What Happened Before the Big Bang?


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There’s a great interview with philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin of NYU over at The Atlantic.  Maudlin and his ilk are interested in proving Stephen Hawking’s notion that “philosophy is dead” wrong. (Dead wrong…get it? Play me off!)  They are interested in using the philosophy of cosmology in order to theorize about the unprovable, for example, what happened *before* the big bang:

One common strategy for thinking about this is to suggest that what we used to call the whole universe is just a small part of everything there is, and that we live in a kind of bubble universe, a small region of something much larger. And the beginning of this region, what we call the big bang, came about by some physical process, from something before it, and that we happen to find ourselves in this region because this is a region that can support life. The idea being that there are lots of these bubble universes, maybe an infinite number of bubble universes, all very different from one another. Part of the explanation of what’s called the anthropic principle says, “Well now, if that’s the case, we as living beings will certainly find ourselves in one of those bubbles that happens to support living beings.” That gives you a kind of account for why the universe we see around us has certain properties.

I once had an ethics prof who was a radical vegan.  He equated all other schools of philosophy that weren’t ethics (which he considered an active practice) to be “mental masturbation.”  Is that what this is?  I tend to think that this is valuable in the same way that sci-fi is valuable.  The generation and discussion of ideas in a philosophical context will eventually lead to action on the part of scientists.  Plus it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to read.

via The Atlantic





4 Responses to What Happened Before the Big Bang?

  1. Philosophy will still have the task to interprete scientific research. And by the way, has anyone read Russel's scepticism works?

  2. Under current models time began with the Big Bang as well, so talking about a "before" doesn't make a lot of sense. Unless you make the assumption that this philosopher does, that there is a multiverse that exists prior to this one. While the multiverse may make the Anthropic principle make some sense, it in no way needs to exist before the universe and the Big Bang. It is, to my knowledge, a completely unwarranted assumption.

    Fun, but less meaningful than science fiction really.

  3. Wheeler almost got it, but his descriptions were too vulgar, they became ammo for relativists. The Anthropic Principle along with the Anthropic Coincidences means that We could not inhabit a universe other than one that was suitable for us. That is, only a universe that allows for self-reflective entities, conscious entities, can exist as such. An alternate universe may consist of square-circles but these are not cognitively possible, so they do not exist to anything. They are inexperiencable logical contradictions, whereas an Anthropically viable universe cannot consist of such objects. Basically the only reality that can exist is one in which metaphysical law and metacognitive law agree with each other.

    The experience of time is relative to the position of the observer in space. Remove the observer and you eliminate all possibility of measuring time. Without the possibility of time "different states" don't exist either. Ask yourself how long it takes to fly from Belgium to Portugal in a Boeing 747 if no one is around to measure the amount of time it takes. Imagine you get onto the plane on the Tarmac and then fall asleep before take-off, how long does it take you to get to Portugal? As far as your conscious measurement of time goes it may be instantaneous assuming you don't wake up until your reach your destination.

    Hard to explain, but the measurement of time depends on a conscious entity who is "aware" of time. But awareness is more participatory in that it draws out the definition of time. We measure time by various events that happen in relation to us. And when you eliminate consciousness, as in sleep, time does not appear to exist either, nothing appears to exist. The possible limitations of awareness and the general character of metacognitive rules are the touchstone of physics. IMHO

    If this isn't true I'll look forward to the day when science abandons logical and empirical observation all together and produces something wholly incomprehensible.

  4. I wrote this yesterday in response to someone who I think believes some rather strange capacities on part of the observer:

    In physics there is the Anthropic Principle which as you may know suggests that any observable reality would already be consistent with the laws of observable experience. In a way they are saying that any reality that fits metacognitive rules and is therefor fit for conscious aware lifeforms would necessarily be something like what we have. So it is pointless to inquire into other possible worlds. That's a broad idea, but there are weak, strong and participatory forms. My own philosophy would be something like Wheeler's Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP). Wheeler suggests that somehow our observation of the universe brings the universe into existence. This is not far off, but it's stated a bit vulgarly. In my view there is a principal, a metaphysical fact of the participant (observer). This fact is basically "something exists" and in order for something to exist it must appear to exist, e.g. the black dot on white paper. There must be varying degrees of contrast beginning with observed and observer. Following form observed and observer is the multitude of observed objects and the multitude of observers. One observer could not satisfy the condition for existence since there would be no self-conscious in a state where there were no contrasting awareness between unconscious and conscious phenomena outside of oneself. Unconscious phenomena may be regarded as a self-limited consciousness, but this is pretty vulgar too. So basically the expansion goes from non-existence which does not really exist in any case to observer-observed, then observers-observeds. Like the state of non-existence the state of observer-observed does not really exist either since it would be impossible. The only state that ever exists is observers-observeds and there must be a constancy across all of these domains. So the participant is a universal fact and it operates in predictable ways but does not yield unlimited power to change itself or reality more generally. All "change" must happen in accord with the constancy or causality or whatever of the system.