Q: Can one truly create something from nothing? If matter formed from energy (as in the Big Bang expansion), where did the energy come from?

Physicist: That right there is one of the great unsolved questions.  Every experiment that’s ever been done (on this subject) verifies the conservation of mass and energy.  While the amount of mass or the amount of energy may change (they can be interchanged), the sum of the two is absolutely invariant.

This naturally leads to the question above.  There are plenty of theories bouncing around, but without a couple more big bangs to do tests on, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.  As we learn, many of the theories will be ruled out, but we’ll probably never be for sure sure.  Here are some examples that almost certainly won’t pan out:

Spectacular Uncertainty: Energy and time cannot both be exactly known.  Over any time scale there is always a little energy error, but the larger the time scale the smaller the energy error.  Generally, this takes the form of one or two extra particles that last effectively no time.  For example; gluons (the carrier of the nuclear strong force) usually don’t even exist long enough to cross an atomic nucleus at the speed of light.  But maybe, just maybe, the unimaginable amount of matter in the universe is some kind of amazing quantum clerical error.  You could tie in the anthropic principle (if there weren’t lots of matter there would be no one around to see it, so since we can see it…) if you want, but still.  That shouldn’t explain there being any more matter than the absolute minimum amount needed to have observers.

It is what it is: Maybe mass/energy conservation only works for T>0, but doesn’t mean bupkis for T=0.  In other words, there’s an unexplainable asterisk on the law.

God/Goddess/Gods/Higher Power: Sure.

All this has happened before, and all this will happen again: Maybe the big bang wasn’t the beginning, but in fact the universe just goes through expansion, collapse, and re-expansion cycles.  This has the advantage of explaining the big bang, and also eliminates the question about conservation of mass/energy, but it does leave lots of other questions.  Maybe worse questions.  Also, the universe gives every sign of wanting to expand forever, making it less likely that a previous iteration would have collapsed.

Bubbles: It could be that our universe “bubbled” off of an even larger universe, that had plenty of mass and energy to spare.  This theory don’t answer the question, but it does push it back far enough that it’s hopeless to try and answer rigorously.

Keep in mind that none of these theories are technically scientific.  Scientific knowledge is nothing more than what we can learn from observation, inference, and experiment.  Beyond inference, we’ve got very little to work with as far as the big bang goes.

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54 Responses to Q: Can one truly create something from nothing? If matter formed from energy (as in the Big Bang expansion), where did the energy come from?

  1. nearly 42 says:

    Wow, just have to say have really enjoyed reading all the comments. I don’t really understand the notion that enengy and matter can not be created or destroyed, only changed. I’ve never liked the big bang theory, if anything it appears to me that galaxies come from much largparticleer objects rather than a magic particle, that created everything. Time is a measurement, like distance and weight. We have concepts we can only related to our own experiences in this reality. Though I’ve had dreams that felt real while in them, it’s only when I awoke could I then use logic to understand that was a dream that I just experienced. God and the metaphysical realms work differently to the physical universe. I’ve met ppl whom say that time isn’t linear. I personally dislike the this, I like the cause and effect nature we are growing to understand of how things work. I enjoy the learning curve we experience. To say a god or gods or goddess did it, opens just as many questions, if not more. Why would a god do it, how and what does that mean for us??? Science have proved that bad ppl have undeveloped brains, nice ppl have active empathy and emotional guides, such as rewards of pride or punishmentshould like guilt. So it’s unfair to judge a baby on how it is made, same as it’s unfair to punish any disability. When I had a spiritual experience I saw all kinds of stuff I still struggle to believe in, it changed my ideas of what I thought seemed like logic. Though I’ve always been curious, I’ve never felt the pull of any of the thousands of religions, I always saw them like stories to try to teach and understand nature. Even when ppl chat of their god and beliefs I’ve always seeno it as an insight into their nature. Is their god all knowing and loving or judgemental and punishing, what is good and bad in their eyes. I see god as a metaphor for ‘nature of’ even after my own personal experience of spiritual beings. Though my experience gave me way more questions than answers, and I don’t have the evidence that points out if what I was experiencing was seeing spirits or my incredible imagination, though both answers raise more questions than answers. If spirits then what was that all about, and the same questions if it was my imagination. The beauty of science isn’t to disprove, but to try to gather data and then understand it. Before my experience I wasn’t very interested in the universe, being outside my body and the thought of being eternal sparked my interest in the universe, now it looks like something to really explore, rather than wondering how it was created, I wonder about all the possibilities of the future. This I do realise is a product of how I’ve grown up in a world that knows the existence of the universe. In all my studies of religions throughout history they only write about the spirit realms being like the dream realms, not about the trillions of other planets, billions of other galaxies and nebulae. There is no mention in any of the religions I’ve studied that explain how to explore the universe, only how to experience the divine or nightmare realms or reincarnation theories. So the God created it just raises way more questions than it answers. Science also struggles because how do we gather data of the spiritual realms when they don’t seem to abide themail same laws of nature as the physical realm?

  2. satwik pani says:

    @nearly 42 The first thing you have to remember is that every thing you feel and dream is caused by chemical reactions. That being said, if there is a spiritual realm, which i find unlikely, its also unlikely to be able to access it through chemical reactions. If it were, we would be able to manipulate that and see into it. I almost completely never consider the idea of a god, since it is less likely that unicorns that fart rainbows exist. A dream is only the chemical reactions/electrical signals in your brain doing things based on nothing. Keep that in mind and everything may seem clearer.

  3. Humble&Just says:

    @satwik pani:
    “That being said, if there is a spiritual realm, which i find unlikely, its also unlikely to be able to access it through chemical reactions. If it were, we would be able to manipulate that and see into it”

    This is true. It is all chemical reactions but we do have a way of manipulate and replicate this effect. In fact that is the purpose of all psychedelic drugs. I suspect this is how @nearly 42 have seen his spirits, unless he -like me – have some kind of mental illness.
    The important thing is to never believe what you are experiencing without first consulting logic. Always be objective, and try your hardest not to let your feelings get involved. This is the difference with someone coping with mental illness and your typical “nut case”.

    In regard to how the universe started, I’m surprised no one have mentioned the “simulated universe theory”. In short, we are nothing but a virtual reality created by some more advanced life form/technology (and they may very well be in a virtual reality created by some higher life form/technology etc.).
    That would explain a lot about the world we live in. Like why we have constants like the speed of light (which could be the highest processing power of the machine we are in), electron constant, Planck constant or gravity relatives.
    Although it begs the question, is there a “real” physical world at the end of the chain.
    The moment we can simulate a complete universe should be the moment this theory goes from just a theory to the “new Big bang”.
    Until then, keep looking up

  4. akosipatriot says:

    Humble&Just:

    You have a logical idea by watching Matrix many times over?

    “In short, we are nothing but a virtual reality created by some more advanced life form/technology (and they may very well be in a virtual reality created by some higher life form/technology etc.).”

    This idea does not answer the basic question of how can “one” truly create something out from nothing? Your idea will fall into infinite regressions after the word etc., thus making your idea the most illogical.

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