Before the beginning? Nothing?
We get into discussions at work, which is cool, and the latest one is about ‘nothing’. It started off with Tim asking ‘what was here before the big bang?’, but we ended up trying to define ‘nothing’ and whether ‘nothing’ can actually exist (an oxymoron to my way of thinking).
Personally I’m of the persuasion that there wasn’t any such thing as before the big bang. Time is a property of the universe, it’s a measure of change between two events. If there was ‘nothing’ before the universe (which would have to be the case if the universe had a defined beginning) there’s no way to define the time elapsed. Why? Well to measure time you compare one state with another state. You compare the start of a race with the end of the race to see the time elapsed. If the start state is ‘nothing’, you can’t measure the time elapsed because ‘nothing’ has no properties to observe and thus you’re missing one point to compare to another (the big bang).
I.E. time can’t have existed before the big bang. I also find the argument that space-time is a self containing entity compelling. There doesn’t need to have been a beginning, nor does there need to be infinite time within which to place a ‘beginning’.
OK, the above has likely gone sailing over your head, and the view expressed hinges squarely on how you define ‘nothing’. Tim has an idea of ‘nothing’ which is not compatible with mine. To my way of thinking ‘nothing’ is the absolute lack of anything. In essence my version of ‘nothing’ is a mental construct only, it can’t be tangibly proven. In order for something to exist there must be some amount of whatever it is we’re claiming exists. There must be some kangaroo, or some stars, or some energy. But ‘nothing’ is the absolute lack of anything, and so ‘nothing’ can’t be proven. I can’t give you a handful of ‘nothing’ to check it does in fact exist. My version of ‘nothing’ has no size, no matter, no properties of any kind for you to observe.
Tim has a different mental image of ‘nothing’, he defines it as you would define a box being empty. There’s an area of size (however big) and inside that there is nothing. Tim’s big bang starts in the middle of the box and expands inside the box as time goes on. For me, there is no box, because if there was a box the ‘nothing’ contained within it would have a property - volume. My definition of ‘nothing’ doesn’t have a volume property.
I see the universe (simplistically) as something like an ever expanding soap bubble. The universe is ‘inside’ it and is entirely self containing. Wait - I hear you already - ‘Well Mr Wilcox, in that case what is the universe expanding into!?’ …my answer is ‘nothing’ - there is no ‘outside the universe’.