Mar 28, 2023
“We imagine Big Bang as though someone switched on a torch in the middle of a dark room; but of course, there is no flashlight, there is no room.”
“Daddy, when was the Big Bang?”
“About 14 billion years ago.”
That was surprisingly easy, wasn’t it? Thank goodness Junior didn’t ask, “Why is the sky blue?” or
“Where do babies come from?”
Surprisingly easy – or should we say, ‘deceptively easy’? Something just doesn’t feel quite right, does it? So let’s dig a little deeper. (“Sorry, Junior, Daddy can’t play right now; he has to think about the Big Bang.”)
We live in time. We count forwards and backwards. We can keep counting back until we get to zero, et voilà, Big Bang. But all this is from the perspective of here and now. What if we look at the same problem from the perspective of the Big Bang itself? That’s going to be a problem.
Time originates with Big Bang. Time is a function of Big Bang. Next time Junior asks his fateful question, just say, “Big Bang is not a function of time.” See how easy that was? (Hopefully, Junior has a degree in Mathematics.)
It is tempting to think of a universe before Big Bang, a void, chaos, negative vacuum pressure, whatever. We imagine Big Bang as though ‘someone’ (sic) switched on a torch in the middle of a dark room; but of course, there is no flashlight, there is no room.
The ‘moment of the Big Bang’ is not a ‘moment’ at all. Big Bang is the origin of moments. Ultimately, it is ‘the set of all moments’; but it is not itself a moment. Those who advocate for a divine role in creation frequently ask, “Why did the Big Bang happen when it did?” The answer’s easy: “It didn’t happen!”
In the ‘60s we were fond of saying, “Whatever happens happens.” Like any stopped clock, we were right – this time! All ‘happening’ takes place in time. The set of all ‘happenings’ is time-bound; each ‘happening’ is time-dependent. The Big Bang is not a ‘happening’ so it didn’t ‘happen’! (The ‘60s were good for something, after all.)
But that doesn’t make Big Bang any less real. Big Bang doesn’t happen, it just is. Apparently, there is more to being than spatiotemporal happening. Big Bang is real, it ‘exists’; but it exists outside of space and time. The implications of this simple realization are literally ‘astronomical’.
The premise of ‘bootstrapping’, the notion that Universe is causa sui, is defeated. Cause is a temporal concept; the idea itself presupposes sequence (aka time). Universe has no cause. It just is. A cause is necessarily distinct from its effect. But nothing is distinct from Universe; it is, by definition, every thing.
This is not a tepid rehash of Aristotle’s failed notion of an infinite universe. Infinite time is still time. We are proposing a Universe that exists outside of time entirely.
Note: Initially, I wrote, ‘a Universe whose origin lies outside of time’; that’s wrong! It’s not the origin of Universe that is outside of time; it’s the Universe itself! While the constituents of Universe are time-bound, Universe itself is not.
Surprisingly perhaps, this meditation has nothing to do with God or Creation. Those are other matters for other days. All we can say about Universe right now is, “It is! It just is.” We imagine that the primary function of intelligence is to discover what’s true; alternatively, the primary function could be to identify what’s false.
We’re talking The Iconoclasm of Everyday Life (lie quiet, Freud) here. Peel away the layers of the onion. Break the first six seals (Book of Revelation); only then can you discover what the 7th seal conceals.
A major, if unstated, goal of 20th Century physics was to develop ontological/cosmological models that do not require the existence (or agency) of ‘God’. Without prejudicing in any way the final answer to the God Question, we can say without qualification that these efforts failed.
Every theory of cosmogenesis, to the extent that it masquerades as ontogenesis, is ultimately doomed to fail. Genesis offers a theory of cosmogenesis; it also falls short! It posits a state before fiat lux: “the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.”
But of course, there can’t be anything before fiat lux. We can allow Genesis some poetic license here, but Roman Catholic doctrine has explicitly glossed this text to emphasize the fact that absolutely nothing existed prior to Creation (creatio ex nihilo).
“It is! It just is.” Who thought this…before us? Oh yeah, the father of Western philosophy thought it. Parmenides believed this about Being (which he called Aletheia or Truth):
“…what-is is not-generated and imperishable…whole, single-limbed, steadfast, and complete, nor was it once, nor will it be, since it is, now, all together, one, continuous… Thus, coming-to-be is extinguished and perishing, not to be heard of… And what need could have impelled it to grow later or sooner, if it began from nothing?”
In a way Parmenides could never possibly have imagined, the detection of CMB in 1964 finally validated his 2500 hundred-year-old hypothesis. Speaking colloquially, it ‘proved the reality of eternity’. Of course, in our era, the concept of ‘eternity’ is fraught. Best think of it as a-temporality, the absence of time. Then we can say without reservation that spacetime is a subset of eternity, a ‘special case’.
Eternity is not the sum of all events; it is the precondition of events per se. “No eternity, No time!” Thanks for this, Big Bang!