Philosophers have discussed and theorized for ages about the origin of our universe. It is such an important question that every culture on our planet has a story or mythology about how they and the world around them came to be. These frameworks were constructed on what they knew of their surroundings or of their recent history. The Ojibwa first nation in Canada believed the world was found by a muskrat and is carried on the back of a turtle. In the last couple of hundred years our framework has changed and is based on scientific experiment and theory. Instead of inventing our origin we build theories based on scientific experiment and then test them with new experiments. One of the most significant contributions to this framework came from Albert Einstein when he developed his theories of special and general relativity. Most of what we hold to be true about our universe is based on relativity and quantum mechanics. (As an aside, I do not understand quantum mechanics, I can grasp some of the effects, but I do not understand the fundamentals. By the same token, I don’t understand my wife, but I do comprehend how she modifies my universe.)
What do we know about the beginning of our universe? A few of the parameters have been nailed down with a pretty good degree of accuracy. These are.
- The age – about 13.7 billion years.
- Initial temperature – infinite (or very close to it).
- Initial size – Very small – as in on the order of the Planck length. At the same time it contained all of the space that our present universe has, so it could also be considered to be infinite in size.
- Initial mass – it contained all of the mass, or more correctly, all of the energy that our universe contains.
At that initial moment there was no matter as we know it now. The fundamental forces that we are familiar with (with the possible exception of gravity) were as one. It took a few fractions of a second before there was a difference between the strong and weak nuclear forces. There are some estimates of the mass of our visible universe, but that is only what we can see post inflation. For the sake of argument let’s say it’s infinite.
This is all wrapped up in what we call the “Big Bang Theory”. I’m not sure if I like the name but I can’t come up with a reasonable alternative. The “Moment of Everything” is a bit vague, the “Start Button” seems trite, “Creation” could get itself confused with a number of mythologies, so I’ll stick with the big bang. It might be close to the truth depending on where you watched the event from.
I stated earlier that the initial conditions were known accurately, and then I went on to say our initial universe was infinitely small, infinitely hot, and infinitely massive. The problem with infinities is that they are hard to measure. Mathematicians hate infinities. They have a symbol for it, the lazy 8, so that you can use it in an equation but the result is usually considered meaningless. Personally I think infinity is just as useful a concept as the zero is. Mathematicians will go to great lengths to push infinities out of an equation. Ask any first year calculus student. They spend the second semester doing nothing but finding clever ways of avoiding division by zero. Unfortunately, some things like the center point of a black hole or the first moment of the big bang don’t allow one to ignore the infinity involved. If I take my desk calculator and type in 1/0= (or 1 enter 0 / for those of you that still have a HP41C (1)) I get an error. With my Sharp calculator it displays “err”, the HP41C more wisely says “infinity”. When this happens in the real world I think a new universe is created.
Don’t take this to mean that I think our universe is the result of a division by zero error. What I am saying is that when an infinity or singularity happens in the multiverse a segment of it pinches off and becomes a new multiverse. Black holes and big bangs are two views of the same event.