Help Me Better Understand The Big Bang Theory

My understanding of the Big Bang Theory (BBT) is that approximately 13.77 billion years Imageago a certain singularity came into existence “with a bang”. It was incredibly – infinitely? – dense and small, and it exploded into existence. The explosion was the beginning of the expansion.

The Big Bang (BB) has been held to be the beginning of everything. It doesn’t even make sense to say “what happened before the BB” because there was no before the BB. Time began “with a bang”. It doesn’t even make sense to say “where there was nothing, there arrived something” because there was no was. Regarding the question, why and how could something (and in this case, everything) come from nothing, some physicists (e.g., Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis; Lawrence Krauss, author of A Universe From Nothing – reviewed here) have discussed research from quantum physics indicating that Nothing is very unstable. That is, true nothingness – the complete absence of anything – is physically unstable. It doesn’t last long. Nothingness will quickly flip into somethingness, perhaps metaphorically similar to zero flipping into -1 and +1. In this case, there is still a sum total of nothing, but it has split into 2 parallel anti-universes.

Here’s My Laundry List of Metaphysical Questions:

1. How does it make sense to say that the Big Bang happened because Nothing Is Unstable? I thought the Big Bang was the beginning of everything. If the Big Bang happened because Nothing is Unstable, doesn’t that mean that there was something before the Big Bang? Namely, a context in which Nothing Was Unstable?

2. How could expansion have occurred into Nothing? Here are a few things I remember learning from high school physics: i) Matter is attracted to matter to a degree proportional to quantity of masses and distance between masses; ii) diffusion occurs from areas of high pressure/concentration to areas of lower pressure/concentration. So, from these two bits of info stem three questions:

2a. Why would the BB have happened? All the matter in the universe was infinitely close to all the other matter, right? If matter is attracted to matter, and all the matter was precisely where all the matter was (i.e., there is no matter anywhere else to attract it from its mega cluster), why would it expand from where it was?

2b. How could the BB happen without a container? The BB was the beginning of everything, right? Time, space, stuff, everything. How could a dense package of matter expand into No Space? If there was space before the BB, then the BB wasn’t really the beginning of everything, was it? At minimum, there was space and there was a context (a universe?) in which Nothing Is Unstable.

2c. Aren’t i and ii contradictory? If matter is attracted to matter, then why would it diffuse to fill its container?

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8 thoughts on “Help Me Better Understand The Big Bang Theory

  1. 1. We don’t know the Big Bang was the beginning of everything. It’s just as far back as we can see.
    2. The expansion of the universe is driven by a force more powerful then gavity or pressure differences: Dark Energy.

  2. 1. How I try to understand it is to visualize a room. Begin taking everything out of it. Furniture, air, paint, light, everything. It takes energy to remove everything from the room and the more you try to remove, the more energy it takes. Eventually you have to prevent anything from the walls entering the room – every atom, every decaying particle, every form of energy. It becomes a super-strong vacuum that eventually will collapse until the room is filled with enough energy to balance the forces acting on the room. ‘Nothing’ in the room becomes unstable.

    2A. At the moment of the Big Bang (big expansion) there wasn’t any matter. Only after things cooled down did the first particles exist. I visualize these particles as isolated bits of energy separated by ‘nothing’ and therefore they try to pull toward each other (gravity). Not accurate but useful, in my mind.

    2B. Space and Time are created by the Big Bang. Without time, space is meaningless (every point in space is frozen and there is no time to be able to move). Without space, time is meaningless (lots of time to move, nowhere to go). In order to view this pre-Big Bang state you would have to stand outside of it in a place with Space/Time. To view it from the inside, well, your imagination is as good as mine.

    Personally, I think the concept of dimensions just doesn’t sound right. It’s mathematically convenient but there is something terribly wrong. For example, imagine a 1-dimensional straight line. Easy enough, the line goes left to right to infinity. Except, how can you visualize it when it doesn’t have a thickness? Thus, 1-dimension can’t exist. And if one can’t exist, how can 2, 3, 4 or more? That’s like building a house on a foundation when foundations don’t exist…

  3. Here’s my take, based on my cursory approach to theoretical cosmology during my academic years (MSc in Physics, but more applied) and own reading.

    1. How does it make sense to say that the Big Bang happened because Nothing Is Unstable?

    I’d recommend Sean Carroll’s Arrow of Time and Origin of the Universe as a beginning here (or Krauss/Stenger). Basically, the Holy Grail of theoretical cosmology is to explain why the Big Bang happened – that is, why was all of the mass and energy in the observed universe in one small dense spot in the past? We can therefore posit larger universes (call them multiverses if it helps), in which our universe is but one of a number of possible universes.

    So the idea of nothing being unstable gives us a way to picture a timeless, empty void, which erupts self-contained universes that have time, matter, and eventually people.

    So the Universe isn’t necessarily everything.

    2. How could expansion have occurred into Nothing?
    Nothing has no dimensions, our universe has at least 3 spatial and 1 time dimension, those expanded relative to one another.

    2a. Why would the BB have happened? All the matter in the universe was infinitely close to all the other matter, right? If matter is attracted to matter, and all the matter was precisely where all the matter was (i.e., there is no matter anywhere else to attract it from its mega cluster), why would it expand from where it was?
    This is called gravity and it is only one of the fundamental forces – it also happens to be the weakest. Even stronger is the electromagnetic force (which can be split into electric charges and magnets), which will overpower gravity. Just like you can make magnets float on one another despite the immense gravity of Earth, not all matter can be brought infinitely close together (other forces include the Strong & Weak Nuclear forces which permit fusion/fission and are even stronger).

    One initial idea was that the energy of the matter trying to push out on the universe should be equal to the amount of gravitational energy slowing down that expansion, so the universe should eventually settle down and stop expanding. Cosmologists observed in the late 1990s though that it’s actually accelerating due to an energy of empty space (aka Dark Energy). This additional energy means that space will always continue to expand and is arguably the cause of the initial rapid inflation of our universe.

    2b. How could the BB happen without a container? The BB was the beginning of everything, right? Time, space, stuff, everything. How could a dense package of matter expand into No Space? If there was space before the BB, then the BB wasn’t really the beginning of everything, was it? At minimum, there was space and there was a context (a universe?) in which Nothing Is Unstable.
    The universe is the container, and it grew with time due to the matter and dark energy of the universe.

    2c. Aren’t i and ii contradictory? If matter is attracted to matter, then why would it diffuse to fill its container?
    Gravity is very weak and the kinetic energy of matter (like gases) is enough to cause expansion to happen. Over time, as the kinetic energy is lost, galaxies, stars, and planets were able to condense, much as clouds form as water vapour cools in the upper atmosphere.

    Hope that helps.

  4. One of the major metrics used in physics is time; ie km/second. Yet time itself apparently is not understood. Einstein used the definition the “time is what clocks measure”. Humanistdad states above that “space without time would be meaningless”. We don’t really know that. To fully understand our theories we need to understand what we mean when we use the word “time”. We need to determine if time is a fundamental phenomenon, or, is time an emergent phenomenon. I tend to think that time is emergent of space and motion, and not fundamental in nature. For moving time to exist there needs to be a universe of at least two dimensions. Void of matter, in this universe time would stand still. If this universe had at least two moving particles, then that universe would have an objective passage of time. Thinking of time in this way answers the question “if we are traveling thru time, why are we always in the present” ; What we recognize as “the present” is our recognition of space. The passage of time is our recognition of the changing relationship of particles in space. The past is our record of the arrangement of particles in space as they were.Thinking of time in this way changes our understanding of the theories of cosmology (and life, for that matter). If there was a previous universe, then it’s existence is separated from ours by zero time.

  5. Thanks, guys!

    I just finished reading the article on Wikipedia for the metric expansion of space. Interesting stuff.

    As it happens, I’m currently reading a book on the cognitive science of our philosophical thinking. I just finished reading the chapter on cognition and philosophy of time. Very relevant to this discussion here. A key point is that time is clearly not a stand-alone concept. We have to relate it to space and events. Clocks establish 1-second intervals by using yardstick events with known constant durations, with each event iteration corresponding to one second.

  6. Hey Madison,
    The authors are George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. It’s called “Philosophy in the flesh: the embodied mind and its challenge to western thought”.
    I preview it here: http://deathbytrolley.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/philosophy-in-the-flesh-the-embodied-mind-and-its-challenge-to-western-thought/

    If you want to read another book that will probably flip your worldview upside down, I recommend “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. Single most important book I’ve ever read. Hands. Down.

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