Skip to comments.What Was Here Before the Beginning? [Big Bang, Cosmology]
Posted on 01/06/2005 5:29:32 PM PST by PatrickHenry
In part 2 of the interview, Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees discusses the limits to our knowledge of what might have preceded the big bang. Everyone asks the question: what was 'there' the instant before everything came to be?, but the question may not go as deep as the answers it spawns.
Helen Matsos: Last year the big "science event" was measuring the cosmic microwave background and dating the big bang to 13.8 billion years ago, within an 8 to 10 percent margin of error. Can you give us some idea of the boundaries of the big bang -- what was it like in the first seconds, and how far will the universe expand in the future?
Martin Rees: It is remarkable that in the last two years we have been able to firm up some of the basic cosmic numbers about the age of the universe, the way it's expanding, and also what it's made of. What it's made of turns out to be rather surprising because atoms are only 4 percent of the total, another 25 percent is so-called dark matter -- probably some particles made in the big bang that have no electric charge but just swarm around. And there's also some energy latent in empty space itself, something we call dark energy, and that's what's controlling the expansion of the universe. So we've learned that the universe has these rather mysterious ingredients.
The long-range forecast is that the universe will go on expanding forever. Stars will eventually burn out, the atoms they're made of will eventually decay, and the stars will erode away. Distant galaxies will not merely fade but will get further and further apart and disappear from view because of the red shift. So the long-range future is a universe that is a very cold and empty place. Nonetheless it will go on for an infinite time.
That's the best guess, but I think we can't have great confidence in that forecast because it depends on the nature of dark energy, which at the moment is making the expansion of the universe speed up. If it continues that way then we can forecast an infinite future, but the dark energy may be more complicated than we know, so we can't be sure about the future.
As regards the past, we can trace things back to the initial instant of the big bang. When the universe had been expanding for one second, at a temperature of about 10 billion degrees, the density of atoms still was not very high.
But when we go back to the first microsecond, the first nanosecond, the first tiny fraction of a second, then things become slightly more uncertain because conditions were more extreme. If we go back to times earlier than of a trillionth of a second, then the conditions were so extreme that we don't have any confidence in explaining the physics. In the first trillionth of a second, every particle in the universe was moving with more energy than can be produced in the biggest possible accelerator on Earth, and the density was far higher than the density of the atomic nucleus.
So the very early universe is a matter or conjecture rather than consensus, because we don't understand the basic laws. Nonetheless, there are many fascinating ideas about what happened in the very early universe in that first tiny fraction of a second. Certainly the key features of the present-day universe were imprinted at that time. The fact that the universe contains matter but not antimatter, the way it is expanding, the fact that it is fairly smooth but has these fluctuations which were the seeds for galaxy formations -- all those features were determined at very early stages by physics.
Matsos: So here it comes Professor Rees, my favorite slumber party question: What happened before the big bang?
Rees: (laughs) People always ask, "What happened before the big bang?" We certainly can't answer that question, because we have to worry about what the question might actually mean. One of the most popular ideas by physicists is that when you extrapolate back to the very beginning, we have to jettison many of our common sense ideas about space and time. Maybe it's no longer the case that space has just three important dimensions and time just ticks away.
That makes the early universe more complicated to analyze. If you don't have a clear idea of clocks ticking away, the idea of a direction of time - a "before" and "after" - doesn't have any clear meaning.
There are lots of ideas of what might have happened at the very beginning, but we can't say whether there are other big bangs apart from ours. If there are, we can't say whether they are before or after or alongside ours, because to make such a statement implies that you can have a single coordinate system covering them all and a single clock that can be coordinated and synchronized between the different universes. So we can't trace things right back to the beginning, we can't say whether our universe is the only one, and we can't even say whether there are only three dimensions of space.
Matsos: Are you alluding to string theory? Does this theory shed new light on multiple universes?
Rees: One feature of string theory is it requires six extra-spatial dimensions. The debate is about whether those dimensions all are so tightly wound that they manifest themselves on a microscopic scale. Each point in our ordinary space would be like origami, tightly wound to six other dimensions.
But the more exciting possibility is that not all the extra dimensions are tightly wound together. There could be other universes that are separate three-dimensional spaces, separated from us because we are all embedded in four-dimensional space. We are unaware of them in the same way that bugs crawling around on a sheet of paper might be unaware of bugs on a different sheet of paper. Each think they are in a two-dimensional universe, and have no concept of a third. So there could be another universe just a millimeter away from us.
That's one of the many ideas opened up by string theory. The ideas are very speculative because there's no direct measurement we can make, but they have made people more open-minded about different possibilities. Physical reality is much more complicated than we can observe with our telescopes. Indeed, some extreme versions of this idea suggest that physical reality might be as complicated as biology, and that what we call our "observable universe" may be, in the perspective of cosmic reality, no more than one twig on one tree in some enormous forest.
Matsos: Almost like a fractal analogy.
Rees: Yes, but on a vast scale.
Matsos: Do you personally believe in string theory?
Rees: When it's so uncertain, it's best to remain agnostic and open-minded about all these new ideas. I certainly think it's good that people are seriously exploring these ideas in the hope that there will be some way of firming them up. It's an inspiring conception: a physical reality even grander than the part people can see. Just as we regard our Earth as a rather special oasis in our galaxy, so we might regard our whole observable universe as some friendly oasis within a huge multi-verse.
Britain's Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees , took time from his busy schedule to talk with Astrobiology Magazine's Chief Editor and Executive Producer, Helen Matsos. His three-part interview considers a broad range of alternative planetary futures, while highlighting today's changes in one of the oldest sciences, astronomy.
Martin Rees earned his degrees in mathematics and astronomy at the University of Cambridge , where he is currently professor of cosmology and astrophysics and Master of Trinity College. Director of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, he has also been a professor at Sussex University. He has been Britain's Astronomer Royal since 1995.
He has modeled quasars and has made important contributions to the theories of galaxy formation, galaxy clustering, and the origin of the cosmic background radiation. His early study of the distribution of quasars helped discredit the steady state cosmological theory. He was one of the first to propose that enormous black holes power the quasars. He has investigated the anthropic principle, the idea that we find the universe the way it is because if it were much different we would not be here to examine it, and the question of whether ours is one of a multitude of "universes." He has written nine books . Through his public speaking and writing he has made the Universe a more familiar place for everyone.
Before the Big Bang there was THE PLAN. The Big Bang was THE PLAN going the way plans go....
I thought that the consensus was that up to eleven different dimensions might exist in the string and brane theories?
and, there is no way to see or move to the other twigs. This is where we might speculate that the twigs are linked after all, but through the extraspatial dimensions that we still can't deal with in the lab.
Eleven is a good solution. There may be twelve, with time on two dimensions--the principle of causality will have to go.
The Alpha and Omega: God.
I enjoyed it. Thanks.
This may be out there, but what about an inverse of time?
Y'know, the correct answer to the question might well be "None of your business."
What happened before there was time? Dunno. I wasn't there.
At least... I don't think so. I might be wrong.
Having said that...this is what pisses me off.
Without any sort of mathematical background.....I had been lost, but reveled in these fantastic theories.
Little by little...I either taught myself the math..or allowed you good people to walk me through it.
I'm gonna hit 50 soon...I need more time.
How do you guys do it...I mean...knowing there are more discoveries, that you will never see.
This is obviously impossible since Dataman is never wrong.
Here's the deal: we can never know the true reality of the universe-in-itself. However, that's not what we're here for, so it's not a problem. What are we here for? Well, today it's to shovel out a foot and a half of snow.
Now why did you have to do that? I almost lost my dinner!
Sorry, she's the only thing I could think of old enough to be there before the big bang. :)
Descartes used to lie in bed until eleven, just lie there and think. When he finally got an appointment to a real job that required he be up at five AM, he got sick and died almost immediately.
Yes, hard to think about even.
Most helpful thing in even thinking about this stuff is the little book called Flatland, by Edwin Abbott. The whole of which is on line here Flatland
The universe is my business.
All I do is try to keep up. And I'm always falling behind.
Never mentioned - Where exactly did the Big Bang happen? If the universe is expanding, then there is some point it is expanding from. Look there for the answer -- maybe we'll find what's left of the fuse, or something.
Sorry to hear about your bad back.
It was without form and void....
Everywhere. It was everything.
Aw crap! Now I got to do more math and stuff.
Just when I thought I got the singularity thing.....and I really still don't got it.
Thanks for keeping me thinking.
It's okay if I don't move fast--not usually a problem. But the elbow, the knee, the various ligaments and tendons that transfer the effect of the will to the blade of the shovel all talk constantly about Caribbean vacation resorts.
That photo was totally uncalled for!!! This is prime time.
Cosmology.....doesn't that have something to do with horoscopes? :-)
Skip the math. Just skim for the dirty pictures. That's what I always do.
Lets make a few radical assumptions:
1. Even though the Universe is a VERY BIG place, it is still a closed system.
2. There are fixed laws of physics which govern matter & its interaction with other matter (of which are almost infinitely numerous themselves, we probably know only a few). Think of these as the Universe's program.
3. The conditions (parameters) to this program were passed at the time of the Big Bang. (By the Master Programmer himself).
If you accept these assumptions then:
1. The Universe has evolved, and is evolving, in a deterministic manner.
2. While many things appear random, nothing really is. We just don't understand the the underlying patterns.
3. Our existence, actions, and even thoughts have all been predetermined.
4. While we have the ability to make our own decisions, the outcome of decision process is predetermined. This is the paradox of free will.
I ask the same thing myself. My only wish for immortality or at least prolonged life is to be able to see the answers to all the questions that I have.......Questions like are there aliens, or is there a wall at the end of the universe that will prevent the expansion of it. Weird stuff like that......
"Everywhere. It was everything."
But in that case the universe wouldn't be expanding, because it would already be everywhere. Somewhere, there is a point where all of the arrows point away from.
My tagline says it all.
Maybe so, at least in the part of the universe we can see the expansion is uniform. But, we might be seeing such a small part of the total universe that we simply can't detect any curvature. It's like if you never leave the town you were born in and assume the earth is flat.
It's always everwhere. There isn't anywhere else. That's what "universe" means (traditionally). But it's expanding. (Don't ask me to go deeper than that, because I don't think I can.)
Your interviewee never answered the question. It is a question which I have repeatedly asked you and Dimensio. But you would not answer. I will ask you to go back and re-read the article and make some observations and comment on these observations.......Some of the predicates observed in this article are as follows:...past two years we have been able to firm up.........probably.......surprising because it is made up of 4% atoms and 25% so called dark matter.......probably some particles.......mysterious ingredients..........best guess.......If it continues that way.........1st nanosecond things became uncertain......so the very early universe is a matter of conjecture or rather cnsensus.......we don't understand........fascinating ideas.........we can't answer that question.......maybe it is a case......doesn't have any clear meaning.....lots of ideas about what might have happened......whether there are other big bangs we don't know.......If there are we can't say......we can't tract things right back to the beginning........we can't say whether the universe is the only one.......the more exciting possibilities......the idea is spectacular......no direct measurements......different possibilities.................................... Are you getting the picture that this is a whole lot of speculation and not science. It is fiction in people's mind. He says as much himself. He wants you to believe him because he validates himself and his career with your agreement. Now I will let you in on a secret.....One cannot deal with origins apart from faith. The evolutionists faith or the Christians faith. The difference is that the evolutionist will not admit this obvious conclusion and therefore wanders around in the darkness, professing he has answers but when pressed on the fact of an answer to the very question posited in the title, he prefers self delusion. Keep on looking under the rocks. I hope you all will someday put truth ahead of your desires and then you will find what you are looking for under the rocks.
When I first heard that, the first thought which entered my mind was "wow, a PHD in hairdressing".
Then I thought maybe it had something to do with reading palms. Come to think about it, I am not sure what it is but I think he is a mathmatics whiz.
If the Big Bang occurred because internal pressures and temperatures became so intense, that would mean that the pressures and temps. had to be building for some period of time - which means there had to be a beginning to this buildup. That leads back to a beginning where matter would have had to appear out of nothing.
The Big Cigarette!
String... analagous to the neuron pathways in the brane, I mean't brain (or did I).
From the mind of God. He made man in his own image(ination).
We will exist as long as God image(ine)s us to.