Space, Physics, and Math

What existed before the Big Bang?

--asks Michael Y. from Detroit, MI.

August 21, 2006
Our bubbly beginning? [CREDIT:SXC]
Our bubbly beginning? [CREDIT:SXC]

Once upon a time, 14 billion years ago, a cosmic explosion released an immense amount of heat and pressure. All the particles and energy in our universe, once confined to a space about the size of a dime, raced away from one another at tremendous speeds. As the hot particles cooled and continued to expand into space, matter formed and the stars and galaxies of our universe were born. And so, the story of our universe began… or did it?

Maybe something came before the Big Bang. Physicists have tried for decades to write the mathematical prelude to our universe’s fiery birth, but Einstein’s theory of general relativity stopped them short. An immense amount of matter and energy were built up in an infinitesimally small point at the moment of our universe’s birth, and the laws of general relativity that govern large bodies and systems in the universe are no longer appropriate on such a small scale. Instead, quantum theory, which deals with the quirky properties of the very small subatomic particles in the universe, takes over. Traveling to the beginning of it all, at least our all, requires some way of reconciling general relativity with quantum theory.

“The unification of these two is the only thing that allows us to look before the Big Bang,” says Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist at City University of New York. So far, the leading theory of unification, according to Kaku, is string theory—the idea that tiny strings vibrating in unseen dimensions of space make up all matter, light, energy, everything. If our universe is described in eleven dimensions filled with these subatomic strings, physicists believe the fundamental physical forces can be unified and they can get closer to describing the instant of our universe’s birth and maybe even what came before it.

Armed with string theory, Kaku and others speculate that before our Big Bang, there were simply more universes. “Our universe could have either popped into existence or collided with another universe,” he says. Imagine a bubble bath where each bubble represents a universe. In this multiversal tub that existed before our Big Bang—and still exists today—universe bubbles are colliding, popping, budding new bubbles, expanding and contracting. If this scenario really exists, “Big Bangs happen all the time,” says Kaku.

Some physicists believe our universe was created by colliding with another, but Kaku says it also may have sprung from nothing: a completely empty eleven dimensional universe with no spin, no charge and no energy. This seemingly tranquil nothingness universe was actually unstable and some physicists believe that a fluctuation in the vacuum caused our universe to pinch off from its empty existence without time and space to a universe that was large enough to expand. Like a bubble in a bath, our universe had to grow instantaneously in order to survive and escape the collapsing fate of small bubbles.

This “quantum leap” involved four of the dimensions of the empty universe, which now frame the universe we live in. Expanding suddenly, this event sparked the Big Bang and caused the further expansion which created matter and continues to push the galaxies apart today. Meanwhile, the seven remaining dimensions shrunk to an almost inconceivable size, much smaller than an atom.

String theory is so far a purely mathematical journey back to these primordial moments, and some physicists are considering different explanations. The higher dimensions of our universe, if they exist, cannot be directly explored because today’s instruments are not powerful enough to measure their small size. But there are experiments—both Earth-bound and space-based—that may provide evidence to support string theory.

Next year, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be turned on outside Geneva. Physicists hope that it will begin to create supersymmetric particles (a.k.a. “sparticles”) that Kaku says are a vibration of strings. If and when another new apparatus called the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna goes up into space, physicists will use its three laser-connected satellites to look for vibrations of space and time, known as gravitational waves, left over from the Big Bang. Kaku is confident these experiments and others will provide physical evidence for higher dimensions and string theory.

But results from these new experiments are many years away, and until then, physicists will continue to speculate about what might have existed before the Big Bang. Many hope that these experiments will finally shed some light on the mystery. While we’re all waiting, perhaps the best we can do is slip into a bubble bath and contemplate the unknown.

About the Author

Alison Snyder

Correspondent from the western edge…

Discussion

190 Comments

Robert says:

I haven´t read anything by any well-known relevant cosmologists talking about an incredibly rich set of clues for what might have come before BB.. I think there are virtually no clues at all -just speculation. Also, most scientists believe that BB was the beginning not only of matter but also of space and time and there was no pre-BB. So, there wasn´t a vast vacuum of space and time. There was nothing at all – no space, no time, no mass and no energy. This is why there is a difficulty with the quantum fluctuation theory. What fluctuated, where and when? (A further difficulty is how a quantum fluctuation could have given rise to a universe.) Recently there has been more speculation about the possibility that there was something pre-BB after all, but I don´t see what difference it makes. It just means that we would like to know where what there was before came from.

Assuming the quotes you give come from the website you refer to, then that website clearly puts forward non-mainstream theories. Absolutely fine, but I doubt that I´m competent to say whether there are any holes in their argument. But I´ll read it!

Dan says:

Is it possible to measure the absence of all mass or energy??? (serious question)

If there is such a thing that makes us more than just a sophisticated collection of senses, would it need to have zero mass and energy?

If you can eventually produce a robot that senses exactly what I do, and makes decisions based of those senses (and memory of them), is there a difference between that and me? If not, upload me to one of those, I want to live forever! I don’t want to be nothing.

paul says:

This subject just makes my head spin.
There was absolutey nothing and then some dime just appeared then exploded.
I can understand absolute nothingness.But that’s all there ever should have been.How can nothing fluctuate and make something.

Orville Neighborcrank says:

Immaculate Conception would be a phrase generally associated with “something” coming from “nothing”. Of course, it has its religious connotations. However, it does bear quite an analogous resemblance. What if, per say, time was older than we’ve given it credit? Maybe time is neither matter nor energy relative? Time could still remain in sync, but essentially at an offbeat (like music) from moments prior to the existence of the other subject, right? Maybe it was introverted or convoluted through the transformation of the BB.
It’s quite interesting that we haven’t convinced ourselves of previous construction of our universe. Without imagining that there might have been prior universes, we can’t imagine how primitive or how superior it may have been to the current (so to speak) existing one. Do we have to believe that this is the first time? Does it all have to be pinned down to “nothingness”? I do understand that there is no applicable, tangible evidence of this thought; however it does seem that we’re limiting ourselves to a dead end we don’t even know exists. Point being, there could a whole other history explaining our existence. Could we not propose that a more primitive universe existed prior to ours which could thus explain contradictions we face in the current existence? Maybe string theories and such do reference this, but it definitely does not seem to be a mainstream option in regards to whether or not the chicken came before the egg. I could be way off base, and if so, my apologies. I really know very little about the topic.

stumped says:

ok let me get this straight, bubbles, vaccums, infinity, expansion,……………………………………………………………………………on and on, but what was before all of that?

stumped says:

I will tell you, we are particles in a shroom. :)

tahnee says:

what came before the big bang is a never ending energy..called god. We are in a time space bubble.

ceb says:

I realize there’s a religious side to this, I’m just looking at the science side of it…
I don’t know much about this but what I read or see on the science channels and it’s always been interesting to me. But am I the only person that has a question to a question to a question? We talk about the big bang and the possibility of a universe before that. My question is what was before that? And before that? You see? …and if there WAS nothingness, what is nothingness? Darkness? Just dark space?

Think about. Here on earth we know a beginning and an end to most everything.. we know a kitchen table has an end. We know that stairs will begin and end. we know that if you run around the earth enough times, eventually you’ll run into yourself…so if there IS a beginning of time, what was before that? Again, nothing? and if nothing, then, again, what is nothing? If nothing is sitting on the table, we can still see the table. Now imagine there’s no table and no floor and no ground and no earth or planets and no stars..so just darkness?…that’s the nothing?

The other side of the coin…Does the universe go on forever and there’s no end? If so, how can that be? No end? Again, there’s an end to most everything we know in one way or another. What, it just keeps going on and on and on? Ok, then what? What’s beyond that?…or IS there an end and if so what is there a wall of some kind marking the end, how can that be? As I said we know a beginning and an end to mostly everything here on earth.
So with my crazy vivid imagination that my Mom always said I had as a kid, sometimes I boggle my mind…..nothing…think about it…that means there was nothing at one time where I am sitting right now…wow.

Owen says:

Science and true religion are the same thing, but from different angles !

Owen says:

Water can have a thousand names, but it is still the same thing, WATER!
I mean this. Science = different names.
Religion = water.
One cannot du without the other. That`s to say if you want to ask for a drink of water !
The truth then, must be in the experiece of drinking that water which is neither science or religion.

King6922 says:

What surrounded the single infinite point, in which “The Big Bang” was created?

Owen says:

Well you see it is our limited mind that makes us
think that the big bang is the start of everthing
or nothing. There are maybe millions of different
big bangs that are completly not like each other at all. For example…if you have blue colored sun glasses then everything will be blue..get it?
All the minds on this planet are pretty the same which meens that we only see a very little part of everything out there !
One cannot put 2 litres of water in a 1 litre mug!
You kan try…but you will get wet feet !

Owen says:

Don`t you see…the big bang is anything it is just a little thing which happens all the time but in different ways. And here it comes. Human minds cannot percieve this..Wake up..and enjoy life…because its wonderful !

Owen says:

Look at it in a nother way…everyone are just thinking about big gang but that was just a little, little part of/is our life..I cannot in logical ways..yes I can..there are so many other things happening in…Keep going !

King6922 says:

Do you believe in the uncoprehensible notion of nothing, nothing at all, no matter, no light, no energy, no colors,etc. nothing at all. Is there such an existance?

Owen says:

YES…but it/that has to be experienced and your brain, mind, will probable/does, stop this. This is just the way things work ! (Just because you can`t say water in a foreign language does not mean that water dosn´t exist)! Believe me, there is much more going on than one could ever imagine!

King6922 says:

Has time exsisted forever, if so then there shouldn’t be anything that is ageless. I don’t agree that there are some things that don’t have age. If it was created then it has a start of age. My mind wanders, therefore i ask these questions. They have to have answers, even if science hasn’t figured it out. The answer would be we don’t know. I enjoy asking my questions because i never get a straight up answer, its alway don’t think that way just except what is. If Einstein would have stopped asking his questions we would’t have any of his great discoveries.

jap208 says:

If the smartest, best observing, isolated primative person came into contact with an operating T.V., there would be amazement and curosity, but that person would never in their lifetime, even after tearing it all apart and observing it for years, understand(without help from a T.V. tech) the workings of the T.V.. The T.V. would exist, but what makes it work would be lost on this soul. Until we have a tech for the workings of the universe we are not unlike the primative person?

Owen says:

And how long du we have to wait for a “tech answer”? It does not help us now….the answer is allready here and now ! It/there is much more than anyone could ever imagine in/out there ! It is truly wonderful !!!

Owen says:

Wake up all you people….don`t you get it ???

Owen says:

Where are you…..?

Clay says:

I have accepted, as best I can, the concept of “nothing can come from nothing”. That there was NEVER “nothing” as a concept is, as summed up by my 9 year old daughter, freaky! A scientific solution to this problem is impossible. In fact, given that there must have always been “something”, any exercise designed to discover the beginning is doomed to failure.
Matter has an infinite past and an infinite future! What happens when they meet?

Owen says:

NOTHING, NOTHING ! BUT NOTHING IS SOMETHING…
IT/IS EVERYTHING AND MUCH, MUCH MORE !!!

CANICE says:

I KNOW I EQUIST SO I MUST HAVE COME FROM SOMEWHERE THAT HAS NO BEGINNING BECAUSE THE TERM BEGINNING IS A FINITE TERM AND LIFE CAN NOT ORGINATE FROM A FINITE SPHERE BECAUSE IT LEAVES AN INFINITE AMOUNT OF TIME PRIOR TO THE BEGININING OF LIFE WHEN THERE IS NO LIFE AND LIFE SIMPLY CAN NOT ORIGINATE FROM AN INFINITE TIME SPAN OF NO LIFE. OTHERWISE BY DEFINITION THE TIME SPAN OF NO LIFE WOULD NOT NOT BE INFINITE.

MY INFINITE SPIRIT MUST HAVE BLANKED THE MEMORY OF FINITE SPIRIT OF MY INFINITE EXISTENCE.

BUT JOKES ON YOU INFINITE SPIRT BECAUSE I FIGURED OUT THE EXISTENCE OF MY INFINITE SPIRIT ANYWAYS.

NOW WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE?

Owen says:

Time is just a figment of the imagination.
One does not use knowledge, whatever that is ?
One can experience knowledge of nothing which
is something ! Get it now ?

Owen says:

Ok…….Don`t do nothing…take away ME !
Try it ! Wake up

pirateking says:

could the big bang be the expansion of matter into a unknown area when a super enormous black hole or black holes has finished absorbing all the matter in a given universe

pirateking says:

sorry i meant the expulsion of matter from the black holes into an uknown area as nobody knows what happens to matter swallowed by a black hole nor has anybody answered my other question what happens when said black holes have eaten the known universe if the matter in the known universe is finite given that e=mcsquared is true

Owen says:

I do try to say…take off your everthing
you have got….then who knows you maybe
will wake upp…black holes…come on guys
there is much MUCH,,,MUCH More than that !

Trevor says:

Has anyone on this site pondered the question, that at this very moment, another big bang could be taking place perhaps a 1000 billion light years away, or even closer, and given time to expand enough, may collide with our universe.

Hartley says:

It’d be wonderful if people would abbandon their obsurdities and hopeless gap theories.
If you honestly want some hint of tangibility in your lifetime I honestly recomend looking into the possibility of a creator existing. If your too prideful to recognize this scientific possibility and too blind to even recognize it as apart of science then I also encourage you to leave those dogmacies behind.

Trevor says:

if people honestly believe a creator exist, why do they not think it possable for a family of them to exist. And at sometime they might like to experiment, and try more thane one big bang, in various places in this wide expance of space.

Hartley says:

Trevor:

That question displays an obvious misunderstanding of what an omnipotent and omnipresent deity really is. If it existed within a family of Gods then its omnipotence and other demanding qualities would be factored out. For someting to be able to hold the infinitely expanding “naked singularity” within its grasp, then it must its self encompass eternity. There can only be one eternity, wile multiple infinities could exist.
It would be kinda cool though I do admit. haha

Trevor says:

Hartley:

I was just pointing out, that if someone thinks it is possable for A creater to exist, why is it not possable for more than one creator to exist. The fact is if you believe that something exist, then it must be possable for more than one to exist.
Back to number 81. If someone does not believe in a creator, it does not make that person anymore dogmatic,blind, prideful,or any other disparaging remarks you care to make, than a person that insists that a creator does exist.

Hartley says:

Trevor:

I gotcha bud. I explained theologically why more than one creator is self contradicting in my prior comment.
I agree that that simple fact dosn’t make one more dogmatic or blind but completely eliminating such a possiblility that fills in just as many gaps as other modern scientific theory does make one dogmatic in some ways. Im not saying you have to be “dogmatic, bias, or predjudice” to not believe in a creator, but the possibility must be taken seriously. No one has to, but its their loss. Thats why I take atheistic philosphy very seriously as well.

Trevor says:

Hartley:

I like your reply, written by someone sitting on the opposite side of the fence to me, but is prepared to listen to alternatives, but not easily presuaded. Although you might think from number 82 that I believe in a creator, as I was kinda arguing there case. I too will listen to other peoples believes, and try to expand on it to see where it goes, but as yet have not been persuaded. Perhaps you could comment more.

if you were god and knew everything,then wouldnt you then know nothing?somethings are so deep that they are meaningless.if you know everthing whats the point,what would you do?
maybe creation is god experiancing all things,from all angles,in all possibilties.
maybe creation is simply god living.
the bible talks of the living god,the bible speaks
about alot of things we now know because of science,in the story behind all the bible stories.
science and religion support eachother better than you know,they need eachother to fully expain all realities of existance.

and just so you know,there is alot of people that think the bible says no to evolution,or man rising from the ape,or how old the earth is..ect.ect.
not so,i used to be a athiest,and only believed in science,until i studied religion,look to the meaning behind bible stories and you will be shocked at how the bible supports science beliefs.
the first man was adam…atom?
let there be light..the big bang? it goes on and on.i believe in science and relgion,its the only way to see the whole picture(as well as our minds can see them for our part)
i beleive in a cosmic christ.jesus before time began….yes!!!

Hartley says:

Trevor:

Well, I sorta got a taste of your perspective in 82 and realized that your probibly not a per say “believer.” Im guessing that your agnostic. Well here is one of the big theories that have brought me to an intellectual obligation to my faith in God. Most scientists believe that an always existing expanse of energy (I like to translate it as an “eternal river” of energy)is what mapps out the pre-existance of our universe dependent on time, matter, and space. What has dumbfounded me is that the hierarchy of intellectualism and philosophy today has granted this belief with more credential and less obsurdity than an omnipotent creater with concious intention. Honestly trevor, in your mind, what is more obsurd; an unconcious, eternal river of energy birthing and munipulating an open infinite expanse, forming (unconciously) concious and organized life. Not to mention love, altruistic intention and many of the great mysteries of human emotion. Or….. A concious and all powerful God, that defines eternity (no different than that river of energy), crafting an existance based on love and giving it complete free will, while easily defining the reason for our love, altruistic intention, and morality while giving us even a book to fall back on? I simply can’t wager my mind in beleiving that any human being dosn’t have “obsurd” beliefs. Everyones gaps are seemingly equal. I just think creationism supplies the “least obsurd” viewpoint.
Sorry for the essay by the way, haha.

Trevor says:

Hartley:
Sorry about the delay.
The problem I have is that scientist to me have got it wrong.
Firstly, why do they think our whole universe was condensed into something the size of a dime, why a dime and not a football, or a grain of sand. There appears to be no logic as to why they said a dime.
Secondly, I cant agree with your reasoning either. If you believe in a creator, where did it come from. you must be assuming that all the materials in the universe has always been present, and your creator organised everything to make things work. like a motor mechanic puts a lot of metal parts together, and a bit of oil to lubricate the parts to keep them working in harmony together. Im sorry I just cannot go along with it.
My theory for what it is worth, is that there was nothing at all, (and as we cant create nothing at all, we dont know what would happen), I feel that a big bang did happen spontaneously (many times), and through chance this is what we have. I am sure similiar things have happened elsewhere, mabee not in human or animal form, bur some sort of life.
Sorry to go on but like you it is very difficult to put beleives in only a few words.
I appologise for my ranting as well, ha ha ha,

Owen says:

It is so easy and all you guys are just freaking
out….IT IS SO EASY….just go for it….don`t
you all get???? Come on…take away…everything
and it will just happen !!!! Yes it will.

Larissa says:

Science and Religion must be studied side by side, both our brain hemispheres must be involved in the quest of our ultimate origin. Our post-modern posts on Nothingness are somewhat similar to the religious definitions of centuries ago. We may know a bit more about several things, but Nothingness still shields her real identity from us. In the Kabalistic tradition, you have the Ain Soph; in Buddhism there is a “void”; Yoga teaches that the ultimate perception of “reality” or “consciousness” means stopping the fluctuation of the mind; Hinduism positions Brahma at the very beginning, and they all converge to the same concept.

Can we deal with the infinite and eternal nothingness?

George Rolff says:

As in religion I believe you must take all of the postulations and look for the underlying truth in all. I imagine the BB and then I imagine the total expansion of this universe and just when you believe it will expand for all eternity it contracts and at that no time on oneatment (one at ment) it agains expands an all possiblities again come into being (tat twan asi). We cannot possibly understand it with our intellectual mind we can only understand it at the place where we are “IT” ALL AT ONCE. AUM MANI PADME HUM

Owen says:

Look and stop looking….and the best thing in this life is so easy…Knowledge…!
Forget everything and then you will find everything…just be united with your self and you will get the truth. Come on guy`s…!

Doles says:

Boy, am I confused! I assure you once you any inquisitive minds that last some time around these theories will grow tired of them just as my little mind grows tired of religions. Maybe it’s better to be less intelligent. My problem with these theories is, why do some of the experts feel so certain when they know there were others before them who are now proven to have been wrong? Well, I guess knowledge is also a religion.

Owen says:

Oh dear…we are not getting anywhere, knowledge is just a word, religion is just a word, ect,ect!
One more time ! Take away theories ect, ect, and understand that the anwser is already here,present
now ! Hope you get guy`s. Just give it a try .
Look I mean you can not for example…you a having a nice cup of coffee and someone asks you how it tastes…you don`t awnser “well I have
some theories about that” ! Get an anwser like
and you would wonder if that guy was ok !
Soooooo..what was before the so called BB ? You don`t anwser…well I have got some theories !!!
Now do you get it ??? It is so easy, so go for
it ! Have a nice time and just enjoy that coffee!

Owen says:

Hope you get it guy`s ? I mean the answer to
your answers ?

Owen says:

Hello out there !! It would be nice to have some feed back… please! Thank you all !

pirateking says:

why has this turned into a philisophic debate instead of a debate about physical realities ie what was there before the bb e=mc squared means tha matter & energy cannot be lost only change form does that mean that the known universe existed as a huge ball of matter that then exploded or did nothing exist and all the matter and energy in the universe is falling into our existence from somewhere else possibly some form of parallel universe or higher level of existence and please dont say god is a higher level of existence please can the agnostics out here have an answer

Dharma says:

There could only be one and only one answer to this these riddles. We, me, you, him, her, I, do not exist materially. The universe for example, exists because you believe it does. Our mind, our though, perception, feelings, they create the known universe.

The questions of whether the universe ends, or what came before the big bang, cannot be answer because the universe does not materially exist. It is apart of our consciousness and unconsciousness.

Hinduism states this belief and has been satiating them for centuries. They are the only way around these profound questions, which have no scientific answer, for it is created by thought and imagination and our consciousness. If they don’t exist for us, they will not exist at all. Think about it.

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