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What Happened Before the Big Bang? 394

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the why-not-just-invent-a-time-machine dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes to tell us that a recent advance in Loop Quantum Gravity theory appears to allow the mathematics of cosmology to be extended to the time before the Universe underwent the Big Bang. Bad Astronomer also attempts to simplify things a bit with his own explanation of the new discovery.
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What Happened Before the Big Bang?

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  • Easy (Score:5, Funny)

    by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:55PM (#19719095)
    The big foreplay.

    Come on, what do you think, the universe is a whore?
    • You, sir, are condemned to Hell. We don't discuss things like that. For more information, we invite you to our museum [creationmuseum.org]...

    • Re:Easy (Score:5, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday July 02, 2007 @02:08PM (#19719953)
      Before the big bang? That was back when God was in college. He totally meant to create the universe--but he was having problems with his girlfriend, his parents were giving him all kinds of shit, his weed connection got busted by the cops, and his humanities professor was riding his ass about that late paper. He finally did get his shit together and did the whole "let there be light" thing, though. Hey, we've all been young, right?
      • Re:Easy (Score:5, Funny)

        by glindsey (73730) on Monday July 02, 2007 @03:35PM (#19721035)
        humanities professor was riding his ass about that late paper

        Considering God had yet to create humans, this was a particularly difficult paper to write.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I can't believe that. If God was a student, he wouldn't have taken six days to create the world and then rested on the seventh, he'd have spent six days partying, half the seventh hung over and stayed up all night to get it finished.

      • by roystgnr (4015)
        Before the big bang? That was back when God was in college.

        So God is in grad school now? And He picked a research project that took ten billion years to start generating really interesting results? Man, I thought *my* thesis was taking too long...
    • God had to buy the universe dinner first.
  • The Paper & Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:56PM (#19719107) Journal

    What Bojowald's work does, as I understand it (the paper as I write this is not out yet, so I am going by my limited knowledge of LQG and other theories like it) is simplify the math enough to be able to trace some properties of the Universe backwards, right down to T=0, which he calls the Big Bounce.
    I caught this story on PhysOrg [physorg.com] yesterday and subsequently found the full text [nature.com] from the Journal of Nature Physics. While Mr. Bojowald has many papers currently up for review, I believe the precise paper is available on Arxiv [arxiv.org].

    As Bad Astronomer noted, this isn't the first time something like this has been proposed. I think the first time I read about it was in a book by George Gamov [wikipedia.org] and then subsequent work/proposed theories done by Roger Penrose [wikipedia.org] & the well known Stephen Hawking.

    Considering past results of my comments [slashdot.org] on matters I have little formal education on, I'll won't bother to remark on this work.
  • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:57PM (#19719129) Homepage

    I've always held that asking what came before the Big Bang is like asking what is North of the North Pole? It's a grammatically correct question but we can't expect it to mean anything.

    While we don't have a working theory of quantum gravitation, we do have some strong hints that time and and space themselves were forged in the Big Bang. If you look at a Universe a Planck Length is size, the error in the time of any event observed would be longer than the time the Universe has existed for, to this point, and any error is position would be large than the current Universe at that size.

    In short, time and space are useless measurements of a Universe this small.

    In a very real sense, the Universe has always existed but has a finite age. I think once I came to understand what this really meant, it's very a beautiful truth about the world. I am sceptical of any theory that talks about a "before" the Big Bang - I think it misses one of the most important truths there is to know!

    Simon

    • by khallow (566160) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:07PM (#19719253)

      While we don't have a working theory of quantum gravitation, we do have some strong hints that time and and space themselves were forged in the Big Bang. If you look at a Universe a Planck Length is size, the error in the time of any event observed would be longer than the time the Universe has existed for, to this point, and any error is position would be large than the current Universe at that size.

      Time and length can be measured simultaneously without problem. Position, momentum and time, energy are the pairs that are subject to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and cannot be measured simultaneously to arbitrary accuracy.

      In short, time and space are useless measurements of a Universe this small.

      But with high energy and momentum density, I think time and space make sense. And that's assuming that the Big Bang is a singularity with initial time origin.
    • by timster (32400)
      Well, maybe you're right, and maybe not. The article in question speculates that time and space may have existed before the Big Bang occurred. If that's the case, it may be that asking what's before the Big Bang is more like asking what's north of Alaska.
    • by eln (21727) * on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:16PM (#19719367) Homepage
      That's an interesting hypothesis, and one I've heard before. What is the evidence for it though? Is it just that all of our current models break down at that point, so we assume there was nothingness? Or do we have some sort of observed evidence to support the idea that time itself did not exist prior to the big bang?

      As humans, we have a hard time envisioning "eternity," but we have an equally hard time grappling with the idea that existence itself would have a finite beginning or end. Both of these concepts exist too far out of our experience to really grasp. I guess this is why people find so much comfort in faith in a divine being that both exists eternally and defines the beginning and end of existence as we know it.
    • by nick255 (139962)
      I've always held that asking what came before the Big Bang is like asking what is North of the North Pole? It's a grammatically correct question but we can't expect it to mean anything.

      That depends what you view of time is. If you view time as merely a sequence of ordered events (which is how philosophers tend to view it), then there is no reason there can't be anything before the Big Bang. If you view time as part of space-time created at the Big Bang (as physicists tend to) then you can't have before the
    • by Pendersempai (625351) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:55PM (#19719769)

      I've always held that asking what came before the Big Bang is like asking what is North of the North Pole? It's a grammatically correct question but we can't expect it to mean anything.... I think once I came to understand what this really meant, it's very a beautiful truth about the world. I am sceptical of any theory that talks about a "before" the Big Bang - I think it misses one of the most important truths there is to know!

      I agree that it's a beautiful concept, but it might not be right. It's testable, and they're going to test it. If you want call your arguments scientific, you have to accept that in science, the most beautiful explanation is not always the correct one. I think that both geocentrism and flat-earth theory are beautiful in a kind of fairy tale aesthetic, but we had to let them go because they were wrong. If they run the experiments and conclude that time extended prior to the big bang, so be it.

      Anyway, isn't it more appealing that time is cyclical rather than terminal? Consider the alternative: all the rich vibrancy of the universe slowly dying of metastasized entropy until it is an ever-expanding fossil of inert dust. How much nicer that there may be a cure for entropy, even if it is one that we will not survive!

      • by BlueMonk (101716)
        The recent hypothesis [slashdot.org] about black hole behavior seems like another good example of such "poetic perfection" and infinity giving way to more finite and realistic notions, if it turns out to work better. And it has some similarities to this idea, in the sense that time may not be hitting an absolute boundary here as previously supposed.
    • The Big Bang didn't go BANG.

      IMHO ... time and space were created "between" the matter that was ultimately dense.

      Even though observations right now, suggest our Universe is "open" because things are accelerating outwards at an increasing rate, I think I have a simple explanation for that and what happened BEFORE the big bang.

      Stars have an upwards limit to mass. Too much and you can get blowback that creates a black hole as gravity creates the same relativistic accelerations that motion can. So the speed of l
    • I've always held that asking what came before the Big Bang is like asking what is North of the North Pole?

      That analogy was put forth by Hawking in A Brief History of Time. People use it as an example of how a singularity is a "boundary" to spacetime: it's not smoothly connected to any prior spacetime.

      However, most of those people also miss the fact that Hawking meant it quite literally. He wasn't actually speaking of the usual Big Bang singularity. Rather, he was speaking of his No-Boundary Proposal in the (now disfavored) Euclidean quantum gravity theory. In the NBP, the Big Bang singularity in 3+1 dimen

  • by Critical Facilities (850111) on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:59PM (#19719155) Homepage
    "Hey guys, watch this"
    • That certainly explains his lack of presence while we generally screw things up on him.

      Who's going to notify the coroner that the our Diety is lying crumpled in a ditch along the Celestial Highway?
  • so he could light the fuse on his latest science project
  • I decided I would think about this a billion years from now, in the year 1,000,000,2007. No hurry, right?
  • by Himring (646324) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:11PM (#19719311) Homepage Journal
    Everyone knows that just before the big bang, chuck norris was launching a roundhouse kick....
  • These theories may seem like mumbo-jumbo or magic, but they have that very basic property of science: they're testable.

    As a science-loving person, I almost fell in ecstasy by just reading this sentence. It really gets things straight regarding religious fanboyism. So "eat that, Intelligent Design".

    Ahh... saying that felt so good.
    • I was hoping that the article was going to propose an experiment that would confirm or deny loop quantum gravity, but it doesn't. AFAIK, LQG and string theory are not experimentally falsifiable theories, that has been one of the principle controversies. A lot of scientists (Philip Anderson for instance) don't think these its real science.
      • by GeffDE (712146)
        The point was made repeatedly in the second linked article that LQG (or at least this variant) are in fact testable. The claim was also made that these experiments could be made in a few years (TM).
        • The point was made, but no experiment was proposed nor does it say what would be measured. I realize that Bad Astronomy is written for a layman audience, but it's kind of lame to make a big deal about how its testable without telling what the test would be.
  • You mean... (Score:5, Funny)

    by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:13PM (#19719327) Homepage Journal

    "What Happened 6001 Years Ago?"
    Fixed that for you.

  • IF (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zoomshorts (137587) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:19PM (#19719387)
    Something can come from nothing, our definition of nothing will have to be revised.

    Nothing, plus a little bit more ... perhaps?
  • No Before (Score:2, Funny)

    by WED Fan (911325)

    There is no "before".

    There has to be a big bang to have a "before big bang".

    Now, 6000 years ago, roughly, God spoke and the Universe lept into being.

    All you techno-geeks need to accept that. Put away your computers. I have. I stopped using computers because they are the "Beast" (Beast is a Trademark of the RMS Corporation, a wholly, and holy, owned subsidary of FOSS, owners of the GNUniverse).

    God will smite you computer using disbelievers for not accepting the 6000 year Universe. Your only salvation is

    • by WED Fan (911325)

      There is no "before".
      There has to be a big bang to have a "before big bang".
      Now, 6000 years ago, roughly, God spoke and the Universe lept into being.
      All you techno-geeks need to accept that. Put away your computers. I have. I stopped using computers because they are the "Beast" (Beast is a Trademark of the RMS Corporation, a wholly, and holy, owned subsidary of FOSS, owners of the GNUniverse).
      God will smite you computer using disbelievers for not accepting the 6000 year Universe. Your only salva

    • by Sciros (986030)
      But I like my computer... and Kentucky is okay sometimes, as long as you avoid most of the locals. There's a cave somewhere in Kentucky that's kinda cool... it has an underground lake that GOD MADE!

      Yeah whoever modded you Troll shouldn't be getting any modpoints. Hopefully I can metamoderate that into oblivion!
    • Put away your computers. I have.

      I can only assume you posted this manually by sending your signal down the optic fiber with a laser pointer.
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:29PM (#19719523)
    Dinner, a movie, and a whole lotta wine. Giggity-giggity-goo!
  • by mypalmike (454265) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:30PM (#19719525) Homepage
    .gnola evom esaelP
  • ob (Score:2, Funny)

    by edittard (805475)
    A load of turtles had a big argument about which one was going at the bottonm of the pile?
  • by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:35PM (#19719575)
    The theory that is proposed in the article is that our universe came from a former "crunched" universe. But the current observations of our universe indicate accelerating expansion which in turn implies that our universe will end in a cold death rather than a big crunch. That seems to be an unresolved contradiction. Does these mean that loop quantum gravity is incompatible with observation (which would conclude that LQG is not correct)? Or did the previous universe have such different laws of physics that it's fate was different than the fate of our universe?
    • if expansion continues to accelerate, then the observable universe one day becomes smaller than any structure. 20 billion years from now, according to the Big Rip theorists, nothing can communicate with anything else so no force interactions. So the Universe goes from Big Bang to Big Rip, and we're screwed. And nothing to cause a Big Crunch, everything is just a lucky one-time event.
    • by mhall119 (1035984)
      The article mentions that basic laws and constants of our universe may not have been the same in the preceding one. For example, a stronger value of G, the gravitational constant, would have forced our universe to collapse.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ambitwistor (1041236)
      Bojowald's original "bounce" solution merely has a single crunch which leads to a single bang. It also ignored the cosmological constant, which is what leads to the eternally accelerating expansion (dark energy) now favored. This does not by itself mean that loop quantum cosmology is incompatible with observation. It is possible (although maybe odd) that the universe could expand forever after the Big Crunch of a single progenitor universe. However, more importantly, the simple and highly symmetric LQG
  • or rather, if there was one, that it was a localized event. we talk about all of these dead ends in cosmology: black holes, from which nothing escapes, the heat death of the universe, where simple entropy reduces everything to luke warm death, the hubble constant, which describes everything as slowly expanding away from everything else. and we even talk about this birth of the universe. birth and death: doesn't that strike you as anthropomorphic?

    i don't know. our current understanding of cosmology seems ope
    • by cowscows (103644)
      That's all well and good, and many people have put forth any number of different ideas like some of the stuff you're hinting at. The thing is, we've only got so much ability to study the universe around us, and only so much data that we can use to test our theories.

      Might the Hubble Constant not be a factor in some insanely distant part of the universe? Sure, but if it looks to be in effect everywhere we can see, then how can we make any useful assumptions about where it ends?

      I don't think that the Big Bang
      • it's just a hunch:

        1. time and time again, anthropomorphization has informed our theories about how our surroundings work, and time and time again, anthropomorphization has turned out to be wrong

        2. talking about the universe as having a birth, and a death, seems very anthropomorphic to me

        therefore, our current understanding of the cosmos, ie: the big bang, and various theories of its "death" is probably wrong too, because it is so anthropomorphic

        that's all i'm operating on, that's the sum total of my hunch.
        • I think it is just convenient terminology. We talk about the birth and death of individual stars as well. Anytime an appliance, car, computer, battery, etc... stops working, we say it died.
          • when we walk in the woods at nigthh we see faces in tree bark, we see faces in clouds

            ship captains refer to their boats as "she"

            we think like this because so much of our intellect is devoted to our relationships with our fellow humans, so much so that it infects nearly every way in think. not that i think we should or could ever think anthropomorphically and become emotionless robots, just that we should be aware of this subtle bias we have in all of our thoughts and perceptions
            • I think we see faces because we are wired to be very effective at distinguishing faces. It doesn't mean we really think there is a man in the moon or a face on mars (well not all of us).

              I think anthropomorphizing language is a sometimes effective and often convenient way to relate to others, but I don't think this kind of language shapes the science.
              • 1. i think this bias towards anthropomorphization is more deeply rooted than just our visual perception. i think it's in every facet of our brains' operation, from the lowest to the highest faculties

                2. therefore, our ability to transcend anthropomorphization in our development of science is a great credit to us all, so strong is our mental bias towards anthropomorphization

        • by cowscows (103644)
          Fair enough, but I will mention a few more things. First off the different theories about the "death" of the universe vary greatly. The "Big Crunch" idea of the universe eventually collapsing in on itself seems pretty different from how most people view death, as does the "Big Rip". The "Big Freeze" is the one that seems to me to be the most anthropomorphic, because it involves the universe just getting older, but at the same time, the universe never actually ceases to exist there, it just becomes so cold a
        • by AndersOSU (873247)
          It strikes me that if we actively try to avoid anthropomorphizing something we actually end up with some convoluted mess that a being unable to project his preconceptions could not come up with. Are the ideas of infinite and eternal really more "natural" than the alternatives? I think that ideas of eternal and infinite aren't really natural, they're extensions of the human ideas of really-big and really-long, which IMO make them even more anthropomorphic than finite concepts. I guess what I'm (eventually
    • "I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return." Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 (English Standard Version)
  • Even if the math can be extended to a time before the Big Bang, is there any way to test the predictions? My understanding is that, if there even was anything before the Big Bang, any information (in the Claude Shannon, Information Theory sense) about it wouldn't have passed through that event to this here and now. It's much like there is debate about whether any information that passes the event horizon of a black hole can ever be recovered. The information may well be there, but can we get at it?
    • by mhall119 (1035984)
      If the Big Bang were a true singularity, then no information could be passed on, you are correct about that. However, this theory is saying that it was not a true singularity, that it had a non-zero volume and a non-infinite energy/density, therefore some information could pass through the event.
  • WTF is up with the first link - the one that points to "http://.moc.liamg..ta..remonortsadabeht./"??

    Is this some kind of new URL hashing mechanism? Should I try and decrypt this with the 0x09 key? Does the link predate the universe (thereby making it inscrutable to those within the universe)?

    Or is my connection/machine/browser just horribly, horribly FUBARed?
    • by Dave21212 (256924)

      Not sure that it's OT, since it's commenting on the actual posting :)

      That's a freaky email hash... really complicated, it's the address in reverse with some extra dots and with @ spelled out... the real addy is "theBadAstronomer" @ "gmail.com"

      • I admit to feeling a bit obtuse for not seeing that.

        But why is it presented as an http URL? Since when do we want email links that are a) unfollowable because they're obfuscated, and b) unfollowable because they're set after http:/// [http] as lead-ins to stories?

        And this is my first-ever complaint (in almost 10 years of hanging out here) about the editing on slashdot: if they're not even following the links to check they're valid, what the hell is their job? I mean, catching dupes is hard, since it presupposes yo
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Monday July 02, 2007 @01:58PM (#19719795) Homepage

    The universe DOES recreate itself, each time stranger than before...

  • I think it went something like this:

    "What's THIS button do?"

  • A scientific theory first of all has to offer a test to be scientific. I can postulate that at T=-1 the universe was a big, pink pineapple. I'm pretty sure that someone with a firmer background in astrophysics than me can come up with a model that would describe that credibly. Is it scientific? In no way. It offers no chance to test this theory, no way to verify or falsify it.

    So, why bother speculating? Yes, mathematically it's possible. Mathematically it's possible to reverse time.
    • by Kupek (75469)
      From TFA,

      Also, and what's perhaps most exciting about these theories, is that they make predictions, predictions which can be verified or falsified based on observations. These are delicate experiments to be sure, but some will be possible to perform in just the next few years (for example, different cosmological origin theories predict different behaviors for the Universe at very early times, and these would imprint themselves on objects which can be observed).
  • Last I checked, right before the Big Bang, God said "I'm gonna make a universe", then *bang* it happened...
  • set off a mini big bang that removed the plague that was killing the Ancient in the milky way.
  • and that set off a big bang and we will soon see what that is like in stargate universe
  • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Monday July 02, 2007 @03:31PM (#19720983)
    From TFA:

    >One implication of this "cosmic forgetfulness," as Bojowald calls it, is that history does not repeat itself-the fundamental properties of the current era of the universe are different from the last, Bojowald explained. "It's as if the universe forgot some of its properties and acquired new properties independent of what it had before," he told SPACE.com.

    So not only does God play dice, but He re-rolls to get a better attribute set.

  • A graint of salt (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Monday July 02, 2007 @04:38PM (#19721799)
    This result is interesting within the context of loop quantum gravity, because it offers an approximation within which the Big Bang can be modeled directly. However, it's worth not losing sight of the fact that the LQG theory upon which it is based has serious issues with consistency. It is based on a non-standard quantization technique with no experimentally supported basis, its Hamiltonian constraint has never been solved (which renders any approximation based on that constraint suspect), and it suffers from potentially infinitely many quantization ambiguities (again, with no known and maybe no possible experimental method for singling out the correct quantization. Some of these concerns are summarized here [arxiv.org]. (Yes, it's written by string theorists, and yes, string theory has its own set of problems with experimentally selecting the "correct" solution. But the correctness of string theory aside, the objections raised in that article against LQG are valid.) It's very premature to suggest that LQG's picture of the Big Bang may be correct when the fundamental theory itself has serious unresolved problems.
  • by ToxicBanjo (905105) on Monday July 02, 2007 @06:38PM (#19723037)

    ... as brane colisions without requiring a singularity, therefore showing time before the actual "bang"?

    info:
    Burt Ovrut [wikipedia.org] M-Theory [wikipedia.org]

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