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Big Questions and the Big Bang

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If you have never philosophized about what came “before” the Big Bang, it may be a fun little enterprise for you to ponder in passing time, or perhaps a larger existential question from which you derive some sort of meaning. Whatever the case, my purpose for this article is not to argue some sort of allegedly infallible precision in my reasoning, but rather to help guide your pondering as you decide whether or not you agree with my logic.

As a brief introduction, I should probably clarify what I mean by the Big Bang. To keep it succinct, the Big Bang is the prevailing cosmological theory asserting that our entire universe, the physical matter and energy that we associate with existence, derives from one point occurrence that someone less-than-appropriately named the “Big Bang”. I phrase this as a “less-than-appropriate” name because modern astronomical measures have proven the universe to be expanding, so rather than some large bang which magically produced everything that is present now, the Big Bang is currently argued to have been more of a point moment that led to a gradual expansion of the universe. Anyway, this is way too much physics for a paper that I am using to convey a philosophical question.

So this begs the question: what was there before the Big Bang and when did it happen? I love this question, and though I realize that it has little physical meaning in my present life, and whatever happened before the Big Bang will have no administration over the course my day, week, or year takes, I still think I can derive some sense of comfort and at the very least appreciation from it.

When I consider this question I try to limit myself to the concept of time, tethered to the idea that a place in time is a measure for existence. Though I confess there is likely some ethereal contradiction to this simplification, at this point in time I have no way to comprehend it, so in true philosophical spirit let me just use perception as a tool of guidance.

In general, we largely use time to measure movement. We calculate how long it takes something to get somewhere, a ratio that we call the speed of the object. We can then measure how this speed changes through the course of time and call this the acceleration. Once we have this, we can determine the force acting on the object. Wise sage and common household name, Isaac Newton, places forces at the heart of existence, so by connection we can see our reliance on time as a necessity for our comprehension of the universe. Time both directly facilitates our calculations for motion and indirectly helps us compute and analyze further properties like force and energy.

Yet in contrast, isn’t our perception of time equally dependent on movement? For if nothing ever changes then how would we have any way to measure the passage of the thing we call time? In this vein, I argue that if the Big Bang was the creation of matter and force then time simply could not have existed before the Big Bang: thus, there was only timeless oblivion before the Big Bang. By this I mean that there was no one expanse in time that the Big Bang interrupted, but rather, and in quite a quantumly spirit, the fact that it happened means that it both happened instantaneously and after infinite emptiness. Yet without time, the two are the same. Thus it wouldn’t matter “when” the Big Bang happened: rather, what matters is the fact that it happened at all. This key moment that had both a chance of happening and a chance of not happening is what allowed for an expansion beyond simple and complete oblivion.

So is it really important to spend tons of time hypothesizing what was before the Big Bang (a kind of presence entirely incoherent with our own and in no way influential on the world in which we live)? Probably not. I mean, I hardly ever ask myself about what a tree was before it was a tree, because whatever it was will probably never affect the way I, myself, interact with the tree. (Maybe not the best analogy, but you get my point.) I think the real kernel in this question is the fact that the Big Bang did happen, as is evident by the fact that we are here pondering this question, and thus we can take away a great sense of gratitude for the fact that we got the lucky, existential result of a binary game of random chance. Heads existence, tails oblivion forever and never.

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