Q: What came before the big bang?

Physicist: Sadly, very few photographs survive from the early universe, and even fewer from before the big bang.  So the best answers to this question are speculation or (if you’re feeling generous) informed speculation.

Other Big Bangs: Maybe the universe has expansion/collapse cycles?  Each cycle would start with a Big Bang, expand, level out, contract, and end with a “Big Crunch” and a “Big Bounce” (the next cycle’s Big Bang).  One of the advantages of this theory is that it removes the difficulties that come with the universe being infinitely small at some point (singularities = bad).  This is an old theory, but worth mentioning.  Since it was first proposed we’ve gotten much better measurements of the universe’s rate of expansion and found that it’s speeding up (not slowing down, as this theory would imply).  So it’s pretty unlikely that previous incarnations would have gotten around to crunching.  Or this is the last incarnation of the universe.  If so, live it up.

The Big Bounce.

Nothing Special: In some versions of M-theory the universe is seen as a four dimensional (3+1 dimensional) “brane” (as in “membrane”) floating around in an even higher dimensional space.  If this higher dimensional space were then full of more branes, and should they collide, you’d have a whole lot of energy exploding out of the impact area (in both universes).  A really “Big Bang”, as it were.  These collisions would need to be very, very rare and/or very, very far apart to get the universe we see today (the result of only one collision, not more).  Although the people working on this theory are seriously hot shit, it still seems a little out there.  That empty space can collide with other empty space is a little unintuitive.  But, you know…  String theory.

Colliding universes, infinite energy, and good times. This image stolen from http://media.radiosai.org/Journals/Vol_06/01APR08/04-musings.htm

South of the south pole: I think the best, and also least satisfying, answer is: “It’s the beginning.”  With respect to this very question, Hawking was once heard to type “[Asking about time before the universe] would be like asking for a point south of the South Pole.  It is not defined.”  So, “time” and “space” are strictly native to the universe.  Questions that start with “How long before the universe…” and “How far from the universe…” are like “how much paper to blue?”.  They don’t make sense.  A nice thing about this theory is there’s no longer any reason to ask about “before” or “cause”.  This also removes any need for asking questions like “why did the big bang happen when it did?”.

Time has a farthest back the same way Earth has a farthest south.

Super-universe: The universe may have “bubbled off” of a much larger universe.  One proposed mechanism for this bubbling is black holes.  Stuff that falls into black holes is completely isolated from everything outside, and weirdly the time it experiences must be completely independent of the flow of time outside the black hole.  So, dude… What if all the matter that falls into a black hole is fed into the big bang of a new universe, that buds off of our own?  And what if our universe  is just all the stuff that fell into a really big black hole in a universe farther up stream?  If the new universes thus created had slightly different laws, then that would lead to universes with more black holes being more likely.  Universe evolution!  Although interesting, this theory is not being widely pursued.

Perhaps new universes are created by old universes through black holes. These images stolen from: "http://revolution.groeschen.com/2009/05/15/birth-of-a-universe.aspx" and "http://www.onset.unsw.edu.au/issue7/mutiverse.html"

This guy: Hey, you can’t prove God doesn’t exist.  Can you?  No you can’t.  This theory is very popular.

Despite being outside the purview of even basic scientific investigation, I would be remiss in not mentioning this guy. This image stolen from: http://www.creativeuncut.com/gallery-05/gow2-zeus.html

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15 Responses to Q: What came before the big bang?

  1. true believer says:

    Uh. That theory is not popular at all. nobody believes in Zeus.

  2. Scott says:

    I can’t see why not, that guy looks awesome.

  3. Mike says:

    Yikes! That guy looks like my neighbor!

  4. John says:

    I really hope that if/when I see God, he does not look so pissed off

  5. Bo Brymer says:

    Beautiful question

  6. Angie says:

    I believe the one from Family Guy. They went back in time and created the universe. I really do! Well, I don’t think Stewie and Brian did it, but someone!

  7. julz julia says:

    the biggggggggggggggggg baaaaaaaaannnnngggggggg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HEHEHEHE

  8. Joe says:

    Does the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe not violate the law of conservation of energy?

  9. Bob says:

    If the omniverse (containing all the universes) is infinite, then it is effectively an open system. Conservation of energy does not apply to open systems.

  10. abuck94 says:

    Check out reasonablefaith.org if you would like to see an intellectual argument for the existence of God. William Lane Craig just recently had a debate with Sean Carroll over the existence of God given contemporary cosmology, its quite interesting.

  11. Marc Tiltman says:

    What is south of the South pole, or perhaps north of the North pole?
    You! If you’re standing on it, and indeed everything above your head, everything.

    10 years ago discussion of “before Big Bang” was largely done by non-academics. Today with so much evidence emerging from recent cosmological projects, many people with titles which take up half a paragraph are now beginning to think otherwise.

    Academic credentials/qualifications on their own are an extremely useful tool, but these used in conjunction with good old fashioned thinking are what defines a genius from a qualified person.

  12. Mark Johnson says:

    Tis perhaps the grandest of all questions!

  13. ENGLISH BOB says:

    This is the one question we will never find the answer to. No matter how many qualifications you have . No matter how hard we try. we can only think like humanbeings. If you think you have solved it, then you are probably wrong. because there is no way that you can ever prove you are right, unless you/we, go back in time and see for ourselves, which you/we or even I, can never do. All the fancy mathematics , and all of the almost incomprehensible theoretical gobbledegook and a fair amount of goal post moving, in this constantly expanding universe can ever make , something out of nothing, and that is all there was befor something. NOTHING. No matter how far you go back. assuming there was something to go back to !!!

  14. gregory zaino says:

    Place a full length mirror in fron of you tilted slightly in either direction- then place a larger full length directly behind you. Look into the mirror in fron of you. What do you see? You’ll see yourself looking at a reflection of yourself, looking at a reflection of yourself, looking at a reflection of yourself, and on it will go until the reflection becomes too small to see with the naked eye, yet in theory, it would continue until it becomes smaller than a sub atomic particle. Would this reflection go on into infinity? This is a relative question. As I see it, this experiment of reflection is a means for time and space to be comprehended in a digestible manner and may provide a hint to the manner of looking at the question, “What came before the Big Bang?” The answer is one possibly never meant to be understood, but to simply be accepted as the greatest mystery of them all.

  15. Bubba Jones says:

    “[Asking about time before the universe] would be like asking for a point south of the South Pole.”

    Correct. Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang. Nothing existed. True nothingness. However, “before” and “after” is a binary that still has meaning in the original question. It’s nonsensical to talk about “5 minutes before the Big Bang”, but we still know what “before” means.

    So what came before the Big Bang? Nothing.

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