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Tony Grist

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Before The Big Bang [Dec. 16th, 2011|10:03 am]
Tony Grist
According to Horizon it's no longer scientifically illiterate to wonder what happened before the Big Bang. A convenor asked a room full of mega brains, "Who believes there was something before the Big Bang?" and every hand went up- though some only to half mast. There are many theories to be considered. The one that sticks with me- probably because its so simple- is that the universe expands, contracts and expands again- like breathing in and out. 
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2011-12-16 10:58 am (UTC)
Yes well, if time started at the Big Bang, then by definition there was nothing "before" it. Simples. Although I can't get my head round it either.

I think it is more interesting to ask "If once there was nothing, what caused the Big Bang?"
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-12-16 11:31 am (UTC)
Yeah, but some of today's physicists are querying the Big Bang itself. Or at least querying its status as a unique event.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2011-12-16 02:58 pm (UTC)
I watched it! Am I any the wiser? I can understand that our big bang might not be the only one but if there is a series of bangs, what started the first one? That is probably a dumb question.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-12-16 07:39 pm (UTC)
I don't understand it. I don't think the scientists do either. The universe just keeps getting bigger and older and more awesome...
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2011-12-16 01:21 pm (UTC)
That last one is what I have always believed, so I do rather hope it turns out that way. But I'm open to whatever reality is!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-12-16 02:24 pm (UTC)
I agree. I suppose I like that theory because it's organic.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-12-16 03:02 pm (UTC)
The other interesting thing about it is that it answers the question, "why is there something instead of nothing?"

See, the fundamental constants of the universe are very carefully balanced to allow, y'know, MATTER and ENERGY and things that could allow life and intelligence. If some of those constants were very slightly different, nothing resembling life could ever exist.

So why are those constants so carefully balanced to allow us?

The "anthropogenic" argument points out that, if there WASN'T "us", then we wouldn't be asking that, but still, there IS a question as to why this most incredibly careful balance exists.

And that's one argument for some sort of God-like being. SOMETHING chose to create these constants at such a level to allow life, goes the theory.

However, if the universe is in a solid-state of constant expansion, contraction, and re-creation, with different physical constants every time, then there could have been quadrillions of universes before this, and after this, and it's very, very rare for there to be a universe with life, and therefore, we exist because every once in a very great while, the universe just randomly throws out a situation that CAN support life. And therefore, you don't need to postulate any sort of thing with godlike qualities.

For what it's worth, I find this terrifying, just because it's so big.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2011-12-16 03:45 pm (UTC)
The anthropogenic argument strikes me as being rather similar to the lottery winner who claims that, as the chances of his winning were so small, he must have been singled out by God for special favour - and that therefore God exists.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-12-16 03:46 pm (UTC)
Actually, it's the opposite. The antropogenic argument is, "If we didn't exist, we wouldn't know we didn't exist, so the fact that we know we exist merely means that we exist, and therefore doesn't mean anything."
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2011-12-16 03:50 pm (UTC)
Ah, then I beg its pardon. I have heard an argument like the one I just alluded to, but perhaps that's the one the anthropogenic argument is against!
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-12-16 03:55 pm (UTC)
Exactly so. Now, the thing is -- if the universe was only created ONCE, I could see this as having some sort of validity. Not necessarily, but, I could see it. The odds against life and intelligence happening by random chance in ONE try are, well, "astronomical" is definitely far, far too small a concept for it. But if the universe is recreated infinitely, with different characteristics each time, then it's absolutely certain that life and intelligence will be created infinitely often, no mater how unlikely it is.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2011-12-16 04:39 pm (UTC)
You mean the "weak anthropic principle" and the "strong anthropic principle". They are worth a lookup on Wikipedia.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-12-16 08:01 pm (UTC)
Yes.

A purposeful universe is inconceivable, but then so is one that is purposeless.

Our brains just aren't big enough to handle these ideas...
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[User Picture]From: ccord
2011-12-16 03:12 pm (UTC)
The one that sticks with me- probably because its so simple- is that the universe expands, contracts and expands again- like breathing in and out.

This is a fairly classic one, in some regards, isn't it? Sort of an updated version of the Stoic conflagration.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2011-12-16 03:48 pm (UTC)
I've always liked the 'breathing in and out' idea, too. But I don't see how you can imagine it without imagining that time continues as a steady pace independently of the state of the universe, whereas one thing I understood to be an implication of special relativity is that, if the universe were sucked into a primordial atom ready for the 'next' big bang, time would be sucked with it, rendering the concepts of 'next' and 'previous' meaningless. But I'd be happy to be wrong about that!
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-12-16 03:56 pm (UTC)
The concepts of "next" and previous" are meaningless in that. But it doesn't mean that things can't happen over and over -- just that they don't happen in a sequence.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2011-12-16 04:04 pm (UTC)
I guess this is one of those areas where ordinary language, which has concepts of sequence, past and future built into its basic structures, ceases to be terribly useful.

The people who've put the most work into finding ways to talk about such things (other than physicists) are probably religious mystics. I can imagine Nicholas of Cusa taking all this in his stride.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2011-12-16 04:07 pm (UTC)
Physicists don't really do well talking about it, either. They just rely on the math. At a certain point, your gut level understanding about how the world works is just wrong.

Richard Feynman was once asked to explain how magnets actually work. His point was that he couldn't, because it's too basic. He could explain how TOUCHING things works, in TERMS of magnetism, but he couldn't explain how MAGNETISM works in terms of how we actually do things in our daily life.
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[User Picture]From: ccord
2011-12-16 04:18 pm (UTC)
When reading Augustine's Confessions a year or two ago, I remember being surprised when he began writing of this very issue -- how one can essentially, through reason, establish logical priority but not phenomenal, affective priority regarding "events" "before time". But, he also noted that the restrictions of language always cause one to talk about timeless events as if the were temporal, thus inviting confusion.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-12-16 08:03 pm (UTC)
I think so. I seem to remember encountering the idea in Hindu mythology.
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[User Picture]From: ccord
2011-12-16 11:19 pm (UTC)
It may be present in early Chinese (pre-imperial) myth as well. There were instances of such myth-speculation on time in Ancient Egypt's late period, as well. Similar speculations seem to pop-up where-ever there have been those who've been attempting to reconcile an apparently "circular" aspect of time, with it's "linear" aspect.

Edited at 2011-12-16 11:20 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-12-16 07:14 pm (UTC)
There would still have to be a beginning, somehow. I cannot believe that the universe "originated in a cipher and aimlessly rushes nowhere".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-12-16 08:04 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine there ever being a beginning, but then I can't imagine eternity either.
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[User Picture]From: Michael John Grist
2011-12-17 01:28 pm (UTC)
42
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2011-12-18 03:09 am (UTC)
There you go, Michael -- the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!
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