George Gamow (1904-1968), Russian-born physicist, was noted for his contributions to interdisciplinary understanding and for his synthesis of modern physics with both a cosmological and evolutionary framework. Taking a comprehensive view of modern physics, Gamow presented the evolution of the universe and human life as a chance product of chemical interaction/reaction within the spatiotemporal parameters of the universe. From the initial theory of the big bang that resulted in our expanding universe, the conceptual framework of time, space, and distance poses unique problems for both traditional physics and scientific epistemology. Gamow explained the impact of these problems and the theoretical basis for our current understanding of the universe and its implications for life on this planet.
The conceptual framework of time and humankind’s perception of the natural world became the basis for continual theoretical advances. Gamow articulated this open-ended perspective by illustrating the historical progress, both philosophical and scientific, made in mathematical understanding of the physics that govern the universe. Contrary to cultural perceptions of the temporal and static nature of the universe, Gamow depicted the spatiotemporal nature of the cosmos as an expanding and temporally changing universe, filled with innumerable planets, stars, and galaxies. This uniform expansion of the universe was suggested as being approximately 2 to 3 billion years ago, with comparable ages of the oldest celestial bodies. The age of our solar system, specifically our planet and the sun, has deep implications for life. Although our sun and planet were estimated to be relatively young, around 3 to 4 billon years and 2 billion years, respectively, Gamow’s calculations put the lifespan of our sun at around 50 billion years. Fueled by nuclear reactions within the bending of time and space, the birth and death of star(s) becomes a tethered line for life on this planet and possible life on other worlds. Though Gamow speculated on the probability of life elsewhere in the universe (including the immensity of distance between planets), the chemical sequence and the emergence of life from inorganic matter became a probability and a particular point of scientific wonder.
The spatiotemporal nature of the universe is paradoxical. Concepts of infinity within finitude are deeply rooted within the human psyche. Although new developments in mathematics, physics, and chemistry continue to inform our ever-growing understanding of the universe, these dual concepts of time seem to preclude any definitive and comprehensive theory of both life and the physics of the universe by which life itself is governed. Gamow’s substantial contributions to cosmology, even in light of recent advances, allow us to appreciate more fully both the finitude of human existence and the need for further understanding of the complex relationships that obtain within the universe.
David Alexander Lukaszek
See also Big Bang Theory; Hawking, Stephen; Lemaître, Georges Edouard; Time, Emergence of; Universe, Evolving; Universe, Origin of
Gamow, G. (1954). One two three . . . Infinity. New York: Viking Press.
Gamow, G. (1961). The creation of the universe. New York: Viking Press.
Gamow, G. (1972). Cosmology, fusion & matter: George Gamow memorial volume. Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press.