Did The Universe Really Begin With a Singularity?

Did the universe begin with a singularity?  A point in space and/or a moment in time where everything in the universe was crushed together, infinitely hot and infinitely densely packed?

Doesn’t the Big Bang Theory say so?

Well, let me ask you a question. Did you begin with a singularity?

Let’s see. Some decades ago, you were smaller. And then before that, you were even smaller. At some point you could fit inside your mother’s body, and if we follow time backwards, you were even much smaller than that.

If we follow your growth curve back, it would be very natural — if we didn’t know anything about biology, cells, and human reproduction — to assume that initially you were infinitesimally small… that you were created from a single point!

But that would be wrong. The mistake is obvious — it doesn’t make sense to assume that the period of rapid growth that you went through as a tiny embryo was the simple continuation of a process that extends on and on into the past, back until you were infinitely small.  Instead, there was a point where something changed… the growth began not from a point but from a single object of definite size: a fertilized egg.

The notion that the Universe started with a Big Bang, and that this Big Bang started from a singularity — a point in space and/or a moment in time where the universe was infinitely hot and dense — is not that different, really, from assuming humans begin their lives as infinitely small eggs. It’s about over-extrapolating into the past.

The connection with some kind of singularity dates back to the original Big Bang idea, the one which precedes the notion of cosmic inflation that’s been in the news over the past few days.  [Here’s an FAQ for non-experts about the news; the news itself; and what the news might mean if it holds up.]  The part of the universe that we can see with our eyes and telescopes is the “observable patch” of the universe; it is probably far smaller than the whole universe (or, if it’s sufficiently complicated, “the multiverse”).  What we know from interpreting various observations of the cosmos is that

  • today the observable patch is cold and diffuse and expanding
  • once upon a time, billions of years ago, the observable patch was hot and dense

To the extent that we trust Einstein’s equations for gravity, we can use those equations to understand how the Universe might have had this present and that past.  People studying those equations (Friedmann, LeMaître, Robertson and Walker) learned that a universe can go through a process of expanding, cooling and diffusing — and thus could proceed from a hot, dense, rapidly expanding past to a cool, diffuse and slowly expanding present. This process is what we think our observable patch (and probably a larger region in which it is contained) has been doing for almost all of its 13.7 billion year history.

But suppose, seeing this behavior, we use these equations try to follow time backwards — just as we tried to infer the past of an embryo. We find our equations suggest a universe in which the further you go back, the hotter it was, the more dense, and the more rapidly it was expanding. If you keep going back and back, then (in the Old Big Bang model, before we knew about inflation) you find that at a sufficiently early time, 13.7 billion years ago, the density, temperature and expansion rate start off as infinite. That’s a singularity!

But would you have a reason to believe in that singularity?

I’ve talked over the years with many experts in “quantum gravity” [the poorly understood but required blend of Einstein's gravity and quantum physics, a blend that will be needed to explain extreme gravitational phenomena] and I’ve never spoken to one who  believed that the universe began with a real singularity. Why? Because

  • the singularity arises from using Einstein’s equations for gravity
  • but we know Einstein’s equations aren’t sufficient — they aren’t able to describe certain extreme gravitational phenomena.

Specifically, when the density and heat become extremely large, quantum physics of gravity becomes important. But Einstein’s equations ignore all these quantum effects. So we already know that in certain extreme conditions, Einstein’s equations simply don’t apply. How could we then use those very same equations to conclude there’s a singularity at the beginning of the universe?

We can’t.

And if we don’t know how to alter Einstein’s gravity equations to make them into quantum gravity equations, then — well, we don’t know what happens instead of a singularity.

Now that was where things stood before inflation was known. Inflation changes the details of the history of the universe quite a lot. But it doesn’t change the basic conclusion about singularities: we don’t and can’t yet know what happened at the earliest moments of the universe, because we have neither data nor sufficiently clear equations to help us answer basic questions about it.  Related to this, we don’t know precisely how inflation started (or even could have started) in the first place.

I’m not making this up out of my head.  Just yesterday I was involved in a long conversation with professors and post-doctoral researchers at Harvard, in which we discussed various exotic mathematical methods for exploring the inflationary epoch and the era before it. The possibility that there really is a singularity at the beginning of the universe never came up once.

Or you can look at papers by the world’s experts — say, one by Alan Guth, a 17-page review of “eternal” inflation (i.e. inflation that continues, at least somewhere in our very large universe, into the infinite future) — and although he devotes some pages to the issue of what might have preceded inflation, the word “singularity” does not appear anywhere in his text.

Or look at the figure below, taken from page 6 of a lecture by Andrei Linde in 2007, giving a schematic depiction of the history of the part of the universe that contains our observable patch.   You see that he shows it as beginning not in a singularity but in “space-time foam”. [Compare his picture with the one in my History of the Universe article.] What’s space-time foam? It’s space-time that is undergoing quantum fluctuations — quantum jitter — in which space itself is changing its shape from moment to moment!  Well, when someone writes “space-time foam” on a graph, to physicists it means almost the same as writing “somehow quantum gravity takes care of everything”, without specifics.  (I am confident that Linde will agree that the extreme left of his figure is quite speculative.)

From a lecture by Andrei Linde (link is in the text): a schematic plot of the size of the universe over time.  The extreme left is speculative, the inflationary epoch is the one probed by the recent BICEP2 measurement.

From a lecture by Andrei Linde (link is in the text): a schematic plot of the size, over time, of the part of the universe that contains our observable patch. The extreme left is speculative, while the right-hand part of the inflationary epoch is the one probed by the recent BICEP2 measurement that was in the press this week.

Yet all over the media and all over the web, we can find articles, including ones published just after this week’s cosmic announcement of new evidence in favor of inflation, that state with great confidence that in the Big Bang Theory the universe started from a singularity. So I’m honestly very confused. Who is still telling the media and the public that the universe really started with a singularity, or that the modern Big Bang Theory says that it does? I’ve never heard an expert physicist say that. And with good reason: when singularities and other infinities have turned up in our equations in the past, those singularities disappeared when our equations, or our understanding of how to use our equations, improved.

Moreover, there’s a point of logic here.  How could we possibly know what happened at the very beginning of the universe? No experiment can yet probe such an early time, and none of the available equations are powerful enough or usable enough to allow us to come to clear and unique conclusions.

The modern Big Bang Theory really starts after this period of ignorance, with a burst of inflation that creates a large expanding universe, and the end of inflation which allows for the creation of the heat of the Hot Big Bang.  The equations for the theory, as it currently stands, can be used to make predictions even though we don’t know the precise nature of our universe’s birth. Yes, a singularity often turns up in our equations when we extend them as far as they can go in the past; but a singularity of this sort is far from likely to be an aspect of nature, and instead should be interpreted as a sign of what we don’t yet understand.

302 responses to “Did The Universe Really Begin With a Singularity?

  1. Ah! but did it create the Space? – the Universe!

    The human egg does not create the womb.

    I think as humans we assume it created the Space. There may have already been a container before the so called BB but we cannot separate the 2 in our imagination.

    And such a Space determines a background law which determines what the BB can do within in it?

    • :-) I agree the analogy is not perfect.

      We don’t actually *assume* the Big Bang created the space. The equations say that’s what happens … that the (post-any-singularity) expansion in the Big Bang is not an expansion of objects into a space but is an expansion of space itself. If this were not true, inflation would be impossible.

      See

      http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/relativity-space-astronomy-and-cosmology/history-of-the-universe/big-bang-expansion-not-explosion/

      http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/relativity-space-astronomy-and-cosmology/history-of-the-universe/inflation/

      • I think we may discover TIME has more than one ‘flavor.’

        Those flavors are linked… so on a personal level…you have the major flavors of time running through your mind, to give you a perception of change. Your local time has the greater influence.

        There could be Cosmic Time, in which our universe’s component of time is enclosed.

        * So far, that would be three kinds of time:
        1) Cosmic Time (Probably independent of the speed of light.)
        2) Universe Time (Exists regardless of your local time.)
        3) Local Time (From changing your speed relative to light or mass.)

        Cosmic Time is based on infinity, and universes exist and die within its larger space-time framework, with their own space-time expressed from the foam. It allows multiverses, each with their own concepts of time inside them. And, then the experience of time changes inside those universes, depending on the speed or space density of the observer, such as one of us…where time slows down the faster we go, or the closer we get to a strong mass.

        IMO. Cosmic Time is like floating in a dark sky of balloons, each its own universe. That Cosmic Time influences your universe very slowly, while the Time inside your bubble universe affects you more directly. The COSMIC reality is MUCH older than your individual universe.

        In fact, if we use the principal of infinity…the infinite Cosmic Time generates ALL realities, eventually, including the universe we are experiencing.

        Our very real universe could have come about by two or more bubble universes colliding, and bouncing off each-other. (Their space-time membranes collided, creating a quisi singularity Quantum Reality event [like two hallow rubber balls full of soapy detergent colliding], that started our universe, and caused a small bubble to inflate to what we see today, as matter was generated from the Quantum Foam of the ‘skin’ of our space-time bubble.)

        Cosmic Time may be much more ‘stubborn,’ and much smoother and more steady (by a factor of trillions), because it is where our universe derived its original space-time, as our universe began as a pinched off bubble from the Cosmic Space-Time…where time is infinite…therefore ALL realities are possible… before our universe was created.

        Anyway.
        If a Black Hole slows down our own Universe Time…on the other side of a wormhole punched through by a Black Hole…would be the existence of Cosmic Time…and its more expanded into infinity multiverse bubbles of other universes. Penetrating through a wormhole can be done locally, given enough energy, or at a Black Hole – with the attendant Hawking Radiation.

        Going through the wormhole takes you to Cosmic Time and the Prime Universe, where you can curve back to your own ‘local’ universe at any point in time or space – inside your space-time universe bubble…or you could go visit other Quantum Realities, with their own time.

        • Adding:
          A Black Hole could be like a PIMPLE on our bubble universe’s SKIN. When you jump through it…you end up OUTSIDE our conventional space-time in our local experience…but the experience of time continues…because you come under the influence of Cosmic Time as you emerge on the other side.

          In other words…go into the ‘light’…and welcome to ‘heaven’ when you get to the end of the wormhole…hummm. But, given the right circumstances, you aren’t ‘dead,’ and can time travel, or re enter our universe, along the ‘skin’ of our bubble, wherever you want.

    • I think the question is how did the quantum foam get there -for myself anyway- how did the void get there per se?

      There is this Theory called Random Dynamics which helps to explain that energy at low levels is random and as it becomes higher energies it gains more order and becomes less random. It is very nice, I like it anyway.

      So, it is possible that the laws are reflections of the “order” of higher energies which may vary from universe to universe.

      So, the void would have been this big mes of random chaos…but as space expanded and curvature took effect –it was able to “divide the chaos from the order” per se.

  2. Matt, would you read about my speculation on the matter? I wrote about it in that “Introduction to…” paper. Plausible?

  3. Hi Matt,

    Does same applies for black holes? I.e. nothing to suggest the matter ever collapses down to a singularity?

    Matt

    • Yes, the singularity probably isn’t there because of quantum gravity effects. We actually have examples of things like this in string theory, but not enough examples to cover the general case.

  4. I am very grateful for your website Matt. I did a Pure and Applied Math degree about 25 years ago (and there’s been a lot of beer under the bridge since then) but I surprise myself with how I can follow the detail of your posts beyond the point I thought my rusty brain would allow. I put that down to your talent in explaining complex concepts in a way that can engage audiences of varying skill levels. My favourite subject was Differential Geometry and I have regained an enthusiasm for the mathematics of cosmology from wading through your various articles. You also come across as a serious working physicist rather than a “showman”, so your site is a welcome repose from others who have become increasingly irritating through the obvious satisfaction they get from the sound of their own voice. Thanks again!

  5. Prof. Strassler: According to Linde, “The sum of the energy of matter and of the gravitational energy is equal to zero”.

    http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/lectures/Biermann_07/LindeLecturesMunich1.pdf

    I think that Linde’s claim is incompatible with Milgrom’s acceleration law. Do you agree or disagree?

    • I’m not sure, but I’d believe Einstein before Milgrom, especially now.

      • Thanks for the reply. I think that the BICEP2 results back LInde’s chaotic inflation theory and the theory of the multiverse. However, there are 2 possibilities for the multiverse: (1) the multiverse has neither boundary nor interior, or (2) the multiverse has both boundary and interior. My guess is that possibility (1) implies Linde is correct and possibility (2) implies that Milgrom is correct. Are there any articles in refereed physics journals that present a theory of a multiverse with boundary and interior?

  6. Matt,

    I have some questions.

    Regarding the graph from Linde’s presentation, it is clear that the Standard Big Bang Model predicts a universe with a size (as it evolves over time) much, much smaller than the size (as a function of time) that a BBT that includes an inflation period does.

    The question is: what can we figure out or interpret when we compare both predictions with the experimental data?

    It is my understanding that the data validates a much larger universe, in line with a BBT with inflation: is that so?

    Another question that I have is pertaining to space-time foam: when you describe it, you mention ” in which space itself is changing its shape from moment to moment!”.

    It is my undertanding that this foam is the result of the Uncertainty Principle operating where it does, that is, at very small scales (small enough for quantum effects to apply).

    Just as this principle affects space and momentum, it also affects time and energy, so, would make sense to describe space-time foam as ” in which space and time themselves are changing its shape from moment to moment!”?

    • The fact that the observable patch is incredibly uniform and flat at the time of the cosmic microwave background radiation is already strong evidence that the universe is much larger than the part that we can see. Otherwise, how did parts that are so incredibly distant from one another end up with the same temperature to one part in 100,000? We can be more detailed about it by looking at the equations and how causality works in spacetime, but that’s the basic idea.

      As to your final question — yes, and no, and yes — I don’t know. How do you talk about fluctuating space-time? It’s not easy, and that’s part of the challenge of trying to understand it! Even setting up sensible equations isn’t a simple matter.

      • If I’m not mistaken, it was John A. Wheeler that once said: “time is defined so that motion looks simple”.

        From a perspective of Minkowski space, we have that time, even though it is in itself a scalar, is integrated into the vector of 4 dimensions by way of the i versor (which in itself is a vector), and has the “right” dimension of space by way of the constant for the speed of light, c.

        So, while the x, y and z coordinates are “pure” spatial dimensions, the time dimension is not a “pure” spatial dimension, but the result of a transformation.

        Here I have a question:

        Is it not here where some of the problems that science has with concepts like space-time foam has crept into the equations?

  7. “… we don’t know the precise nature of our universe’s birth.” Would it be fair to say that the 2 most likely possibilities are: (1) a chaotic fluctuation in the natural order, or (2) a predictable cycle in the natural order?

  8. My first encounter with the concept of space-time foam was while reading Kip Thorne’s popular book on Black Holes, ” Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy”, many years ago.

    It is my undestanding that space-time foam is a major current subject of research for Thorne, as he is studying how did “normal” or classical GR space-time come to be out of space-time foam at the very early stages of the universe.

    • Thorne probably popularized the idea more than anyone. The idea’s been around for a long time, but despite decades of research, no one has a firm grasp on it yet. Over the years the options for what it might mean have become more and more radical.

  9. Great article! The analogy with human growth is a nice way to explain what physicists mean with the “breakdown” of a theory at small distances.

    I think there is a related confusion about “dense” versus “small”. A randomly googled example from http://www.big-bang-theory.com : “Our universe is thought to have begun as an infinitesimally small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense, something – a singularity”.

    My understanding is that the high density of the early universe implies that our observable patch was very small then (although it is not obvious how you compare volumes “of the same space” at different times – I suppose you need to carefully define worldlines of observers which interpolate between the volumes), but it is not at all clear that the universe was “small” then, or whether it even makes sense to speak of the size of the universe at any time.

  10. Not sure I get the concept, so the following is probably kind of naiv.

    If the beginning would have been a singularity, then there basically was nothing then, but to define a singularity, don’t you need something around it?

    • No, actually.

      First, a singularity is not necessarily something that happens at a point in space. It can occur at a moment in time, and it can occur across an entire region — including, potentially, the entire universe. So the whole universe could have gone singular at the same moment. Or different regions could have gone singular at different times. Again, this is highly unlikely.

      Second, even if the singularity affecting the universe was in any sense a point in space, the right way to think about it is that all of space itself had collapsed down to a point. The Big Bang is not an explosion of things into space, it is an expansion of space itself. http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/relativity-space-astronomy-and-cosmology/history-of-the-universe/big-bang-expansion-not-explosion/

      The picture that everyone draws of the Big Bang starting from a singularity that is a point in space with things flying out of it like a bomb is wrong in multiple senses. I don’t know why that’s what everyone still does; even Hawking’s TV special did that, but Hawking’s theoretical ideas about the beginning of the universe don’t have that structure

      • Regarding why Hawking’s TV special presents the Big Bang very much like a bomb exploding, I would blame it to the TV producers and the Network executives, and not necessarilly to Hawking himself … when an image becomes so popular in the general public’s eye, even though it is wrong, producers and executives stick to it just because it makes sense from the perspective of ratings.

        That could also explain how the same mistake crept into the new rendition of Cosmos: I would blame it on Fox Execs mainly.

        Kind regards, GEN

  11. Thanks for this beautiful and elaborate answer! You were mentioning Linde’s mentioning of quantum foam / quantum jitter and its relationship to quantum vacuum state fluctuations and that even a ”no particle”, least excited state of a quantum field is never entirely quiet. Am I correct that the quantum foam is on the boderline in a way between vacuum state and excited or more manifested states because in quantum jitter space is already existing, though as you wrote ”space itself is changing its shape from moment to moment”. I guess that at least experimental physics can’t go beyond the quantum jitter where maybe hidden deep within the supersymmetry of the vacuum state is -theoretically – singularity to be found. I know that vacuum fluctuations will always be there of course. Maybe since the vacuum state is in some way supersymmetric, it can be said to be a singularity – like the calm surface of a lake. However, when you look at the lake for some time you might discover some movement, some fishes, underneath the calm surface of the lake – those vacuum fluctuations… When physics progresses more it might find that those fluctuations in themselves are made of singularity, though appearing as sometjhing different, i.e. singularity. In some ancient texts it has been said that infinite abstraction of singularity / nothingness destroys itself (maybe as an ongoing process) and creates an unmanifest liveliness of all possibilities in a qualityless, selfreferral state and in that state is the ”memoruy” of all possibilities. Well, I hear you already soighing as you hate purely speculative thoughts… However, maybe there is an interesting clue to it, so that’s why I go so far to unnerve you. Pure and total abstraction (singularity), out of the range of empirical physics for sure, maybe not of theoretical physics, I don’t know, and total memory – maybe as quantum jitter, memory understood as tota potential of how natural law can express itself in multiverses….. well,I guess I am drifting too far off and apologize iun advance.

    • :-) Well, indeed, you’ve gone out of the zone where I have anything intelligent to say. It is very difficult to define space and time at extremely short distances, high energies, high temperatures — and the speculations you make are far less radical than some of the equations I have seen in my career!

  12. kashyap vasavada

    Matt: Assuming that BICEP2 expt and its theoretical interpretation is correct, can one conclude that upto about 10^16 GeV (GUT energy ,time) a kind of hodgepodge mixture of classical GR and QM is OK and one would need quantum gravity only for energies higher than it for understanding space time foam?

  13. I broke my left upper arm, slipping on the ice some weeks ago, and am handicapped right now – so sorry for the spelling errors. Posting the corrected text for better readability here again:

    Thanks for this beautiful and elaborate answer! You were mentioning Linde’s mentioning of quantum foam / quantum jitter and its relationship to quantum vacuum state fluctuations and that even a ”no particle”, least excited state of a quantum field is never entirely quiet. Am I correct that the quantum foam is on the borderline in a way between vacuum state and excited or more manifested states because in quantum jitter, space is already existing, though as you wrote ”space itself is changing its shape from moment to moment”. I guess that at least experimental physics can’t go beyond the quantum jitter where, maybe hidden deep within the supersymmetry of the vacuum state, is -theoretically – singularity to be found. I know that vacuum fluctuations will always be there of course. Maybe since the vacuum state is in some way supersymmetric, it can be said to be a singularity – like the calm surface of a lake. However, when you look at the lake for some time you might discover some movement, some fishes, underneath the calm surface of the lake – those vacuum fluctuations… When physics progresses more, it might find that those fluctuations in themselves are made of singularity, though appearing as something different than singularity. In some ancient texts it has been said that infinite abstraction of singularity / nothingness destroys itself (maybe as an ongoing process) and creates an unmanifest liveliness of all possibilities in a qualityless, selfreferral state and in that state is the ”memoruy” of all possibilities. Well, I hear you already sighing as you hate purely speculative thoughts… However, maybe there is an interesting clue to it, so that’s why I go so far to unnerve you. Pure and total abstraction (singularity), out of the range of empirical physics for sure, maybe not of theoretical physics, I don’t know, and total memory – maybe as quantum jitter, memory understood as total potential of how natural law can express itself in multiverses….. well,I guess I am drifting too far off and apologize in advance.

  14. Are we stuck, “burning rubber”? SM has worked very well but seems like we came to the end of the road. I know this some hope maybe the muon g-2 experiment or a larger collider using the electron-positron pair may shed some “light”, :-) but I doubt it.

    Reason I say that is because after making so much progress with the SM you would think that the “truth” would rise ever so much faster and clearer in front of all this knowledge, but instead we can came to a dead end, we are stuck?

    If our scientific model was correct there would be less traffic (researchers) on the road because the paths should have been converging by now. What is wrong with our equations?

    What is fundamental in all of the equation? … Space and time. … Do we really understand how nature has constructed these variables (dimensions)? Are we using them correctly?

    For example, I can postulate that we live in a 3D space because of 2 facts, a) nature has used 6 quarks to construct an atom and b) Pauli exclusion principle. So, the smallest geometry one can pack 6 spherical, (spherical due to nature’s symmetry principle), fermions is a “perfect” and very precise cube, with a slight jitter (chaos?). And, of course, being so perfect and brilliant created a few electrons to maintain order (balance the jitter, and complete the atom. Hence, creating space, a 3 dimensional space 6 quarks, 12 pivots points (points of absolute zero, if time is indeed a real variable) but these points where adjacents quarks come in “contact” are never reached so they oscillate and electrons are created to fill nature’s voids. It’s like balancing a fine point pencil on a table, only way to do it is to oscillated it, really fast.

    So is this what space is? A continuum defined by quarks?. If quarks were not so stable could there be more dimensions? Where there more dimensions in this space-time foam before nature found a “good” balance with 6 quarks?

    I believe we need to go back and have a good look at on how we are using space and time.

    • It does not necessarily follow that the pace progress is exponential; theories are not like jigsaw puzzles where the ever decreasing number of unknown pieces makes completion ever easier. Indeed we can naively argue the exact opposite; if there were much progress to be made we might expect to ‘stumble’ across such undiscovered territory regularly. That we have not could be taken as a sign that we already have most of the pieces, we just need an intellectual jump to arrange them properly.

      I am also not sure I understand your remarks on six quarks; they can be arranged in 1 dimension as a line and in 2 as a face-centered pentagon. I cannot see how six spheres pack into a cube. (Eight will pack into simple cubic packing, one at each corner, nine if you use body-centered cubic packing. Possibly you mean an octahedron?)

      • Only one solution to the geometry with 6 quarks, as it must be for many reasons. Nature follows the simplest of rules, complexity, multiple universal constants, arise when the permutations increase (with increase space).

        Symmetry, they need to be arranged to be perfectly symmetrical which gives rise to the x, y, z coordinate system and hence 3D space. To achieve this place 4 quarks in one plane, one on top and one underneath so that all quarks are in “contact”, 12 contact points, 4 for each quark, forming x,y,z coordinates. A concave, stretched cubical cavity is created inside this arrangement which itself is perfectly symmetrical, bosonic fields?

        The electron field was last piece to this solution because to keep the nucleus stable it needs to be balanced. Without the electron this cubical arrangement will jitter because zero does not exist in nature (chaos), so the “point of contact” can never be fixed, hence the “quarks” will oscillate about these 12 points cause a jitter.

        So, is it possible to say that the fermions are these confined perfectly spherical fields and the bosonic fields “flow” in cavities around them?

        I don’t have the math, maybe you do? :-)

        • Ok, an octahedron (diamond shape) is what I get when I arrange four spheres in a square then place one above and below that plane. I know it relates to the cube but I’m not sure how you get a cube in that circumstance. (Or how it relates tot he five ‘bosonic fields’.)

          I would also note that the ‘electron’ as we know it is a combination of two particles caused by the higgs fields being nonzero and of course we also have the muon and tau fields (And muon atoms ahve been made.) so I’m not sure how they fit into your gemoetry.

          I am also not sure of what you mean by ‘zero doesn’t exist in nature’; it certainly seems to. The neutrino has zero electric charge for example and a lot of the math of physics requires various things to be exactly 0, 1, 2, etc. As for chaos, entropy seems to constantly increase and so order only arises at the expense of more disorder in the universe as a whole.

          Math is indeed the problem; once you have that worked out a theory is much easier to experiment with.

          • @Kudzu: so far, there is no evidence (zilch, exactly) that indicates that the electron is a composite particle, so, until there happens to be a significant development in the evidence pointing towards the fact that electrons and positrons are NOT elementary particles, please, refrain from saying such BS, or at least, refrain from saying such things here.

            BTW: We are all open to new discoveries and theories that are properly validated by evidence, in a scientifically unambigous way.

          • Zudzu, I stand with what I said, because of chaos there is no “zero” in nature.

            The electron g-factor is one of the most precisely measured values in physics, and that is because it is the last “shim” to complete the assembly. Like a good mechanical system you can never has a perfect one, you will need a shim, or some active component to fill in that last gap that exist in every system because of uncertainty, chaos.

            Also, I don’t expect we will find that a “particle” is causing the difference in the muon g-factor, but rather it is the lowest threshold of flux between open and close “waves”. Beyond this flux value there will be a vortex developed, (I cannot do the math, what causes this vector to change directions), “thermal” gradients, refraction, something else, or just simply chance, chaos?

            And viola, quantum confinement! One continuous field (probably the gravitational field) all tightly wrapped up in these infinitesimal spinors locked up together by their own angular momentums (g-factors) and chaos.

            Sadly, we have messed up our math so badly it will take generations to unravel it.

  15. The misconception about a there being a singularity at the “beginning” of the universe is perhaps due to some particular wordings used when explaining inflation scenarios.

    If inflation “creates a large expanding universe” one is led to assume that before inflation the universe was “small and not-expanding”. Is this assumption correct? And if so, what does “small” mean? Or should we assume that the universe is infinite and has always been infinite and inflation just dilutes the density of “stuff” within it?

    Moreover, big bang singularity might be confused with black hole singularity (which I suppose is still a respectable concept in physics today?). In this context I would like to ask: why did the “stuff” in the pre-inflation universe not just stick together due to gravity instead of being diluted? We are told that inflation is still going on but doesn’t affect our bodies or even our galaxy because of the forces holding them together. Why didn’t those forces act in the pre-inflation universe?

    • 1) The question of what was before inflation is not answered. One should not assume anything about it. We don’t know. One possibility is that before inflation there was no notion of space at all. So indeed, one should not assume that the universe was “small and not-expanding” before inflation. It may have been impossible to say how large it was and what it was doing in terms of our normal notion of space. Alternatively, it may have been small and hot and expanding, but not starting from a point but from a bounce off the collapse of a previous phase of the universe.

      ” should we assume that the universe is infinite and has always been infinite and inflation just dilutes the density of “stuff” within it?”

      Don’t assume it. We don’t know. This is a question for scientists to answer through research, not by assuming something.

      How small is small? The minimum length that we would expect before Einstein’s equations would completely break down is the Planck length (See http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/relativity-space-astronomy-and-cosmology/history-of-the-universe/some-definitions-for-cosmology/ ) But there could be surprises we don’t know about.

      “Moreover, big bang singularity might be confused with black hole singularity (which I suppose is still a respectable concept in physics today?).”

      Actually, there’s the same issue of respectability (but it’s less important to human history so I’m not making as much of a deal of it.) Einstein’s equations show black holes have a singularity, but it is widely expected that this singularity is somehow removed or changed in a full theory of quantum gravity. Quite a few people (including, in a limited context, myself) have written papers in which singularities present in something like Einstein’s gravity are removed in string theory, which is a candidate for a quantum gravity theory. But the general situation is not understood in string theory or in any other candidate for quantum gravity that you may find in the literature.

      “why did the “stuff” in the pre-inflation universe not just stick together due to gravity instead of being diluted?”

      “We are told that inflation is still going on but doesn’t affect our bodies or even our galaxy because of the forces holding them together. Why didn’t those forces act in the pre-inflation universe?”

      The electrical and strong nuclear forces that hold your body together, and the local gravitational forces that hold the earth and stars and galaxy together, are far stronger than the very weak inflationary “force” that acts on the universe today.

      The inflationary “force” that acted on the universe at the time just before the Hot Big Bang was inconceivably greater. Had you been there, it would instantly have yanked you apart and vaporized you into your component elementary particles. Anything large that was held together, other than black holes, would have been ripped apart too. So the only things that would have stuck together during this phase would have been black holes, or elementary particles, or very heavy and extremely compact objects far, far, far, far, far smaller than a proton. And those objects would have been diluted almost instantly to incredibly low densities, leaving them adrift and alone in an immensely vast void.

      Of course it isn’t clear there *was* any “stuff” in the pre-inflation universe, or what the pre-inflation universe was like, of whether there was any space there to be “in”. [You're still making all sorts of assumptions about the pre-inflation universe --- that it's something that you can visualize and is similar to what you're used to. We don't make those assumptions here...]

      • Matt,

        You write: “Anything large that was held together, other than black holes, would have been ripped apart too”

        Under inflation, wouldn’t the space inside the black hole also expand and dilute it? Wouldn’t that tear it apart as well? Or does the curvature isolate it somehow?

      • I think I have asked this question before, but is it certain that black oles would stand up to inflation? If I have an object inside a black hole’s event horizon but the space that the hole is within is inflating, does that not allow the hole and the object to move apart faster than light (while of course neither of them moves trough space faster than light.)?

        If not, why not, and if so what happens to a large enough black hole? Does our current understanding of black holes show they are immune to being torn apart by inflation?

      • Matt: You wrote (about “inflation”) that “the only things that would have stuck together during this phase would have been black holes, or elementary particles, or very heavy and extremely compact objects far, far, far, far, far smaller than a proton.”

        This is, to me, rather confusing… Alan Guth (in his “Inflation and the New Era of High-Precision Cosmology” (goo.gl/j9GRpq)) conjectures that “In the inflationary theory the universe begins incredibly small, perhaps as small as 10^–24 cm, a hundred billion times smaller than a proton.”

        In my book, “100 000 000 000 times smaller than a proton” — with its charge radius of ≈ 0.88 fm (femtometer (10^-15 m))) — IS FAR, far, far, far, far smaller than a proton… In addition, if the Universe “pre-inflationary size” was 10^-24 cm, and this “rather small” volume contained ALL the mass of the Universe, then — by any measure — this would be FAR, far, far, far below the theoretical Swartzschild radius, which WOULD qualify the infinitesimal speck as the smallest but most massive black hole EVER, a “very heavy and extremely compact object” indeed…

        So, why didn’t that object (the Universe) “stick together” as you wrote it ought to have done? Can you see what my confusion stems from?

  16. Tony (Racz) Rotz

    Human life begins with an egg and then with a particle that makes it pop into existence.

    • Human life is pointless.

    • But how did it pop into existence- this I where I’m at. Then lost.

      The particle came from the quantum foam – or the quantum void- which becomes our dark energy eventually?

      But I thought nothing could come out of a quantum state without something outside of a quantum state interacting with it?

      So- doesn’t this mean curvature of space-time was this acting agent in a way giving these particles “space” ?

      So, without curvature- or gravity- we would not have any particles? is this right or why not??/

  17. Dear Matt, I think that I agree with you about all the “true physics” you have stated here. The classical GR breaks down over there etc. But you may be using a slightly different terminology than others when you feel dissatisfied about the claim that the “universe started with a singularity”.

    For me, and probably some professional physicists at many places, the point when the temperature or curvature invariants are so high – Planckian values etc. – that the classical theory surely breaks down may be *called* a singularity. One doesn’t need a strictly infinite value for that. With this modified or “regulated” definition, it is totally OK to say that it started with a singularity. The definition is OK because a singularity is a classical notion so it should only be applied with the classical accuracy, and if the curvature radius becomes smaller than the Planck length, it is “zero” within the error margin, so within the error margin that is inevitable for the vocabulary we are using (“singularity” belongs to some classical language), the beginning slice really *is* a singularity.

    I think it’s also important to stress that quantum gravity doesn’t have to “smoothen” all singularities in a classical sense, to turn the singular shapes into smooth but still classical shapes. Sometimes, it preserves the shape but regulates just the physics on the background. Sometimes it invalidates the classical geometric description entirely. For an example of the first case, perturbative string theory on orbifolds contains the exact orbifold singularity to all orders (similarly for conifold points in the spacetime as well as the moduli space etc.), and this point – while singular from the viewpoint of classical geometry – leads to perfectly well-defined, finite predictions of probabilities in the (quantum) string theory because whatever could look like a source of inconsistency in a classical theory is canceled by new contributions. For an example of the other case, AdS/CFT has the CFT description that doesn’t directly contain metric degrees of freedom from the bulk (it seems) and they may only be reconstructed within some limited accuracy, too.

    • Hi Lubos — all of what you say is true. But I would argue that the very fact that it takes two paragraphs of jargon to elucidate is exactly the reason why we should not be telling the public that the universe started with a singularity.

      For one thing, we don’t know it’s true even with your definition of singularity… and I think you agreed with me on that point.

      For another, if we don’t mean that there’s actually infinite density and infinite heat — i.e., if we don’t mean that *physical observables* show infinities — then we should use another term in addressing the public.

      I think we should not blithely say that “the universe started with a singularity” without being much more clear about what we don’t know, and also about the fact that the statement comes with a dozen caveats about what “singularity” means when you go beyond Einstein’s equations.

      • Dear Matt, thanks for your reply but I probably agree with it less than I agreed with your original article.

        The beginning of the Big Bang in a singularity isn’t really difficult and doesn’t really need two paragraphs of jargon. I think that you needed it because you were using a more stricter, expert-like – but unusual – treatment and terminology. For laymen, the world is described by some physics on a classical spacetime, and classical GR is what is relevant, and at this approximation, the singularity is there. It may actually be there even in the exact sense – and the quantum dynamics upon that singular background may still be well-defined. So I didn’t agree with you that we don’t know that there is a singularity with my definition, there almost certainly is.

        What we possibly don’t know is whether there is any physically meaningful “pre-Big-Bang” history such as eternal inflation or something more esoteric.

        You talk about caveats “what ‘singularity’ means when you go beyond Einstein’s equations.” But my viewpoint was really that it doesn’t mean anything – “singularity” itself means that one must go beyond Einstein’s classical equations to describe the physics (quantum corrections become huge relatively to the classical terms), even qualitatively. “Singularity” means that they break down. There is nothing difficult about it; it’s just a concept used in the classical geometry approximation of spacetime, and this concept is pretty much synonymous to their breakdown because some quantities grow out of control (of these equations).

        Sociologically, by the way, I think that you are in a minority here. Look at the diversity of the papers using the term “Big Bang singularity”

        http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22big+bang+singularity%22&hl=en&lr=&btnG=Search

        and what they say about it. You will find lots of people, not just Hawking, who have no problem with saying that the “Big Bang singularity” is a part of physics. For example, even in Seiberg’s paper in which he wanted to “resolve and extent” the singularity in some way

        http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0201039

        he still talks about the Big Bang singularity (it’s three times in the paper) as a part of his precise description of physics. So I have said and still say just the opposite of you: even with *your* strict definition, the claim that there was no Big Bang singularity may very well be wrong.

        • “What we possibly don’t know is whether there is any physically meaningful “pre-Big-Bang” history such as eternal inflation or something more esoteric.”

          I do think this is the more important point. When we say “Big Bang Singularity”, we’re talking as though we know something, whereas, in fact, we don’t know. Of course you and I know the limitations, but the public does not.

        • Also — since we’re both being selective in our quotations, let me point out Seiberg is careful to say:

          “It is common in string theory that singularities in its General Relativity
          approximation become less singular when the stringy corrections are taken
          into account”

          and

          “In conclusion, we conjecture a transition through a spacelike singularity from
          a big crunch to a big bang. Only a detailed stringy analysis can prove or
          disprove the conjecture”

          which I would say supports my way of describing the situation to the public: (a) we don’t know there’s a singularity or anything like it, and (b) yes, the equations look singular, but they may well not be singular (at least there may be no observable quantities that go to infinity) when we finally understand it.

  18. Hi Matt,
    I think the trouble goes back to A Brief History of Time — see, e.g., Ch. 6, and also parts of 7 and 8. Hawking uses the word “singularity” all over the place, and he’s not always super-careful about his wording. If you read it very carefully, I think he’s careful to say basically what you’re saying in your blog post — that the singularity in Einstein’s equations is just a signal that there’s unknown new physics going on — but it doesn’t always come across that way in the book, or in a lot of the interviews he’s given over the years.
    I certainly can’t think of any other place reporters would have encountered the word “singularity,” or any other reason why it should keep showing up in their articles.

  19. I did wonder if the media would end up reporting “scientists discover evidence of time before the (hot) Big Bang”.

  20. Hi Matt,

    Thanks so much for taking the time both to write well and write frequently. This is great for people who’ve longed to understand these subjects but who possess brains that are limited by constraints not apparently found in your field.

    On page 10 of the presentation by Linde to which you refer, he refers to the “Big Bang singularity”. Is he just being metaphorical, instead of literal, or am I just misunderstanding . . . which is common for me on this blog. :)

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Ref: first paragraph: Indeed. I am beginning to believe Dr. Strassler really is powered by the Higgs field. And I do appreciate the corrections to common public conceptions/ideas about the BB theory and HE physics.

    • Thanks for pointing that out!!! This relates to Lubos’s comment above.

      Scientists know implicitly that when their colleagues do actually refer to “Big Bang singularity”, they mean “the place where the curvature of space-time becomes so big that you can’t trust Einstein’s equations”. They do the same thing when talking about “Black Hole singularities”. And there’s all sorts of knowledge and caveats and cautions that the experts don’t have to say to each other, because we know the limitations of what we’re doing and we don’t have to explain it to each other each time.

      The problem is when an expert is talking to the public and forgets that the public does not know these caveats, cautions and limitations! I pay very close attention when I speak publicly but I still make mistakes occasionally. Linde, in this case, was not speaking to the public. I’m not sure how he would address the issue in a public forum — that’s up to him. But you see that there’s no consistency between what he says and what he draws about the earliest stages of the universe — a looseness of thinking/speaking which reflects a certain level of speculation and ignorance about the earliest times.

      It’s ok for him to be a little bit loose in this context… because — and this is the crucial thing — the predictions of the inflationary universe do not depend strongly on how inflation got started, as long as it did get started. http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/relativity-space-astronomy-and-cosmology/history-of-the-universe/inflation/

  21. Without working on the actual equations, or even better, having Hawking use his equations to point out what he means by that, I guess we can’t argue either way.

    But there is something that Hawking has pointed out many times in his books, including more recent books, like “The Grand Design”, and that is that after an object (like say, an imprudent astronaut) enters a black hole (passes through the event horizon), tidal forces will not inmediately stretch and rip the object into pieces, it will take some time for that to happen, because the object has to be closer to the singularity.

    So, even though he may not imply that infinite values are really there at work, he clearly points out towards very high values, like when he describes the magnitude of the “ripping” tidal forces that act close to the singularity inside the black hole.

    But this is also part of Hawking’s own style of self branding, self promotion that he has used over the decades. I do respect his high stature when it comes to math and physics, but that does not diminish or make it go away his tendency towards self publicity.

    He has as much of Harry Houdini as he has of Gauss, Riemann or Newton.

    Kind regards, GEN

    • Right — the point is that you will be ripped apart *before* reaching what in Einstein’s equations is a singularity and what in quantum gravity may be something more subtle. So it really doesn’t matter.

      Hawking wrote many theorems about singularities in Einstein’s gravity, so he’s deservedly very proud of his contributions. It’s not surprising he says the word “singularity” whenever he gets the chance.

    • Sir, I refer to this article: http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/particle-physics-basics/the-known-apparently-elementary-particles/the-known-particles-if-the-higgs-field-were-zero/ in which it can be seen that when the HIggs field becomes nonzero a number of particles are ‘linked’, notably two separate massless particles the ‘electron-left’ and ‘electron-right’ are linked into a single massive elemental particle The article states that this is different from two particles combining to produce a composite object.

      Oaktree’s ideas seem tor elate to he electron as it appears now, to be a valid theory it should relate to the electron-left and electron-right before the Higgs field ‘turns on’. (This is not my only objection to the theory however.)

      • Until you can produce a proper set of equations (A.K.A a theory), some published paper(s) about this on peer-reviewed media, and (eventually) its corresponding experimental data to back all this up, you may keep this stuff to yourself.

        • Uh, that’s the point; the theory exists, did the link not work correctly? It is Mr Strassler that pointed the existence of this work out to me, it is a post on his site. I do not need to do anything as it is already an accepted part of physics and has been covered 9though not extensively) on other popular physics sites such as Quantum Diaries: http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2011/06/19/helicity-chirality-mass-and-the-higgs/

          Making stuff up is stupid but the story of how the Higgs field rearranges the hypercharge and isospin force into the electromagnetic and weak is simply fascinating. I never would have even guessed at it.

  22. Thanks for your repy :-) A thought that strikes me with some humor: If there really is something like the singularity of the supersymmetric vacuum state, though teeming with quantum fluctuations which in part have their impact on more excited levels or might result in gravitational or whatelse waves even, it surely isn’t that type of an assumed ”singularity” like in the black holes which was later found to evaporate into more excited levels. This singularity seems not to evaporate.

  23. I guess there probably aren’t any physicists still telling the media and the public that the universe started with a singularity. It’s just that people are used to believing so, and no one is providing a different answer. Since physicists don’t know they don’t say much about it, so the public continue to believe what they believe.

  24. Allow me few questions :
    1- As far as Inflation hype is going on for some time now , it is always claimed that some thing or a part of something — patch of space , quantum foam , quantum fluctuations , you name it – is the origin of what started the universe ….but here is the big question :what is the source of that something ? Theu may say it is eternal with no begining , but i read many math. Research provong the impossibility of true etrnal something .
    2- then comes the biggest question : accepting the existence of “something ” before the start , say some quantum something , then what is the mechanism that generated the equations of all our theories …I meam what kind of mechanism that can materialize abstract relations among fieldes and particles and forces in addition to have the causal power to inforce that relations in the existents ? Thanks

    • “here is the big question :what is the source of that something ? ”

      As I have said many times in the last few days, We Don’t Know.

    • Corrections : please read theu as they …provong as proving , etrnal as eternal …fieldes as fields ….wake up shami!,,,,,

    • According to the current theories (including Alan Guth’s “Baby Universes” theory), all universes including our universe came out of nothing, the result of a quantum fluctuation that produced a pair of virtual particles that were able to separate from each other enough without collapsing back.

      Many of these theories consider pairs of fermions (particle-antiparticle) with electric charge (one is positive, while the other is negative) as the start of baby universes.

      In this context, the net result energy is zero, as one of them will have +E and the other particle will have -E: so, in the end, baby universes are poppin in and out of existence, literally out of nothing.

      Regarding an origin or a creator for our universe, from a strictly scientific perspective and in line with current knowledge and evidence, we could say with Pierre Simon de Laplace that “we do not have a need for such a hypothesis”.

      Kind regards, GEN

      • @GEN: I assume your summary about some theories (or hypotheses) about pairs of particles being correct, no problem, but I think this should not be called “literally out of nothing”. At least, these theories require the concept of such particles, and probably fields related to such particles, and probably several other conditions that must be met to meaningfully speak of such particles; e.g., the concept of charge, the concept of opposite charges that cancel out exactly, and so on. So even if there was not something that we might call “material” in the beginning, the cited idea refers to concepts of possible material.
        —-
        Concerning the discussion above about the beginning of everything, I personally think that the question cannot be answered, it runs into logical contradictions anyway, and therefore the question itself might be ill-posed.
        a) If one states “nothing” was the origin of “something”, there is always the question which properties of the “nothing” could provide this; and as real “nothing” has no properties, there is no answer.
        b) If, on the other hand, “something A” is stated as the origin of “something B” that we observe now, one can always go back further and ask recursively what the origin of “something A” was.
        It seems to me that we simply have to accept it as a fact that something exists; we can go back and ask for the origin or start of the observed world, and go further back in history, but it seems impossible to prove that necessarily something exists instead of nothing.

        Kind regards,
        Markus

        • @Markus Harder:

          Origins, creations and creators imply a previous intention for something to happen, the desire of a willful power to provoke a sequence of events so as to make sure that a certain outcome is accomplished, something that we could rephrase as purpose.

          Bubble or Baby universes popping in and out of existence, following a clearly random pattern is something that can tell many different kinds of stories, but one story it clearly is not telling is one story of purpose, or one story of previous intention.

          If we also consider that the behaviour of quantum fields seems to be a property of space-time (which so far is a scientific theory with scant evidence), and we sum this up, we can propose as a valid scientific theory that baby universes are an extension of other natural phenomena where pairs if virtual particles appear out of nothing (by momentarilly “stealing” energy from its sorroundings, with the “promise” of giving it back after a certain amount of time that is bound, if not completely determined), like in Hawking radiation or in a particle accelerator.

          We have both theoretical reasons, as well as a massive load of experimental data to back this up, mainly starting from the Uncertainty Principle, in particular, its form that links energy with time.

          • I have of course no answer from where science is at right now. But from the primordial soup evolution to a direction to greater and greater complexity ith the human being as maybe particuilarly sophisticated. All due to randomness? I have no pre-fabricated answer to the topic at hand. I also don’t believe that Santa created the universe or multiverse. But I would like to read more sophisticated theories how randomness could lead to such a level of organization and complexity…. only through selection? And how can that be explained swith randomness.

          • Markus Harder

            1. I have on objection against the idea that the history of the universe does not require intention, purpose, or a creator as its origin; I did not have this in mind. By “concept” I was rather referring to an abstraction, to a law or principle that allows some things to happen, although I cannot give a clear definition of it. But my idea is if a new universe pops out of “nothing” (or “something”), then the general pattern or layout of the new world must somehow already have been present in its origin, like a blueprint, or like the DNA in an egg.
            2. The comparison of virtual particles popping into existance with universes popping into existance does not seem very convinicing to me, at least as not being explained much more in detail. The reason of my doubt is that the vacuum in our world, which gives rise to an abundance of virtual particles (that under certain conditions may become real particles, as in the Hawking radiation), is a very different thing from a real “nothing”. The vacuum of our world has physical laws, it has space and time, it is surrounded by other things from which it may possible to “steal” or borrow energy, and the vacuum itself (as far as I understand) has a non-zero energy and is not really void. Further, the virtual particles obey the physical laws of our world, for example, the conservation of charge when two particles of opposite charge are created at the same time.
            A very different situation is a real “nothing” – no space, no time, no physical laws, no charge, not even the idea that there might be such things. It seems to me logically impossible, or at least very hard to imagine, that such a real “nothing” can be converted into the world that we observe today.
            Also, the observations that we have so far, at least as our everyday experience is concerned, do not suggest that things pop into existance all of a sudden without some reason. Our world is governed by conservation of mass, energy, momentum, and we do often not see things come and go just by chance. Well, the jitter of quantum theories gives some room for things to happen unexpectedly, and under certain conditions some things are not conserved, but the overall pattern is still that our (observable patch of the) universe follows amazingly strictly the “laws” of physics. I would not strictly reject the idea that such an orderly thing such as our universe popped into existance purely by chance out of a chaos, but it looks quite strange to me.

          • Markus Harder

            Correction of typo: My first statement above reads correctly
            “1. I have NO objection …”

          • Whatever we know of reality, is filtered through our brain. Qualia are qualities of awareness. Qualia give us the experience of a physical body and also of the universe. Our body is qualia gestalts, our universe is also qualia gestalts. Mental experiences consists of qualia gestalts. In the deeper reality our brain itself is a qualia gestalt in consciousness, in awareness.
            The only real light is consciousness is the light of awareness which is unlimited, a field of all possibilities. Our brain acts like a prism, it allows consciousness to fall through a prism, sort of, and then manifest as the diversity of the universe. Thus the diversity of the universe is our own self / consciousness filtering through this mechanism -the brain within consciousness which is also a qualia gestalt. The true nature of our Being is of course infinite potential, infinite possibilities, infinite creativity and the less encumbered we are by conditioned thinking, the more freedom we have in this domaine of pure potentiality. Qualia gestalts are within that pure consciousness, quantum vacuum state, as all types of vacuum fluctuations.

      • I would agree with you accept that I don’t see quantum fluctuations/mass/quantum field as nothing.And that is as far as we can really go at this point it seems.

        And we don’t really know how this quantum fluctuation exists? If really from absolute nothing or if it is just eternal quantum fluctuations or if from the absence of everything (like a cycle of everything-nothing-everything-nothing) or something else we have not thought of yet.

      • “… the net result energy is zero, as one of them will have +E and the other particle will have -E: so, in the end, baby universes are poppin in and out of existence, literally out of nothing.”

        Not really. Out of nothing, only nothing can come. And you are confusing “energy” with “electric charge” (not the same thing). There is no “negative energy”. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_energy)

  25. Dear Prof. Strassler, your articles have awesome clarity and explains many concepts that other writers have confused me about – including the notion of a “singularity”. However, being greedy, I hope for more answers. Based on my current understanding of the “observable universe” and inflation, the inflaton field (whatever it was) had a different value in our patch than in other parts of the speculative universe – which is why our patch blew up. If that is so, does that mean that our patch probably has different physical constants than the non-observable patches (such as the universal speed limit)? Further, does any theory that has been proposed explain WHY there is an absolute speed limit in our patch? Finally, if other patches have different speed limits, what happens to photons traveling across the domain boundary?

    • Great questions, but with a few misconceptions:

      1) The observable patch lies inside a giant inflated bubble that is may be larger than the observable patch by an unimaginable amount. Within that entire bubble, the laws of nature may appear to be almost the same, or only very, very slowly varying across space.

      2) Other bubbles (or “pocket universe”, as Guth likes to call them) may have completely different laws. Not only may they have different physical constants, they are likely to have completely different types of particles and forces.

      3) It is not uncommon that the shape of the universe’s space-time is such that no photons or particles of any type may cross from one pocket universe to another. Even if they could try, it might be that in the nearby pocket universe there is no such thing as a photon — so when photons hit the boundary they’ll bounce off, just as light bounces off a metal surface.

      4) The fact that there’s a universal speed limit is very deeply bound up with the structure of space and time in our universe. It’s possible in principle for another pocket universe to have no notion of space at all, so then clearly there’s no notion of speed.

      I have to caution you also that really calculating what happens in these theories of multiple pocket universes is extremely difficult… so some fraction of what people say now about these things may turn out to be wrong.

      • “it might be that in the nearby pocket universe there is no such thing as a photon — so when photons hit the boundary they’ll bounce off, just as light bounces off a metal surface.”

        Wow, I’d love even a brief handwavey expansion of that from a quantum field theorist ! (Even if some fraction may turn out to be wrong :) )

        “The fact that there’s a universal speed limit is very deeply bound up with the structure of space and time in our universe”

        In particular, in a spacetime whose symmetry group is the Lorentz group plus translations, there is one free parameter which corresponds to the speed of massless particles. (Light obeys this speed limit only because (or more precisely in this conversation’s context, if) excitations in the electromagnetic field are massless). Our observable universe is as close to Lorentz covariant as we can measure.

        • Why photons bounce? At lowest energy level, the entropy decreases (temperature from cold outer to warm and radiative photons). Against gravity collapse, again increase in entropy – maintaining flat universe and masslessness of photons. Maximum speed limit retained as spacetime ?

      • Dr. Strassler, I hope I am not asking for too much, or silly questions, – but,

        1) “The fact that there’s a universal speed limit is very deeply bound up with the structure of space and time in our universe.” Is it possible for you to explain how/why the structure of our spacetime REQUIRES a universal speed limit?

        2) If, as string theorists have posited, there exist multiple compactified dimensions in addition to the large three + time that we can see, why didn’t inflation blow those up, too?

        3) is the notion of inflation (possibly) applicable to the time dimension, too?

        4) if two (say) photons had been entangled prior to the inflationary epoch, and were at opposite sides of the pre-inflated universe, would inflation have affected the entaglement?

        Your articles are fantastic. I hope the television channels that are currently showing “Cosmos” version 2 will ask you to do a series on the Universe and HEP.

        Thank you for any answers you may offer.

  26. @aashami:

    Your questions seem to implicitly contain some assumptions that are not necessary for the Inflation theory to be valid, like when you ask about “what is the source of that something?”.

    Inflation does not have answer that question for itself to be a valid theory.

    The point is, there are so many unknowns about all this, that it is very helpful that such a thing could be done, mostly based on “tricks” like the one that I mentioned, that theories do not need or have (or even can) answer and explain many aspects, just a few significant aspects, to be valid.

    Just to give you an analogy of how this works in other parts of science: Meteorological theories to predict how a Hurricane is formed and behave do not need to explain the detailed history of all the currents of air and water that brought the air and the water to the very spot of the earth where the very same theory is placing the hurricane.

    If that were to be absolutely necessary so as to be able to have an effective theory of hurricanes, we would not be capable of having a theory at all, as it would be materially impossible to calculate and account for all the previous history of air currents and maritime (sea water) currents that brought air and water to that spot of the Earth.

    The point is, we can use this trick of elision in just about any science, as it is a perfectly valid trick to be applied.

  27. @Gaston : Do you mean also that we can ignore the source of all the math. Relations among all that interact in the universe ? I find it very difficult to imagine using Q.M for example to explain origin of the universe while we do not know origin of what we use !!

    • From all what i read , QM is an integral part of the origin of the universe to the degree that no origin of universe theory no matter how it is sophisticated can be complete or even valid unless it explain the origin of the equations it used to reach the origin of the universe …this is a logical necessity .
      The point is : can science reach this necessity ?
      I dare say it is inprinciple impossibility as any theory to explain QM will need a higher theory to explain it with no possible end for the march to reality .

  28. @aashami:

    Science is a rather practical endeavour. It that sense, science uses what can be used to analyze and solve a problem, even if it means sometimes to start with a simple picture and a simple understanding of something, so that we can explore as much as we are able to explore, and then we have some new information that will allow us to continue with a wider scope of the problem in the future.

    For instance, modern classical thermodynamics is a theory that has been widely validated by experiments. It is strongly based on the use of statistical classical mechanics to describe the overall behaviour of billions of spherical bouncy objects (like say, perfectly elastic metal spheres ) that stand in for real molecules.

    We do not need to make any assumptions on the actual constitution of real molecules to be able to have a perfectly valid theory based on these elastic spheres.

    If we were to consider the real constitution of real molecules, we should be including quantum mechanics into the picture, but actually, we do not need to do that, and we only have to include some quantum mechanical considerations for only just a handful of cases to explain every day thermodynamics as it is required for engineering.

    This is called an effective theory, just like General Relativity is also an effective theory: it is not a “complete” theory as we know that at some point we are using a simplified picture which is OK for the scope and the purposes that we have to use that theory.

    So, we do not need to relate everything with everything else so as to have a useful theory.

    That seems to be more of a philosophical approach or even a world-view approach and not a scientific approach.

    • 100 percent Agree with you , you are totally correct , then my aim is to show that since this is science as you described , then it is not its scope or ability to search the unknowable origins in cosmology or biology as this will mutate science to metascience . No scientist is allowed to tell any one what to believe w.r.t. Origins .

      • Personally I think if someone comes at the scientific method without already preconceived notions one way or the other they will taint what they find to be true reality.

        It could very well be that spirits are echos of nature itself. That the consciousness (of all animals) as defined by Hameroff and Penrise (to which I agree except on one issue of choice) could have created so much energy in existing in a quantum way that even after the battery “brain” dies the energy doesn’t just shut off immediately, but lingers for a time or maybe does something else.

        Who knows.

        But the point is true reality is so much more than anyone -whether you are a scientists or layman– really knows and so our minds should not be closed in anything unless it has been shown to be not possible.

  29. Elizabeth Maas

    If we begin with minimal entropy before space-time had a change to foam its way into existence; and gravity and time had not yet had the chance to become emergent properties of mass and light (both as wave functions), we are dealing with physical dimensions that defy human comprehension. If we want to call a state of the universe that defies human comprehension a singularity, that singularity would have been everywhere, since the coordinates of space-time did not initially exist. The speed of light itself may be dependent upon the evolutionary state of the universe in which it parses out time. How energy is encapulated during transduction is boundary and state dependent. Certain physical phenomena are instantaneous events – e.g., an electron’s orbital jump. 99.999% of the universe is in the plasma state. Those boundaries provide the structure of the universe. Perhaps there are frames of reference that exceed the speed of light, which may be “hidden” within our known universe or may be revealed as fundamental particles – such as the electron or the neutrino. The imagination is caldron of what-ifs seeking to escape as steam!

    • @Elizabeth Maas:

      From the perspective of classical mechanics, entropy is a macroscopic magnitude, and it could not be anything else, as it is the result of a statistical magnitude (in itself, an average) that describes the overall behaviour of billions of molecules bumping into each other.

      In fact, the size of the sides of the cell that is considered in statistical thermodynamics is determined by Planck’s constant and it is a fixed size.

      Any event pertaining to space-time foam includes distances much smaller than the Planck scale, so, that is much smaller than the definition of the cell required by classical thermodynamics, so, we could be using the definition of entropy for such events, for at least two reasons: the scope of these events imply dimensions much smaller than the standard size of one cell of statistical thermodynamics, and because there is a reason for the word “statistical” to be a part of it, that is, we need to include many cells to calculate the average behaviour.

    • Elizabeth Maas

      I’ll edit my comment a bit, only because words are words, “Before space-time had a chance to emerge.” I’ll leave out the word foam, since it brings to mind quantum foam. Rather, I propose that space-time emerges from light and mass, and as such it is a simultaneous event.

  30. Pingback: Did The Universe Really Begin With a Singularit...

  31. Science excludes itself from the quest on beliefs, so, I do not understand why you are talking about scientists telling anybody what to believe in or how to think about their beliefs.

    Science focuses its own field of analysis to discover natural explanations of natural phenomena with the use of Physics, which is a specific use of applied math to describe the behaviours and the relationships between measurable things of the natural world.

    There is no inclusion or participation of beliefs in this, and clearly scientists do not worry or care about what people believe in, to be able to carry this endeavour of science.

    • Well said and fully agreed with. aashami, I think a lot of us here feel you’re fighting a battle that does not need to be fought.

    • Are you kidding Gaston ?
      All of naturalistic materialism are aimed at deleting the extra-natural , then how can you say that science has nothing to care about beliefs ? Maybe you are talking about practical scince , but you know very well what Origins science is aiming at …….. All of the Inflation -multiverse speculations are designed to delete creation , all of darwinism is designed to do that …how can you ignore that .

      • I don’t think either Gaston or I agree with you on this.

      • I have never liked the term ‘supernatural’; what does it mean exactly? Anything that has an effect on the ‘natural’ world can be studied, modeled and predicted and therefore becomes part of thee natural world. Even an infinite ‘god’ (whatever that is) sitting ‘outside’ our universe, having created it and being able to manipulate it at will would in principle be amenable to study.

        And this is where many belief systems fall down; they make solid predictions about the world that we know are not true. We know (putting aside a discussion of what ‘knowing’ is.) the world is not flat or that unicorns do not exist. Other beliefs are simply inconsistent and should rightly be discarded.

        While science does not claim any authority in the areas of personal belief, quite often beliefs claim authority in areas of science. (Young earth creationism comes to mind.) and when they do so science is justified in disproving said claims and, if they are vital to the belief, the belief itself by extension.

        • I’ve never liked that term either. But from the spiritual perspective.

          I would think things are either natural or spiritual.

          I would agree anything that acted on the natural can be measured. Whether we have the right methods or tools for this is another question. Whether we are looking in the right place is another.

          Although I’ve come to wonder if the spirit –if exists– could be an aspect of nature itself as a consequence of high quantum levels of conscious beings (all animals) which we see since the Cambrian era.

          Whether it would be eternal or just linger sometime is another question, but just something I wonder…

      • Science is just about finding what is true.
        Even if multiverse is true -which I thin it could be- this doesn’t mean your God didn’t do it. This could just be the way he does it.

        • One of the aspects of natural phenomena is that we can design experiments to validate or refute a certain predicted behaviour of such events, and we are free to do so.

          But if the events of the universe were somehow related to the deeds of a supernatural being, we might need to appeal to her/his free will to be subjected to the experiment, and we could get stuck for a while in a contractual quagmire with this entity just to get started.

    • Gastón, while I fully agree with the tenor of your comment, I disagree with the statement “There is no inclusion or participation of beliefs in this” – at least if “beliefs” is understood in the most general sense.

      I think that any kind of human thinking is ultimately based on a certain number of beliefs. Even mathematics – where the fundamental beliefs go by the fancy name of “axioms”. For example, you can choose to believe (I’ve heard mathematicians phrase it thus) the axiom of choice, or not, and depending on that you can explore different “mathematics”.

      One may argue that in dealing with the physical world our freedom to choose axioms is less “active” than in mathematics, more restricted to the interpretation of our experience. One may also say that the axioms of logic and mathematics are to some degree informed by our experience of the physical world, so there are relations of axioms. However, mental activities based on different sets of axioms are fundamentally independent and cannot be connected by irrefutable deductive arguments. (Thereby I’m again joining your line of argumentation, I guess.)

      Even the scientific method itself is based on beliefs. There are people who simply deny that one can really learn something about the world by doing quantitative experiments and by explaining and correlating their results using theories. While I have no sympathy for that stance (especially since the same people usually apply the patterns of scientific reasoning in their daily lives without noticing), there are no waterproof deductive arguments to disprove it.

      The remarkable thing about science and mathematics is the mind-boggling success they had, starting from a relatively modest set of beliefs – but this judgement again rests on my beliefs. I think it is just important that we are as clear as possible about what our axioms are, as we cannot “bootstrap” our thinking without them.

      • Edwin,

        I understand what you imply with axioms being somehow closer to beliefs, but there are a few aspects in axioms that make them very different from beliefs.

        To start with, I would say that axioms are validated all the time, one way or another, and have been validated over centuries … if any given axioms were found to be invalid or flawed, it would be corrected or dropped, and this does not happen to beliefs, since beliefs are not meant to be verified or validated, not even once.

        If I’m not mistaken, it was Charles Sanders Peirce that categorized the ways of logical thinking into deduction, induction and abduction. In one of his papers (I can’t remember the name and I was not able to find it with either Google or Bing), I remember that Peirce gives an example of how we use these categories of logical thinking while doing math, and in particular, he gives a specific example with axioms, as well as with a conjecture, and he compares these examples from the perspective of the categorization that he is introducing.

        Again, axioms are much stronger than just beliefs, by a long shot, no matter how we slice it.

        Peirce was a real polymath, even though he was an odd ball, but we argue that Leonardo Da Vinci, or Einstein or Godel we odd balls too.

        • Gastón, you make good points that urge me to improve my statements. These are subtle topics that are hard to handle in a few sentences.

          Regarding validation of axioms: One point you make could be called the “argument by success”, which I hinted at also in my previous comment. Now, to me this argument is totally convincing. I trust in science because it (and technology based on it) just works again and again and again. There could be someone, however, who says: “So far everything has just appeared to obey so-called laws of nature by pure chance. The next minute everything will behave differently.” To you and to me this statement is outrageously absurd, because we believe that the rules of stochastics are applicable and that explanations with exponentially small likelihood are to be abandoned. But we cannot prove this.

          (The axioms of mathematics are successful in two ways. One is the incredible richness of the mathematical universe they create, the other is the “unreasonable effectiveness” (Wigner) of applied mathematics. Both fascinating to think about, but not proofs of the “truth” of mathematics, whatever that would mean.)

          Another check for validation of axioms is consistency. However, the importance of consistency, the logical rules we use to assess it and the universal applicability of these rules are things we believe in. (For example, the axiom that an omnipotent being exists, is – at least when understood in the most straight-forward way – inconsistent with itself, if the rules of logic are applied. But this will not convince someone who takes the stance that the rules of (human) logic simply cannot be applied in that case.)

          So I agree that axioms are more constrained and rigorous than what is usually called “beliefs”, but total intellectual honesty compels us to admit that underlying any system of axioms there is still a layer of beliefs which cannot be verified or proven independently. (I often wish that the same kind of honesty would compel critics of the scientific method to stop using the achievements of technology, like computers, cell phones, cars or electrical power. :)

          • Here Ed. Is your confusion , no believer ever never is a critic of the practical technological science , who told you they ever did ? , our main critical refutation is of science when it proclaim a metaphysical imagination as an ultimate fact where no observational data can ever be attained , then it is not science , it is a religion with worshiping in the temple of god-nature or wharever you call it .

          • Edwin Steiner

            aashami, I think the article above is a prime example of how careful good scientists are not to proclaim anything metaphysical.

            Regarding practical technology – well, that was kind of my point: Many people accept scientific findings without hesitation in areas considered practical, but they reject scientific findings which may be less practical, more abstract, but still verifiable and obtained using the same careful methods. They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but to me it seems somewhat dishonest or at least inconsequential.

        • Agreed , the above post is really honest for one sole reason , because Matt. Is an honest scientist , do you wish that i give you hundreds of examples where a scientist declares as a prime ontological fact a mere imagination of his mind ?

    • Gaston: Science excludes itself from the quest on beliefs? Where did you get this notion? Assuming that the words “basic belief” are synonymous to the word “faith,” here’s a rather striking example — out of many — of how the big bang has turned into religion, accepted by its worshipers on faith, rather than on scientific grounds:

      “Light element nucleosynthesis has been a central pillar supporting the standard FLRW hot Big Bang cosmological model. […] But there are several confusing and apparently inconsistent elements in the canonical picture which have led to ‘patches’ which are quite ad hoc and are accepted only because of our familiarity with them and our basic belief that the underlying standard model is accurate.” — N. Yu Gnedin and Jeremiah Ostriker (Abstract for “Light element nucleosynthesis: a false clue?” Astrophysical Journal, 400, 1992 (Accessible at http://goo.gl/BdBroL)).

  32. If you deny the obvious what can I do ? Ask MK and he will tell you I am right .

  33. Tony (Racz) Rotz

    All of science can at best explore the natural, anything else is beyond its capabilities. Beyond that individuals can express their personal beliefs.

  34. One interesting aspect of all sciences is they there are many experts, but there are no authorities in science.

    Asking somebody about anything in science is operationally equivalent to admiting the existence of authorities in science.

    There are other domains of human thought were authorities are the norm. These authorities have the prerogative to speak “Ex Cathedra”, “From the Chair”, like a bishop would do, or like the cathedratics of olden times would do (Cathedra means “Chair”, and Cathedral is were the place that houses the chair where the bishop seats).

    It is because of this old tradition that certain tenures in very old universities are still called “Chair”.

    But fortunately, the existence of authorities in sciences is just “pre-history”.

    Kind regards, GEN

  35. “Matt Strassler:Moreover, there’s a point of logic here. How could we possibly know what happened at the very beginning of the universe? ”

    Can a correlate then be drawn as to Planck time, not only with regard to early universe, but the black hole?

  36. Hi Matt !
    Does the existence of space-time foam imply that a state of symmetry existed before the big bang and that an unknown event broke this symmetry, leading to the quantum jitter of the foam and an inflationary event ?

  37. Tony (Racz) Rotz

    Actually I’m somewhat of a Mystic having had many experiences both of God and evil, but I won’t relate what they were, anyway this is the wrong place and maybe the wrong time and the wrong site, and maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. Let’s stay with physics, it’s more enjoyable.

  38. Hmm…some of the language and changes of meaning being bandied about here with regard to singularity, now that there is solid evidence (if, if, if it is confirmed) for Inflation or something like it – bothers me. I will paraphrase…

    “Oh, we never said the universe started as a singularity. Did you ever hear any of us say the universe started as a singularity? I never heard any of the people who are in the know actually say it started with a singularity. We always meant that the point where Einstein’s GR breaks down.” Yeah, sure you did.

    Suppose tomorrow a record energy is pumped into an electron and lo and behold we find that it is moving at hyper-light velocity (and it didn’t jump through a higher dimension, a wormhole, or any of the other nonsense half of you buy into :-).

    Would you be saying?: “Well, we never meant that mass actually goes to infinity at c. I never heard any of the people who are in the know actually say it was infinite. We always meant that the point where Einstein’s SR breaks down.”

    Sure you would.

    • 1) I was always taught, when I was a student in the 1980s and 1990s, that a singularity is always a place where we expect Einstein’s gravity to break down. So if you think this is a new thing, you’re very wrong. In fact, if you look at Steven Weinberg’s book on Gravitation and Cosmology, from 1972, he says exactly this at the transition between pages 595 and 596.

      2) By contrast, the second thing you mentioned would be a huge shock. I was always taught (and I teach) that the universal speed limit is built into the structure of space and time. And if you remember, just two years ago there WAS such a claim of faster-than-light neutrinos. What did scientists say? They said, “maybe, but we highly doubt it”. So you are wrong; people did not say ” “Well, we never meant that mass actually goes to infinity at c. I never heard any of the people who are in the know actually say it was infinite. We always meant that the point where Einstein’s SR breaks down.” It is not widely believed that this aspect of Special Relativity breaks down anywhere, though we do consider alternative possibilities as a community.

      Also, particle physicists do NOT say that the electron’s mass goes to infinity at c. The electron’s mass is constant and independent of speed. Why the confusion? http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/particle-physics-basics/mass-energy-matter-etc/more-on-mass/the-two-definitions-of-mass-and-why-i-use-only-one/

  39. What is the relationship between repulsive gravity and dark energy – maybe you have written about this already. Is dark energy some kind of quantum vacuum energy? Sorry if you had written about it. Then grateful to get a hint where to read….

  40. Whenever I read a new post it seems like I always come away wishing that somehow your posts and their content could get a much larger audience. I hope that something happens to make this so since your posts are so clear and understandable! TV shows like Cosmos and NOVA are good but something more is needed. This is a problem for all of science particularly when it comes to funding. Have you heard of any new ideas to help publicize science?

  41. Thanks, I read the press release of M IT yesterday – 3 questions to Alan Guth. Dark energy wasn’t mentioned, but repulsive gravity http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/3-q-alan-guth-on-new-insights-into-the-big-bang.html
    I read somewhere about spacetime being emergent. Then of course the maybe useless question arises – as you pointed out many times”we don’t know” – what is it emergent from. However, dark energy seems to be arising (emergent), at least in part, from the quantum vacuum, I take from your reply.

    • “emergent” has a particular meaning. We have examples (I have worked on this myself) where dimensions of space and quantum gravity emerge from quantum field theory in fewer space dimensions. But I have not written about this yet on this blog.

      If Guth wants to describe inflation as repulsive gravity, I’m not going to argue with him — that’s his decision. But it has some consequences, namely that it misleads on certain issues. I’ll ask him about it next time I see him though.

    • This space.com fig. Is unbelievable piece of either ignorance or deception!,,,

      • If it is the figure at the top of the article that upsets you: At least you cannot blame space.com: The figure is from the BICEP2 collaboration and was used in the (non-technical) BICEP2 press conference.

  42. This is what Space.com show today

  43. christopher bolger

    Doesn’t the uncertainty principle guarantee the smallest possible distance. A distance that can’t be any smaller and therefore a singularity cannot exist.

    • No, it doesn’t — not in general. Not unless you’re doing quantum gravity, and even then it is doubtful. The standard uncertainty principle that applies in atomic physics does not set a minimum size. It says that the smaller your uncertainty about an object’s position, the larger your uncertainty about its velocity times its mass (i.e., momentum); but you can make its position 100% certain, for an instant, if you’re willing to make its momentum completely uncertain. In quantum gravity there may be a truly minimum length, but that’s not due to just the standard uncertainty principle. Moreover, this minimum length has not been demonstrated to be a generic feature of quantum gravity.

  44. Could we consider every single elementary particle as a singularity?

    If the first existence was the fundamental duality: two definition point of whole new-born universe. Both points are at the same time inside and outside each other. Weird? Not really, because in this model we assume there is no “outer world” but the universe define itself totally.

    I think this is a very interesting baseline to understand very early conditions in our universe. Maybe nature avoid singularities at all. Maybe uncertainty of an elementary particle define a singularity in the observational space. Is it possible there would be an incremental evolution of energy potential that was first built up as particles, later on aa vacuum energy DM… Uhm, comments?

    • Over the years, people have tried to understand elementary particles as singularities of various types. It doesn’t really work all that well, and it’s not something one sees attempted very often today. But it’s not out of the question.

      • How about the idea of an embryonic stage evolution of universe? So, first was one “particle”, then second, third and so on… That would be the basis in contrast to the idea that whole diversity today; energy and entropy, was turbocharged in a very tiny corpuscle.

        Somehow it appears to me to be more logic chain of events if the universe was born increasing the diversity and intendig achieve symmetry of its definition points. What is the main stream spectum of ideas and models about the fundamental evolution and the first steps of our universe among the particle physics scientists just today, coud you describe?

  45. Hello Prof Strassler,
    Since you happen to mention it, I read Prof Guth’s summary a couple of years ago and one of the things that bothered me was the rather short treatment of eternal past inflationary scenarios. As far as I know these have received less attention than others, but isn’t it more “natural”, in a “perfect cosmological principle” kind of way, once you invoke an inflationary field, to treat it as the default state of things–an unbound field in spacetime that continuously causes inflation based on the value of the field–and our observable universe (and others, potentially, by extrapolation) as the result of fluctuations that cause a heating event?

    And thanks for your excellent articles on all manner of HEP topics.

    • Actually, Guth (with Vilenkin and someone else) showed that within General Relativity this is actually impossible. I don’t know if that means it’s impossible in more general quantum gravity theories, and there are loopholes even within general relativity. But that’s why you don’t hear this obvious idea talked about; it was considered, and was shown to have a problem.

  46. Excellent post. In every instance i have seen, Einstein himself commented that the theory breaks down at P=0. He does not say anything about a singularity, even without taking quantum theory into account. He simpy says the theory breaks down. Full stop. I think science journalists have invented their own language and customs, one step removed from scientists

  47. The men exchanged views, reportedly in a civil and soft-spoken manner. Donald G. McDonald described the discussion as “youth versus maturity, daring spirit versus depth of experience, and mathematics versus intuition.” Josephson, as it turned out, was right. ref Bardeen vs Josephson, the latter being the student in this example and what does Shrodinger have to do with real world of physics which must be tested beyond a cocktail party?

    In this case boils down to the fact that we do not understand that which we are studying and rely upon a mental conundrum to help us out – or at least the people who are supposed to know .

    Cocktail parties are not always the empty occasions we think them to be.

    “Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy” ― Isaac Newton

  48. Hi Matt, thanks for putting together a very interesting and lucid site talking about the state of the art in physics. The discussion and diagrams about space time and inflation seem to infer the observer is outside and can make absolute measurements about the size of the universe. But if I was an observer inside the universe (as we are) and had a tape measure during the inflationary period and before would I be able to measure in absolute terms the diameter of the universe at some point to be 1mm or 100000 light years wide? At these earlier times and smaller scales disregarding the effects of the inflation of space I presume energy and matter must have been moving about at relativistic speeds affecting the local geometry of space in the direction of motion. How do you meaningfully measure the size of anything at these early times?

    • This is not as strange as it seems; what is being ‘mseaured’ here (more accurately calculated from measurements in the present.) is not the size of the entire universe but rather a part of the universe that today contains our observable universe.

      To use the human metaphor from the article, I can measure my size now and my rate of growth and working backwards calculate my size at any time in the past. I would not have to be able to measure myself when I was newborn say to know how large (approximately) I was.

      But also yes, if you were present in the pre-inflationary universe you would have been able to measure its size in the same way we can measure the size of (parts of) our universe now. That is IF it worked enough like ours for measurement to be meaningful and as you note IF the geometry of space also made sense. But the sizes given in these discussions are better thought of as calculations based on the present I feel.

      • Thanks Kudzu. I guess the principle of only being able to only observe as far as things have had time to propagate their information still applies. I am just trying to get a sense of where the relative bounds of the observable universe versus any absolute bounds lie. I don’t expect we’ll ever know. In the various cosmology docos I see for instance this distinction of the universe only being the observable universe versus the absolute universe is never quite made. Probably the same docos that bang on about singularities which Matt is complaining about. Does an alien on the edge of our universe see more galaxies another 13.7 billion years further on from him? And the next alien and so on?

  49. thetasteofscience

    Thanks, Matt!
    Did anyone ever try to get around singularity at t=zero by some kind of renormalization technique, similar to the way infinities which crop up in QFT are treated? I agree that the the idea of space-time foam is more interesting.

  50. Christian Miersch

    Why is it important to hide that black holes are not quite black but to emphasize that singulatities are not quite singular. Why do you want to simplify the first but complicate another with respect to communication to non experts.

    • There is at least one very important distinction between the first situation and the second.

      Black holes have a very faint glow, but they do glow, in a way.

      The term singularity according to the Eisnteinean definition from GR is the net result of an incomplete descríption of the physical phenomenon at hand, in the sense that not all the relevant processes are included in the equations (for a lack of a deeper understanding from us of what is really happening in a black hole).

  51. GR is an effective theory that is incredibly precise to describe and predict macroscopic events, but it does not offer proper predictions for events that are significantly affected by quantum effects, and that is exactly what happens in black holes, or at the very early stages of the universe.

  52. “And with good reason: when singularities and other infinities have turned up in our equations in the past, those singularities disappeared when our equations, or our understanding of how to use our equations, improved”

    Matt – this seems to me to be an example of a pattern which I like think of as “nature abhors infinity”. As a non-physicist I can’t state this precisely but I would be interested in your opinion.

    The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seems to tell us we can’t measure things with infinite precision.
    Quantum mechanics seems to tell us that things cannot infinitely small (there is always the smallest quanta). I think there are plenty of other exampes..

    Philosophically speaking I tend to think that infinities are non-physical – they are useful mathematical abstractions, but when they appear in mathematical models of a physical system it is an indication that the model is incomplete.
    So my gut feeling would be that a theory which proposes an infinitely large universe, an infinite number of universes, an infinitely small beginning to the universe, a singularity at the heart of a black hole, is probably wrong.

    This also leads me to be a bit suspicious of theories using continuous variables rather than discrete variables to represent physical quantities
    I watched a lecture a while ago (sorry I don’t have a link handy) whose basic premise was roughly that any continuous mathematical description can be replaced by a discrete one if you bandlimit it and apply Nyquist’s theorem – i.e. no information is lost if your sample rate is small enough. This kind of made sense to me as I have studied digital signal processing.
    So you could take equations like GR, and discretise them by placing upper bounds on things like the total energy of the universe.

    So what do you think – is there is anything to the notion that “nature abhors infinity” – or am I simply being naive? If the latter I don’t mind, but I suspect it is a fairly common sort of misunderstanding which is worth setting straight.

    • I agree in general with your idea, Pat, but I would add to the picture some more detail … I would not say that it is only a problem of not having the proper set of equations. It could also be a problem, at least in part, of the kinds of mathematical abstractions that are being used with the current set of equations.

      There are many types of problems that are pairs of intertwined problems, one of the each pair is a simple or soft problem and the other element of the pair is a difficult or hard problem.

      In some of these cases, the main difference is the mathematical abstraction used.

      One example of such a situation is the numerical solution of the Schrodinger equation for atoms much larger than a Hydrogen atom.

      If you want to use the standard numerical methods to calculate the wave function for an atom of Iron, tough luck!, since you will bump into a typical hard problem, the “many bodies” problem.

      But if you use a different mathematical abstraction, the Density Functional Theory approach, you have a soft problem and there you are with your nice wave function.

    • I think it is not yet decided if the universe is of finite or infinite size, and there may possibly be a few other things in nature that are infinite.

      Maybe the question could be a bit different: Is it possible or not that a physical thing or quantity that is finite at one moment becomes infinitely large or small at a different time (in the future or in the past)?
      In other words, maybe this is a constraint: A thing of finite size (and size may be more general than in spatial dimension) may grow or shrink significantly, but will always have some finite size. And on the other hand, if exist, a thing of infinite size (such as an imagined infinite universe) will always be and has always been infinitely large, even if each part of it expands or shrinks.

  53. Hello Prof Strassler.

    Darwin discovered the most fundamental mechanism in nature: simpler stuff giving rise to more complex objects in one-time events. This enabled him to solve two problems on origins, 1) he showed that humans evolved from animals and, 2) he pictured life self-assembling in “a warm little pond” out of ordinary chemicals.

    The remaining mystery, the origin of the universe, must be addressed in the same terms. Matter and space-time arose from a simpler —and from our perspective, practically featureless— entity devoid of both. A primordial energy singularity should be timeless and spaceless, not to mention matter-less. By reacting with a membrane or pocket, some energy from this original source then created the hybrid energy-matter we know, along with all the other stuff filling the universe. In this way,

    1. There is no need for a singularity with infinite density.
    2. The low entropy of the initial state is explained.
    3. The weirdness of quantum mechanics has to do with the creation of matter from the original immaterial stuff. (Quantum phenomena must also have an origin, and this origin looks pretty immaterial).
    4. Since the primordial singularity itself is out of our reach, its energy should look infinite.

    There are other inescapable consequences of this line of reasoning, among them the impossibility to compress all the known scientific theories (mutually intelligible systems of natural laws referring to the same class of objects or phenomena) into just one combined theory.

    What do you think about these ideas? Do they have a bit of a chance of being right? I will appreciate your comments.

  54. Can anything be said about the dynamics of the quantum foam? Is there something like a selfreferral, self-interacting dynamics as, it seems, from quantum foam inflation according to Linde and all of the following, i.e. the universe, tooks its beginning. Has anyone ever discussed the dynamics that let to all of the following? Is this reasonable to ask?

  55. There is an infinite and eternal quantum vacuum/foam within which quantum fluctuations cause false vacuum bubbles. As false vacuum bubbles grow their boundary walls grow more energetic. The point where the boundary walls of two unimaginably large false vacuum bubbles collided was the big bang. The energy compression stretches space in the form of inflation followed by the energy expanding due to negative vacuum pressure. Evidence of an interference pattern in the gravity waves caused by inflation and the collapsing boundary walls of the false vacuum bubbles will confirm.

    Anyway, that’s my guess as to what happened.

  56. The paper by Hawking and Penrose, “The singularities of gravitational collapse and cosmology”, http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/314/1519/529.full.pdf+html, while technical, is very lucid and the statements are expressed very precisely. Regarding the discussion here they take great care to stress that when curvature becomes very large, then “the present concepts of local physics would become drastically modified”.

  57. While it’s puzzling that the press seems to think that the universe began with a singularity, it is far more puzzling that professionals are so sure that it didn’t. There is no reason whatever to believe that quantum gravity will eliminate the classical singularity. The correct statement is that we have absolutely no idea whether there was an initial singularity, and absolutely no grounds for any expectation one way or the other.

    • I would say that probability is on the side of no singularity. As noted before, whenever infinities have shown up before they have eventually been shown not to be ‘real’ but artifacts of incomplete or wrong methods. While you can never rule anything out entirely I think most physicists are justified in their confidence.

  58. I just read this Haiku. I think it is worth knowing:

    “The rooster has yawned, says the deaf man.”

  59. I am a little bold now and am posting this – but only ONCE, I promise!!! -
    referring to ancient texts about supposed mechanics of how the
    manifested universe is brought about. Because it might be useful
    (at least as a consideration) to understand the dynamics better….

    Because Matt Strassler commented recently, that he heard
    much more radical utterances then the ones I had mentioned in one postings :-) So now I have to protect my reputation somewhat being radical enough :-)

    So here it goes – I admit I talked with friends and read sources -
    so its not authentically always my own, but I do agree with it:

    The fundamental properties of the quantum vacuum state include the
    property of self-referral or self-interaction, which is reflected in
    mathematical formula quantifying the laws of nature at the level of
    the quantum vacuum state.

    The quantum vacuum state in a way can be seen as the fountainhead of
    natural law, since all the laws of nature expressed in the effective
    field theories governing physics at larger distance scales are already
    contained in seed form in the quantum vacuum state which, by the way,
    is thought to be a field of consciousness – ”pure consciousness”
    however, not consciousness in the way human consciousness is commonly
    understood. Consciousness here is defined due to the defining
    characteristics of self-interaction, of bringing forth levels of
    excitation or manifestation purely through self-interaction.

    Ancient texts describe the creative process (in Nature) in the
    following way – uttered by the figurative ”mouth” of the quantum
    vacuum state itself:

    Curving back onto My own Nature, I create again and again.

    Another ancient verse says the same

    Richo akshare parame vyoman
    Yasmin deva adhi vishve nisheduh
    Yastanna veda kim richa karishyati
    Ya it tad vidus ta ime samasate
    Rk Veda 1.164.39

    Translation approx.: The universe is brought about by the collapse of fullness in the
    transcendental field in which reside all the laws of nature
    responsible for the creation of the entire manifest universe. How is
    the transcendental level functioning? It is functioning from its
    unbounded nature to its point nature–within itself.

    Margot

    • kashyap vasavada

      @ Margot: I agree completely with you.In my opinion (obviously biased) some statements in ancient Hindu philosophy are astonishingly close to modern physics when it is expressed in words. But let me leave it at that. We do not want to fill Matt’s excellent blog with religious statements. I read his blogs to understand what is going on in physics as currently defined by physicists!

  60. In much less than the blink of an eye the universe was there, it was already very large and very hot.

    Who cares what happened before singularity or not. It is nice that the expansion math models work but so what.

    By the way how large was it at the end of inflation and say at 1 sec. Not body is giving actual meningfull figures.

    Now I hear gravity waves were the at 1sec but we can not see them. Instead they hung around for 370000 years until the light can travel due to cooling. A truly cool event on a cool day.

    What was the size of the uni at this time.
    And are the gravity waves still bouncing around. So can Lego. I mean ligo see them still.

    And how long until plank or some one else can confirm this so we know it is not just a result of the smart algorithm that they found to tease out the data.

    Svik

    • A few things should be clarified.

      Firstly, at this moment we are not sure as to how large a given patch of universe was before inflation. The recent data gives us a handle on calculating possibilities but as yet we can’t say something like ‘inflation turned a postage stamp into the entire universe’ At the scales we’re talking though it hardly matters; the universe’s size increased far more than a billion billion times.

      You can never hope to ‘see’ gravity waves, they are a distortion in space and quite a weak one at that. What we are detecting is the effect of those waves which are, yes, still with us today. (But not as far as I am aware bouncing off of anything, I believe they pass through most stuff unaltered.)

      These primordial gravitational waves will have been stretched and redshifted like the CMB and as such will be both massively weak and massively large. Our chances of detecting them directly are exceedingly slim. We are much more likely to detect smaller, higher energy waves like those emitted by pulsar pairs.

      As for the confirmation time, I’ve heard anything from months to a few years, so stay patient!

  61. Wow you get way more posts that lubos.

    A lot more than I can read on my little goggle phone at McDonalds.

    Of course u do not delete most like voit.

    Do you have time for all this?

  62. I am not interested in ”religious statements” or – for that matter – religion but in more elucidation of the actual dynamics of how inflation came about, how universe comes about, how quantum foam comes about. This is about science, not religion :-) This is not to say that this could have repercussions in religion, however I am purely interested in the science part. At least for now. Thank you.

  63. Addition: My points of interests to understand more deeply regarding the topic are selfinteraction, curving back and also the relationship of nonlocality and locality (infinity and point), but in general the dynamics that creates inflation rtc.

    • kashyap vasavada

      @Margot. Sorry. I did not mean you were asking religious questions, not that there is anything wrong with that. Personally I am also interested in this connection (perhaps one should call it metaphysical).

  64. Pingback: Logic, logic, are they logical? | The Great Vindications

  65. That’s fine. I am not a Hindu and thus didn’t think of religion at all. Using those ancient texts which to my knowledge – Rik Veda in particular are much older than hinduism ,some historians mention an age of 2.000 to 1.500 years BEC, some of up to 9.000 BEC – I only wanted to point to dynamics which I would like to understand more thoroughly and which might shed light on those intricate processes related to the birth of the universe.,
    I also hoped those dynamic principles wouldn’t be entirely metaphysical and thus beyond the limits of physics and scientific reasoning – because that is what interests me, not any speculations. I don’t know – unification of forces or a completely unified state like M theory and superstring theory describe – are they considered metaphysical? Maybe by a number of physicists. It seems at least mathematicians can infer properties. Is quantum vacuum state considered metaphysical? Casimir effect and other effects – are’t they pretty much a given today and derived from the quantum vacuum state?

  66. kashyap vasavada

    @Margot: Well. Present day Hindus regard Vedas (*Rig* Veda, there is a g in it) as their prime fundamental scripture. Hindu religion is intimately tied up with metaphysics and philosophy. Congratulations on knowing about them. Anyway, we are going little bit off-track.I am not at all criticizing your questioning.I would just say that some of the questions you are raising cannot be answered by present day physics. They may be bordering on metaphysics, which is a worthwhile study anyway, but may be not in this blog. Surely metaphysical implications of quantum mechanics and relativity (though not mathematics and experiments) are astonishing. Quantum vacuum is mostly a mathematical object. If you try putting it in words (whether English or Sanskrit) it would not make sense! As Matt has emphasized, in physics you build models with equations, then compare with experiments, draw possible conclusions and stop there! Reality is most likely much more subtle than the implications of the models. But physics stops at some point and that is physicist’s definition of reality. But again some people have models for what happened before big bang, like cyclic universe, multiverse etc but so far they do not have any experimental support. If BICEP2 expt holds up then it may be heralded as support for multiverse. But I think, it might be still regarded as metaphysical without direct evidence!

    • Thanks, if you base science strictly on evidence-based only, not on mathematically derived models and understandings or through any kind of inferential logic, then the scope is really pretty narrow as then nonlocality, completely unmanifest fields, unified field, quantum vacuum are off limits, even superstring field, aren’t they?. I did not know that you put the limits so narrow.

  67. I agree with both Margot and kashyap. Before I was like Margot, had questions out of so called Hindu thoughts. Now I try to understand what is going on in physics as currently defined by physicists!
    In so called hindu thoughts, the status of primordial universe was depicted more secular in Taoism. Tao denotes something that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists. It is ultimately ineffable: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

    I have a question for this post: “If the entropy is minimized, gravity is maximized (inversely proportional)”?
    Entropy cannot be zero (the scope of these events imply dimensions much smaller than the standard size of one cell of statistical thermodynamics, and because there is a reason for the word “statistical” to be a part of it, that is, we need to include many cells to calculate the average behaviour) – so there is no infinite gravity, no singularity ?

    That the singularity in Einstein’s equations is just a signal that there’s unknown new physics going on ?

    • Well, I didn’t think of Hindu thoughts or belief. I thought of ancient science, universal wisdom traditions, research in consciousness, immaterial world heritage of mankind (UNESCO). -) I am interested in verifiable knowledge, not belief.

    • kashyap vasavada

      @Veeramohan: Concept of Brahman is similar to that of Tao. As I said before, I am interested in metaphysics ,but this blog is not appropriate for that. Matt and other readers would not like it!
      As I understand , 2nd law of thermodynamics and entropy are big questions not yet understood.Sean Carroll has written a big book about it. I think no body understands how in a small huge fireball, entropy was lower than today.

      • Thank you Mr.kashyap vasavada, I agree 100%. I try to learn from meditative (concentrating) experts like Professor Strassler because I myself not meditative. I try to read Sean Carroll.

    • @veeramohan:

      The phrase that you mention, “If the entropy is minimized, gravity is maximized (inversely proportional)”? is confusing, mainly because words are much more confusing than equations (in fact, even equations that deal with “smudgy” stuff, like for instance, fuzzy logic, are in fact crisp and sharp from a conceptual perspective, and even more when compared to words!).

      The phrase “if entropy is minimized” is confusing in many ways, much more so when uttered in a context like this one, where there are many folks that do not have the proper math and physics skills to associate that word combo with the proper concepts.

      The overall value of entropy in a closed system (like say, he entire universe, that is the main subject of this discussion) can either stay constant or increase, but it could never decrease.

      If we want to express that in a mathematical way, we would use some equations that would describe that the first partial derivative of entropy with respect to the time variable must be larger than or equal to zero.

      When anyone uses a phrase like “If xyz is minimized …” in a context where there are at least a few persons that are not properly trained in math, you can’t avoid that some of these guys may intrerpret that the concept that you have described includes that the first partial derivative of xyz with respect to the time variable could be negative, and that is not right.

  68. Pingback: BICEP2 Takes a Peek at Cosmic Inflation | Whiskey…Tango…Foxtrot?

  69. @Margot, Kashyap et al – interesting discussion.

    However, the problem with equating quantum fields with the Tao or Brahman is that the latter are, by definition, supposed to be ineffable, beyond the reach of thought, “without attributes” etc

    While quantum fields are unintuitive perhaps, they are quite comprehensible with clearly defined attributes – you can write down precise mathematical equations, extract predictions and test them.
    Which is what BICEP was about among others.

    Additionally, any attribution of consciousness to quantum fields or quantum states – whether “pure” or otherwise – is highly dubious to say the least !

    IMHO, finding equivalences between quantum fields and Eastern philosophy concepts of Ultimate Reality is scientifically useless at best.
    What I enjoy about this blog is that Matt makes it a point to stick to the science. :)

  70. Hi Matt, nice to see that the slide by Linde which I referred you to in an earlier question has made it on your blog. :)

    Regarding the singularity – I think it was really fashionable to refer in popular science books and articles to speak of the Big Bang as “the universe exploding into existence from a point of infinite density” and suchlike, though it is inaccurate. The habit remains apparently.

    Much more dramatic than “the universe was once very hot and dense and we don’t know what was happening before that” !

    Its great that you are trying to clarify this confusion.

  71. kashyap vasavada

    @Margot and Senanindya:
    We may be approaching some consensus as far as this blog is concerned! Although Margot thinks it is very narrow definition of physics, present day physics does and (perhaps,small doubt on my part!!) should restrict itself to mathematical models and verification by experiments. This has worked for centuries and probably will keep on working. When you draw pictures in your mind from mathematical models, they will remain speculative at best. When Matt draws pictures of quarks as balls, he knows fully well that they are just fictional pictures. Of course, as human beings with mind we always tend to believe that there is some underlying reality behind these pictures. Whether eastern metaphysics is useful or not, is highly personal matter. You may or may not believe it. I cannot insist it on this blog anyway! Ancient sages do emphasize that you will understand reality only by meditation and not by any experiment with material world!!

  72. kashyap vasavada

    @ Margot, Addition to above:
    Yes! All concepts, non locality, quantum fields, quantum vacuum etc are mathematical concepts. You can only draw limited pictures in your mind. Remember the recent controversy from a book by Krauss “universe from nothing” . Well, that nothing (quantum vacuum) was not what a common person would call nothing (absence of anything!). It had quantum fields ( virtual particles) in it. So you are free to interpret any way you like!

  73. Kashyap, Margot, Veeramohan, Senanindya and others,
    People open this blog to be educated on science and scientific facts. You would do a great favor to the large majority of readers if you would stop spamming the comment section with your off-the-topic views and philosophical interpretations of Eastern metaphysics. They simply have no place here, there are many other venues where you can discuss your personal opinions falling outside science!.

    • I agree. My intention was to put science questions, nothing else. I thought people like Ed Witten are scientists and not metaphysical philosophers. I was corrected. I am stopping the discussion right now.

      • I am out of the discussion. I did not plan even the last postings. I was asked, so I responded. But pseudoscience is what we are all doing to some degree till more than shadows, however impressive (Plato, cave metaphor), is being perceived. Planck and all of the founders of new paradigms have been accused of pseudoscience at some point.

  74. kashyap vasavada

    @Concerned: Agreed 100 percent! But I plead not guilty. If you have noticed, all my questions to Matt have been completely scientific!

  75. @Concerned – Appreciate your concern but speculations on the lines of “all these scientific theories are mentioned in the Rig Veda/ Tao Te Ching” pop up regularly in origin of universe discussions.

    And I think its important to point out – once and politely – “Not really.”
    Which is what I did.

    Rather than getting grumpy and telling people to go elsewhere.

    • I wanted a discussion on DYNAMICS, not on Taoism, Rigveda or anything like that and, I think, I pointed that out many times. Kashyap, Sen and the other ones chose not respond to that question, but to environmental (cultural) or contextual aspects which were not important to me myself. I admit, it was a mistake to introduce Rigveda as it brings up ”stories” in people (like hinduism etc.).. I did not bring it up for this reason, only for portrayed dynamical factors which I hoped they would focus on, not on the environmental factors (because they were not important to me). However, obviously there is a thin line between science and speculation/metaphysics – and I guess speculation (protoscience) is to some degree even necessary to lead to models which might (or might not) at some point yield evidence. D-branes, extra-dimensions – those things are in a way pretty far out of our reality framework, speculative, not evidence-based, but have proven useful to help clarify otherwise maybe unsolvable questions….. Yes, this borderline comes to the table when discussing the beginnings of the universe.

      • @Margot: WHAT dynamics ?? I re-read your post timed 12:32 pm which started the whole discussion.

        It has absolutely no connection to what physicists mean by dynamics.

        Instead it has a whole bunch of statements from Hindu texts – except that you muddle the issue by referring by using the word “quantum vacuum state” for what Hindus call Brahman.
        And then you get upset when people respond to that !

        Physicists have a very well defined way of working out dynamics of a quantum system – specify a state space and Hamiltonian, then calculate.
        As far as I can see you arent talking about anything similar.

      • kashyap vasavada

        @Margot: At the risk of offending “concerned” and others, let me reply just once to your comments and then shut up as far as this dialogue is concerned. The thin line between physics and metaphysics, as far as interpretation (using our mental pictures) is concerned, arises not only in the context of theories of origin of universe, but also, in everyday mundane application of quantum theory. There are perhaps more than 10 different interpretations of what really quantum theory means with no consensus after 90 years of debate! Thus once you ask question what this mathematics and experimental verification means for reality, metaphysics does creep in. It does not matter whether you are from east or west!! But majority of working physicists agree that only thing that really matters is agreement of our mathematical models with the experiment. I did not even try to answer some of your questions, because within the boundaries of physics as defined today, there are no answers. I believe Matt also would say the same thing. My feeling is that some prominent physicists do have some philosophical or metaphysical ideas. But they do not bring them in while discussing physics. Thanks for the interesting debate.

    • It is my understanding that we should keep our discussions very focused on science, the evidence and the theories directly related to the subject matter discussed here.

      But nonetheless, I would like to give some more context to why we are all “peeing very far away from the bowl” when we introduce these other comments (like the Rig Vedas, or even the Tao Te King) as part of the subjects being discussed here.

      As an example, I will use the Mayan civilization. For centuries, this civilization was a mystery, mostly because we could not crack their language, their epigraphical system of writing.

      More recently, we have been able to do that, and a new era on Mayan studies was spawned (how this was achieved is in itself a very interesting story, but it is very far away from the scope of this comment).

      We know that the maya were very adept astronomers, in particular, regarding their ability to predict the events of Venus, the Moon, the Sun and the eclipses.

      They also had an very accute interest in keeping detailed historical records of the main events of their kings, their royal families and their kingdoms, so, they devised both a calendar and a very ellaborate system to describe dates over a very long period of time.

      They also have a strong interest in agriculture, and other related matters, like geometry and the proper measurement of large fields and its shape.

      To be able to master of these subjects, they developed an incredible numerical system, that one of the earliest examples of positional numerical systems (to be able to have such a system, they independently discovered the concept of zero and they had they own special symbol for zero, a stylized drawing of the fruit of the cocoa tree).

      But the main issue with all of this is that they had a rather wrong interpretation of the real meaning of all this knowledge they had and used, for they used a mainly theological explanation to all they knew.

      In fact, their civilization came to an abrupt stop out of an ecological disaster that was mainly caused by themselves for a theological reason, and all their knowledge about nature did not help them avoid this disaster, because they had the wrong “reading” of things.

      So, when we discuss about the Tao Te King or the Rig Veda being somehow related to modern science in general, we are wrongfully assigning explanations to these ideas that their creators did not know or contemplate when they had their original thoughts.

  76. I did not associate Rigveda with hinduism, as i said. Re Dynamics – my questions were, as I mentioned above, to understand more deeply in regard to the topic at hand dynamics of selfinteraction and also the relationship of nonlocality and locality (infinity and point), but in general the dynamics that creates inflation etc. Those points were contained in the quotes I gave and I gave them solely for this reason – to ask about dynamics.
    I personally think that associating descriptions on dynsamics with labels such as hinduism (a very diffuse expression for a culturally very diverse phenomenon, as I understand) is not always helpful. Newton e.g. was rooted in a Christian medieval understanding, however, those cultural asspociations are stripped off when talking about Newton’s laws. Einstein’s view of the universe (see his resistance to the cosmological constant he himself needed to introduce) was also rooted in a culturally tradited worldview or paradigm.
    I actually did not quote the Rigveda quote for its cultural connotations but solely for the content – with culture, age, history completely stripped off – expressed by it and to put a question regarding those contents.

    @Kashyap – yes, I know that and agree. Yes, developing models that can yield hypotheses which can be examined and researched (by applying the scientific method) often requires daring to speculate and going hitherto untrodden paths which at first sound highly speculative and might even threaten the current scientific paradigm. Thus scientists need to accept that challenge to be provoked as long as it makes sense and isn’t utterly pseudoscientific.

    • @Margot: Not connecting Rig Veda to Hinduism is rather like not connecting the Bible to Christianity. So dont be surprised if people dont quite get the disconnection…

      But back to science. Regarding “dynamics of locality and nonlocality etc” – thats rather like “biology of plants and animals”. Doesnt mean much unless you specify a particular model or system.

      Regarding inflation in particular, the paper below should give you a decent idea of the equaton, models etc

      http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0702178

      Finally, the “content” you gave was a VERY loose translation of a Sanskrit verse and any connection to modern physics is superficial.
      But we can discuss this elsewhere.

      • IU personally think, that if there is any sense in religion, be it hinduism, christianity, it is in terms of understanding the ultimate reality, truth.
        There has been a lot oif bias against religion – for good reasons. It has become a gathering place of all kinds of superstitions, biasses and prejudices and stopped to be in the service of development of consciousness to higher states and search of truth. Instead they have become institutions to proclaim dogmata and often to further discrimination, superstition and injustice. That’s why it is often seen as antithetic to science which is devoted to the serious, unbiased search for a deeper understanding of the universe and the hierarchical structure of nature and natural law. .

        The other day I read a comment by Deepak Chopra, Menas Kafatos and Subsh Kak in an article of San Francisco Chronicle, March 17:
        ”(…) The first point undermines the notion that science is superior to other models of reality because it gathers facts, while idealism, religion, and spirituality deal in beliefs. In practice, science filters out and discards a huge portion of human experience — almost everything one would classify as subjective. Its model of external reality, the cornerstone of Newtonian physics, is as selective, as the model which shapes a religious or metaphysical reality. As far as the brain is concerned, neural filtering is taking place in all models, whether they are scientific, spiritual, artistic, or psychotic. The brain is a processor of inputs, not a mirror to reality. This is what quantum theory as advanced by John von Neumann holds. Classical science does of course offer huge successes in our interactions with the objects around us and is built on methods that are repeatable. But still, these methods do not give us the full reality, only filtered representations of reality.”

        Yes, in India meditation by the ancient seers or rishis has been used as a tool to refine and develop consciousness, attention, the perceptive, processing and evaluating capacities of brain physiology and explore subtler levels of nature and, I guess, at some point evidence-based (regarding development of neurophysiology and cognition) meditation techniques will complement the arsenal of scientific research tools and techniques. But we are not that there.

        To mention religions who uisefulness we see mirrored in the state of our societies today and the ”advantage” religious peoplew show in comparison to others, is not useful. As long as tools for developing subjectivity, developing consciousness to higher cognitive levels and higher states of consciousness are not a regular practice of religions, let’s forget about them. To mention religions often does earnest search for knolwedge no honor.

        Yes, I took the translation from an expert I trust :-) who translated it liberally – it is BTW not a complete translaton as the second half of the quoted RikVeda verse says: ”He who does not know that parame vyoman, that initial pure consciousness state, ultimate reality, what can the laws of nature accomplish for him? He who knows it, remains established in evenness, unity, wholeness of life’. The holistic nature of intelligence emerges – for the knower – only when the knower is familiar with the most holistic, universal level of life – the unified field, the akshare, the unexpressed, the unmanifest basis of the manifest, phenomenal world.
        I did not include that part. But be sure that this verse relates to para, the initial (transcendental, i.e. completely abstract) level, from where the universe starts – and the mechanisms are quite correctly portrayed in terms of the expert. Anyhow – do we agree that that level somehow created the universe solely from interacting with itself. That’s in a way what has been called the primary mover in Western philosophy – one without the help of a second. As several said, it’s not about East or West, as knowledge of the laws of nature, knowledge of an understanding of nature and ourselves in it, are the ultimate goals of all search for truth. To use the tools, most promising to achieve it.

        • Margot, I travel also in the same boat. Without mathematics and equations physics experts like Prof. Strassler says “it is metaphysics”. Look, kashyap says “the nothing had quantum fields (virtual particles) in it”. Mathematics cannot grasp pure consciousness. It needs “invariance”. If you stop or disturb all the momentum in universe, there is no inertia – invariance is associated with this inertia. Our consciousness is accustomed with this inertia. So it is easy to make particles and relativity to revolve – instead of your head !

          Boris Hessen’s paper “The Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia” (1931) initiated the so called externalist approach to science by the idea that the early modern physics arose from a social context to meet practical demands of capitalist economy – it was brought about by “mathematization of nature” rather than by the experimental method.

          http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/04/06/how-the-modern-physics-was-invented-in-the-17th-century-part-1-the-needham-question/

          • ….. sorry it must end with ??????….. read the below link.

          • @veeramohan
            Ancient subjective science like modern science seeks to identify and explore the most fundamental and universal principles of intelligence at the basis of nature’s functioning. The subjective technology of this science allows the mind to experience deeper, more fundamental and unified states of awareness. These fundamental states of awareness have been found to possess a close structural correspondence to the physical structure of natural law at fundamental scales. This deep parallel between the structure of human intelligence and the intelligence of nature is well known to physicists. Wigner referred to this connection as “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the physical sciences,” i.e., the subtle structures of human intelligence codified in mathematical formulas correspond precisely to the subtle structures of intelligence displayed in nature. For Einstein, this connection between human intelligence and the intelligence of nature also had deep significance. For him “the eternal mystery of the universe [was] its comprehensibility” by the human mind. This deep parallel between human intelligence and the intelligence of nature makes it possible to gain profound physical insight into the mechanics of nature through the understanding and experience of the most fundamental mechanics of human intelligence.
            Can the most fundamental level of nature’s functioning, a completely abstract, unmanifest field, be mirrored by the human nervous system, can it be experienced as pure consciousness, transcendental consciousness, Samadhi?
            A complete description of the unified field would probably entail a full analysis of the entire, diversified structure of manifest creation, since the totality of natural law is ultimately contained within the structure and dynamics of the unified field. The discriminating intellect will therefore discern, within the structure of the unified field, the potential for the entire universe, as a tree is contained within the seed. Indeed the process of creation can be viewed as nothing more than a sequentially more elaborated commentary on the structure of the unified field itself.

            The unified field, beyond its mere existence, has a very precise and definite mathematical structure. This structure is typically defined in terms of symmetries of the field – invariance with respect to a set of internal and external transformations, such as Lorentz invariance, supersymmetry, modular invariance and gauge invariance.

            The precise mathematical structure of the unified field serves as an unmanifest blueprint for the entire creation: all the laws of nature governing physics at every scale are just partial reflections or derivatives of this basic mathematical structure. However, this view of intelligence in terms of classical symmetries of the unified field is rather a passive and inert one. The term ‘intelligence’ achieves its full significance only at the quantum-mechanical level of description, in which the field acquires a degree of dynamism, discrimination and creativity not present at the classical level. The canonical commutation relation, and the resulting uncertainty level, imply a level of dynamism not found at the classical level. This introduces a new form of a quantum-mechanical activity, an irremovable level of activity, present in the ground state of a quantum mechanical system, zero-point motion, which has no classical analogue. Besides adding a degree of discrimination and dynamism to the abstract property of intelligence available at the classical level, the quantum principle also endows the field with a creative capacity which is far beyond that of any classical field theory. For example, the dynamical self-interaction of the gluon field induced by quantum effects leads to strong coupling and hence to the highly nonlinear process of color confinement. Thus the entire spectrum of bound-state hadrons results from the quantum-induced self-interaction of the gluon field.
            The highly non-linear, self-interacting dynamics of the field afforded by the quantum principle ultimately gives rise to a rich spectrum of vibrational modes or energy eigenstates of the field, which form the stable buildings blocks of the entire material universe – the elementary particles and forces of nature

          • This appears to be cut’n’mixed’n’pasted from John Hagelin’s “Restructuring Physics From Its Foundation in Light of Maharishi Vedic Science” (https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mum.edu%2Fpdf%2Fmsvs%2Fv03%2Fhagelin.pdf). Any comment, Margot?

          • I know Hagelin – it’s from an older posting. Yes, he is brilliant. I reco0mmenfd his essay…. but it’s not taken from there, at least not only. A compilation of other sources as well – as you might have noticed. Also, these app[roaches and thoughts have a long tradition in Western and Eastern thought – e.g. in monastic light. Philosophers as significant as Schelling who wrote about transcendental Consciousness or self consciousness as being free of all mental activity. Kant allowed that a higher order of beings might have a faculty of “intellectual intuition” that would allow for direct cognition of things as they are in themselves and even for the direct constitution or creation of the objects as a consequence of this higher, non-human cognition. Hegel was deeply intrigued by this faculty of intellectual intuition, but took issue with Kant’s claim that it was altogether beyond our human capacity. There is a rich wealth of literature and evidence that man/swoman has/can have direct access to that deepest level of nature’s functioning in higher states of consciousness the neurophysiological profile or signature of which are the object of scienbtific research today. : -)

          • Sorry for the spelling errors, I have a broken arm and, in addition, felt rushed as I have an appointment soon. The article you mentioned is quite complex, but this has been written decades ago. In the meantime more has been developing. Hagelin gives online university courses on the topics addressed. But that subjective science, I mentioned, is best studied with its chief proponents with whom Hagelin studied as well :-) I referred to them in my brief summary as well. It is important to remain flexible and with a bias-free mind to examine the impressive theoretical background as well as evidence gathered, if one really is interested to understand the current picture that presents itself to scientists in a larger paradigm of understanding the role of consciousness and brain which are obviously the basis of cognition and the important role of which in quantum physics have been acknowledged in quite a provocative way by the founding fathers and luminaries of the discipline. Consciousness is the unknown factor ”in the woodpile”.

          • @veeramohan Thanks for your answer! IToday I heardfrom some expert sage I trust, knows what he is talking about, who alluding to the well known metaphor of the banyan seed, said,; ”The hollowness of the banyan seed – inside it’s completely hollow. Hollow means you don’t see anything is there. This field – unmanifest – is what expresses itself in the whole sprouting, leaves and flowers and fruits. It is this which rules – it is this emptiness of the seed which rules the manifesting process for the leaves, for the flowers and for the fruits, and again back to the same seed. So there is the ruling power – and total ruling power is in the unmanifest area of ALL manifestation, all the different manifestations of the leaves, and green and yellow and red and flower and fruit. All these varieties, all these differences have their ruler in a state of unity which is silent”. I am trying to harmonize it with physics, as I know from many lectures he is talking physics here – he is talking about a nonlocal field that contains in unmanifest form (he calls it smriti, memory) all of the manifest, all of the qualia gestalts, in the words of the metaphor, all of the leaves, flowers and fruits, all of the green and yellow and red (Iam quoting him her). How do they become manifest – first in form of vibration or sound. Well, we know that quantum fields when excitede produce waves. We know that basically all manifestations represent bundles of vibrations.
            It is more surprising to us that this nonlocal, unmanifest reality (which theorists like Bell have written about) should have a kind of an unmanifest or what blueprint that guides the manifestation process maybe in the way of a morphogenetic field.
            I am looking out for scientific explanations which could explain that a nonlocal abstract, unmanifest field such as the quantum vacuum state or unified field brings forth manifestations by producing sounds or vibrational patterns through a self-referential dynamics according to blueprints it carries within itself . I know this sounds pretty crazy for some of the readers here. But I would like to follow this trace and find scientific explanations for it.
            I am taking the courage rom remarks I read today from Joseph B. Weiss, MD, FACP, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, who defended protoscience and alternative theories with these words today or very recently, commenting on amn article:

            ”Both the proposal and the subsequent proof of alternative theories are integral to the advancement of science. To argue that only theories consistent with dogma can be proposed prior to validation is anathema to science and common sense. Virtually all of the current beliefs of modern science have evolved from the vigorous defense and ultimate rejection of prior dogma. Einstein, Galileo, Dalton, Darwin, Pasteur, and others are among the many pioneers who would have been prematurely silenced with the censorship of scientific theory that Coyne espouses.

            The scientific breakthroughs of many recent Nobel laureates such as Prusiner (prions), Marshall (Helicobacter pylori in peptic ulcers), Schechtman (quasicrystals), Haroche & Wineland (manipulation of individual quantum systems) were scorned by critics as pseudoscience for years before being vindicated. Those who defend dogma often erroneously insist that the lack of proof for a new theory is proof that the theory is false. The renowned scientist Martin Rees responded to this fallacy with the maxim “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Carl Sagan decried the “impatience with ambiguity” that often leads to hostile rejection of advances in science as they proceed from a novel groundbreaking theory to scientific validation.

            We are in an age of rapidly accelerating breakthroughs in virtually every field. The once falsely labeled pseudosciences of induced stem cells, epigenetics, quasicrystals, microbiomes, superconductors, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and other disciplines have moved from the realm of science fiction to reality. The science fiction author Isaac Asimov was prescient when he said, “science is in a far greater danger from the absence of challenge than from the coming of any number of even absurd challenges.” Coyne and others with an aversion to theories that challenge dogma have heightened the danger by becoming active obstructionists to scientific progress.

            Thanks, Veeramohan, for your comment!

          • @veeramohan Pure consciousness is not inertia or dullness. It is infinite silence and dynamism together and when you experience it, there is alpha 1 brain wave coherence and particularly in the frontal parts of the brain. Alpha 1 is related to increased blood flow : -)

          • Margot, “evolution, not revolution, is the best locomotive of history”. Particles start with inertia – beyond that we don’t know. Infinite silence is like “energy decay into particles and antiparticles and then annihielate without violating physical conservation law”. Inertia is accustomed with consciousness – but if the inflation is proved, the constancies of heavens will change.

          • One quote from the Hagelin article you mentioned, Henry K.O. Norman, was quite intriguing to me when reviewing the article now again:

            ”In the spontaneous mechanics of desiring, for example, a simple mental impulse automatically activates dozens, if not hundreds, of laws of nature. In the spontaneous mechanics of desiring, for example, a simple mental impulse automatically activates dozens, if not hundreds, of laws of nature. Through the desire to open a window, for example, the muscles move and the body rises and walks toward the window, guided by the sense of sight and touch. Even a child with no intellectual understanding of the laws of nature knows how to rise and move through this simple and spontaneous mechanics of desiring. This natural ability to utilize natural law spontaneously is built into the hardware of the human brain physiology. The thinking process has therefore been compared to an automated switchboard, spontaneously activating and organizing the laws of nature in a coordinated way for the fulfillment of any specific desire.” (Hagelin, J.,f – Restructuring physics…)

            Of course this is valid to some degree for ALL living organisms. However for a human being it is potentially valid to a much higher degree, depending on his state of consciousness and ability to identify his conscious awareness with more powerful levels of natural law – which is probably why Hagelin talks about the HUMAN MIND here in this quote. In that ancient science of consciousness, as the conscious awreness (attention) goes from the gross thinking level to finer thinking levels to the transcendent level of pure consciousness (which is chacterized by being without any kind of mental activity, pure consciousness, consciousness per se), there is one level of cognition, known as Ritam-bhara pragya on the finest thinking level, very close to pure consciousness, called the finest level of the intellect (pragyan)which knows only the truth (rita). This is the level where the event of sudden, unexpected, spontaneous problemsolving in the context of scientific reasoning – called eureka – is said to occur (see Kekule and others). On this vey holistic, balanced level according to the science one is able to assemble through a faint impulse of desiring the greatest potential of natural laws with influences on ”the whole field of objectivity”. But independent of this – the idea that the thinking process or conscious awareness in whatever rudimentary form can be compared to an automated switchboard, spontaneously activating and organizing the laws of nature in a coordinated way, is quite an intriguing idea which could stimulate deeper thought. Again a pointer to the close relationships between consciousness and natural law.

          • Nature work in a way (expl: evolution, Marxism, Quantum mechanics). Human works in different ways. If human is in harmony with nature, can influence vise versa. Moses splited the sea, krishna changed the sunrise to west was out of this fantasy ?
            Consciousness with natural law have harmony like energy into particle, but with quantum action?

          • @veeramohan Knowledge (and organizing power) is different in different states of consciousness. Dream state differs from waking state. Apart from waking, dreaming and sleeping state of consciousness there are very clearly and logicallly defined higher states of consciousness with comprehend higher levels of not only cognitive, but also other functioning. Traditionally those states have been termed ”enlightenment”. There can be short glimpses of enlightenment and there can be firmly established states of enlightenment. Transcendental or pure consciousness is not yet termed the enlightened state as it is experienced as the climax of the meditation process when all mental activity has subsided and a transcendental, unbounded state of pure awareness is experienced. This state has been traditionally termed ‘samadhi’ and it is characterized by a unique EEG signature of global, high amplitude alpha EEG, and high EEG alpha 1 coherence, restful alertness associated with increased blood flow, especially between frontal sensors. In terms of a content analysis, experiences pure consciousness yielded silence, unboundedness and the loss of time, space and body sense as the basic themes of the experience. Also long periods of apneustic breathing, i.e. prolonged and slow inhalation from 10–60 sec in duration with marked reduction in breath volume (40%), have been described for this state.This state has been called the ground state or state of least excitation of consciousness also been equated with the experience of the unified field (which might sound outrageous to physicists, however, in spite of protest coming up, this needs to be carefully and thoroughly examined with a broader background of an understanding of consciousness in quantum physics, but also natural philosophy and in terms of a philosophia perennis where reports of such a state and higher states in which pure consciousness becomes a permanently established feature outside of meditation, i.e. during waking, sleeping and dreaming, have been recorded throughout history and across all cultures. Transcendental Consciousness may be experienced in the beginning stages for even very short time fragments as the climax of the meditation process, not during the whole length of meditation. As in any experience the nervous system and brain needs to adjust for this mirroring of the most fundamental level of nature’s functioning. With time the experience of pure consciousness becomes a permanent feature throughout waking, sleeping and dreaming, a state which is called Cosmic Consciousness. Research is been done on individuals experiencing Cosmic Consciousness. Subjects who have experienced Cosmic Consciousness report a quiet, calm, expanded state of self-awareness, pure wakefulness, persisting all the time throughout all activities and being not identified regarding their sense of self with mental processes, their thinking or doing . They also reported increased smoothness in all of their activities, more favorable coincidences occurring and being quietly more aligned with the flow of life. Research results so far have shown. distinct EEG patterns, particularly also during sleep. Mason in 1997 reported that 11 individuals reporting Cosmic Consciousness exhibited similar levels of delta activity during deep sleep compared to 11 non-meditating controls, but elevated levels of theta and alpha EEG. It is noteworthy that the co-existence of the EEG patterns of deep sleep (delta) and practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique (theta and alpha) was associated with the subjective experience of co-existence of deep sleep along with the continued inner awareness. Last year, Travis and colleagues measured EEG patterns during computer tasks in individuals reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness. The computer tasks involved responding to pairs of numbers. The individuals reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness had higher frontal EEG coherence during these tasks. Their response also better matched the task demands. These EEG measures were combined to form a brain “Integration Scale.” Higher scores on this Scale are associated with higher levels of frontal EEG coherence and better task performance. Research has also shown that brain Integration Scale scores are correlated with high levels of moral reasoning, happiness, emotional stability and lower levels of anxiety.
            Cosmic Consciousness evolves further in terms of more refinement of mental, cognitive and perceptual functioning and results in a state, called Refined Cosmic Consciousness. A person functioning from more evolved levels of cognitive functioning and higher levels of abstraction and cognitive refinement has more abilities at his disposal – as scientists show :-) (They can even go back to the billionth or a billionth split second of the earliest age of the universe). In the state of Refined Cosmic Consciousness this refinement extends to the quality of thinking, perceiving or mental activity itself. A thought is perceived at its inception when it emerges from pure consciousness. One is also able to witness or observe nature’s workings on those most refined fundamental levels where the creative process in nature starts. There are no research studies so far about neurophysiological and brain functioning of individuals who developed that state of Refined Refined Cosmic Consciousness. It would requires exploratory research to find out what changes in measurements should be expected, i.e. what to measure. However, there is quite a wealth of experiences reporting expanded and refined abilities of cognition, perception and also organizing power. Since nontrivial quantum coherence effects (macroscopic quantum coherence) have been reported for photosynthesis, avian magnetoreception etc., as well as electron and proton quantum (Josephson) tunneling in biological systems such and other mechanisms might play a role in these higher states. Thus finding the neurophysiological correlates might critically depend on an advanced understanding and on technological developments to be able assess the changes and parameters that characterize these experiences. E.g. is refined cosmic consciousness related to ‘perceiving’ quantum mechanical patterns such as waves. Since e.g. avian magnetoreception allows us to draw conclusions for e.g. a chemical compass model and what these birds are perceiving, such questions are not as surprising today anymore.

          • Margot, sorry if I could not make my point becaz of mistakes, spelling ect.. I type from a cellphone, while doing labour works, walking, travelling for my bread.

          • @veeramohan. I am in the same situation. Broken arm keeps me handicapped and other responsibilities urge me to rush as well. Sorry for the imperfections of my writings. Hope nonetheless my response to you contained some valuable points. :-)

          • @Margot, is it “Jerusalem syndrome” ?
            In Cognitive science and Artificial intelligence, the methods you said above, has been researched. It is all like “Standard Model”.

            We do believe in basic religions like so called Hinduism and Judaism there was more influential people on “working of nature”. But now we depend on Physicist to confirm the reality of it.
            I believe your above statement because, “matter is like energy” – but the ultimate reality through meditation and consciousness need perfect human (nobody is perfect). The timeline (if inflation is proved) will only slowly unfold that, no one knows how it will be.
            We know so called god, made humans like him. In hinduism also it was said, humans are manifestation of god. So it is not a wonder, we get higher elevation through some contemplation. The “Standard Model” has been also one of such higher elevation !

  77. The title of this post is a question. My answer is twofold:

    No, because the universe has no beginning;
    No, because a singularity is an impossibility.

  78. Physics is a branch of science that developed out of philosophy, and was thus referred to as natural philosophy until the late 19th century—a term describing a field of study concerned with “the workings of nature”. The influence on the XVII century physics revolution by central figures such as Kant is unquestionable.

    If you tune a Radio for the frequency of required signal, you call it scientific. If you tune (meditate) “yourself” for realtime cosmic information ?, you call it absurd. I have no argument against it.
    But there is no East or West here !

    Only systems with positive specific heat can be in thermal equilibrium with their environment. So gravitationally bound systems can never be in thermal equilibrium with their environment! They always want to keep shrinking, thus losing energy and gaining entropy.
    Ultimately they want to become black holes (singularity)…. But could not… why ? – new physics unfolding ?

  79. so hawking is not being careless with language here . he is wrong ?

    http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

    At this time, the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe, would have been on top of itself. The density would have been infinite. It would have been what is called, a singularity.

  80. I really appreciate your informative and authoritative blog! Please keep going. I wonder whether you would write something on a shorter (if not a simpler) question – Did the universe really begin?

    • I think I can unauthoritatively anticipate the very short resulting article: “We don’t know.” :) It’s a good question, but way beyond what is known today. In Guth’s review paper linked above I read that if inflation happened and if certain assumptions made by Guth hold, then at least inflation itself needs a beginning. It cannot have been going on forever from an infinite past, there must have been something else before it. But this is a conditional statement and only about the inflationary phase, not about the whole history of the universe.

  81. “Concerned” is right you are going against the spirit of this blog which is to diseminate science and to engage the public in scientific debate and not the pseudo science you are discussing.

  82. I wonder how much of this is due to extrapolation on the part of the uninformed. I’m not a physicist or cosmologist myself, but I spend a lot of time reading about this stuff and I tend to be the one that explains recent announcements to all my friends. I wouldn’t be surprised if they extrapolated my explanations to assume that the universe was once a singularity. In common astrophysics discussion, the only thing that is “incredibly dense and very small” is a black hole, which people also have learned to associate with the idea of a “singularity”. Even if I don’t use the word “singularity” in my explanation, I wouldn’t be surprised if my discussion of the observable universe being incredibly small and then expanding through inflation leads them to believe it was a true singularity-like point earlier in the past. Maybe this is something one (and especially myself) should focus on emphasizing in explanations. The idea that while the observable universe was incredibly small before inflation, it doesn’t mean it was truly a point-like singularity. I suspect the difference isn’t especially obvious to one who isn’t used to thinking about such things.

  83. Michael Musson

    I know for myself, one confusion I have with a singularity before the Big Bang is how that relates to a singularity at the heart of a black hole. I realize that one kind of singularity isn’t necessarily like another kind of singularity. Yet, how is it that the universe some time around the Big Bang wasn’t also basically a black hole, and if it was then how did any of our universe get out, and if nothing got out then how do you reconcile what we do know about the nature of the universe and its size with what you would normally expect inside a black hole.

  84. Matt,
    You wrote: “Who is still telling the media and the public that the universe really started with a singularity, or that the modern Big Bang Theory says that it does? I’ve never heard an expert physicist say that.”

    Actually — and as I’m sure you well know — several “expert physicists” say that: George Smoot, Alan Guth, Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose, Neil Turok (just to name a few). WItness the following:

    “… early singularity theorems of Penrose, Hawking, and Geroch to show that if the CMB was the relic radiation of the Big bang, and if it were observed to be isotropic to high degree, e.g. a part in 100, that one could not avoid having a singularity in the early Universe. … The Universe is shown opaque until the last scattering surface from either the end of the Inflationary epoch or the big bang singularity.” — George Smoot, 2006 Nobel Lecture (goo.gl/CNcxF4)

    “… These violations appear to open the door again to the possibility that inflation, by itself, can eliminate the need for an initial singularity. Here we argue that this is not the case.…” — Alan Guth (goo.gl/7NENQw)

    “… the big bang … would have been … a singularity.” — Stephen Hawking (goo.gl/RQoYa0)

    “… the big bang singularity…” — Roger Penrose (goo.gl/IKK1d3)

    “… No … solution for the singularity problem other than … hand starting the Universe…” — Neil Turok (goo.gl/dDdDrd)

    A brief Internet search quickly produced more than 30 references to the “fact” that the “big bang” started with a “singularity,” many of these from university physics websites. But be that as it may…

    It seems to me as if the issue boils down to semantics, in how the term “singularity” is misused. In equations, the term pops up as “something” (the “singularity”) that happens as time t or volume v goes down to zero, as in density equals mass divided by volume (d = m/v), which in fact is a mathematical error: The operation “divide by zero” is not defined (as far as I know).

    To my eyes it looks very much as if science “hides” this error by naming it “a singularity.” Would it not make a lot more sense to say that we (science) do not (yet?) understand what happens at the core of a “black hole,” or “before inflation”?

    • Thank you Henry for going to the time and trouble to get those quotes above… I was too lazy.

      I think part of what’s going on here is that we have for the first time real evidence for what is effectively a repulsive force in the early universe – and it is forcing the question:

      How can a singularity, a state of zero volume and infinite density, explode?

      It is indeed a vexing question. A simple ‘solution’ is to deny the singularity in the first place. To my mind this is the wrong approach and no solution at all. The fact is that once you exceed a certain mass, a star (or at least part of it) is destined to collapse into a black hole where gravity will overwhelm all other forces (or at least the one’s we know of) and all the matter will exist in a singularity, a state of zero volume and infinite density – at least that is what GR predicts. If you run the Universe backward in time, and just assume GR, you get a singularity. The singularity is NOT a ‘media invention’.

      Also to those of you who are railing against infinities where ever they may appear – make sure you are consistent. If you say that a singularity – a state of zero volume and INFINITE density signals a breakdown in General Relativity. Then would not INFINITE energy at v = c signal a breakdown in Special Relativity? Why are none of you clear eyed brave souls railing against THAT infinity?

      • “Then would not INFINITE energy at v = c signal a breakdown in Special Relativity? Why are none of you clear eyed brave souls railing against THAT infinity?”

        I think SR tells us that it would require an infinite amount of energy to accelerate a massive object to the speed of light.

        If the universe contains only a finite amount of energy, v=c can never be reached

        I see nothing to rail against here

        • In fact I think SR is a good example of an infinity disappearing from our equations as our understanding increases – in this case the idea that velocities can be infinite

          • @Pat Ryan:

            IMHO, I think that it is not clearly understood what the equations of SR really mean from the perspective of Physics.

            The formula to contemplate here is the pythagorean relationship between total energy, rest mass energy and momentum energy.

            Using this relationship. let’s compare photons with other kinds of particles, like say, electrons.

            In the case of photons, their rest mass is zero, so, all their energy is in the form of momentum energy or purely relativistic energy, so, they have no impediment to travel at the top speed allowed, that is, the speed of light.

            In the case of other particles, like electrons, since they do have rest mass, their total energy is partitioned into the proper share of rest mass energy and the proper share of momentum energy (purely relativistic) energy, so, no matter how much additional energy you can give to these particles, the rest mass share will never allow for the momentum energy to increase up to the point of reaching the speed of light.

            The infinite value has to be interpreted in this sense, that there is a boundary that can’t be broken.

      • I define a singularity simply as a point of discontinuity. It is a border between observable existence and nonexistence. In fact, I think the elementary particle is a singularity with a border of uncertainty principle.

        So, the exploding is motivated by symmetry: new matter will increase as far as the whole universe is in symmetry. Maybe a quantized wholeness cannot be in total symmetry at all…

  85. The link to George Smoot’s Nobel lecture (above) is wrong. Sorry about that. The correct link is http://goo.gl/f6RuuO

  86. Great article. Thanks again, Matt!
    Was the inflation like an uniform scaling in all (three?) spatial dimensions i.e. is the universe as large in every direction? How about those other dimensions in string theory/SuSY – did they expand in inflation?

    • The cosmic microwave background is (except for very tiny variations) very isotrop, i.e., shows the same temperature in all directions. I think this would not be the case if there were significant differences between the three dimensions, as far as our observable patch of universe is concerned.

  87. kashyap vasavada

    Matt: It looks like this singularity debate may continue for a while. When we have a theory of quantum gravity it will surely resolve this question for both big bang and black holes but we are not there yet. In the meantime many of your readers have quoted very prominent physicists as mentioning singularity!
    The argument based on uncertainty principle is also interesting. For decades people have used that to say that there is an intrinsic fuzziness in position and constant motion due to that. At the same time (as you said in answer to someone’s question) this depends on the representation you use. In one representation you can make position sharp and momentum uncertain and in another they can switch roles. So you might end up writing another blog!!

  88. A bit off topic, but still extremely important. Matt, dare you say that my idea is rubbish? http://www.toebi.com/blog/theory-of-everything-by-illusion/annihilation-ignition-device/

    • Well I dare say it. Your stuff is as bad as your software architechture over in Finland.

      The “my theory” is the tip off to crackpot.

      Good thing you can’t make any antimatter b.o.m.b.s

      s.vik
      Norway

    • So, what is your great idea (in a few words)? Is there a typo in your title? Is it possible that the right word is “delusion”?

      • Do some reading and then you tell me.

        • I promise, I will if you can formulate reasonably shortly what is your deep insight. Before asking other people to spend a considerable amount of time to read you staff, you should at least spend a few seconds and clearly explain what you are offering.

          • The idea is that elementary particles are indeed spinning classically on axis. Smallest particles provide a medium for particle interactions, which in fact (all of them) emerge from the same phenomenon (spinning particles). Same set of equations can be used at every scale.

            Also important is the consequence that every particle can act as its antiparticle in right circumstances.

  89. Tony (Racz) Rotz

    All these posts and still no one really knows. As I understand it all the energy in the universe including gravity equals zero, so everything came from nothing.

    • kashyap vasavada

      @ Tony (Racz) Rotz
      Well! As many people have mentioned, this *nothing* is not nothing (absence of anything!) as understood by common people. That nothing had quantum fields (virtual particles) in it. I would not really call it nothing!!

      • And lots of mass-lol and without gravity could it even exist?> from my understanding it couldn’t..

        I’ve read that gravity can exist without dark energy, but that dark energy cannot exist without gravity.

        Would like to know if that is true.

  90. Tony (Racz) Rotz

    @ KV
    But nothing would not be substantial in any shape or form.

    • kashyap vasavada

      @Tony (Racz) Rotz: How do you know whether it was substantial or not? No body has seen quantum vacuum which is supposed to have given rise to the universe.BTW according to modern physics, everything substantial we see including chairs, tables and our bodies are made out of fuzzy wavelike objects which you cannot grab with your hand!!

      • “I would not call [entanglement] one but rather the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics, the one that enforces its entire departure from classical lines of thought.”- Erwin Schrödinger.

        The German word “Quantenverschränkung” eventhough meaning Entanglement, the English meaning give “twisted together” the German meaning sounds like “pulled together” ? – is it quantum gravity ?

        The wavelike nature in quantummechanics resembles radioactivity and near to nature’s mass-energy relation. But “energy density” is due to entanglement – which is very weak at quantum level – because we could not measure the cold radiation of decreasing entropy.
        So “singularity” is prevented by entanglement ?

        In place of the event horizon, Hawking invokes an “apparent horizon”, a surface along which light rays attempting to rush away from the black hole’s core will be suspende (flat spacetime).

        What we call “rest mass” is the moment of inertia,particularly the “inertia” in it ?

        • The German word “Verschränkung” does not mean anything like “pulled together”. It is hard to translate – it means something like “a mutual crossing”. For example the German phrase “die Arme verschränken” means to fold one’s arms in front of the body in such a way that each arm crosses over the other.

        • In some ways it could be wrong to say that quantum entanglement is THE characteristical trait of quantum mechanics, as there are many significant aspects of QM that involve single particles, or events that involve many particles that have simpler mutual interactions that do not involve quantum entanglement (QE).

          We could possibly say that QM means one part of the physical world that we have no natural grasp at all about it, no natural comprehension of it no matter what, and among the most baffling aspects of QM clearly QE deserves a singular recognition as such.

          Kind regards, GEN

  91. Is it certain that the Universe must “begin” at all?

    Consider a model wherein the mass/energy of the observable universe (OBSU) was deep within a pre-existing object of almost unimaginably large size, and this object underwent a supernova-like event. The number of these
    metagalactic scale objects is assumed to be infinite.

    The OBSU would undergo global expansion with additional peculiar velocities of galaxies, as well as mergers, indicating the chaotic turbulence of the event. The CMB could be generated in basically the same manner as in the conventional models.

    Is there any observational evidence that conflicts with this general model?

    • A supernova explodes IN space, and the exploding parts cannot go more rapidly than the speed of light (or even a bit slower, if particles with mass are considered).
      In contrast, the expansion of the universe is an expansion of space itself, and this expansion of space is not limited by the universal “speed limit” (which is for motion relative to the surrounding space).

      • Robert L. Oldershaw

        (1) That is what we repeat to ourselves, but I do not think there is physical evidence that demands this interpretation.
        (2) If the OBSU were a an effectively infinitesimal expanding volume deep within the metagalactic object, could we distinguish expansion IN space-time from expansion OF space-time?
        (3) Given the fact that we have yet to develop models that “explode” properly, are we sure we understand the physics of SN events? Can we exclude expansion of space-time in the deep interior. I do not think so.
        Dr. David Arnett, who has developed one of the newest and most sophisticated SN models says of its inability to reproduce all observed phenomena: “Perhaps what we need is a more sophisticated notion of what an explosion is to explain what we are seeing.
        Ponder on that for a while.
        (4) If physics is ever to get out of the deep rut it is in, then we must be more open-minded and less prone to rigid dogma.

  92. Matt,
    Perhaps I’m missing something obvious, but in all the conjecture going on, discussions are going on about space-time foam, smallest possible length and other items…all challenging our basic understanding of existing concepts…Where are we challenging our concept of energy? It’s involved in fields, inflation and even gravity uses it’s essence. It’s as though it’s this quantity that no one questions. It just is. If time is fair game for reinvention (in some viewpoints it may not exist), why are we not looking at our concept of energy?

    • This is actually being considered automatically. Energy is the conserved quantity that is associated with invariance under time translation. – In less fancy words: The fact that the total amount of energy always stays the same is directly related to the fact that the laws of nature now are the same as they are five minutes ago, or at other times. This is the reason why energy “shows up” everywhere in physics, as you point out – because time is usually part of the description.

      If you look at a system ruled by laws changing with time, the total energy will no longer be conserved in general. Any change in the concept of time inherently means a change in the concept of energy. This is already noticeable in general relativity (Einstein’s theory of gravity) where time is a more subtle concept than we are used to, and thus also energy becomes more difficult. A theory which completely changes the notion of time or even gets rid of it will therefore also have to replace the usual notion of energy.

  93. Hello, I really do not think that the zygote analogy is appropriate since it comes with lots of assumptions about personal identity. We can probably say that a particular zygote in the past is counter-factually connected with my current existence (if that zygote had not existed, I would not exist now), but that doesn’t mean that personal identity is preserved and that you can say that I *was* that zygote.

    • Your point about identity is valid – and well worth thinking about in another context – but I think you are reading too much into the analogy here. I think the point of the analogy was just that when we extrapolate physical processes (e.g. something gets smaller and smaller looking towards the past) it does not necessarily mean we can go all the way to zero using the same unmodified theory. It is rather common for any theory to “break down” at a certain point: in the analogy because once you reach sizes comparable to the size of a single cell, you can no longer think about scaling the size of an organism smoothly. In physics because at least at the Planck scale, if not sooner, you can no longer think of spacetime the same way as we are used to on larger scales.

      • Edwin, yes I understand and agree. I just wanted to point that out since it’s such a common argument in some “scientifically challenged” circles (I was that zygote ⇒ if you kill a zygote you kill a person!), that it would be pity to give it any credibility. Thanks

        • Ky,

          I think you are reading far too much into Matt’s analogy. I’m sure his intent had nothing whatever to do with the ‘personal identity’ of the zygote. However, since you bring it up…

          You note: “…but that doesn’t mean that personal identity is preserved and that you can say that I *was* that zygote.”

          It also doesn’t mean that personal identity is NOT preserved (at least in some form).

          With all the assumptions and unknowns some people choose to err on the side of life, and not everyone with such a view is ‘scientifically challenged’.

          You know, from a good distance, the entire Earth looks like a little zygote. And we are quite primitive, we do not speak with one voice, the Earth has not yet formed a ‘personal identity’. I can only hope that the super- civilizations that are part of the Galactic Organization of Democracies (GOD) in charge of this galactic sector have a more benign attitude to our little world than many of us have to the zygote.

  94. Edwin,

    Thank you. I had forgotten that Noether’s Theorem addressed it.

  95. Here is a simple analogy that works for me (which may simply indicate that I am missing many of the subtleties)

    Suppose we have a system with the following measurable properties :
    Voltage : V
    Resistance : R
    Current : I

    Suppose our best theories, corroborated by many measurements on similar systems, tell us that he system is constrained by the relationship

    V=IR

    Suppose we have some means to determine the historical state of the system at various times in the recent past. We examine our historical data and observe that the resistance increases linearly with time. Now lets extrapolate the historical results back to the point at which R=0 – we’ll call that time t0.

    Would we conclude that at t0, the current in the system must have been infinite? Or would we conclude that the relationship V=IR must break down when R is very small?

    • I guess I have to add that V is constant

    • Which means that there might be some “hidden” relationship between I and R that have not been experimentally corroborated yet.

      What you describe is closer to the relationship of resistance with temperature: when you increase the temperature, the resistance of conducting materials like metals increase mainly because at higher temperatures, the electrons that form the metalic binding in the grid get more excited, which have stronger interactions with the free electrons (electrons of the outer layer of the metal that are not involved in the binding of the metalic grid, so are free to move and that is why metals are better conductors of both electricity and temperature), so these free electrons have more obstacles to run free through the metalic grid.

      On the contrary, with lower temperature, the binding electrons become less of an obstacle for the free electrons to wander with more ease, so, it would make sense to assume that the closer to absolute zero, the more “super” conductor the metals become.

      But that perfection does not really happen, as imperfections in the grid become stronger obstacles, so, “super” conductivity is only real for just a handful of compounds.

      This relationship between resistance and temperature is complex to really model with one single equation, so, it makes sense to have different models for different temperature ranges for each type of material.

      For certain ranges around room temperature, it is fine to use a polynomial equation to model (like with a Taylor series expansion with x0 different from zero).

      For very short ranges (of temperature, the indepedent variable), it could be valid to use the first power of the expansion, which will give you a linear approximation.

      In short, we cannot assume a linear relationship between any given set of variables for a very long range of values of the independent variable(s) unless we really have explored in depth both the theoretical aspects of the models, as well as the experimental data that validates that exploration in a very large range of the values of the variables.

      Regarding the behaviour of our universe (the observable patch of our universe) with respect to time, we have both theoretical reasons as well as experimental reasons to consider these aforementioned theories as valid, but we all know that in the future, new and better experimental data could give stronger support to certain variations of these theories and put into question some other variations of the same theories.

  96. Pingback: Eternal inflation and its implications | Tim thought ...

  97. Pingback: the Big Bang singularity | conlatio

  98. @veeramohan – for better readability here once more – I am sorry, am a ”one-armed bandit” right now because of broken arm. So annoying to be handicapped in this way…. but it’s healing and getting good again. Margot

    Knowledge (and organizing power) is different in different states of consciousness. Dream state differs from waking state. Apart from waking, dreaming and sleeping state of consciousness there are very clearly and logically defined higher states of consciousness which comprehend higher levels of not only cognitive, but also other functioning. Traditionally those states have been termed ”enlightenment”. There can be short glimpses of enlightenment and there can be firmly established states of enlightenment. Transcendental or pure consciousness is not yet termed the enlightened state as it is experienced as the climax of the meditation process when all mental activity has subsided and a transcendental, unbounded state of pure awareness is being experienced. This state has been traditionally termed ‘samadhi’ and it is characterized by a unique EEG signature of global, high amplitude alpha 1 EEG, and high EEG alpha 1 coherence, representing restful alertness associated with increased blood flow, especially between frontal sensors. In terms of a content analysis, experiences of pure consciousness yielded silence, unboundedness and the loss of time, space and body sense as the basic themes of the experience. Also, periods of apneustic breathing, i.e. prolonged and slow inhalation from 10–60 sec in duration with marked reduction in breath volume (40%), have been described for this state.This state has been called the ground state or state of least excitation of consciousness and has also been equated with the experience of the unified field (which might sound outrageous to physicists, however, in spite of protest coming up, this needs to be carefully and thoroughly examined with a broader background of an understanding of consciousness in quantum physics, but also natural philosophy and in terms of a philosophia perennis where reports of such a state and higher states in which pure consciousness becomes a permanently established feature outside of meditation, i.e. during waking, sleeping and dreaming, have been recorded throughout history and across all cultures). Transcendental Consciousness may be experienced in the beginning stages for even very short time fragments as the climax of the meditation process, not during the whole length of meditation. As in any experience the nervous system and brain needs to adjust for this mirroring of the most fundamental level of nature’s functioning. With time the experience of pure consciousness becomes a permanent feature throughout waking, sleeping and dreaming, a state which is called Cosmic Consciousness. Research has been done and is being done on individuals experiencing Cosmic Consciousness. Subjects who have experienced Cosmic Consciousness report a quiet, calm, expanded state of self-awareness, pure wakefulness, persisting all the time throughout all activities, and being not identified regarding their sense of self with mental processes, i.e. their thinking or doing or experiences of object and environmental occurrences. They also reported increased smoothness in all of their activities, more favorable coincidences occurring and being quietly more aligned with the flow of life. Research results so far have shown distinct EEG patterns, particularly also during sleep. Mason in 1997 reported that 11 individuals reporting Cosmic Consciousness exhibited similar levels of delta activity during deep sleep compared to 11 non-meditating controls, but elevated levels of theta and alpha EEG. It is noteworthy that the co-existence of the EEG patterns of deep sleep (delta) and pure consciousness or restful alertness during the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique (theta and alpha) was associated with the subjective experience of co-existence of deep sleep along with the continued inner awareness. Travis and colleagues measured EEG patterns during computer tasks in individuals reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness. The computer tasks involved responding to pairs of numbers. The individuals reporting the experience of Cosmic Consciousness had higher frontal EEG coherence during these tasks. Their response also better matched the task demands. These EEG measures were combined to form a brain “Integration Scale.” Higher scores on this Scale are associated with higher levels of frontal EEG coherence and better task performance. Research has also shown that brain Integration Scale scores are correlated with high levels of moral reasoning, happiness, emotional stability and lower levels of anxiety.
    Cosmic Consciousness evolves further in terms of more refinement of mental, cognitive and perceptual functioning and results in a state, called Refined Cosmic Consciousness. A person functioning from more evolved levels of cognitive functioning and higher levels of abstraction and cognitive refinement has more abilities at his disposal – as scientists show :-) (They can even go back to the billionth of a billionth of a billionth split second of the earliest age of the universe.) In the state of Refined Cosmic Consciousness this refinement extends to the quality of thinking, perceiving or mental activity itself. A thought is perceived at its inception when it emerges from pure consciousness. One is also able to witness or observe nature’s workings on those most refined fundamental levels where the creative process in nature starts. There are no research studies so far about neurophysiological and brain functioning of individuals who developed that state of Refined Refined Cosmic Consciousness. It would requires exploratory research to find out what changes in measurements should be expected, i.e. what to measure. However, there is quite a wealth of experiences reporting expanded and refined abilities of cognition, perception and also organizing power. Since nontrivial quantum coherence effects (macroscopic quantum coherence) have been reported for photosynthesis, avian magnetoreception etc., as well as electron and proton quantum (Josephson) tunneling in biological systems, such and other mechanisms might play a role in these higher states. Thus finding the neurophysiological correlates might critically depend on an advanced understanding and on technological developments to be able assess the changes and parameters that characterize these experiences. E.g. is refined cosmic consciousness related to ‘perceiving’ quantum mechanical patterns such as waves?! Since e.g. avian magnetoreception allows us to draw conclusions for e.g. a chemical compass model and what these birds are perceiving, such questions and deliberations are not as strange or out of scope today anymore.

  99. Well, I am not talking about perfection – whatever you might mean with it, I am talking about human development, development of cognition, evolution. Man remains man. Those texts about God attribute omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence to that agency which a human being can’t have, never have. A human nervous system can only know and process sequentially, not simultaneously, or, if, then only to a very limited degree. We are talking science here and not mere speculations. Maslow and others have researched peak and plateau experiences or high performance in athletes, musicians, business management people etc.. Consciousness and cognitive development can, in fact, reach different stages of development, including formal operations (Piaget), abstract thinking. Thus there ARE differences between cognitive levels of, let’s say, the nice salesperson at Walmart and a Matt Strassler or an Ed Witten. (Of course, Howard Gardner and others have pointed to multiple kinds of intelligences, apart from abstract intellectual thinking, emotional intelligence e.g. and others which each one of them should contain their own developmental potential.) Studies on e.g. avian birds have opened a window to understand more refined and evolved sensory systems. European robins may maintain quantum entanglement in their eyes a full 20 microseconds longer than the best laboratory systems and may use quantum effects to “see” Earth’s magnetic field, for example. Certainly quantum effects on basic microscopic levels in biological material, far below the gross level of neurons. have not yet been elucidated in terms of how they might contribute to not sensory perception in this case, but cognitive functioning – processing, evaluating etc. – particularly in higher states of consciousness. However, a rich wealth of existing reports of such experiences across all cultures does exist which points to developmental potentials for cognition, consciousness and of course, since conscious awareness is to some part dependent on it or linked to it, then necessarily also associated brain circuits.

  100. Indeed, the objective approach of modern science, which is founded upon the separation between the observer and the observed, is essentially unsuited to investigate the fundamentally indivisible structure of natural law at its unified foundation. However, although the unified field is beyond the range of any objective technology, it is not beyond the range of human intelligence, as today’s highly successful unified field theories have demonstrated. (John Hagelin, 1997)
    Well, maybe….

  101. [quote]Who is still telling the media and the public that the universe really started with a singularity, or that the modern Big Bang Theory says that it does? [/quote]

    Could it be Lubos Motl?

    Seriously though, thanks again for another layman friendly article that really brings what Jim Baggott calls “fairytale physics” down to earth.

  102. Matt, its great that I stumbled upon your writings. I am an universe enthusiast who likes to know the beginnings.

    1. If everything was packed in a speck of dust where did the speck of dust come from?
    2. What about the second aspect being, 1 is matter and 2 is the emotion or thought. How was that created and how does it drive changes in matter like a layman a very sad thought can draw tears.
    3. What if human brain has this limit. is it possible?

  103. Guru- emotion and thought have to do with consciousness and I can point you to the work of Hameroff and Penrose and their theory which was published on microtubules and neurons. Look him up, he also involves the quantum energy of consciousness and when consciousness began and what plants/viruses/ bacteria have to do with all of this.

    I personally agree with him –except with his concept of choice. There is also more work to be done on when emotion came to play.

    But for myself it seems living things began with memory which evolved to thought -comparing one memory over another and making a choice- and then later emotions evolved and complicated the consciousness more. (This is my opinion not done in his work)

    • kashyap vasavada

      @Ami’s Book Page: Penrose and Hemeroff’s work relating consciousness, neurons and quantum gravity is very interesting. Recently they have claimed that there is resonance at the right frequency (40 Hz or so) in the microtubules. But again this model has been heavily criticized. Tegmark says that brain is too wet and warm to have any quantum mechanical effects in it. Also some quantum gravity experts do not believe in the model. But that is how science progresses. It is fine !!!

  104. Could we say that curvature/gravity is like (very bad analogy) a balloon rubber and dark energy is like the air and when we blow, we blow dark energy into the curvature and this air becomes particles, atoms, molecules, etc…and the reaction to this air is that the balloon expands.

    Thus we can have a rubber balloon –curvature– without the air, but we can’t have the air without the curvature?

  105. Did the universe begin with a singularity?

    Is a black hole a singularity?

    Is the gravitational field the predominate “force” in confining the black hole?

    Is “quantum” confinement the cause of resonances or are resonances the cause of quantum confinement?

    Is the gravitational force that “traps” the black hole together the strongest force in the universe?

    Is the black hole “black” because the strongest force “scrabbles” all other forces, EMR, weak and strong force out of commission and lose their quantum numbers ( inverting information into chaos)?

    I believe something cannot create itself, so what created fields must be something other than a wave(s). It must be so powerful that it can breakup even the strongest nucleus and stronger than the gravitational force that black hole confined.

    What is the only thing that can go faster than the speed of light?

    SPACE …

    Maybe the universe is a hologram after all. Wow, how many are there? :-)

  106. Lavaroy, you must be a physicist!

    Why?

    Because your answers are (probably) absolutely correct, but totally useless; at least from the point of view of learning. :)

  107. Yes, the universe began with a singularity.

    Radhasoami Faith View of Modus Operandi of Creation of Universe

    Part – I

    There is cosmological evidence for God and the Universe existed before
    Big Bang please.
    Stephen Hawking writes in The Grand Design, “It is not necessary to
    invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”
    Hawking said the Big Bang was merely the consequence of the law of
    gravity. In A Brief History of Time, Hawking had suggested that the
    idea of God or a divine being was not necessarily incompatible with a
    scientific understanding of the Universe.
    Although Hawking is very close to Truth yet he is not perfect in his
    views while discarding the role of divine being. I consider the role
    of eternal gravity uppermost but I strongly differ with Hawking on the
    role of divine being. I consider Divine Ordainment is the cause of
    Creation of Universe.
    Now I give Radhasoami Faith view of Creation Theory. In Sar Bachan
    (Poetry) composed by His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj the August Founder
    of Radhasoami Faith the details of creation and dissolution has been
    described very scientifically. It is written in Jeth Mahina (name of
    Hindi moth) in this Holy Book: Only He Himself (Supreme Father)and
    none else was there. There issued forth a great current of
    spirituality, love and grace (In scientific terminology we may call
    this current as gravitational wave). This is called His Mauj (Divine
    Ordainment). This was the first manifestation of Supreme Being. This
    Divine Ordainment brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh,
    and Satnam of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful
    sound (this was the first Big Bang). It brought forth the creation of
    seven Surats or currents of various shades and colours (in scientific
    terminology we may call it electromagnetic waves). Here the true Jaman
    or coagulant was given (in scientific terminology this coagulant may
    be called as weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force). Surats,
    among themselves, brought the creation into being.
    These currents descended down further and brought the whole
    universe/multi verse into being i.e. black holes, galaxies etc. were
    born.
    I would like to add further that sound energy and gravitational force
    current are non polar entity and electromagnetic force is bi-polar.
    Hence spiritual polarization, if occurred, is occurred in the region
    of Sat Lok and region below to it only.
    Infinite expanse of gravitational force field is the region of dark energy.

    In Bible it is written that in the beginning was the Word; the Word
    was with God; and the Word was God.
    According to Radhasoami Faith “Shabd (Word) is the beginning and end
    of all. The three loks (worlds) and the fourth Lok, all have been
    created by Shabd.” (Sar Bachan Poetry)

    Part-II

    Here the true Jaman (coagulant) was given. The spirituality coagulated
    as it were, and Surats (spirit entities), among themselves, brought
    the creation into being. Thereafter, another Jaman (coagulant) was
    given. Regions from Agam Lok (Inaccessible Region) to Sat Lok (True
    Region) were created during the first creational process. That
    creation is true. That region is eternal. There is no trace of evil
    and suffering. This was the creation for many Yugas and ages. Then
    there appeared a dark coloured current
    That current appeared like a dark coloured stone set in a white one
    and was absorbed in the Darshan of True Being. Then there appeared two
    Kalas i.e. currents (viz. Niranjan and Jyoti) and they together
    evolved the creation of five Tattwas (elements) four Khans (species,
    categories of life) and three Gunas (qualities). The three Gunas
    (qualities) brought about the expansion and proliferation . They
    created Rishis and Munis (sages and holy men), gods and godly human
    beings and demons. Egotism then increased much. Niranjan (Dark Current) separated
    himself from the rest, putting the burden of looking after the
    creation on them. Nobody could know of Niranjan. Even the Vedas
    referred to Him as Neti Neti (Not this, Not this). They did not get
    Darshan (Vision) of Niranjan. They made conjectures. Then how can
    anybody have knowledge of Sat Purush (True Being), Source of Niranjan
    and all that exists.
    Scientifically here Jyoti represent three Fundamental Forces of
    Quantum Mechanics i.e. electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force and
    strong nuclear force. NIRANJAN is the fourth Fundamental Force i.e.
    Gravitation Force. Scientific explanation follows in support of my
    views.

    Part-III

    Einstein struggled and failed to formulate this theory, but it has
    already been shown that at high enough energies electromagnetism and
    the weak force are the same force known as the electroweak force. It
    is theorized that if energies are increased even further and neutrinos
    acquire mass, which has now been fully documented, all the known
    forces will reduce to the same force thus providing the basis for the
    Grand Unified Theory. This high energy level existed only during the
    very early expansion of the Universe known as the Planck Epoch which
    existed up to 10 to the negative 43rd seconds after the Big Bang where
    the four fundamental forces – electromagnetism, weak nuclear force,
    strong nuclear force and gravitation – all had the same strength.
    After that point the energy level decreased and gravity separated from
    the other 3 fundamental forces and with condensation of elementary
    particles (quarks, leptons, and gauge bosons) into matter formed the
    so-called Standard Model of today’s Universe. (Source: Comments by
    William H. Depperman posted at blog http://factoidz.com/scientific

    It is well known that nothing or very little is known about
    gravitational force till today. It is a mysterious force.

  108. The more important question to me is why did the universe begin? Discussions and investigations about the mechanics of how the universe began lose significance if there is no understanding of why it began.
    An experiential revelation of God provides the basis for understanding why the universe began. I.e. God created this universe and the Biblical accounting of the creation process, from inflation to the current state of the universe, is outlined in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. The Genesis account, written over 3500 years ago, states, fundamentally, the same process of inflation to current state of the universe. Today’s understanding of inflation to current state of the universe postdate the Genesis account by about 3300 years. God gave Moses this outline before anyone could verify it from a scientific standpoint. That verification is now in our hands. The verification of how the process took place provides added confidence to why it took place.

  109. @Paul Lyon,

    This is a blog that deals with topics regarding High Energy Physics in particular, Physics ang Science in general.

    So, we talk about the laws of nature that rule our Universe from the perspective of science, which only deals with natural explanations for the aforementioned laws.

    We all respect everybody’s belief systems, but those belief systems have no business in our discussions.

    Kind regards, GEN

    • My point is that without a fundamental understanding of God then scientific observations and discussions will not yield full import. What science sees and analyzes is not made out of things that are observable from the laws of physics or any other emergent hypotheses or theories. Without the origin element of God as creator we are left with an incomplete discussion about the laws of nature that “apparently” rule the observable universe. I expressly point to what lies beyond the event horizon of the universe. What lies beyond that horizon is knowable and observable (from the most educated to the least) and provides the clearest framework for understanding and applying Physics and Science.

      Cheers, Paul

  110. Tom Chatterton “….our universe began as a pinched off bubble from the Cosmic Space-Time…where time is infinite…therefore ALL realities are possible… before our universe was created.”

    Tom, your idea of cosmic time is interesting, and is a line of thinking I have considered in the past. I’m certainly no expert, but I think, perhaps, you stopped a step or two short of a logical conclusion when considering time and infinity.

    The infinite series, in all its guises, is a pitfall which appears as a result of failure to distinguish between mathematical infinities and “genuine” infinity.

    An infinite series/sequence may have no discernible beginning or end, but any segment of it is finite, therefore it cannot become infinite, however far it is extended; it will always be increasing, but at no point could you say “this has now become infinite”.

    Time is a sequence of seconds. If you start with any number of seconds you can never say that sequence has reached infinity. It may be boundless, but that is not the same as being infinite.

    Most scientists and mathematicians balk at the idea that infinity cannot be a sequence of anything and, therefore, cannot be divided. Cantor showed us how to work with infinities, but these were mathematical infinities, and even Cantor ran into problems when his logic brought him to “absolute” infinity.

    Might I suggest that you take the next step; consider your cosmos as timeless and indivisible. Think of it as a realm in which everything that can exist, exists without change. This must include our Universe and any universe that could ever exist. Time then becomes something that is “real” within the Universe, but has no meaning beyond that.

    I would be fascinated to know your thoughts on this. I am neither scientist nor mathematician; just an old codger trying to keep the brain working.

  111. Even though we can’t say that there is a general answer to why infinities may pop up into the equations that model a certain aspect of our Universe, up to a point we could argue that the presence of infinities could inform us about some aspect of the model that is “too simplified” or “incomplete”.

    Regarding Quantum Field Theories, it is very frequent (up to the point of being just boring and annoying) that infinities pop up all over the place.

    Since the 1940s, when Richard Feynman figured out the first tool to get rid of such invasion of infinities, many other similar tools have been devised over the years by other scientists.

    One important tool to get rid of inifinities was devised by Gerardus t’Hooft and Martinus Veltman in the early 1970s, so important that these guys won a Nobel prize for their feat.

    But we can’t argue as a general rule that all infinities in Physics are born equal.

    Kind regards, GEN

  112. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

    It’s O.K. GEN. But it s argued that all laws of science break at singularity. So, is it possible that only science can explain the genesis of the universe?

  113. [quote=Lubos Motl]For laymen, the world is described by some physics on a classical spacetime, and classical GR is what is relevant, and at this approximation, the singularity is there.[/quote]

    Not necessarily. I’m a layperson, but I have always had problems with the the idea of a singularity. I have never been able to accept infinitely small, curved or hot; and that’s just a start.

  114. if time-space is really curved and forming a closed surface the way it is analogous with earth having no boundary, no beginning and no end means the whole time-space and universe till some point will start repeating itself. it further means, it is not necessarily be the first time this universe has reached to the current time?? or rate of expansion should be faster than time….can any one comment??

  115. That seems quite logical, Ammar, but there may be complications. If you circle the Earth you come back to the same place in space, but not time. In the case of the Universe, presumably, it is spacetime that would be curved, so you would return to the same place and time. Now you have a problem. A spacetime event is unique; it cannot be repeated. The “first” time you are present at a spacetime event is the only time you can experience it. In what way can you be said to be returning to a spacetime event?
    Perhaps it’s a good thing that current thinking tends towards a flat Universe. Of course that introduces fresh problems involving infinity; but let’s not go there.

  116. Dear Bill, thanks for sharing coments, infact, I am confused by the analogue presented by Dr. Stephen Hawking about space-time and surface of earth are both closed surfaces with no boundary and further he suggests imaginary time axix along which one can move foward as well as backword and thus uniqueness of events is crushed.
    For instance, if it is followd, time must have some speed exactly equal to speed of light and thus is faster than rate of universe expansion (as nothing can move faster than light) and time must return back to some initial (starting) point and continue for the next lap.
    I may be wrong but Stephen’s theory of “no boundary” has not answered this problem.

  117. I totally agree with Gen, though, I am also a strong believer of religion, but science and physics have their entirely isolated hemi-spares and thus should not have been mixed together. None of the revelations have ever been reveled to learn science and technology but only to provoke morality and responsibility within human race. My question is how much is it possible to identify areas within this universe where Heisenberg uncertainty principle is inapplicable??

  118. Hi Ammar,

    I think the analogy likening spacetime to the surface of the Earth means no more than that a sphere has a finite surface area, but no boundary. I have seen this expressed as a sphere having an infinite surface, but fortunately, that is not what Hawking says.

    As far as the extra dimension of time is concerned, I understand there is no evidence for this. Itzhak Bars has been working for some years on the idea of an extra time dimension, and has evolved a theory to support this; so I guess his work would be the place to look for supporting ideas.

  119. For shoogis 16 read Bill S. I don’t know why that happens occasionally

  120. Refer to “””the grand design” hawking (chapter 6- page-109) explains through tracing back the time till a reduced universe size stage where both quantum and relativity are applicable and time stops existing as time and transforms to an ordinary 4th dimension of space having no characteristics of time. (Apart from my another primary objection that 4 orthogonal space dimensions are impossible, however, one refers to a tiny single point as this whole universe)
    I simply fail to understand the grounds on which Hawking developed this “conclusion”
    Can anyone help me to explain this??

  121. I haven’t read “The Grand Design”; perhaps I should before commenting, but this sounds like a well thought out and logical idea for which there is absolutely no physical or experimental evidence.
    For those of us who grew up with the idea that a dimension was something that had to lie at right angles to any and every other dimension, an impression that comes from the fact that in every day speech a dimension is almost exclusively one of the three dimensions of space, it can be difficult to escape from the angular connotation. However, we talk of the dimensions of speed as being length and time; no angles here. It seems best to think of dimensions as those qualities or factors that are essential in defining whatever we are talking about.

  122. @Bill S, our own daily usual experience with dimensions correspond to the properties of Euclidean spaces. We can draw pictures of Euclidean spaces of up to 3 dimensions, but we can study and analyze the properties of Euclidean spaces with more than 3 dimensions.

    Minkowski’s continuum or spacetime is indeed a 4 dimensional space, but it definitively is NOT an Euclidean space, so, you are drawing at the wrong conclusions by trying to extrapolate the properties of Euclidean spaces into spacetime.

    Kind regards, GEN

    • Thanks for the comment GEN, I didn’t try to extrapolate the properties of Euclidean spaces into spacetime, my intention was to differentiate between the Euclidean dimensions of space, and non-Euclidean “other” dimensions. Possibly I didn’t express it well.

  123. I guess i put forth my question the way it was not fairly understandable.
    I am wondering to know how time transforms to ordinary space diamension and vice versa accross the boundary of Einsteinian and quantum theories applicability?? (in my opinion, time and space dimensions have no common characteristics for being interchange able)
    Hawking drew this conclusion just out of nothing I guess…….I failed to find out argumental grounds before and after this conclusion while reading his book…..

  124. That is a conclusion from the M Theory, and it is not a conclusion from Stephen Hawking.

    When the universe was incredibly hot, the weak nuclear force and the electromagnetic force were not yet separated, and they were just one force, the electroweak force.

    It would require the Higgs field to produce the symmetry breaking required to separate them into two different forces, at lower temperatures.

    During that period previous to the activation of the Higgs field, there were no photons in our universe.

    Without photons, there is not time as we know it.

    At that period, there were 4 dimensions of space and no dimension of time, since there were no photons yet available for time to exist.

    Just like John Archibald Wheeler once said, we define time in such a way that motion is simple.

    Kind regards, GEN

    • “Without photons, there is not time as we know it”. Why would the existence of the time dimension depend on the Higgs field / photon field?

  125. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

    Ken, kindly name the force which represents singularity.

  126. It all centers around the nature of space-time: space and time are not completely independent dimensions, they are intertwined and make up the fabric of our Universe.

    In Minkowski’s continuum, the coordinate system is as follows:

    x,y,z,ict

    The way the time coordinate is intertwined with the space coordinates is through a proportionality factor, the constant of the speed of light in vaccum.

    So, in this continuum, the time coordinate itself is a space dimension through that proportionality factor, the speed of light.

    During the period previous to the activation of the Higss Field, without the presence of photons, there is no intermediator (light) to make time appear and behave as we know it, so, the fourth dimension is a true space dimension during that period.

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