Was there a time before there was time?

Religion / Science

Every time I teach an Astronomy course somebody asks “What was there before the Big Bang?” The answer is that the question is like a koan; what was there before there was a “there”? The answer to this point has been to shrug. But apparently, looking at the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that is seen as a mostly isotropic artifact of decoupling during the early Universe, some astronomers have found that it’s not quite as isotropic as people thought.

“[…]Penrose and Gurzadyan have now discovered concentric circles within the CMB in which the temperature variation is much lower than expected, implying that CMB anisotropies are not completely random. The scientists think that these circles stem from the results of collisions between supermassive black holes that released huge, mostly isotropic bursts of energy. The bursts have much more energy than the normal local variations in temperature. The strange part is that the scientists calculated that some of the larger of these nearly isotropic circles must have occurred before the time of the Big Bang.

The discovery doesn’t suggest that there wasn’t a Big Bang – rather, it supports the idea that there could have been many of them. The scientists explain that the CMB circles support the possibility that we live in a cyclic universe, in which the end of one ‘aeon’ or universe triggers another Big Bang that starts another aeon, and the process repeats indefinitely. The black hole encounters that caused the circles likely occurred within the later stages of the aeon right before ours, according to the scientists.

In the past, Penrose has investigated cyclic cosmology models because he has noticed another shortcoming of the much more widely accepted inflationary theory: it cannot explain why there was such low entropy at the beginning of the universe. The low entropy state (or high degree of order) was essential for making complex matter possible. The cyclic cosmology idea is that, when a universe expands to its full extent, black holes will evaporate and all the information they contain will somehow vanish, removing entropy from the universe. At this point, a new aeon with a low entropy state will begin.”

More here.

Well. That’s really quite something. I think I’d finally gotten my mind wrapped around the idea that there was an absolute beginning to time and space. It appears that the answer to my student’s questions is more subtle than a shrug. There’s something that was before there was a was. I guess by strict application of the Copernican Principle it must have been much like what now is. But now the question is not what was there before the Universe. Now it’s what was there before the Multiverse.

I think I’m going to tag this particular article as being both “science” and “religion”.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Hillary Raining says

    I think the “double tag” is indeed necessary.

  2. This is a fascinating article, and I thank you for drawing my attention to it. It’s not the first time we have discussed the possibility of a universe before the universe. It came up about a year and a half ago at dinner one Wednesday evening, in response to an article that suggested our universe bubbled off another, preexisting universe.
    My difficulty with this article lies in a different direction. Every since I read Stephen Hawking’s new book, I find I have have lost a lot of respect for scientists–at least, scientists as represented by Hawking.
    He had about the same effect on me as Dawkins.
    There is just a dishonestly about the whole field, with a few exceptions. The reality is, we know “shit” when you get right down to it, in terms of how this whole shebang got here or even what the shebang actually encompasses. Yet these people are so certain that there’s nothing outside their materialistic viewpoint.
    Hawking tries to say in his book that we don’t even have to address the “before” question because, well, there wasn’t a before. You’d have to read the whole thing to get what he’s saying, but no matter how sophisticated his words, it’s bullshit.
    So, you Nicholas, I respect as a scientist. And others. But so many, especially the biologists who can’t logically answer any of the real objections of the “design” people (who are also up their tree), and who are living in a paradigm a hundred years ago, just aren’t being honest.
    The fact is that what we believe today about the origin of the universe may be as far off as the paradigm that prevailed before Copernicus and Galileo. And we all know this. But the one thing we can’t admit: there could be an underlying reality, God (not a being, but the essence of being), in which all is sourced.

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