Was the big bang really the beginning of time Or did the universe exist before then Such a question seemed almost blasphemous only a decade ago. Most cosmologists insisted that it simply made no sense--that to contemplate a time before the big bang was like asking for directions to a place north of the North Pole. But developments in theoretical physics, especially the rise of string theory, have changed their perspective. The pre-bang universe has become the latest frontier of cosmology.
The new willingness to consider what might have happened before the bang is the latest swing of an intellectual pendulum that has rocked back and forth for millennia. In one form or another, the issue of the ultimate beginning has engaged philosophers and theologians in nearly every culture. It is entwined with a grand set of concerns, one famously encapsulated in an 1897 painting by Paul Gauguin: D'ou venons-nous Que sommes-nous Ou allons-nous Where do we come from What are we Where are we going The piece depicts the cycle of birth, life and death--origin, identity and destiny for each individual--and these personal concerns connect directly to cosmic ones. We can trace our lineage back through the generations, back through our animal ancestors, to early forms of life and protolife, to the elements synthesized in the primordial universe, to the amorphous energy deposited in space before that. Does our family tree extend forever backward Or do its roots terminate Is the cosmos as impermanent as we are
The ancient Greeks debated the origin of time fiercely. Aristotle, taking the no-beginning side, invoked the principle that out of nothing, nothing comes. If the universe could never have gone from nothingness to somethingness, it must always have existed. For this and other reasons, time must stretch eternally into the past and future. Christian theologians tended to take the opposite point of view. Augustine contended that God exists outside of space and time, able to bring these constructs into existence as surely as he could forge other aspects of our world. When asked, What was God doing before he created the world Augustine answered, Time itself being part of God's creation, there was simply no before! 59ce067264