Saturday, February 9, 2013

The conundrum of time

There wouldn’t be too many people who haven’t at one point or another wondered if there was ever a time before time. And it really doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian, of the catholic persuasion, a Zen Buddhist or a non-believer – it’s a conundrum that’s occupied the minds of the greatest philosophers and perplexed scientists as far back as Newton and contemporaries. I know I asked my father when I was about ten years old “Who created God if God created everything…” for I was told at Sunday school God created a mature universe and mature life from nothing in less than 7 days, less than 10,000 years ago.

So was there a time before time? Did time begin for example as a by-product of a very early universe? Of course one can ask, without a prime mover what ever happened before the birth of the universe.

The difficulty is of course because we don’t have the mental architecture to hook our thinking about it. It’s a bit like the edge of the world question. Back in the day when we thought the world was flat, we wondered if the sea poured over the edge. Discovering that the world is a sphere gave us; a model of the world that explained neatly that there is no edge.

One would have to think that with the appropriate mental scaffolding we might be able to answer the question – was there a time before time. The answer may well be in the depth of the Big Bang, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. 

General relativity unified time and space giving us a space-time continuum while Quantum Mechanics describes the unbelievably small dense universe. We think that in the first moment of the big bang, all the matter and energy that are in the universe today, existed at a single point, impossibly dense, inconceivably hot, and dark. Space began to expand at a speed faster than the speed of light.

At a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a ten millionth of a second after the big bang the universe was small enough to be described by both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics effectively supporting 4 dimensions of space and none of time. So as we backtrack to the earliest of time – there may well have been no time and instead 4 dimensional Space. Substituting time with a direction of space is somewhat similar to the problem of the edge of the world. It is only [later] that we humans begun to realize that time and space are one and the same.

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