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What Happened Before the Big Bang? 394

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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  • by Ckwop (707653) * <> on Monday July 02, 2007 @11:57AM (#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!


  • by eln (21727) * on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:16PM (#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.
  • IF (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zoomshorts (137587) on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:19PM (#19719387)
    Something can come from nothing, our definition of nothing will have to be revised.

    Nothing, plus a little bit more ... perhaps?
  • But is LQG testable? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:27PM (#19719505)
    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.
  • 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 open-ended to me. i think it would be very arrogant for us if we believe we have seen all of the dynamics of the universe in play, that our model of the universe is anywhere near complete. i think there is phenomena about the functioning of the universe we are not aware of yet

    the hubble constant: why does this have to describe the ENTIRE universe? why is it not merely a local expansion/ contraction? (when i say local, i'm referring to a location that is trillions of light years in diameter)

    black holes: perhaps a black hole of massive enough size reaches some sort of physical constraint we can't even begin to understand, resulting in a "big bang", thereby renewing the universe... locally (where local, again, is extremely huge)

    second law of thermodynamics: i think a localized "big bang" would put a new twist on this law

    my disbelief in the big bang as describing the birth fo the ENTIRE universe stems from an instinct i have about the history of science:

    1. at one time, people believed the world was flat

    2. at one time, people believed the sun revolved aorund the earth

    3. at one time, people believe humans were created in the image of god, above the other beasts

    can you see where we are going? extrapoloate out from the various anthropomorphic and human-centric beliefs we have held in the past. and now look at our current understanding of what the big bang means about how the universe is supposed to resemble our birth/ death, and supposed to resemble our abrahamic religions and myths about creation

    so the big bang seems very creationist to me, a vestige of the myths about a god creating us from dust and void. and yet these abrahamic beliefs are so ingrained in our collective culture, we still labor under that mentality when we make our scientific hypotheses. the whole idea of birth is so very anthropomorphic. the whole idea of death is so very anthropomorphic. yes, us humans need to be born, and to die. why does the universe?

    in other words, projecting out from what the history of science has taught us about mankind being wrong about being the center of things, the obvious humbling projection of what we have learned about being wrong when we describe our world in human terms is that the universe is:

    1. timeless. without ending and without beginning
    2. infinite, in all directions

    the irony of course, is that this belief of mine that hedges its bet against future cosmological discoveries not only puts me in some sort of futuristic vanguard, it also puts me in the middle of one of the central beliefs of one of the most ancient religions [] (i am not a jain, i just find it ironic and funny that one of the world's ancient religions might actually be way ahead of all of us in one of its tenets)
  • by Pendersempai (625351) on Monday July 02, 2007 @12:55PM (#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!

  • Re:The punchline (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sohare (1032056) on Monday July 02, 2007 @02:46PM (#19721177)
    It's not just fundamentalists that are the problem. It's religion as a whole, because it's a very pervasive and invasive world-view. A fundamentalist is a lot like a deity. They need worshipers/people that are willing to listen to their jibe in order to have an effect.

    We'd have no problem with the various pseudosciences in the world if people had a little less faith and exercised a little more incredulity and skepticism. But instead you have huge segments of the population that don't even know what science is, and distrust their false image of the scientific method. It's not usually the fundamentalist at all who gets into trouble by believing in woo-woo, quackery, and pseudosciences. It's the desperate. Take parents of a child with cancer. They are so desperate they get sucked into paying loads of cash for some psychic/spiritual healer/naturopath who has some theories they pulled from their ass. Their faith in "something greater" and utter desperation is what takes the kid off chemo and leads to his ultimate death.

    It always cracks me up when people talk about how close-minded skeptics, humanists, atheists, scientists, etc. are. Yet most of those people:

    1) rarely have strong emotional attachments to woo-woo (i.e., what does the skeptic care of physics really do have ESP? Not a lick. But the psychics sure have a heavy investment)
    2) can be convinced of something if there is evidence presented in a good fashion. Good always means scientific because other evidence usually boils down to personal anecdote
    3) tend to educate themselves about a lot.

    And you want to tell me that a person who has "faith" in some cosmic conscious energy floating through everything, some deity, something you can never objectively point out to others, and rejects good-intentioned data collection methods (science) is somehow open minded?

    Absolutely disgusting.
  • by rajafarian (49150) on Monday July 02, 2007 @04:50PM (#19722599)
    In my time of studying things since I was little, I undertook the study of physics when I was eleven. When I was in college getting my BS in it I came to the conclusion that at the level where I was in my studies, physics turned to philosophy, for what do things like time mean anyway?

    And then after studying philosphy on my own for a few years, I arrived at the conclusion that philosophy turns to religion because if we can never know these things for sure, we still have to make a decision how we are going to live our lives, and that is religion. In my opinion, real religion is when we consciously decide what to believe on our own (although it can be from reading about religions), fake religion is when someone makes the decision for us.

    Why don't more people study Eastern religion's cosmologies? I think it's because people in general like information spoon fed to them instead of researching and processing it on their own. Western psychology is now appreciating many Buddhist ideas that can help certain people with psychological problems and many quantum physicists have felt that Buddhism may have good insights to the ultimate nature of reality []. In my view any theory that does not take consciousness into account is incomplete and not worth my basing a belief system around.
  • by DynamicLynk (1070738) on Monday July 02, 2007 @05:23PM (#19722889)
    I believe time was not an object until after Eve ate from the forbidden fruit. Then all mankind began to age and die. I am not ruling out the Big Bang, I am stating God created the so called "Big Bang" s%201:1&version=31 [] The Beginning 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
  • by ToxicBanjo (905105) on Monday July 02, 2007 @05:38PM (#19723037)

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

    Burt Ovrut [] M-Theory []

  • by pbhj (607776) on Monday July 02, 2007 @05:42PM (#19723069) Homepage Journal
    >>> Then you can start to discuss what the properties of that axis are

    So what do objects in that 4-space behave like outside of the defined region of your temporal axis?

    Does that really help?
  • by Animaether (411575) on Monday July 02, 2007 @05:48PM (#19723119) Journal
    How about this... the universe is collapsing on itself. As we speak. But it's also expanding. It just depends on your frame of reference.

    To explain this in the easiest way I can, I'm going to have to move from the multidimensional to the more easily understood dimensions. Save you have a sphere. pg []

    That sphere has a top, and a bottom. Assume that at the top of that sphere, water is formed. This water will want to flow down that sphere to the very bottom of that sphere. In the case of our simple world - due to gravity, and gravity wants those water droplets to flow ever-faster toward that bottom, etc... ignore this bit about gravity except for the ever-faster.. they accelerate.

    Now let's say you slice this sphere into strips going from the top, to the bottom. Like fancy orange peels. rejxd8.jpg []

    Now if you uncurl all those strips, and align them all together at the top, you get a sort of radial spokes system of peels. The more strips you made, the cleaner the result, but what it comes down to is this. The top point of the sphere is still a point. But the bottom point of the sphere is now no longer a point - it is part of a large circular shape in a disc. spherexj8.jpg []

    So if we had the same water droplets going from the top of the sphere to the bottom of the sphere, in this new disc-shape projection, then from the frame of reference of the top point - the center of the disc - the drops of water would appear to be continually diverging and accelerating outward. The Big Bang.

    But here's the kicker. If you uncurl the strips and align them all together at the bottom and repeat the same thing - then a bunch of scattered around water droplets would appear to be accelerating towards it, and converging. The Big Crunch.

    Just a thought - probably not original, but I don't remember reading anything on the subject.. it's not one I'm too interested in :) Graphics whipped up in 3dsmax (yeah, sorry - no Blender experience!)
  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Monday July 02, 2007 @07:10PM (#19723889)
    > because if we can never know these things for sure
    That's the only fallacy in your logic.

    Beautiful post though.

    > real religion is
    Actually, "real" religion is putting your beliefs into action by the lifestyle you live. If you never do anything with your beliefs, they are just that, beliefs.

    Teacher: "Question Authority!"
    Student: "Says who!?"

"The fundamental principle of science, the definition almost, is this: the sole test of the validity of any idea is experiment." -- Richard P. Feynman