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Was There A
Beginning To Time?



Yes, there was a beginning to time.  However, a cautionary note is in order.  Although our psychological sense of past, present, and future is strong, time itself may not be a fundamental physical entity at all.  It may simply express the numerical order of material changes.

For example, when a photon of light moves from position 1 to position 2,  position 1 doesn't exist before position 2 in time, only in numerical order.  In this sense, the universe is timeless.  It isn't 3D in space and 1D in time but rather 4D in space, even though it's called "space-time".

Time certainly has an important role in comparing the duration of events and in mathematically describing physical systems but, by itself, it may be just a mathematical value with no physical existence.


T H E   B A N G


That being said, our real time began when our universe did, in an inconceivably hot, dense, tiny spot just after the "Big Bang".  The bang wasn't an explosion in the usual sense but rather the sudden appearance of expanding space.  Since then, a duration comparable to about 13.82 billion earth orbits has elapsed.

"Big Bang" is a term coined by Fred Hoyle, a twentieth-century English astronomer, science-fiction writer, and Big-Bang denier.  In 1948 Hoyle argued against a beginning of time, proposing instead a Steady State universe with infinite time.  He rejected both the Big Bang theory and the Book of Genesis as pseudoscience, suggesting a creator.

But the challenge for Hoyle's theory was the expansion of our universe over time, hardly a steady state, yet confirmed in 1927 by Edwin Hubble.  To explain the expansion, Hoyle postulated mini-bangs of creation in between the galaxies, keeping the outward flow of matter constant like a steadily flowing river.

But Hoyle's job got more difficult in the early 1960s when radio sources were found to be more prevalent in the earlier (farther away) universe than in the more recent universe.  In 1963, quasars were discovered but only in the distant past, creating more problems for the Steady State folks.

In 1965, the observation of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a radiation with no discernable source, pretty much killed the steady state theory.  By contrast, the big bang theory had predicted just such a background radiation.


I M A G I N A R Y   T I M E


When physicists try to extrapolate backwards in time from the earliest well-understood state of the universe (a tiny fraction of a second after the big bang), they quickly hit a gravitational (curvature) "singularity" where classical laws break down.  Gravity, density and temperature become infinite and all spatial dimensions shrink to zero.

To the rescue comes imaginary time, a way of looking at time as if it were a dimension of space.  Imaginary time is used in physics to successfully predict quantum behavior.  The state of the universe in real time can be calculated from the state of the universe in imaginary time.

What's more, singularities like the big bang can occur without disrupting the continuity of imaginary time.  So the beginning of our universe and real time didn't have to result from anything outside the laws of physics.


T H E   P O I N T


Steven Hawking has shown us that the big bang may have been an ordinary point on the 4D surface of spacetime just like the North Pole is an ordinary point on the 2D surface of Earth.

The abrupt expansion of this singular point and the rapid inflation of the universe would borrow energy from the gravitational field to create matter.  In imaginary time, no physical laws would be violated and the debt wouldn't have to be repaid until the collapsed end of the universe.

In 1994, when a "Big Bang" renaming contest in Sky and Telescope magazine failed to pick a winner, Fred Hoyle concluded, "Words are like harpoons...Once they go in, they are very hard to pull out."


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