We continue our series of excerpts (and discussion) from the outstanding survey paper by George F. R. Ellis, Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology.
No matter what direction we look, the universe looks statistically the same at a scale of hundreds of millions of light years. We call this property isotropy. Case in point: when compared one to the other, the Hubble Deep Fields look remarkably similar, even though they are about 135° apart in the sky.
Taken individually, both of these deep fields also exhibit homogeneity, that is, they generally show a fairly uniform distribution of galaxies across the field.
Does the dipole anisotropy in the cosmic background radiation (CBR), due to our motion with respect the rest frame of the universe, indicate an absolute frame of reference? Not at all. Though the rest frame of the universe is the preferred frame for cosmology, it is not a particularly good frame of reference to use, for example, in describing the motion of the planets in our solar system. The laws of physics are the same in all inertial (unaccelerated) reference frames, so none of them can be “special”—or absolute. An absolute frame of reference would be one in which the laws of physics would be different—indeed simpler—but no such reference frame exists. And any non-inertial (accelerated) reference frame indicates there is an external force outside the system acting on the system, so it can never be used as an absolute frame of reference.
The Copernican principle states that we are not privileged observers of the universe. Any observer elsewhere in the universe will see the same universe that we do. The laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are truly universal. The Copernican principle is a good example of the application of Occam’s razor: unless there is evidence to the contrary, the simplest explanation that fits all the known facts is probably the correct one.
Ellis, G. F. R. 2006, Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology, Philosophy of Physics (Handbook of the Philosophy of Science), Ed. J. Butterfield and J. Earman (Elsevier, 2006), 1183-1285.