What came before the Big Bang?

God's Big BangThe Cosmological argument is one often put forward by the religious as logical proof of the existence of God. For anyone unfamiliar with the argument I’d suggest taking a quick look over the Wikipedia article of the topic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument

In a nutshell, the argument is as follows (from Wikipedia):

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

Naturally religious people put forward this argument and then call whatever caused the universe to exist, God.

Now there are all sorts of arguments that have been put forward to discredit this argument (most of which can be found in the Wikipedia article), but for the past month or so I’ve been working over my own argument that I hadn’t heard before. At no point did I think this argument was a new one (and reading Wikipedia now I can see that it isn’t) but it’s one I hadn’t heard and I thought was worth writing up a post about.

Arguments against the Cosmological argument usually take one of two forms. Either the question is asked “What caused the first cause?” or “How do you know the first cause is God?” Both of these are legitimate questions and worth pondering, but in this post I’m going to tackle something a little different, namely point 2 in the above definition, “The Universe began to exist”.

What makes people think that statement is true? Well the obvious answer is ’cause and effect’, whereby if ‘Y’ caused ‘Z’, and ‘X’ caused ‘Y’, then eventually we must get back ‘A’ (which is usually the Big Bang) and something beyond time and space must have caused that.

But here’s the thing people usually don’t realise when making this argument (and I’ve been making this mistake for years). Cause and effect only applies when transferring energy. Think about it. Every cause and effect event we’ve ever witnesses has been a transfer of energy, not the creation of energy. Now that’s not to say cause and effect doesn’t apply to a creation event, only that we’ve never seen one and have no reason to assume it does. Heck, we don’t even know if a creation event is possible!

Another phrase often put forward by the religious is “Something can’t come from nothing”. Well firstly, how do you know? When was the last time you saw a nothing? But more to the point “Something can’t come from anything!” Yes energy can be changed from one state to another, but to the best of our knowledge it’s never created.

Earth

Ha! Finally managed to get some of my own art in here!

This thought first occurred to me when I pondered the question of the post “What came before the Big Bang?” For the sake of argument let’s ignore String Theory and assume there is only one Universe and the Big Bang is at its beginning. The Multiverse Theory only pushes the question back after all.

The Singularity is said to be at the heart of the Big Bang and it is the point where all matter in the Universe is collected and when time = 0. Now if you want to talk about ‘before’ the Big Bang, how does this make any sense? To be able to have a past, present or future you need to have time. Without time there is no ‘before. So to ask about ‘before the Big Bang’ is basically asking what happened before time, which makes no sense as there is no time and therefore no ‘before’.

But that’s just the second part of the question. What about the first part. “What came before the Big Bang?” The ‘what’ here implies there is a ‘something’. But generally when asking this the questioner is asking what came before time and space. If there is no space, where exactly do you intend to put the ‘something’? This part of the question doesn’t make sense either!

So what can we figure out from this. Well honestly not a lot because it’s all hypothetical and based upon data from the forefront of science so it’s still all pretty up in the air. What we can derive from it though is that for the moment at least, there is no room for God in the equations. We can all but get back to the Singularity via math and observation and that logically, asking what came before ‘time=0’ doesn’t make any sense. Logically then, until additional information is presented we need to assume that the First Cause is in fact the Singularity, followed by its expansion, otherwise known as the Big Bang.

String theory jokeThis is the point where we need to return to subjects like String Theory and Quantum Mechanics to get any further. These theories really are the forefront of science and honestly we’re not even sure yet whether they’re in fact true or just mathematical masturbation.

What can be sure though is that the answer won’t be found by postulating an ancient sky man as a beginning. It will be found the same way we arrived at the Big Bang theory. By careful investigation and observation.

 

EDIT: And on a related topic, here’s a video I found about a year ago, lost and found again. It’s a lecture by Laurence Krauss in which, among other things, he tries to explain how something can come from nothing. It’s roughly an hour long, so strap on your thinking cap and get comfortable. It’s a long listen, but it’s a lecture that changed the way I see the Universe. Definitely a must see.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Happiness

Bacon = happinessElusive little bastard isn’t it? But maybe that’s not terribly surprising when you consider the different meanings being ‘happy’ has had over the last three thousand years or so. The ancient Greeks apparently defined it as ‘luck’. Something that the Gods bestowed upon you and you really had no say in the matter. Over time this has changed many, many times until we get to todays meaning of happiness, whereby not only can everybody be happy, but if you’re not there must be something wrong you with.

Paradoxically, you’ll probably be happy to know that’s bollocks.

I strongly encourage you to read this article over at Cracked.com called ‘5 scientific reasons your idea of happiness is wrong‘. We’ve already covered some of these ideas in the TED Talk ‘Paradox of choice’ (#27 on the TED Talk Challenge page), but this article goes into a bit more detail on some areas and I thought it was worth sharing.

And once you’ve read that you might want to consider hopping over to the Authentic Happiness Questionnaire. Annoyingly it does require registration, but you can opt out of their spam. I scored a 4.3 out of 5, which puts me in the top 3.5% of users.

Although that’s a really awesome score, I have to say I didn’t find the questions all that appealing, and I wanted to dedicate the rest of the post to explaining why a couple of these questions don’t work for me. And do remember, they just don’t work for me and a lot of that has to do with my being a happy pessimist. They might very well work for you.

 

Question #4 was the first one that made me twig there was something I didn’t like.

A. My life does not have any purpose or meaning.
B. I do not know the purpose or meaning of my life.
C. I have a hint about my purpose in life.
D. I have a pretty good idea about the purpose or meaning of my life.
E. I have a very clear idea about the purpose or meaning of my life.

Personally A and E are the same answer for me. My life has no intrinsic purpose or meaning, however I’m very clear about that idea and it doesn’t bother me. I chose E simply because the wording of the question made me feel that was the answer they were looking for.

Question #11 kinda stumped me too.

A. Time passes slowly during most of the things that I do.
B. Time passes quickly during some of the things that I do and slowly for other things.
C. Time passes quickly during most of the things that I do.
D. Time passes quickly during all of the things that I do.
E. Time passes so quickly during all of the things that I do that I do not even notice it.

Generally, people find that time passes quickly when you’re having fun and time passes slowly when you’re not. That really hasn’t been an issue for me. The time I spent at University was probably the happiest three years of my life. Oddly enough it felt like about three years.

The answer they’re looking for in terms of happiness contribution is obviously E, but the honest answer for me is A or B. However this has nothing to do with my happiness scale, which I know is strange, but that’s just me.

#12 really cracked me up.

A. In the grand scheme of things, my existence may hurt the world.
B. My existence neither helps nor hurts the world.
C. My existence has a small but positive effect on the world.
D. My existence makes the world a better place.
E. My existence has a lasting, large, and positive impact on the world.

Again, the obvious answer here is E for the best happiness contribution, but the honest answer for me is B. I actually upped my answer to C just because I thought the question was badly worded and it would be closer to the answer they were searching for.

You see, the in the grand scheme of things, my life means dick. I will disappear from this universe as quietly as I came into it and virtually no one will care. And those that do care will move on in a month or two, which is a terribly short time in the grand scheme of things. But again, that doesn’t bother me.

#17 was also interesting.

A. I have accomplished little in life.
B. I have accomplished no more in life than most people.
C. I have accomplished somewhat more in life than most people.
D. I have accomplished more in life than most people.
E. I have accomplished a great deal more in my life than most people.

Well firstly I’m 24, so I really haven’t had time to accomplish much. But honestly, by the time I’m 74 I probably still won’t have accomplished much, and that’s because very few people do. Most of us will go through our day-to-day lives, do what’s required to live comfortably and not much else. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need to cure cancer or be the next big boy band to feel happy. My accomplishments aren’t linked that strongly with my sense of happiness.

Question #22 was also a little tricky for me.

A. I experience more pain than pleasure.
B. I experience pain and pleasure in equal measure.
C. I experience more pleasure than pain.
D. I experience much more pleasure than pain.
E. My life is filled with pleasure.

Although things have drastically picked up for me this year, last year was awful, mostly because I was broke, owed people money, didn’t know when I was going to get a decent paying job and didn’t even know how I was going to pay the rent next month. On top of that I had people and pets dying on me. Life kinda sucked. But it…didn’t really bother me that much. Pain is a natural part of life and I get my enjoyment out of life, not necessarily the conditions of said life.

The final question, #24 is strange, but also kind of good for insight.

A. My life is a bad one.
B. My life is an OK one.
C. My life is a good one.
D. My life is a very good one.
E. My life is a wonderful one.

Comparatively speaking, if you’re reading this you should be answering E, because it means you have Internet access, which means you have a computer or phone, which likely means you have enough money to buy food, shelter and appliances. Compared to a good chunk of humanity, you’re doing fucking brilliant.

What makes this a good question is how few people reading this would likely answer E, which means your sense of happiness is not tied to how fortunate you are. Not sure what that means exactly, but it’s interesting none the less.

 

What I found interesting about these particular questions was how they were asking how ‘big’ you felt. Have I accomplished much? How important is my existence? Does my life have meaning?

For an atheist, all answers to these questions would initially sound pretty down in the dumps. But far from making me unhappy, many of these things make me happy.

But perhaps I’m looking at the questions too intrinsically. In the grand scheme of things (remember, that is their wording) I’m not important, my life has no meaning and anything I accomplish is so small and insignificant to be rendered meaningless. But from my very small and very limited human perspective my life is the complete opposite.

I have a great job, I own my own business, I make decent money, the jobs I do have a positive effect on the world, I have a roof over my head, I have a great family and great friends, I’m fairly well-educated, I’m physically well off and I eat very well. That’s a pretty good list of accomplishments, meaningful experiences and I think of all of them as important. So on what scale are these questions asked? Because depending on how you phrase the questions you’ll get a very different perspective of happiness. And that I think is half the problem when questing after happiness. We’re asking the wrong questions.

 

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Finals

I’ve been fortunate enough in my rather short number of years to play in quite a few number of finals, mostly through my tennis. Naturally I’ve got a lot more runner-up trophies than winners, and by losing quite a few of them I’ve learned something I think is important. A couple of weeks back I played in a tennis finals and I’ve no doubt this change in my approach to playing had an effect in winning this one.

Now I don’t usually feel the need to preface a lot of my posts because I like to think my readers are smart enough to know that just because I propose one idea doesn’t immediately mean I reject an alternative, but in this instance I want to make an exception. This is a little bit of sports psychology, thrown in with some logical thinking and it works for me. I don’t promise it will work for anyone else (although I hope it might) and if alternative patterns of thinking work better for you then use them. This is sport and a bit of fun after all. No method should be taken as Gospel.

Country week tennis tournament trophy

The latest dust collector added to the shelf.

There’s a phrase commonly given before one walks into a finals match. “It’s just another game”. The thinking behind this advice is to try to calm the player down, remind them it’s just a game and that doing their best is all anyone can ask for. It’s hardly bad advice. And in the grand scheme of things its accurate advice too. It really is just another game. Technically there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to play the exact same game as you did yesterday or last week. But as anyone who has played in a finals knows, these kinds of matches take a lot more out of us and it’s generally a mental drain more so than a physical one.

The problem I’ve personally found with embodying this advice is when things get tight (and in a finals match, that’s the whole match!) and you start missing shots you normally wouldn’t you have nowhere to turn. Because you’ve taken the above advice to heart you really have no excuse. If it’s just another game then there’s no good reason you should have missed that sitter. But this is the reality of our situation; it’s not just another match.

Certainly in the grand scheme of things it is just another match, but our limited human mind doesn’t comprehend that. Right here, right now this is really important to you. It’s a defining moment in your sports life and at the end of it, you really want to be walking away with the bigger trophy.

And that is the real reason you missed that last shot. You’re seriously nervous! And honestly, you should be. Sure the result of this match probably isn’t going to change history. In all likelihood no one will ever know and anyone who does will have moved on in a week.

But here’s the thing. It’s important to you. And it should be. You’ve probably just spent the last few weeks, or possibly even years in training to get to this point. Obviously if you’ve dedicated this much time to such an event it must be important to you.

So here’s my advice. Treat it as if it’s important to you. Acknowledge this is a big deal, that you want it really badly, and that as a result you’re going to be nervous and miss a few easy shots. That way when the inevitable happens and you do miss an easy shot you’re not stuck wondering what happened. You know  what happened and now you can take steps to correct that. The problem is that by playing the match in a state of denial you can’t acknowledge why you make mistakes and even worse set yourself up to not take advantage of the situation.

That nervous energy that was bouncing around inside you, giving you butterflies, use it! Don’t try to suppress it by denying the importance of the occasion. Use what nature gave you and burn that extra adrenaline!

And at the end of the day when all is said and done, remember, it really is just another match.

 

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

TED Talk Challenge #30: Science can answer moral questions

TED Talk LogoI’ve been through a couple of talks in search of one that would serve as a satisfactory finale to the challenge and I think I’ve found it in Sam Harris.

For the past year or two since I began researching atheism and skepticism I’ve heard many people many times say that science can’t or shouldn’t touch on morals and for some time I’ve thought of that as complete and utter bullshit. Trying to explain why it’s bullshit on the other hand isn’t quite so easy.

Harris systematically goes through morals and how science can in fact have something to say on the matter.

I think this is one of the better talks I’ve listened to and I really hope it sparks some interesting conversations and debate. If nothing else I know I’ll be referencing it in future conversations I have.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sam_harris_science_can_show_what_s_right.html

TED Talk Challenge #29: The child-driven education

TED Talk LogoAt the end of this talk, Sugata Mitra receives a standing ovation, and boy does he fucking deserve it.

In one of my previous posts I wrote that children are natural learners. They want to learn and are usually eager to do so. Mitra has some pretty strong evidence that this is indeed the case.

Throughout the past few years he has been going into communities that don’t have internet access and often have never seen or heard of a computer before. He installs computers into locations and for the most part leaves the children to their own devices.

Sugata Mitra and the hole in the wallYou will be flabbergasted at what these children can achieve in a period of a couple of months.

With only two TED Talks left to post I’m very happy I’ve found this one. This is the reason I watch TED Talks. It is inspirational and fills me with so much hope, periodically bringing me to tears at just how wonderful this technology, and more importantly these children are.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

TED Talk Challenge #27: Paradox of Choice

TED Talk LogoHappiness scaleThis TED Talk by Barry Schwartz is a bit of an old one, but if anything time has only made it more relevant. This is actually one I’ve seen before but it’s one of my favourites and it’s one I wanted to get in before the end of the challenge.

Schwartz explains how having an abundance of choice may in fact not be good for us, essentially paralyzing us when it comes to decision-making and ultimately making us less happy as a result.

Paradox of choiceOne thing I really love about this talk (and TED in general) is that I’ve found after learning this I’ve become much less worried about the choices I make (well, except for buying phones. Waaayyyy too many choices there). Now that I understand how having a mass of decisions to make in life can be detrimental to my happiness I find that making those decisions is much less complicated and less stressful. Hopefully it will help you in the same way.

For anyone interested, you can buy a copy of Barry’s book ‘Paradox of Choices‘ at Amazon.com.

(Typical, only four more TED Talks to go to finish the challenge and now I find the embed option. Blah!)

http://blog.ted.com/2006/09/26/paradox_of_choi/

TED Talk Challenge #26: Don’t regret regret

TED Talk LogoAt first I wasn’t sure I was in agreement with Kathryn Schulz in this talk, and I’m still not certain I’m 100% with her, but she finishes strong in her talk about regret and I think there’s a lot people can learn from thinking more about this rather human phenomenon.

Myself, I only have a small handful on things I regret and they sit there as reminders of how I can improve in the future. I think we should try to live our lives with as little regret as possible, but as Kathryn says we shouldn’t feel like we need to beat ourselves up over them.

Those were the droids you were looking forHave things that you regret, but once you’ve learned what you need from the event, let it go.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/kathryn_schulz_don_t_regret_regret.html