Inflationary Theory Explains the Early Universe Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Alan H. Guth made an important contribution to scientists’ understanding of the universe when he proposed a new theory of cosmology that says that the expansion of the universe, which is currently slow and linear, was rapid and exponential for a very brief period near the beginning of time.


The inflation theory has helped to explain the actual origin of the universe itself, one of the deepest mysteries in science, which has repercussions for philosophy and religion. In a remarkable application of quantum theory, Guth has calculated that the tiny fluctuations present even in a vacuum—an empty region of space—might be adequate to initiate the process of inflation. According to quantum theory, which is very well established, a vacuum is not completely inactive. There must be a small energy field present that is fluctuating about zero. There is a probability that one of these fluctuations could erupt and produce a new universe. The laws of physics permit this because a universe such as Earth’s has almost no net energy in it. The positive energy associated with all matter (Einstein’s E = mc2 ) E = mc2 [e equals mc squared] Mass-energy equation[Mass energy equation] is balanced by the negative energy associated with the gravitational force. If the universe is indeed flat, which both measurements and inflationary theory seem to suggest, then it has no net energy, indicating that it could have erupted from an empty vacuum—from nothing—without violating the law of the conservation of energy. Inflationary theory (cosmology) Inflationary theory (cosmology) Universe;expansion Astronomy;expanding universe Big bang theory;inflationary model

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carrigan, Richard A., and W. Peter Trower, eds. Particle Physics in the Cosmos. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1989. Collection of articles reprinted from Scientific American includes discussion of the important role inflationary theories play in theories of cosmology. Of particular interest are “The Inflationary Universe,” by Alan Guth and Paul J. Steinhardt; “The Structure of the Early Universe,” by John Barrow and Joseph Silk; and “The Large Scale Structure of the Universe,” by Joseph Silk, Alexander Szalay, and Yakov Zel’dovich. Some chapters include postscripts updating the material.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gribbin, John. The Omega Point: The Search for the Missing Mass and the Ultimate Fate of the Universe. New York: Bantam Books, 1988. A popular science writer with professional training in cosmology presents one of the most accessible explanations of the universe available to lay readers. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harrison, Edward R. Cosmology: The Science of the Universe. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Comprehensive volume includes discussion of the big bang and continuous creation cosmologies. A good overview for a wide audience.
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    xlink:type="simple">_______. Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Fascinating book, aimed at lay readers, discusses the various notions held about our galaxy and the universe from the dawn of time up to the late twentieth century. Shows how culture and science influence each other.
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    xlink:type="simple">Pagels, Heinz R. Perfect Symmetry: The Search for the Beginning of Time. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985. Volume by a top scientist in the field of cosmology contains much historical material as well as a discussion of the current status of cosmological theories. Includes several sections that discuss various aspects of the inflationary theory.
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    xlink:type="simple">Silk, Joseph. The Big Bang. 3d ed. New York: W. H. Freeman, 2000. Excellent resource presents a complete discussion of the big bang, including the theory’s historical development. Provides an excellent introduction to inflationary theories, with an unusual diagram showing the relative size of the inflationary universe and the visible universe.

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