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Lemaître, Georges

Category: Genius

 

Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a cosmologist, astronomer, mathematician, professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, and Belgian priest.

Prof. Bas van Wesemael – Universite Catholique de Louvain - Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research - Biography Georges Lemaître

Lemaitre was sociable, devoted to his students and collaborators, but remained an isolated researcher and one finds only few correspondence or scientific exchange with his foreign peers. If this unmistakable precursor of modern cosmology remains in the shadow of big names of the XXth century (like Einstein, Eddington, Hubble and Gamov in particular) it is most probably due to the fact he was a priest.  Fred Hoyle, who originated the name "Big Bang" never forgave him for this!  He was also ambiguous as a person, both modest and full of himself. Modest because he despised honors and never sought fame. But full of himself in his way of asserting, at least in private circles, …. the originality of his ideas. This did not prevent him from showing an open, honest, cheerful and optimistic character, always displaying a remarkable flexible mind.

So a genius.

Honours

Lemaître received numerous honours during his lifetime in Belgium.  On 17 March 1934, he received the Francqui Prize, the highest Belgian scientific distinction, from King Léopold III. His proposers were Albert Einstein, Charles de la Vallée-Poussin and Alexandre de Hemptinne. The members of the international jury were Eddington, Langevin and Théophile de Donder.

 

Another distinction that the Belgian government reserves for exceptional scientists was allotted to him in 1950: the "Prix décennal des sciences appliquées pour la période 1933-1942" (decadal prize for applied sciences for the period 1933-1942).

But he never received the recognition he deserved outside Belgium, principally because many of the papers he wrote were published in French.  Americans still appear to believe, for example, that it was Hubble who proposed many of the theories which are actually Lemaitre’s.

In 1923, Lemaitre obtained a scholarship from the Belgian government as well as a fellowship from the Committee for Relief in Belgium of the Belgian American Educational Foundation, and visited Cambridge University in England. There he met the astronomer - Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, who initiated him to modern stellar astronomy and to numerical methods.  And it was largely due to Eddington’s continuous support and encouragement that Lemaitre’s achievements are known outside Belgium. In 1953, Lemaître was given the inaugural Eddington Medal awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society.

His achievements

Lemaître was the first to propose the theory of the expansion of the universe, misattributed to Edwin Hubble by Americans,  and was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble's law.  He also made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble's article.  So a long forgotten and under recognised genius.

Perhaps more upsetting is that his theories have also been widely distorted, misquoted and mangled by the more under-informed and materialistic scientists. 

Lemaître also proposed what is now called the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his "hypothesis of the primeval atom" or the "Cosmic Egg".  In Lemaitre’s theory there was no bang and at no time did Lemaitre describe the theory in terms of a physical explosion.

Cosmic egg and ouroboros

The creation of the universe according to metaphysical beliefs unfolded in a spiral motion – like a spider’s web, with sections in the web devoted to ‘software’ – the functions of the universe.  The whole dark matter [Light matter] central portion of the Cosmic Egg is like a vast storage place for the functional aspects of the ‘shell’.  Like software cubby holes for the systems of the universe.  Creation unfolded gradually, and as the software was ready the initial hardware could be implemented. 

As the energy congealed to form the physical layer, Lemaitre called this ‘condensation’, the physical layer – Lemaitre called this the ‘shell’ referring to the Cosmic Egg – it had to be given its own copy of the software it needed to operate.  Thus from the centre, the copies of the ‘software’ it needed were distributed to the hardware on which it was needed.  The appearance then would have been a form of explosion of so called  ‘cosmic rays’, lots of packages being delivered. Like a Catherine wheel.

The Tree of Life/Splitting of the 'Atom' and the formation of the
Intelligence hierarchy

Lemaitre described both this [without using the software analogy], but also described the formation of the Intelligence hierarchy as a form of splitting of a central nucleus which contained all function.  Thus in Lemaitre’s early cosmology, the Ultimate Intelligence was gradually divided and divided functionally until smaller units were formed – and it was the smaller units that provided the functions to the Earth. But all this was ‘dark matter’ – spirit.

Lemaitre was extremely careful about his wording, and very nervous about its impact.  Leading up to the War and after the War, there was a wholescale movement against religion, the ‘Science as religion instead’ movement in which most things to do with existing religions or spirit were ridiculed or worse.

And he was a Catholic Belgian priest – an Abbe – no less, but also a scientist who wished his ideas to be taken seriously.  He was actually trying to prove scientifically and mathematically that the metaphysical beliefs were correct, but treading a very fine tightrope in doing so.

 

The Pope did not help his cause, as it was clear he was well aware at some point of what Georges was trying to do.  In 1936, Lemaitre was elected member of the Pontifical Science Academy in which he played an active role becoming chairman of it from 1960 till his death.

He was also made a prelate in 1960  (Monsignor) by Pope John XXIII.  In 1951, Pope Pius XII declared that Lemaître's theory provided a scientific validation for the creation.

Lemaitre made desperate efforts to stop the Pope from expressing his unbounded enthusiasm for the discoveries, pointing out that the effect would be the exact opposite of what he was trying to do – prove scientifically what he metaphysically knew.

Prof. Bas van Wesemael – Universite Catholique de Louvain - Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research - Biography Georges Lemaître

 

Lemaître was a priest strongly attached to his faith and to the Church.  He was a member of a sacerdotal fraternity "The Friends of Jesus" where priests took their vows of religious life and were engaged to radically live their vocation. Lemaître always tried to methodically separate the scientific approach from the theological one. ….. When he became President of the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1960, he painstakingly defended the autonomy of the "two ways" as he pleased to call them: the one of science and the one of the Revelation. As soon as 1952, he successfully interceded with Pope Pie XII in order that in his official addresses he would no longer bind the theological notion of the creation with his primeval atom hypothesis.

Early Life

 

After a classical education at a Jesuit secondary school (Collège du Sacré-Coeur, Charleroi), Lemaître began studying civil engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven at the age of 17. In 1914, he interrupted his studies to serve as an artillery officer in the Belgian army for the duration of World War I. At the end of hostilities, he received the "Croix de guerre avec palmes" (war cross with palms).

Like many young men who had to undergo the trial by fire that the First World War presented, Lemaitre was traumatised by the experience.  It had a permanent impact on his life.  He had ‘seen’ God and death at first hand and it strengthened his beliefs and his sense of vocation.  He entered the Malines seminar and was ordained priest in 1923.

He obtained his doctoral PhD in 1920 with a thesis on "L'approximation des fonctions de plusieurs variables réelles" (Approximation of functions of many real variables) under the direction of Prof. Charles de la Vallée Poussin.

As mentioned above, in 1923, he became a graduate student in astronomy at the University of Cambridge, spending a year at St Edmund's House (now St Edmund's College, Cambridge) working  with Sir Arthur Eddington.

The following year was spent at the Harvard College Observatory of Cambridge (USA) with Harlow Shapley, who was renowned for his work on nebular celestial objects. At MIT, he received a Doctorate in Science. He was CRB fellow during the years 1924-1925.

Return to Belgium

Returning to Belgium, he was appointed as "chargé de cours"(associate professor) at the University of Louvain in 1925. He started working on the theme that would bring him international fame. In 1927 he published an article in the "Annales de la Société scientifique de Bruxelles" : "Un Univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques" (A homogenous Universe with constant mass and increasing radius explaining the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae). There he presented the very new concept of the physical expansion of the Universe.

This same year (1927), he went back to MIT and presented his doctoral thesis on "The gravitational field in a fluid sphere of uniform invariant density according to the theory of relativity". He was awarded the degree of "Doctor of Philosophy" at MIT and was afterwards nominated Full Professor at the Université catholique de Louvain.

 

The paper on the expanding universe had little impact initially, because the journal in which it was published was not widely read by astronomers outside Belgium.  But in 1930, Eddington published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society a long commentary on Lemaître's 1927 article, in which he described the latter as a "brilliant solution" to the outstanding problems of cosmology. The original paper was published in an abbreviated English translation in 1931, along with a sequel by Lemaître responding to Eddington's comments.

Lemaître was afterwards invited to London to participate in a meeting of the British Association on the relation between the physical Universe and the mind. In effect the difference between mind and brain – physical and spiritual.  It is clear from this that Eddington, himself greatly interested in the metaphysical, recognised the underlying theme of Lemaitre’s work.

And it is at this point that he proposed his first ideas on the  universe expanded from an initial point, which he called the "Primeval Atom" - "the Cosmic Egg expanding at the moment of the creation".

In 1946, he published his book on the " Hypothèse de l'Atome Primitif”. This book, prefaced by the philosopher Ferdinand Gonseth, was translated into Spanish the same year and into English in 1950.

The primeval Atom

faberge egg - hardware shell, software centre

So now we need to step back.

The Cosmic Egg is a universal symbol known by every spiritual and mystic person since time immemorial.  The Cosmic Egg has a physical hardware ‘shell’ and a non physical ‘software’ core.  The software is now called dark matter by physicists and is variously estimated to be about 96% of the entire universe, meaning that the physical that we can see is only 4%.

At the centre - the 'yolk' - is the Ultimate Intelligence - God.

Lemaître was trying to combine the idea of the Tree of Life with the Cosmic Egg.  One starts with the ‘yolk’ of the Egg – the Ultimate Intelligence  - containing all the functions that the physical will ever need.  Then creation begins, gradually branching and branching into the Tree of Life/the Intelligence hierarchy.  No matter at  this stage , nothing physical at all, simply software – that which animates.  And as the Tree of Life grows, so does the Cosmic Egg.  The universe expands and the universe seen from the rim appears to expand.

 

Metaphysical belief says that atom and egg are identical and the contents are not physical – I repeat not physical – it is like an object that contains all the software ever needed. 

At the start there is a Primeval Atom – just the Ultimate Intelligence – which is why the Pope got excited because presumably this was in the Pope’s eyes at least ‘God’.  Then the Egg grew and eventually the shell formed – the physical was created in a process Lemaitre called ‘condensation’.

Einstein was both Jewish and a Kabbalist and I believe recognised that in the expanding universe, Lemaitre had managed to marry science with metaphysics and mysticism, merging many mystical ideas at the same time.

Chinese ivory ball - multiple levels and layers [12 to 13]

His Kabbalistic upbringing would have given him the symbolism of the Egg.  In whatever way the Egg is represented symbolically, it is forced to look static, whether you use a  Faberge egg, Chinese ivory balls or Celtic trees of life the appearance is static and Einstein originally had some difficulty in accepting the notion of an egg that was blowing up like a balloon.  But once it was explained that the expansion solved many of the visible phenomenon seen in astronomy, he rejoiced and said the equivalent of 'I am with you all the way, let's go for it!'

Lemaître met Einstein several times and they became friends : in 1927 in Brussels during a Physics Congress of "Solvay", in 1931 and 1933 at the Athenaeum of Pasadena (California Institute of Technology), in 1932, in Belgium again during a cycle of conferences in Brussels, and a last time in 1935 in Princeton.  According to legend the two travelled together to the U.S. state of California for a series of seminars and after the Belgian detailed his theory, Einstein stood up and applauded.

Winding down

During Vatican II Lemaitre was asked to serve on a special commission, but he had to decline the offer.   In December of 1964, Lemaitre had a heart attack and had to limit his work and his travel.

During the 1950s, he had gradually given up part of his teaching workload, ending it completely with his éméritat in 1964.

Prof. Bas van Wesemael – Universite Catholique de Louvain - Georges Lemaître Centre for Earth and Climate Research - Biography Georges Lemaître

Towards the end of his life, he increasingly devoted his time to numerical computation. In fact, he was a remarkable calculator, algebraist and arithmetician. As soon as 1930, he was using the most high-performance calculators of the time such as the Mercedes. In 1958, he introduced a Burroughs E101 at the University as its first electronic computer. Lemaître was deeply interested in the development of computers, and even more in the problems of programming languages and program writing. Getting older, this interest took larger proportions up to the point of absorbing him nearly entirely!

He died on 20 June 1966, shortly after having learned of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which provided further evidence for his proposal about the birth of the universe.

References

  • G. Lemaître, Discussion sur l'évolution de l'univers, 1933
  • G. Lemaître, L'Hypothèse de l'atome primitif, 1946
  • G. Lemaître, The Primeval Atom - an Essay on Cosmogony, D. Van Nostrand Co, 1950
  • G. Lemaître, Un univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques. (1927) -  (Translated in: "A Homogeneous Universe of Constant Mass and Growing Radius Accounting for the Radial Velocity of Extragalactic Nebulae".
  • G. Lemaître (1931-05-09). "The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory". Nature 127 (3210).
  • A. S. Eddington, Sir (1930). "On the instability of Einstein's spherical world". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 90: 668–688.
  • G. Lemaître, "Expansion of the universe, The expanding universe", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 91, p.490-501, 03/1931
  • G. Lemaître , "Quaternions et espace elliptique" 1948 
  • L'itinéraire spirituel de Georges Lemaître. Suivi de " Univers et atome " (inédit de G. Lemaître). 2007 (Dominique Lambert), n°16, Editions Lessius

Historical record of archives

After Lemaître's death, his family donated the content of his office (furniture, scientific documents and some personal objects) to the Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics and its head, Prof. O. Godart. In 1977, when Prof. M. Heller was appointed to the Georges Lemaître Chair, a first sorting out of scientific documents was made with the collaboration of Prof. Godart and new (unknown) manuscripts were discovered. In 1982, Prof. Heller was again appointed to the Georges Lemaître Chair, and he went on examining, uncovering and classifying scientific documents.

Prof D. Lambert (PhD in science and in philosophy and Lemaître's prize in 1999) actively continues to examine unpublished documents. This work already led him to publish an accurate biography and a detailed analysis of Lemaître's works in his books "Un Atome d'Univers" (2000), "L'itinéraire spirituel de Georges Lemaître" (2007) and "Charles Darwin et Georges Lemaître, une improbable, mais passionnante rencontre" (2008) with Jacques Reisse.

The archives are under the supervision of the Head of TECLIM. Their access is reserved for a well defined purpose to scientists after explicit demand. They also provide the press and media with copies of documents. The fund also lends documentation and objects for exhibitions.

The archives are currently being digitised.

egg, layers, shell and cosmic rays, outside chaos - a catherine wheel

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