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Was There A
Beginning To Time?

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 may not be a fundamental physical entity at all.  Rather, it may simply express the numerical order of material changes.

For example, when a photon of light moves from position 1 to position 2,  photon position 1 doesn't exist before photon position 2 in time, only in numerical order.

In this sense, the universe is timeless even though we use the word "spacetime" to describe it.  It isn't 3-dimensional in space and 1-dimensional in time, but rather 4-dimensional in space.

Time plays an important role in comparing durations and describing physical systems but it may just describe how space itself is quantum-networked and entangled, rather than being something apart from space.

 

THE BANG

 

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

"Big bang" is a term coined somewhat mockingly by Fred Hoyle, a 20th century English astronomer, science fiction writer, and big bang denier.  In 1948, he 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 observed expansion of our universe over time, hardly a steady state.  To explain the expansion, which was confirmed in 1927 by Edwin Hubble, Hoyle postulated mini bangs of creation in between the galaxies—bangs that would keep 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 early (far away) universe than in more recent times.  In 1963, quasars, which only occur in the distant past, were discovered.

Then, in 1965, observation of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a radiation with no discernable source, pretty much killed the steady state theory.  On the other hand, big bang theory predicted just such a background radiation.

 

IMAGINARY TIME

 

When physicists try to extrapolate backwards in time from the earliest well-understood state of the universe (a miniscule fraction of a second after the big bang), they quickly hit a gravitational (i.e. 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, which treats time as a dimension of space and successfully predicts 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 don't disrupt the continuity of imaginary time, and so a beginning to our spacetime need not violate the laws of physics.

 

THE POINT

 

Steven Hawking has shown that the big bang could've been an ordinary point on the 4-D surface of spacetime, like the North Pole is an ordinary point on the 2-D surface of Earth.

The sudden expansion of a 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 gravitational debt wouldn't need repaying 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 said "Words are like harpoons...Once they go in, they are very hard to pull out."

 

 




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