A question of singularity: does the Universe necessarily have a beginning?

Vela Supernova Remnant Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC Team – Processing: Wolfgang Leitner

Existence. From generation to generation, we have probed into understanding the complexity of the universe using the best of our abilities. We have performed experiments, we have prayed, we have philosophized, we have explored into space. We continue to seek the answers that elude us. One of these, namely, is the question of how everything started. Even more importantly, what could have existed before existence? What or who set us into motion?

Let me first elaborate that I am by no means a scientist, as is known by the common definition of the word. I am a lover of knowledge who is constantly trying – as most of us do – to make sense of the world and universe that surrounds us. This is why I will reference greater minds than my own in this blog post to elaborate certain definitions. Now, let us continue!

Many of the ancients postulated theories that have influenced our scientific inquiry and modern direction.

Atomism began with Leucippus and Democritus. Among the ancient schools, this approach is the closest to modern science: they believed that everything is composed of atoms, which are indestructible and physically indivisible. They were strict determinists, who believed that everything happens in accordance with natural laws and the universe, they said, has no purpose and is nothing more than a mixture of infinite atoms being shuffled and re-shuffled according to the indifferent rules of nature. What is interesting about this school is that it attempted to understand the universe as objectively as possible and minimize intellectual deviations in favour of cultural and mystic prejudices. (Source: Ancient.eu)

To be objective from a human perspective is not impossible, but certainly pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable. In many cases, our biases impact the way we interpret our world. One of the most difficult things is to reduce the importance of our own role when exploring new concepts.

In our experience here on Earth, everything requires a beginning and an end, reflecting the life cycle. Our parents and guardians tell us stories of when we were born. That date stamp is then engraved onto all objects of importance: our birth certificate, our license, our tombstone. We all more or less are fighting our expiry date.

Einstein was the first to think beyond our concept of time on Earth with his General Theory of Relativity. As Stephen Hawking summarizes:

In this, space and time were no longer Absolute, no longer a fixed background to events. Instead, they were dynamical quantities that were shaped by the matter and energy in the universe. They were defined only within the universe, so it made no sense to talk of a time before the universe began. It would be like asking for a point south of the South Pole. It is not defined. If the universe was essentially unchanging in time, as was generally assumed before the 1920s, there would be no reason that time should not be defined arbitrarily far back. Any so-called beginning of the universe would be artificial, in the sense that one could extend the history back to earlier times. Thus it might be that the universe was created last year, but with all the memories and physical evidence, to look like it was much older. This raises deep philosophical questions about the meaning of existence. I shall deal with these by adopting what is called, the positivist approach. In this, the idea is that we interpret the input from our senses in terms of a model we make of the world. One can not ask whether the model represents reality, only whether it works. A model is a good model if first it interprets a wide range of observations, in terms of a simple and elegant model. And second, if the model makes definite predictions that can be tested and possibly falsified by observation.

(Source: Hawking, lecture on The Origin of the Universe).

It is logical for humankind to think in sequences: birth, life death; morning, noon night. But once we think outside of our plane of existence, would we have such referential points? What would our concept of time shift to devoid of the routines we are accustomed to in our trips around the Sun? Again, to repeat Hawking: a model is a good model if first it interprets a wide range of observations. And though our scientific observations and models are for the most part highly effective, there still exists a vast grey area. Let me expand on this point:

Annenberg Foundation 2013, via http://www.learner.org/

The universe is in fact primarily dark matter. That means that the majority of what surrounds us is… hypothetical matter and energy that cannot be measured at this point in time by our technology. Really.

General relativity and quantum mechanics are well on their way to trying to crack the enigma of dark matter. Fortunately enough, these inquiries are well on their way to theorizing that indeed the universe had no beginning, nor necessitated one.

In an article posted on 10 February 2015, The Daily Mail shouted in a bold headline: “Did the Big Bang ever happen? Quantum model predicts universe has NO beginning – and it could even explain dark energy.” Here are the major points the article articulates:

  • Current physics can’t explain what happened during the Big Bang
  • The new theory combines general relativity with quantum mechanics
  • The equations found that quantum particles can never meet or cross
  • ‘Since different points in the universe never actually converged in the past, it did not have a beginning,’ Professor Saurya Das told Dailymail.com
  • The model also has the potential to explain dark energy since the quantum particles create a constant outward force that expands space

In a quote from the article:

[…] unlike classical trajectories – which are paths of particles going into the future or past – the quantum particles can never meet or cross.

‘As far as we can see, since different points in the universe never actually converged in the past, it did not have a beginning,’ said Professor Das.

‘It lasted forever. It will also not have an end…In other words, there is no singularity.’

But if there was no Big Bang, what is the history of our universe?

‘The universe could have lasted forever,’ speculates Professor Das.

‘It could have gone through cycles of being small and big.

‘Or it could have been created much earlier.’

The theory may also potentially explain the origin of dark matter and dark energy. (Source: The Daily Mail)

As I have no answer – as none of us do at this point – to this question. I will leave the newly acquired information for you to synthesize and evaluate.

The main problem surrounding the entirety of this research is that humankind lives a finite existence within what could well be an infinite universe. Trying to apply the same rules of beginning and end across the board to all realms of the universe may well be a flawed practice.

The bottom line is to grasp the theory of the Conservation of Energy – that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. This is the most accessible way to interpret this theory within tangible means. I, nonetheless am thrilled to see the future research as a result of this hypothesis.

Claire-Marie Brisson