Click the link below for the article:

https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-simplicity-so-unreasonably-effective-at-scientific-explanation?utm_source=pocket_discover

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