The Nature of the Universe
The Debate was a huge success in my judgement. I was particularly impressed by the presence and command of the materials **and audience** that each speaker possessed. First, Turner dazzled the crowd, getting everyone so in tune with his viewpoint that I felt people were feeling sorry for Peebles, who just had to sit there and take it. Then of course, Peebles took command, completely reversing the 'crowd's opinion' and bringing them solidly into his camp (there is some hyperbole here, but this was the gestalt of the audience as I was monitoring it).
Turner returns, and once again swings opinion back his way. Then, not unexpectedly, Peebles does the same, but ends the debate with a very thoughtful and stylish reprise and dedication for Schramm. Wow. You guys did a good job.
And special commendation should go to Geller as well. A master of the occasion, and an excellent audience survey ('how many of you think these theories will be those accepted 80 years from now?') brought the 1998 debate to its logical conclusion.
J. Bruce Rafert
The debate and supporting materials were excellent. I hadn't kept up with cosmology since the late 70's, when I was reading general relativity texts, but the debates and supporting material were very effective and efficient ways of coming up to speed on the current status and issues. I read the reprints enclosed with the tickets, and found their level of detail much more useful than a popularization would have been. All were useful, but especially the paper by Adam Riess et al., which gave a good sense of how some of the parameters are determined, their uncertainties, and how the supernova method will be complemented by other techniques. Some other techniques in Riess' paper might even be useful in my own work, which is in a quite different area (atmospheric physics), but like Riess' paper is observational, and has some problems having a similar flavor to those his group contended with. I've skimmed the materials provided at the debate: they look informative, and I plan to read them in detail.
Peeble's comment, in the debate, that "solving" cosmology would not "solve" astrophysics, put cosmology into context in a very informative way.
I regret only one thing. At the end, Margaret Geller asked for a show of hands on two questions: (1) Whether a future discussion of cosmology will emphasize the same parameters and issues as those discussed in the debate, or (2) Whether a future discussion would, on the contrary, be cast in entirely different terms. I didn't raise my hand to (1), despite thinking that impressive and permanent advances had recently been made. I didn't raise my hand to (2) either, but should have, because the debate made clear that the role of quantum fluctuations and ground states had become crucial in cosmology, and I think that at some point soon a deeper understanding of quantum fluctuations and superstrings (or M-branes) will be needed for continued advances in cosmology. The deeper understanding will be needed not only for advances in theory, but also to guide observations.
I'm a scientific computer programmer in the DC area, and I'm 24 years old. I read about the Great Debate from the APOD web site. I took two of my friends (same age) who have very little physics background, and the talk was a little over their heads. We felt that Turner was an excellent speaker that appealed to any listener, but that Peebles was a little harder to engage because his talk was very technical. I liked that the talk tended towards a debate about the nature of science at the end. I enjoyed the historical background, but one of my friends didn't. Regardless, we all agreed that it was an enjoyable and interesting afternoon!
Whether or not this debate found an answer to the question "Is Cosmology Solved?", is very difficult to analyze, but it sure did bring us closer to understanding the very fact that we live in a Flat Universe with Omega=1 and this in my opinion is a very logical follow-up to the rungs of the ladder that began at the "Big Bang". The talks were very impressive and I should say 'educative', even to the non-Astronomer, besides, of course, the very eye-catching transparencies presented by Dr. Michael Turner.
Wellesley E. Pereira
Basically, I think the Great Debate was very interesting. It was also a chance for us to have a good think about what we have done, and what we will do. On the other hand, it was also useful to those who work in a different field to learn about cosmology. It impressed me that perhaps finding a full quantum theory is now of increased importance to cosmology. Professors Tunner and Peebles are both top scientists in cosmology. It was really nice to listen to their lectures.
Haihong "Helen" Che
Return to the Nature of the Universe Debate in 1998