It’s been two weeks since Stanford physics professor Andrei Linde found out that his Big Bang theory was true, but he’s still reeling from the repercussions.
Since the announcement was made public Monday, 2.4 million people on YouTube have watched Linde react to news that evidence from the BICEP2 experiment in the South Pole supports his cosmic inflation theory of how the universe began.
For many, the two-minute video felt more real than any glammed-up episode of reality television could ever be. Hundreds tweeted, Facebooked and GIF'd it, leaving no doubt that the news had sparked the beginning of many discussions on life, evolution and the universe.
Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, perhaps summed it up best in the New Yorker, explaining that the discovery could “allow us to peer back to the very beginning of time—a million billion billion billion billion billion times closer to the Big Bang than any previous direct observation.”
Linde called the media attention "a pleasant bump on the road."
“We are not exposed to this kind of attention, but that has changed,” Linde said Thursday. “We developed these ideas almost 30 years ago, nobody cared at that time, and only now they are being discussed seriously.”
So what exactly is inflation?
“Inflation is a brief stage of exponential expansion of the universe, which made the universe large and uniform, and produced the seeds for the large-scale structure of the universe,” Linde said.
He added that he is not entirely sure yet that his theory is true.
“I’m 95 percent convinced it’s true, but extraordinary statements need extraordinary proof. If these results are correct, they are among the most spectacular results in observational cosmology obtained in the 21st century. We should wait a little before they are analyzed and confirmed by other observers.”
As for his now-famous reaction on camera, Linde said that it was all real.
In the video released by Stanford University, assistant professor of physics Chao-Lin Kuo gets ready to deliver the good news to Linde.
“He has no idea I’m coming.”Kuo says into the lens, walking toward Linde's house.
“So I have a surprise for you,” Kuo tells Linde and his wife when they open their door. “It’s five sigma at point two.”
Linde’s wife, Standford professor of physics Renata Kallosh, says something that sounds like, “Discovered it?”
Then Linde asks Kuo to repeat himself again, and again, and then stops him mid-sentence, exclaiming: “Point two?”
Later, while celebrating over some champagne, Linde tells Kuo that the couple hadn't been expecting anybody and Renata had asked him whether he had ordered delivery from Amazon.
“Yeah,” he says in the video, “I ordered it 30 years ago. Finally it arrived.”
“My head is turning on my shoulders [since I found out],” Linde told NBC Bay Area Thursday. “There are some miracles about our world which do not allow us to sleep well … any results that support inflation, indirectly support the idea of the multiverse as well."
When asked where the discovery and subsequent validation of his theory falls in the pantheon of great scientific discoveries (Linde counts Einstein, Newton and Niels Bohr among his heroes), Linde said that although he wouldn’t compare it with quantum mechanics or the theory of relativity, it's really important to him.
“It’s changed our vision of life, the universe and our place in the world,” he said.