Big History Blog Series: Chapter 1 – The Big Bang

Once upon a time, in the land of Quantum Nothingness, there was a BIG BANG and an infinitesimally small something started to expand, possibly faster than the speed of light.

For some unknown but much talked about reason, matter in the form of quarks (the basic building blocks of protons and electrons) and dark matter (we don’t actually know what this is) appeared, and with it came two forces: gravity (that draws everything together) and electromagnetism (that draws opposites together and pushes the similar apart). At first this combination caused the quarks to annihilate themselves – turning into pure energy. It was from this hot chaotic mixture of quarks, energy, and electromagnetic and gravitational forces, came positive charged protons and negative charged electrons.

As the universe expanded it cooled and the protons and electrons joined to create the first atoms – Hydrogen atoms (made up of one proton and one electron) and Helium atoms (two protons and two electrons). These were electrically neutral and so they were no longer affected by electromagnetic radiation.

Cosmologists estimate the beginning of the expanding singularity, when measured in our earth-centric concept of time, to have occurred around 13.7 billion years ago. Since this time our universe has grown to contain 100 billion galaxies, which contains (taking a conservative number of 100 billion stars per galaxy) approximately 10 sextillion stars (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) – that’s more stars than grains of sand on earth. Traveling at the speed of light it would take 20 years to travel to our sun and 5 million-years to travel to the nearest star. Ok, you get the picture, our universe is huge! How we got from the first appearance of matter and energy, to this massive universe, will be the subject of chapter 2. For now let’s return to the Big Bang.

It seems it is at this point of singularity that we discover “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything”. That would be NUMBER 42. What was the question again? (You’ve seen Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy haven’t you?) What does the number 42 that mean??? Hmmm… absolutely nothing…?

For me, the “Ultimate Question” is: how the heck did something come from nothing? What caused “the big bang” to occur? And WHY? Scientists are yet to answer these questions.

Ok, so if we do not how or why the big bang occurred, then how do we know it actually happened?

1. Because we know our universe is expanding. Astronomers observe and measure other galaxies moving away from us – detecting it with the “absorption line” of frequencies in a light spectra. This is called a Red Shift (red light shows parts of the galaxy moving away while blue light shows objects moving closer to us.)

2. You can still actually see the CBR energy released about 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Turn on an old television set – the static you see is “CBR” – Cosmic Background Radiation.

3. The universe is still largely Hydrogen and Helium (99% of all atomic atoms); looking into the universe stars appear “younger”; also nothing seems to be older than around 13 billion years. (It is interesting to note that atomic matter is only a small slice of the universe – the rest of it is dark matter and dark energy.)

If something is getting bigger it must have previously been smaller, right? That’s the key logic behind the Big Bang. Winding back time we imagine our universe contracting back down to an infinitesimally small point of singularity.

Did something exist before this point of singularity? Maybe.

Does something exist outside all that we know exists? Maybe.

Maybe the universe we experience is version of “multiverse” – with all possibilities existing in universes sitting side by side.

Maybe Big Bangs are happening all the time – creating new universes in a space we will never know.

Maybe our universe is like a computer game programmed from inside another universe. Maybe a group of such programmers are competing to see whose universe self-destructs first. Maybe there’s just one programmer to whom some people call “God”.

Maybe the universe is “God”, continually going through a process of expansion and contraction – “God” breathing in, and “God” breathing out, with each breath taking billions or trillions of years.

We may speculate as much as we like, I do not believe I shall ever know these answers. Does that matter? Not to me. I would rather focus on what we do know. What do we know? We know that we are inside a beautiful expanding universe. We know we are a part of a magnificent process of increasing complexity, and the fact that we are intelligent enough to be aware of it, to observe it and discuss it, puts us in (if I do say so myself) the most exciting place any human has ever been.

An extra little interesting note on the Big Bang:

Attempts to observe the early stages of the big bang are occurring at The Hadron Collider on the border of France and Switzerland and also at Fermilab in Illinois – using “Accelerators” to make sub-atomic particles move at close to the speed of light, and smash together… what will this reveal? We have to wait and see.

References:

David Christian, This Fleeting World: A short history of humanity, Berkshire Publishing Group (Massachusetts 2008), pp. xx-xxi.

Picture credits:

The Birth of the Universe, The Kingfisher Young People’s Book of Space, TIME Graphic by Ed Gabel.


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8 Comments

  1. Peter
    25 Mar ’10    

    It seems it is at this point of singularity that we discover “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything”. That would be NUMBER 42. What was the question again? (You’ve seen Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy haven’t you?) What does the number 42 that mean??? Hmmm… absolutely nothing…?

    I think this answer (42) has been questioned:) If the answer is 42 what is the question?

  2. 26 Mar ’10    

    Hello Juliet,

    A note of appreciation with some thoughts to share from Australia.

    I like your writing and wish you good luck in making your ideas available.

    We share common insights as I have also (just this week) published my own meditation and thought experiment on the topic of Life the Universe and all that Jazz …

    Singularia, Being at an Edge in Time

    You ask: ‘For me, the “Ultimate Question” is: how the heck did something come from nothing?’

    An artist would answer: “Imagine”.

    When we create music a transformative something is produced that comes from nothing into the world to reverberate and fill a void of perceived space and separation between us; that could be seen as the ‘universe’ of our Being Becoming.

    Indeed the idea that the universe was sung into being is a core myth found in many primary sources, including JRR Tolkien (in acknowledgment of another English dreamer and a inspiration to Douglas Adams;-) .

    My theory is that we are all ‘singularia’, uncountable manifestations of energy will and purpose, each a universe unto itself, interacting in a stupendous concert as we collectively cross a data, information, wisdom event horizon; a singularity of consciousness.

    I suggest, like many before us, that singularity is consciousness, the connective tissue and motive of IT.

    Or as Kurt Vonnegut said: “So IT Goes”

    Kind regards from another thinker/ dreamer
    James

    • 26 Mar ’10    

      Wow, looks like you have had (and are continuing on) an incredible journey. Thank you so much for looking at my blog and leaving this comment. Your work looks VERY interesting – “shamanic teacher, transpersonal mentor and vision quest guide”!!! And so does your book. I’m especially interested in your thoughts on 2012. Love to meet up for a coffee if you are ever in Sydney! Keep in touch!

  3. 31 Mar ’10    

    I am wrighting a book “infinity of the soul and would like to incorporate your Big bang illistration. sincerely ken stauffer

    • 31 Mar ’10    

      hey ken,
      I got this graphic off the web. I believe it original source is:
      The Birth of the Universe, The Kingfisher Young People’s Book of Space, TIME Graphic by Ed Gabel.
      If it is to be included in a book I think you will need permission, but I’m not sure…
      Infinity of the soul – sounds like a great book!
      I wish you all the best with it and please keep in touch!
      juliet x

  4. 5 Apr ’10    

    Dear Juliet,

    I read the chapter I twice. It is claer, simple, short but accurate. I like it. Reading Your writings made me as cool as cucumber (?). It is what its needed for the job I participate. Now I help on corrections at the movie about wortless „Key” (a daily Prayer). The „Key” is the signpost to the spiritual “Living Mandala” and/or “GLOBALE LEADERSHIP” for all Eartlings. (see the Forum of group “Faith”). The prologue-scene from the movie „Key” may/(shall) on two minutes present the Big History.

    Some detail I notice on Chapter I:
    There stand: Traveling at the speed of light it would take 20 years to travel to our sun and 5 million-years to travel to the nearest star.
    Mystake! The light for the distance sun – earth take some minutes and one needs years when travel e.g. on rocket Appollo (the same to travel to star). For me does not matter. After I had a great dangerous acciden last year now I have neither car nor rocket nor driver’s licence, but I am alive and can read Your writings.

    Be happy

    tomasz

    • 6 Apr ’10    

      Thanks VERY much for the feed back Tomasz! I really appreciate it. I will have to ask my professor about that correction re the speed of light to the sun, or double check my notes – maybe I misread it. Happy reading xox

  5. 23 Aug ’11    

    nice blog! thanks for the help.

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