Douglas Adams wrote, "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so."

He was joking.

Time isn't an illusion, it's a measurement - a human construct that allows us to relate to where we are. I'm nearly 50 years old - that's a measure of how much time has elapsed since I came screaming into the world and if I'm lucky, gives me a (bleak) idea of how long I have left before I leave it.

In a separate discussion, Dr Meaden poses the question, what happened before Big Bang - but I think I'll be correct in assuming that he no more thinks of a "before" big bang as a function of time as I do. "Behind" big bang might be more accurate - but even that relies on spacial coordinates that didn't exist either.  And so we have a paradox. Perhaps not so much of a paradox to physicists, but certainly one to ordinary folk.

In this discussion, I would like to leave out the physics if I may and discuss the psychology and language of Big Bang and hope that we might find a common way to discuss these events an even invent a word to describe them.

What About God?

When faced with religious people asking this question I explain to them that you could view Big Bang as a unified god.

Ultimately, Big Bang created us and all that is: which in a completely natural sense allows us to merge the supernatural with the natural at a singularity. We appeared after 13-odd billion years of chemical evolution, our very atoms forged in the hearts of long dead suns.

They don't like that.

Most of them don't get it.

They want their god to be the nice old man with a long white beard (ya de ya).

That isn't going to happen because, assuming that science is correct, the Judao-Christian god is just a naive construct of a patriarchal society. It served well for over 4000 years and then we came along and started peeing in their font.

Freethinkers are the new kids on the block - there's never in recorded history been so many of us and we've never been so organised, yet we're faced with an uphill struggle and language is playing a role in that.

So has evolution.

Until comparatively recent times, we were hunter-gathers. Our eyesight, for instance, is only good for judging distance over a few tens of meters. Beyond that, it's ineffective. For years, because we can't see beyond the horizon - we assumed the Earth was flat.

Our brains have evolved to imagine a very narrow realm of things. I can imagine ten sheep, but many more than that and it's a blur; a lot of sheep, a field of sheep... and so on. I can't "see" more than 10.

Steve McConnell points out in Code Complete that programmers have to deal with numbers from 1 bit to hundreds of megabytes. Many orders of magnitude and far more than most of us have to work with on a day-to-day basis. Calculators and computers make these numbers usable, but we still can't conceive of them because our brains have never evolved that ability and they've never needed to.

Luckily when it comes to numbers, we have language to deal with them. Even the big ones - although the very, very big ones are so vast that we can't write them down without a very special notation. Graham's Number ( comes to mind as the largest number ever used in a calculation.

To paraphrase Douglas Adams, "You may think that a googol is a big number, but that's just peanut's to Graham's number."

And yet, Graham's number isn't infinity so how do you deal with numbers that large?

Most of us (and I'll happily include myself here) can't. I'm perfectly happy with 42.

Even if we can't think in vast numbers, we have an expressible language which can describe or annotate them.

"I have one apple and I buy another two apples. How many apples do I have?"

We can write as:

1a + 2a = ?

Our language for measuring things such as distance and time is relative; and this is almost entirely consistent across all known human languages from the most primitive to the most advanced. The words are different, but the concepts are almost universally recognised.

In front, behind, left, right, above, below, north, south... and so on.

then there are definite and abstract numbers (often confused in English) such as:

more, less, fewer, greater, taller, smaller, higher, lower.

Relative time has its own:

after, before, later and earlier.

But for each we need a starting point - human languages measure relative to a known position in time and space and Big Bang throws a spanner in that works. I presume this is down to how our brain measures things internally.

Before, and I use the term very loosely, Big Bang, there was no time; at least not time as we understand it. There wasn't any space either (at least, not what we would recognise as space.) It seems that at Big Bang the observable universe, with all its laws, came into being.

But does that necessarily mean that Big Bang = Creation? I doubt it.

I propose that what we need now is a word (or perhaps words) to describe the "something" that existed before Big Bang.

Somehow (and I can't conceive of how) it seems that we need a collection of words that describe something without a definite origin.

If this seems alien, consider that at one time the number 0 did not exist; and the imaginary number - j - is comparatively recent too. If mathematicians can do it, surely we can to. With such a vocabulary we could put the "before" Big Bang into proper context.

Or maybe I just need to keep taking the tablets. ;
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Replies to This Discussion

Um, there is nothing in this this a joke about "prior to the big bang?"
There was about 800 words... until the system ate it.

I kept a copy - but it's probably not much better. I'm not 100% myself yet.
Well, it shows up now, so bravo! =D
As the Big Bang constitutes the beginning of time itself, the concept ‘before’ has no meaning. If you are talking about something that does not involve time, you cannot have a before or after.
This is precisely what I'm discussing - we need words to describe these "non-moments".
Yes, I had already responded before your post became visble. As I understand it, without universe, there are no dimensions, and we humans cannot picture anything without at least a couple of dimensions. Ergo, an entity or concept outside of this scope could perhaps be termed ‘non-dimensional’? Not that it thereby becomes more tangible, but language, after all, is understanding. Ever since Ferdinand de Saussure, it has been clear that we should never confuse language with reality. A term such as ‘non-dimensional’ would not correspond to anything with which the human mind might link it.
Brian Cox was on today - he says (interestingly) that we don't know that there was "nothing" before Big Bang; all we know is what happened after.
To maintain an everlasting succession of universes, there has to be 'something' before the [last] Big Bang.
Otherwise, the Big Bang amounts to creation ex nihilo.
But, as I have suggested on other threads in this "Origins" group, that 'something' can be a virtual state that is so unstable and temporary as not to occupy time.
Do we have a word to discuss this "unique" state?

Seem that without one, we're a bit stuck when it comes to describing this - a bit like trying to give directions without knowledge of Cartesian coordinates or cardinal points.
Visit or re-visit the discussions at

In the topic about "what might have 'happened before' the Big Bang" I wrote that physicist Prof. Vic Stenger proposed how

" the Universe was instantly self-created, uncaused, from an unstable void or false vacuum —-- a timeless quantum void --— with the property that incipient, virtual particles were omnipresent."
i.e. the answer could plausibly reside in the concept and physics of quantum uncertainty and the energy of the false vacuum.
Yeah, Doctor Meaden, I got that. I hope you won't think me of being flippant in this reply - this is not my intention.

What struck me from reading those - brilliant, enlightening - discussions is what started me on this one as a bit of an aside. JR Boedeker, you might find what you're after there...

I know this seems a bit odd, but since we can't have a "before" Big Bang, normal folk you know the type: they have boy/girlfriends, mortgages, 2.4 kids and actually get out once in a while.

Those folks switch off when they hear that sort of stuff... yet curiously, that majority who accept Big Bang theory often seek a simple answer of what came "before"... simply telling them there is no before won't do it.

They're just not used to proper scientists shrugging their shoulders and saying "I dunno!"

What career I have had has been spent explaining the bizarre, improbable or plain illogical in simple words to ordinary non-scientists but this one has me at an impasse.

Hence it seemed that this situation was ripe for a new word; a new "0" or a new "j" that can define the beginning that has no dimensions.

Just seems that the time (excuse the pun) is right for someone to invent one; just like Descarte gave us dimensions in space (or a way to describe them.)
Compatible with known physics is "the QV Zone" or just QV,

where QV is short for "quantum void".


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