Nothing And The Big Bang Theory
Did Nothing Exist Prior To The Big Bang?
This subject matter is both inherently complex and seemingly paradoxical. It's filled with speculative ideas that go beyond the boundaries of our current scientific understanding of the universe. However, a variety of theories and philosophical perspectives have emerged to confront it, leveraging our existing knowledge in physics, cosmology, and metaphysics.
Fourth-century theologian St. Augustine wrestled with question of what existed before God created the universe. His conclusion was that the Biblical phrase In the beginning implied that God had made nothing previously. Moreover, Augustine argued that the world was not made by God at a certain time, but that time and the universe had been created simultaneously. Read more in this article from Villanova University titled: St. Augustine and Cosmology
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
According to Einstein's theory of relativity, time only came into being as that primordial singularity expanded toward its current size and shape. Based upon Einstein's work, Belgian cosmologist Rev. Georges Lemaître published a paper in 1927 that proposed the universe started out as a singularity and that the Big Bang led to its expansion. As per the Big Bang theory, our universe was born from a single, unimaginably hot and dense point roughly 13.8 billion years ago. This singularity was the seed that held all matter, eventually giving birth to galaxies, stars, planets, and everything else we can observe today.
However, the Big Bang theory does not provide an explanation for what triggered the Big Bang or what could have existed before it.
Read more in this 2021 updated article by By: Robert Lamb & Patrick J. Kiger titled: What Existed Before the Big Bang?
Nothing Or Nothingness
A significant concept to consider here is "nothingness." In this context, nothingness is not simply a void or empty space, because even space has its characteristics—it possesses dimensions and can curve in response to gravity as described by Einstein's theory of relativity. Instead, we're talking about a complete absence of anything: no matter, no energy, no space, no time, no laws of physics, and so on. Under these conditions, the proposition that everything emerged from "nothing" seems to contradict our intuitive understanding of cause and effect, where we expect something to arise from something else.
Did Time Exist Before The Big Bang?
Time is another crucial factor in this discussion. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, time was born with the Big Bang. So, it might not be logical to consider a "before" the Big Bang, just like it isn't logical to speak of a place "north" of the North Pole. If time started with the Big Bang, questions regarding what happened before it become moot, or at the very least, outside the realm of physical sciences.
The 2020 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Roger Penrose has proposed one intriguing but controversial model for a cyclical universe dubbed “conformal cyclic cosmology”. Read more at The Conversation: How could the Big Bang Arise from Nothing?
Published: January 2022. This article is part of Life’s Big Questions.
Other theories consider a cyclical universe, with recurring Big Bangs and Big Crunches. Also, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests an infinite number of universes, each with all possible variations, and ours being just one of them.
Furthermore, theories like cosmic inflation suggest our universe is a small segment of a much larger "multiverse", and each section can have different physical laws. These "bubble universes" could spontaneously appear out of a quantum vacuum, setting in motion a perpetual process of creation.
Credit: Jaime Salcido/EAGLE Collaboration
Read more about the cyclical universe and the big bounce theory in this 2022 post: Even a Cyclical Universe Needed to Come From Somewhere by Brian Koberlein
Quantum Mechanics & The Quantum Vacuum
Our ordinary experiences and instincts may not hold up under the unusual circumstances of the very early universe or what existed before the universe. In quantum mechanics, there's a phenomenon where particles and antiparticles can spontaneously appear and annihilate each other. This process, known as quantum fluctuation, is a result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which allows for temporary exceptions to energy conservation. Some cosmologists hypothesize that the universe might have sprung from a quantum fluctuation in a pre-existing "quantum vacuum" or "false vacuum." Yet, this theory leads us to another question: where did this quantum vacuum come from?
Theoretical physicists such as Lawrence Krauss argue that a universe could plausibly originate from "nothing," given the principles of quantum field theory and the possibility that the total energy of the universe might be zero. In this viewpoint, "nothing" is a volatile state that naturally transitions into "something" due to quantum fluctuations.
A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss
Review of The Universe from Nothing from Sam Harris, author of The Moral Landscape
And another review of The Universe from Nothing from A. C. Grayling, author of The Good Book.
However, critics like philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig contend that this view doesn't truly define "nothingness" since it still assumes the existence of physical laws. From a 2012 podcast script on his web site, Reasonable Faith, Dr. Craig looks at the basic claims of Lawrence Krauss' new book A Universe From Nothing. What are the philosophical and scientific definitions of "nothing". Is this something only science can consider?
Read the transcript of the 2012 podcast.
The Frailty Of Human Constructs
It's important to remember that all these theories are human constructs, built with our limited understanding and knowledge. Each provides a unique perspective for contemplating the mysteries of existence, yet none can declare to be the definitive answer.
In closing, the idea that everything could come from nothing is intrinsically linked to our understanding of the universe. It makes us reconsider fundamental notions about cause and effect, time, and existence. It showcases the boundaries of our knowledge and the difficulties of conceptualizing beginnings and endings, ultimately revealing the deep-seated mysteries at the heart of physics and cosmology.