Big Bang? Let there be Light?

In an earlier post, I wrote that:

The problem for any honest theist is,
“What if it isn’t true?”
The problem for any honest atheist is,
“What if it is true?”

Ultimately both represent ways of looking at the universe. There is no factual conclusion, no proof, about either one; both are matters of faith and belief.  Science can argue all it wants that the Logic and Scientific Method is superior to believing in an ineffable reality, but given all we do know and all we don’t know, in the end it is still just a worldview.

Make no mistake. I am far more a scientist than a theist. (And to the extent I’m a theist, I’m far more a deist than theist, which means I can accept the idea of a Creator (or Creators), but I’m not too sure about the Presence of a Daily Hand. Specifically, I very much doubt that prayer is other than a form of personal meditation; I very much doubt Anyone is Listening.)

I do think Logic and the Scientific Method are far superior…

For some things. For many things. For many, many things.

But not for every thing.

It is a Yin to the Yang of what for now let’s just call meta-reality.

That science clearly works is amply demonstrated in everything from ships to radio to HD TV to robots on Mars. Math, a big part of science and logic, clearly also works (for many things, but not every thing).

Math describes so many aspects of life so well that it’s spooky. It forces the Plato and Aristotle distinction: Does math make reality; or did we just invent it so it describes reality.

Math is funny due to infinity (as in counting to) and infinite things (like how the digits of pi go on forever). The idea of an infinite collection of things, like hotel rooms, creates paradoxes, which suggests math is made up. And the simple ratio between a circle’s radius and rim creates a magic number that no math formula completely describes.

And yet, various maths do describe how reality behaves in eerily accurate fashion. The behavior of light, the path of a cannon ball, waves on the water; math describes them wonderfully well. Math is fascinating and cool, but I’ll leave that for another article.

The more I learn about the physics behind the Big Bang, the more it sounds just as fantastic as, “Let there be Light.” Or whatever world-creation myth or universe theory you prefer.  They all sound equally preposterous and equally fantastic to me. An age-old philosophical conundrum, “Brain in a Jar,” points out that it’s almost impossible to tell if this is the Matrix, Memorex or Reality.

It may sound preposterous that the universe was created as a conscious act of some kind by an incredibly powerful mind, but consider exactly what the Big Bang is.

Quantum physics has a well-established principle, called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It’s a law of physics, and it says that the more you narrow down certain aspects of reality, the more other aspects become not narrowed down. In fact, when you really crank on the narrowing down of one, the other property jumps all over the place. Seriously all over the place.

Two of these see-saw properties are space and energy. The more you narrow down space to a point, the more the energy value of that point jumps all over the place. If you narrow space down to a nearly infinitesimally small point, the energy can vary so much that it is statistically possible for it to be enough to make a Big Bang.

In this view, everything—you, the city around you, the earth, the sun, all the stars, all the galaxies, everything—is the result of a (wildly improbable, but possible) energy fluctuation of an infinitely small point. Einstein taught us that energy and matter are but two sides of one coin, so where you have a huge amount of energy, you can have a huge amount of matter. A whole universe of matter.

A question that occurs to me is that, against what background did this take place?  If spacetime was created by the Big Bang, if our laws of physics were created by the Big Bang, by what laws of physics, and in what environment, did the Big Bang occur?  If the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies to physics in our spacetime, does it equally apply to the non-spacetime before the Bang?

So take your pick. Math simulation, Matrix machines, created by God(s), quantum fluctuation, turtles all the way down.  They’re all preposterous; they’re all fantastic.

Believe anything that suits you, that seems right, but be honest that it might be something else.  No matter what you think it is; it might be something else.

Good general principle in life, actually.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

13 responses to “Big Bang? Let there be Light?

  • hbhatnagar

    Wyrd, while I agree with you in that whatever theories we have at present for the beginning (?) of the universe can be wrong and may possibly be overturned in the future when we have a better understanding of the process, but I think it would be wrong too, to equate these theories with a belief in god. The Big Bang or even Quantum theory are based on scientific evidence and observations as we interpret them at present. Our interpretation may or may not be accurate, but as matters stand we have a basis for making those claims. God, on the other hand, stands on belief, We have no evidence of his existence, nor any observations of his activities. In that sense, while god may exist, he is as probable as the flying spaghetti monster or any other fable on the basis of present evidence.
    I agree that either side of this debate may be wrong, but the weight of the evidence, I think, lies on one side. What do you think?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      To answer your question as simply as possible, I can’t help but wonder if looking only to physics as the be-all and end-all might cause us to overlook a fundamental aspect of our existence: meta-physics. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive, but as a possible Yin and Yang the together comprise the whole of our reality. You say there is no evidence of a meta-physics, but what if the two most self-evident features of reality are that evidence? Those features are (1) that we exists and (2) that we realize we exist. The latter, consciousness, is perhaps the greatest conundrum in science (it’s been labeled “the hard problem”). A problem is that our religions are ancient interpretations of basic observations, and on their surfaces most of them are just as silly as the FSM. But I am struck by the universality of religion and can’t help but wonder: is it a universal twitch in the minds of humans or a perception of a metaphysics. If we insist on the former, we may blind ourselves to the apprehension of something …. else. I’ll be exploring those possibilities in the future, so I hope you’ll stay tuned. Thanks for commenting!

      • wakemenow

        Yes. THIS. This is what I’ve been pondering an awful lot on as well in recent time. Consciousness is a great mystery, in the fact that it exists at all and in the question of what it is and where it comes from, why it arose and how high levels of consciousness differentiate our species from others in an apparently unique way.

        It blows my mind how quick some folks are to dismiss the metaphysical questions, arguing that there isn’t sufficient evidence to accept the wider possibilities because that area of life doesn’t lend itself to being studied by our instruments of scientific exploration. Because we cannot currently measure and make mathematical sense of an area of life humans have forever called attention to, it must be ridiculous hogwash to be blamed on our overactive imaginations, serving no real purpose and distracting us from ‘serious’ inquiries? Nah. That approach looks folly to me — presumptuous and arrogant, as if our measurement tools have the capacity to make sense of anything and everything, and whatever cannot be caged in such a way must be trivial nonsense unworthy of being considered. That’s such a weird way of painting the situation, IMO.

        You’re a voice of reason out here, Wyrd. Seems to me plenty of the people out promoting strictly scientific explanations aren’t the same people who are deeply familiar with scientific exploration and who accept its limitations. Instead of placing faith in scriptures or in preachers, people today want to place faith in scientific claims—claims that we laypersons oftentimes can’t deeply analyze for our own selves due to lacking the means to do so. So it can wind up being a leap of faith of yet another variety when we place esteem in particular scientists and their discoveries, because we can’t actually KNOW some of these things for ourselves. We trust scientists’ and researchers’ judgment and findings and we place trust in their methodologies, even when we haven’t examined them for our own selves, and how can it not be this way when much of the information is Greek to so many of us? *shrugs*

        One could argue that at least when it comes to consciousness we are capable of examining our own direct experiences to an extent, and therefore we’re closer to that area of life than the abstract claims generated in the sciences. And perhaps that’s part of the reason why so many folks are turning toward mystical exploration, because that’s an area where we can look on our own, without leaders or experts dictating what is and isn’t within bounds.

        Anyway, thanks for the food for thought.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Consciousness is one of my favorite topics! It’s a key interest on this blog (my second blog article here introduces the topic) and it has some deeply fascinating aspects. In physics, the Holy Grail is the Theory of Everything, a universal mathematical framework that unifies all of physics (the big fail right now is that Gravity and Quantum don’t mix). With consciousness, the Holy Grail is a Theory of Mind, an explanation of how a conscious Mind arises from a physical Brain.

        Thomas Nagel wrote a key paper that explores it, What is it like to be a bat? The main question is whether it’s mechanistic; if so, we’ll eventually build a device that can have a mind. “Hard AI” is the belief this is possible (“Soft AI” involves computer-assisted, but not conscious, knowledge systems). FWIW: I believe the mind is more than a machine.

        I often quote Gandhi’s line about there being as many religions as there are people. Connecting with your spiritual side is personal and unique. At the same time, there’s this shared universal aspect. All societies have their gods. All societies draw lines between “Right” and “Wrong.” Even Atheists are fighting against something we all seem to recognize. Absolutely, it could just be an evolutionary hiccup. It even makes sense that organisms with a sense of “The Greater Good” (you can drop an “o” if you like) might be more successful due to their unifying under an emotional banner. [Interesting question: does our sense of spiritual awe predate our social unification?]

        But we agree that insisting this universal moral/spiritual perception, this ability to look up at the stars and feel awe, must be just evolutionary machinery… that’s nuts. I admit one knee-jerk reaction I have in full measure is towards Gnostics. Heisenberg is one of my “ghods.” Certainty, therefore, is the nemesis. 🙂

        [BTW: you might also like the second and third articles in this series.]

  • hbhatnagar

    That we exist is a physical reality and understandable on a physical plane. Consciousness, though, is a tough problem and has defied explanation. To some, like Sagan, consciousness is only a manifestation of physical changes in brain chemistry. I find myself agreeing with such a definition, dehumanizing as it may sound…
    The universality of religion is a fact, but I think it can be explained prosaically too. I have not found myself needing a non-scientific basis to explain it either.
    But I will be looking to what you have to say regarding this matter. Thanks for the prompt reply!

  • It's only P!

    I am certain, very certain of only one thing and nothing can change my mind:

    Our brains are too puny to grasp whatever lies behind it all, if anything lies behind it at all.

  • Lady from Manila

    I wonder what’s your take on people who endorse the authenticity of answered prayers that had been directed towards the universe?

    On another note, I have been at peace in my passive acceptance of the Big Bang theory for so long – by reason that we habitually embrace what’s been fed to us. Since you’ve had misgivings as to its plausibility, do you have any humble inklings as to what that “something else” might be? If you’ve already written about it here, I’d be pleased to simply follow the link.

    Please don’t feel compelled to respond so soon as you’ll be very busy in the coming days. I can wait.

    “Whatever could have created all this is very far beyond our comprehension.” I believe so, WS. Thank you for your generosity in sharing all this.
    Take care…

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The challenging thing about prayer (or acupuncture for that matter) is that there’s no scientific evidence that supports it. Anecdotal testimony is notoriously unreliable, so claims of direct experience don’t carry much weight with me. The Placebo Effect is well-tested and very powerful. So is selection bias. Ultimately accounts must explain why these things are so elusive when tested. In our experience, what is real can be tested… somehow.

      It isn’t so much that I have misgivings about BB theory so much as I find the theory fantastic (in the true sense of the word). That the universe just sprang into existence due to a quantum fluctuation is an amazing thing to behold. What allowed that to happen? That something created the universe is also an amazing thing to behold. What created the creator? You can push it back and back and back, just like kids ask, “Why? Why? Why?” At some point you just have to accept that something just is.

      I haven’t written much about alternate theories. Many others have. Wikipedia is always a great source for science and technical knowledge. And the book stores and libraries have many great books written by experts. Most of what Brian Greene writes is very good. Lee Smolin is fairly esoteric, but interesting. I’d recommend browsing around your local book store or library to see what strikes your fancy.

      • Lady from Manila

        “What is real can be tested… somehow.” A big nod from me here.

        Thank you for your highly insightful response, WS. Although the Big Bang T had received overwhelming support, most scientists also admitted to it suffering from significant shortcomings – as it provides not much telling insight into what might have powered the bang itself. My current understanding of it has been limited to a few articles I previously leafed through from the now defunct tree-edition of Newsweek mags where Brian Greene had been an occasional contributor. A recent study has even suggested of the possible existence of other universes – termed as the multiverse. But it could be utter nonsense after all. 🙂

        Pardon me for my silence the past few days. I normally try to discipline myself to stay away from the Internet during workdays by going offline so I can efficiently focus on my tasks. You’re right about Wikipedia and I’ll be utilizing it as well. Still, I hope you won’t mind me going over some of your posts whenever I find time.

        Anyway, I had this maybe weird (or maybe not) notion that our universe could be a tiny part of a more giant thing. Oh, I may lose my head over this. 🙂

        Wishing you well at all times.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You’ve raised many points here! Firstly, there’s never truly a need to apologize for being away from the web (of course we all do it anyway). This is a leisure activity, optional, an addition (hopefully) to our life. The real world can, and should, pull us away at times.

        And I think it’s a good idea to unplug from time to time. My work is such that I need the internet, but I often do that on Sundays, have a no-internet day. It so happened both my computers were off all day yesterday (Saturday), so today I thought I’d try to catch up. Haven’t really be online all week.

        Of course you’re welcome to spend time on the posts here! That’s one reason I write them. Always feel free to ask questions about them or discuss them. (It makes me a little sad that sometimes people comment along the lines of, “Interesting post, but I didn’t understand all of it!” and they never ask any questions trying to resolve that lack of understanding. That’s the pity. If you chew at it a little you may find you understand a little. Over time, that chewing away adds up, and you’ll be surprised how much you learn.)

        Multi-universe theories (not to be confused with many universe theories) are highly speculative, and I sometimes think physicist’s imaginations run away with them! All origin theories suffer from a “well, what caused that?” problem. (So does a theory about God; it’s called the “turtles all the way down” problem.) As you get into BB theory, especially the part of it called “inflation“, you’ll find there are still some major technical puzzles.

        You are not the first, by any stretch, to imagine our universe as a small part of something larger. Multi-universe theory does, and so do some of the odder cosmological imaginings (I just finished Lisa Randell’s Warped Passages, which is about higher dimensions and warped spaces). It’s been the fodder of science fiction authors for ages. In Jack Chalker’s Demons of Rainbow Bridge trilogy, our entire universe is a bubble in the “engine wash” of a starcraft in another, higher, dimension.

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