Where did the universe come from?
The Big Bang theory is an attempt to describe the creation and evolution of the universe. The theory appears to match observations, and the theoretical physics appear to hold back through time to within a tiny fraction of a second after the creation of the Big Bang. Beyond that the theory cannot explain how the Big Bang singularity came into existence. See The Big Bang Theory Indeed, it is really pointless to attempt to go back beyond the Big Bang, it is meaningless to ask what came 'before' because there is no 'before'. Time itself came into existence with the Big Bang.
Stephen Hawking in 'A Brief History of Time' describes how time and energy came into existence with the creation of the Big Bang, but that the laws of science break down at the singularity preventing us from looking further back in time. As far as the Big Bang theory is concerned it is meaningless to look back beyond the Big Bang, nothing existed. Perhaps so, but it's very unsatisfactory to have a theory of the creation and evolution of the universe that does not explain where the universe, the Big Bang, actually came from, it must have come from something. Or must it?
Assuming that prior to the Big Bang there was absolutely nothing I will start from there, if on the other hand there was something it would be necessary to explain where that came from. So in order to try and explain where the universe came from I will start with an attempt to describe a model of nothing that could contain the universe. If that succeeds I will then look at the problem of how the universe could be created from nothing. It should prove interesting to see where it leads us, or if we will have to be content with the idea of the universe starting from the Big Bang.
Before I begin however, I think we should agree on a few simple ground rules to try and keep the argument logical. Without the constraints of logic we could simply conjure up any description or semi-mystical event we wish in our attempt to make our model work, which would render the argument rather pointless. So here are the rules:
1) Once a definition has been made it can not be changed without starting a new definition.
2) An event must be possible within the framework of known science.
3) All events must follow a logical order within the given definition.
I will divide this model of nothing into two sections. Firstly I will attempt to create a 'working' model of nothing, and if that appears to be successful then attempt to include the universe within it.
Definition of nothing.
The use of the word 'nothing' has a very special meaning in this context, unlike our every day use of the word. It means here quite literally nothing, the complete absence of everything. By definition then nothing must be an infinite void. If nothing exists it would HAVE to be infinite. This is a result of it not being allowed any boundaries, as a boundary would place a limit on nothing's size and furthermore would also indicate that there was something existing on the 'other ' side of the boundary, apart from the boundary itself existing. This would be contrary to our definition of both infinite and of nothing. This also, it should be noted, excludes anything existing in any other dimension, or dimensions, as a dimension would then be a boundary. Nothing then, when described as an infinite void, excludes all possibility of anything else existing, anywhere.
I hope I have made this point absolutely clear, this is what having nothing would mean, absolutely nothing anywhere. The only conclusion I can draw from that is nothing cannot exist, because we do.
Could nothing have existed in the past? No. If it existed in the past, then some event must have taken place to end it. An event would be impossible in nothing, so nothing could never have existed because we do, and as our universe now exists, nothing can never exist in the future either. Why could an event not happen in nothing? Because apart from the obvious that there is nothing to happen, an event would create and require a moment in time. There can be no time in nothing as relativity describes time as just another dimension.
As for Time, without it nothing must have always existed, it can not have a beginning or end because either would create a moment in time. It would in reality be meaningless to ask how long nothing has existed and how long it will continue to exist, it would be eternal and unchanging. Again, because we exist, nothing could not have had an existence because the creation of the universe would have required a significant change, thus contravening an unchanging nothing. We will look at this idea of creation in more detail later.
Nothing can not have any laws of physics because there is nothing to apply those laws to, also the very concept of having laws contravenes our description of nothing. In the absence of any basic laws, let alone matter, how could anything be created? Once again, because we exist nothing could not have.
Could the universe have been created in nothing? No, for the reasons stated above. However, just for the sake of argument, let us imagine it was. If the universe was created in nothing then where was it 'put'? If somewhere 'outside' of nothing, this would require an 'outside' to pre-exist, but it could not because that would require a boundary. It can not be ' put' within nothing, because containing a universe would no longer be within our definition of nothing.
So far then we have discovered that by using the simple definition of nothing as being an infinite void we have placed the following conditions on it:-
1) It must be timeless.
2) It must have always existed and could not have been created.
3) It is unchanging.
4) Nothing else can exist.
5) It is unable to create anything.
We have now concluded that nothing, when described as an infinite void, could never have existed because we do. There is however nothing wrong with the definition itself, the existence of nothing as an infinite void would appear to be logical, more than that, it HAS to be that way, nothing could not have any restraints of size or time placed upon it.
We now need to change our definition of nothing in order that it may contain the universe.
A new definition.
We will retain the description of nothing that we had before, as an infinite void, keeping it exactly as it was, except for one change. We will now allow it to contain the universe.
Our new definition of nothing will now read: nothing is an infinite void, nothing else can exist except for the universe that is contained within it.
We can now think of the universe as a tiny (or huge as you like, there is nothing to compare it with) 'bubble' existing in an infinite nothing and expanding into it. This model rather conveniently does away with the need to have a moment of creation for the universe because within nothing time does not exist. Without time it would be meaningless to ask when the universe was created, it was simply there all the time, existing in the same way as nothing, as it always has. Within the universe of course time does exist, as does everything else. With this description of nothing its existence, and that of the universe, is now possible. Or is it?
What does it mean to say the universe was always there? We believe it started with the Big Bang, but can we say the Big Bang was always there? This doesn't seem logical to me, it needed to have actually come into existence at some point, even the very term 'big bang', suggests a beginning. Let's step back a little and look at the creation of the Big Bang from the viewpoint of a 'perfect observer' in nothing. At the moment of creation what would our 'perfect observer' see? Nothing at all! The universe is self contained, nothing at all can escape from it into our nothing, our observer would notice no change whatsoever! As no detectable change at all has occurred from the viewpoint of nothing, and no change could ever be detected regarding the expanding universe, no 'real' change has occurred, (It may help here to visualise the Big Bang as an infinitely small event in the unimaginable vastness of an infinite void. In other words, a singularity, as indeed it is believed to have been.), therefore our definition of an unchanging timeless nothing is still valid. A quick (!) read of Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" will clarify my point about nothing escaping from the universe and the Big Bang starting as a singularity.
Okay, I admit that I am on somewhat thin ice here suggesting that the creation event within nothing would not contravene our definition of an unchanging timeless nothing simply because nothing could not detect it. I will come back to the problem of how the Big Bang started later, at this point I am merely attempting to include the universe within nothing.
Let's now look at the implications of an infinite nothing containing an expanding universe, ignoring for now the actual creation. We will consider two possible problems, expansion and infinity.
1) Expansion. Can the universe be described as expanding? From our viewpoint within the universe, yes. From our 'perfect observer's' viewpoint in nothing, no. Why not? because a) as stated above our observer can have no knowledge of the universe, and b) what is it expanding in relation to? Nothing does not contain anything, other than the universe, so there is no possible way to determine either the size, or the expansion of the universe, as both can only be measured in relation to something else. Size or expansion are meaningless terms here. This would appear to suggest that from within the universe things are as they appear to be, but from the point of view of our perfect observer in nothing, the universe does not exist! Furthermore with the absence of time in nothing the fact that it contains an aging expanding universe is meaningless from the perspective of nothing. So far so good, our nothing is still intact, from the point of view of our infinite nothing- it still contains nothing! (The creation event, if it actually happened, still needs explaining however)
2) Infinity. We now have a picture of nothing as being an infinite void, containing an expanding universe that it has no knowledge of, but is it still infinite? We have not put any restrictions on nothing's 'size' it is still infinite, but it contains a universe so surely that puts restrictions on its 'completeness', nothing is 'barred' from the area containing the universe! I think we are still okay here, to contain the universe is within our definition, but as to whether or not we have somehow a little less infinity is open to question, but it does not contradict our definition. I can see no reason why an infinite nothing can not contain a finite universe. For a fuller argument on Infinity. See Can anything 'real' be infinite?
How is our new definition of nothing holding up? An infinite void, nothing else can exist except for the universe that is contained within it. I would suggest that so far its holding up pretty well. I have not been able to overturn it on the grounds of logical argument. It could exist providing that the Big Bang took place within it. However, there is still a major hurdle to overcome, what caused the Big Bang and how could it form out of nothing? Without introducing a mysterious source of energy into the equation, as a magician might pull a rabbit out of a hat, it simply can't be done, it's as simple as that. It's logically and scientifically impossible to produce something from nothing. I realise that in Quantum Mechanics? it is (arguably) possible but that is in an already existing universe, not in nothing. Having said it's impossible we are left with a paradox, it has happened, we ARE here. There are only three logical conclusion to be drawn from this, assuming of course that our definition of nothing is valid.
1) The universe did not come from nothing, it came from something. Taking this route however offers no explanation either, we would still need to explain where this new something came from. We will therefore apply Ockham's razor and cut it out of our reckoning because it only adds to the complexity of the argument without adding any benefit,we gain nothing at all by introducing it.We may as well try to resolve the problem of the Big Bang coming from nothing rather than push it back a few steps and then try to solve it. We will therefore discard this idea.
2) We have to introduce a mysterious source of energy. I am forced to employ this highly undesirable tactic to make the creation of the universe possible. No matter how much I dislike the idea of using it I MUST, the unalterable truth is that we do exist, so the universe needed to be created out of nothing!
3) The universe did NOT have a creation event, it always existed.
So what is this mysterious source of energy that we are compelled to introduce? Many people will say that it is God and that He always existed. We either accept that or accept that the universe itself must have always existed.
We are now left with just these two possible solutions, either God created the universe and He always existed, or the universe itself always existed. The solution requires that something has always existed in order to avoid the problem of creating something out of nothing. The choice of introducing God is purely a matter of faith, for if we accept that God could have always existed then why not the universe? From a logical point of view within this model we do not need the existence of God, God is just a further complication that in turn would require to be created. If we ruthlessly apply Ockham's razor to the idea of introducing God into the model we are left with the universe always existing. However, for those of you of a religious nature allow me to make myself clear. I am NOT saying (here) that God does not exist, only that the idea of introducing God into the equation is not necessary in order to make it work. See Are all religions false?
I know that some would argue that God is necessary as a Creator and Grand Designer of the universe but I disagree. The universe can simply be the way it is by pure chance alone, it need not have been designed to be the way it is. For those that argue that the universe requires such a high degree of 'fine tuning' for things to be so well suited for our own creation and evolution that it could not have happened by chance alone I disagree again. If the universe were not so well suited for us then we wouldn't be here! The fact that we are here does not mean that the entire universe was designed just for our benefit. See Is there a reason for our existence?
All of the above would seem to suggest that the universe has always existed. I appreciate that the idea seems unsatisfactory to our way of thinking, but our way of thinking is probably part of the problem. In our universe we take for granted cause and effect, in that order. Everything we know of happens that way and even our minds work that way! Our very existence would not be possible if it were the other way round. When therefore we try to contemplate the idea of something always existing we simply can not manage to understand it, we are seeking a 'cause' for the 'effect' of the universe existing. The universe however is different to us, it exists in nothing, whereas we of course exist in the universe. There is no cause and effect in a timeless eternal infinite nothing!
According to our definition of nothing as being timeless, then in order to contain the universe, the universe MUST have always existed within it. It is not possible for it to have been CREATED within it for that would require a moment in time. It is not a matter of convenience to suggest this idea, it is the way it simply has to be.
If however you are uncomfortable with the concept of anything having always existed then I see no solution at all, because you will simply have to accept that at some point something came from nothing, and personally I find that prospect totally unacceptable. Either that or you have to conclude that the universe does not exist! And that could be right.
Within the description of the Big Bang there are three main cosmological models. The open universe that will expand forever, the flat model that will come to a halt, or the closed model that will recollapse, possibly 'bouncing' back into another cycle of expansion. If the universe is closed it is possible that it will 'bounce' back cycle after cycle, forever. This idea of an eternal universe expanding and collapsing and re-expanding for ever is my preferred choice, but purely on aesthetic grounds. I realise of course that the arguments are still swinging back and forth as to which cosmological model is correct.
So after all the arguments I have made, what model do I prefer to describe where the universe came from? An infinite eternal unchanging nothing that has always existed and has always contained a finite but unbounded closed universe that constantly changes but is itself eternal. In this model the Big Bang is NOT required as a creation event, it is merely a phase in the cycle of an eternally expanding and collapsing universe and has no special significance at all. There is no need to look beyond it, there is only a previous cycle beyond it, and no need to say it is meaningless to try to look beyond it!
What do I think?
'Nothing' would appear to the casual observer to be a 'natural' state, but as I have outlined above, it seems to me it is not, it would appear to be a very special state.
With the model for nothing that I have described, it would appear to be possible to exist and to contain the universe, but it still does not give an explanation of how the universe could be created from nothing. This problem appears to be insurmountable. I can not 'fix' my theory to explain such an event and it would seem to suggest that the universe did not come from nothing but must have always existed or never existed! I tend to favour the view that the universe does exists, but of course we have no proof that it does!
It may be possible that we have not grasped the concept of nothing. Perhaps to exist it requires a structure, its own form of 'space', but I am not going to go down that particular road because that is not the nothing that I began with as a model of how it may exist. That would be a entirely new theory! Anyway, I don't think it possible to apply the term 'exist' to nothing, it doesn't 'exist', its just a concept!
I honestly think that trying to explain where the universe came from is something we will never be able to do, we are contained within the universe and our understanding is restricted to the universe, anything else is guess work. That aside, this is the best attempt of describing where the universe came from that I could come up with: An infinite eternal unchanging nothing that has always existed and has always contained a finite but unbounded closed universe that constantly changes but is itself eternal. Doesn't exactly roll of the tongue does it.
With this model I can detect only one possible problem (I may be wrong of course, you may find many!) and that is the acceptance of the universe having always existed. If I could present a theory that proved this I would expect a Nobel Prize at the very least! Having said that I would suggest that the route to take in order to establish the concept of 'always' requires a more precise understanding of exactly what time Time? is.
In the meantime, to answer the original question 'Where did the universe come from?' I believe that it didn't come from anything, it always existed. To say that I am unhappy with this concept is an understatement, but I am stuck with it because at this time I am unable to think of a viable alternative. See Our final destiny, immortals
Of course my suggestion is just a model, created for the purpose of argument and discussion only and I do not pretend for one minute that it is anything like the real thing, that, I am sure, will be much more surprising. It may be that it all exists just in our minds!
If you do not like my version, and why should you, why not try and come up with a better working model, you have a completely free hand!
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