HOW THE (STUPID) UNIVERSE STARTED
People fall in love with their own ideas. This is a particular occupational hazard for science writers and I apologize in advance for doing this to you but I’m repeating one of my answers to a question on quora.com because, frankly, I am in love with my own answer. It is my blog. I get to choose. Sue me if you don’t like it. (No. Just kidding. Please don’t.)
The question (on Quora) was: Is it necessary for the universe to have a beginning?
I have two completely contradictory answers. You can take your pick.
Here’s the first one:
Life has become more complicated around here lately.
A few decades ago, the universe was a less ambiguous thing (no multiverses on the agenda) and little or no discussion of pre-big-bang physics. A currently hot topic is whether “something” (stuff) could have come from “nothing” (non-stuff). If you feel the origin of stuff is the beginning, then maybe that predates our particular “bang”.
My opinion? I suspect that there was always something and never nothing. I realize that’s hard to swallow. How could there have always been something? Didn’t it have to start? Where would it have come from? But, if the alternative is that the underlying paraphernalia of physicality – the laws of physics, space-time, and quantum principles – have to be initiated out of nowhere, maybe my version – always something – is less hard on the brain.
At some later point in time, I changed my mind:
The “universe” includes more now than it used to. We have started referring to the “known” universe for the part that we can see; the “rest of it” seems to be considerable and may even be “infinite”. The quotes are because of how infinite that infiniteness might turn out to be.
Projecting everything back to a real – if somewhat mysterious – beginning, a point of infinite density, seems to have become more difficult to accept. 30^-35 meters may be the smallest allowable size. It is called the “Planck length” and it appears to shut the door on anything being smaller than that. Even the early universe.
It now seems likely that the actual beginning may have been a small period of time after the unachievable “singularity” when a few grams of energy-matter condensed out of some still undefined process. The birth of the universe has gradually drifted away from a “who knows?” shoulder shrug to a legitimate area for scientific inquiry,
There’s been lots of back and forth about the difficulties (or not) of “something from nothing”. There are many “nothing purists” who insist we start with an utter void without even the occasional virtual particle and show how such a thing could have led to our present condition. They feel there should be no defined laws of physics in that void either. It would seem we have to choose between either a total and complete null or something that’s not much but has enough of somethingness to start things with random fluctations of virtual particles. If it’s the latter, you’re stuck defining something that’s “eternal” (eternal somethingness).
My own vote is that things really did start from nothing. Absolute, absolute nothing. It’s more logical than saying that things “always were”, don’t you think?
How did we get here then? The key is that it is hard to remain perfect if you have to be that way forever. So perfect nothings foul up eventually; they spit out just enough virtual particles or burps of energy to, occasionally, “start the clock” on a universe.
There’s certainly nothing at all illogical about a “nothing” that does lasts forever. However, we know that didn’t happen, don’t we? Look around you. Obvious, right? So the story of creation is the story of a rare and minor instability which, over eternity, yields a brief flicker in a near timeless void. That flicker was mother and father to all of us.
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The drawing which has nothing to do with anything is mine.