Beginning of everything

In the “Kansas vs. Evolution” thread, someone brought up the fact that something had to exist first as a proof for the existence of G-d.

Now, anyone who’s not new to this board (or at least my posts) knows what I believe. But I write the following with the intention to be non-partisan.

Obviously, something had to be first.

One of the laws of physics is Conservation of Matter and Energy, which means that while matter and energy can be converted from one state to another, neither can ever be created from nothing or obliterated into nothing.

Therefore, whatever came first must be an exception to the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, as we understand it.

Now, there are three possible approaches to figuring out the answer to “where did it all come from?”

  1. The first thing was supernatural (e.g., G-d as defined by most world religions). It therefore exists outside the laws of physics, and is capable not only of creating matter and energy from nothing, but of having been created from nothing itself.

  2. The first thing was a natural object, and there is an exception to the LoCoMaE, but the current state of our knowledge of physics has yet to identify it.

  3. Forty-two.

Two questions:

  1. Someone (Gaudere?) mentioned something about quarks popping up out of nowhere. Does this mean that the LoCoMaE does have known exceptions? Has that law been rewritten to explain them? Or do they fit within previous understandings?

  2. If you are a dedicated atheist, does that mean that you believe approach 2 is truer than approach 1 above? If so, why?

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Excellent questions, cmkeller, and excellently posed, I might add.

First, yes, I recall reading in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that electrons will spontaneously generate, in apparent violation of the Law of Conservation. If you place an electron detector in what is otherwise a vacuum, you will get random hits as electrons are created. The thing is, the electrons are actually created as part of a pair – the other half being a positron, or anti-electron. The particle and anti-particle soon collide and destroy each other, which is the stipulation required to get around the Law of Conservation.

In fact, around a black hole, sometimes the positron will fall into the hole and the electron will escape, such that they can never destroy each other, and we can observe the electrons seemingly being emitted from the black hole. Once inside the event horizon, the positron will most likely hit some other electron and destroy both, thereby satisfying the exception to the Law.

Now, for the real meat. Simple answer: We don’t know what came first. More detailed answer: We don’t care what came first because nothing that existed before our universe did can have any effect on us, because nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

However, I think the real answer for the advanced theoretical physicists (based on my understanding of the theories from A Brief History of Time) is “There was no ‘first.’”

Time, you see, is a property of our universe. “First” implies some sort of time sequence. It’s impossible for us to comprehend, but there is not really anything that could be called “before” our universe existed. Time literally began when our universe began. There is no “before.”

This reminds me of the model of the universe Hawking set forth in the aforementioned book. Take the Earth as an example. The Earth’s surface is two-dimensional – it is, after all, a surface – but it is curved in a third dimension. This curvature allows one to walk forever in a given direction and never hit the “end” of anything. You will come back to where you started, but can walk in that direction forever. Well, the universe is similar. It is clearly three-dimensional. We can move more or less freely in all three dimensions, and we see celestial objects doing so. But the theory is that the universe is curved in the fourth dimension – like the Earth’s surface is curved in the third. So if you flew away from Earth at (ignoring Einstein for a moment) extremely high speeds, you would never reach then “end” of the universe. You would eventually, believe it or not, end up back here at Earth.

Weird, huh?

Dammit, now I have a headache!

“Something had to come first…”
What is so hard about the concept of infinity, anyway?


Right with you through most of that, but:

First, you’re assuming a lot. Perhaps before the Big Bang there was a Big Crunch. Perhaps before the Big Bang, the singularity that was to become our universe behaved like a pulsar, emitting some sort of energy or exhibiting gravity fluctuations…

Ignoring these wild theories and sticking with the more mainstream… Time is an abstract; it must be infinite in both directions. Before the birth of our universe (assuming a Big Bang from nothing scenario) there would be no way to measure time (i.e. no frames of reference), but time was nevertheless present. Unless you insist that time must be observable to exist, in which case, time didn’t exist until there was an observer.

JoeyBlades wrote:

No, it’s worse than that.

Recall that, according to General Relativity, your clock moves more slowly to an outside observer the stronger the gravitational field you’re in. If you were at the event horizon of a black hole, your clock would appear to move infinitely slowly to an outsider. At the singularity in the center of a black hole, the laws of physics break down. ALL of the laws of physics break down. Including the ones relating to time.

“When” the universe was a singularity, time literally had no meaning.

I’m not flying fast, just orbiting low.

In Hawking’s Black Holes And Baby Universes, he mentions a very cool theory about the beginning of the universe. Here’s how the reasoning works.

We usually imagine time as a sort of number line, with some spot labelled as “the present” and a beginning (the Big Bang) labelled “0”. If you started at “the present” and travelled in the negative direction, you could only go a finite distance; eventually you’d reach the starting instant of the universe, time 0. Since there’s no time before that, you couldn’t travel backward any further. And because you’re stuck on a line, you can go nowhere else without retracing your steps.

This is easily grasped by common sense.

But Hawking suggests that there may be another time dimension to consider-- imaginary time, existing at right angles to the real time that we observe. (Here the term “imaginary” is used in its mathematical sense, involving the square roots of negative numbers.)

Instead of a number line, imagine a desktop globe of the Earth. For gradations of time, use degrees of latitude; mark the North Pole as 0, and define South to be the direction in which we perceive time to flow.

If you now start at some point on the globe, and travel in the negative time direction (aka North), you will eventually reach the North Pole, time 0. You can’t go any further North-- further back in time-- because you’re already at the northernmost point on the globe. However, there is no endpoint, no singularity, at the North Pole; it’s exactly the same as any other point on the globe, except for that label of “0” that we stuck on it.

See, time may not just extend backward to a singularity and stop. It may curve back around on itself, like the surface of the Earth. The universe may have neither a beginning nor an end, simply a curved existence threaded through five-dimensional complex spacetime.

And you thought your head hurt before this.

I’m not a warlock.
I’m a witch with a Y chromosome.

I forgot to mention that, at present, the concept of “imaginary time” is almost entirely conjecture. Hawking and his colleagues have assumed certain things about how they think quantum gravity must work, and the ideas in my last post follow from that.

But at present, quantum gravity is still a big question mark; there exists no theory which both adequately describes it, and fits acceptably with the rest of physics. So though I find the concept of five-dimensional complex spacetime to be fascinating, it’s little more than speculation as of yet.

I’m not a warlock.
I’m a witch with a Y chromosome.

JoeyBlades, your statement is precisely the misconception I was attempting to refute in my post. tracer, your response to JoeyBlades is completely correct.

AuraSeer, that model of time as a multi-dimensional property (no singularity, but finite dimensions) is precisely what reminded me of the Earth-universe model I mentioned in the last paragraph of my last post. I couldn’t remember the exact details, though, so I skipped over it. Thanks. =)


You wrote"

You’re jumping to a conclusion.

First, who’s to say that the primal singularity would behave like a black hole? There might be no gravitational field in this situation.

Second, there’s considerable concern that the “Einstein Tilt” may not be valid because, in his proof, Einstein treated time as a dependent variable - basically, identical to a spacial variable. This may mean that time does not actually slow down in a gravitational field. I know there is some scientific evidence that suggests that the effects have been demonstrated, but opponents of this part of the theory of special relativity argue that the experimentors made the same erroneous transformations that Einstein did.
Note: I am still undecided on this issue.

Third, by definition, there is no outside observer so the “rules” of special relativity break down, as well.

I will back down on my point a bit,though. I didn’t intend to state that time would “definitely” exist (I know that’s what I said, but it’s not what I meant). The point I meant to make was that Power’s statement “Time literally began when our universe began” may not be entirely accurate.

JoeyBlades wrote:

Well, you’re close to being correct, but not for the reason you think.
By definition, a “singularity” is some mass contained in a point of zero size. Because it has mass, there will be gravitation; there’s no way around that.
But gravitation is a warping of space. If there was a singularity at the Big Bang, all of space was compressed within it, which means there was nothing to be warped by its mass. There would be no gravitation per se, because there existed no outside object to attract.
But this doesn’t mean that the pre-Big-Bang singularity would act any differently from the singularity inside any black hole. There’d be no gravitation because of the lack of a frame of reference, but that fact does not represent any special quality of the primordial object.

Where did you get the idea that relativity breaks down in the absence of an observer? Are you confusing it with some part of quantum mechanics? Sorry, but you’re way off base here.

I can agree with this idea-- see my post above, on the concept of imaginary time-- but not in the way you apparently mean it. tracer’s post is correct; every way we have of describing the universe will break down at a singularity. Because all its dimensions are zero, and division by zero is undefined, any concept of time or motion “within” or “inside” it is nonsensical.

I’m not a warlock.
I’m a witch with a Y chromosome.