Where Did Everything Come From?
April 25, 2002 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Where Did Everything Come From? Don't say, "the Big Bang." To say that everything came from the Big Bang is like saying babies come from maternity wards—true in a narrow sense, but it hardly goes back far enough. Where did the stuff that went "bang" come from? What was it? Why did it bang?
posted by mathis23 (77 comments total)
 
This makes me really wish I had the sort of mind that could comprehend physics. So it was a freak occurence that time and matter even happened? OMG. That puts things in perspective.
posted by Summer at 1:20 PM on April 25, 2002


This makes me really wish I had the sort of mind that could comprehend physics.

Same here. I have some basic knowledge, but I'm trying to work my way through Hawking and Penrose's The Nature of Space and Time, and its kicking my ass, to be blunt.
posted by Darke at 1:32 PM on April 25, 2002


This may seem like simplistic logic, but it should be easy to follow:

1) Time and space are essentially the same thing.
2) Only one small aspect of time is linear. The rest of it does not conform to that one aspect, but follows differing rules.
3) Why should more than a small aspect of space be linear?

This applies to both questions: when did the universe start and when does it end.
There is no answer, the question must be rephrased.
posted by kablam at 1:35 PM on April 25, 2002


So that explains all the posts about the Truth Meaning of The Middle East!
posted by Postroad at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2002


How could a freak occurance *just happen*? Do anvils fall out of thin air for no reason?

Everything that has a beginning must have a cause. I don't subscribe to the oscillating universe theory, and because of that I think the answer to how evolution, the big bang and the history of the universe were set into motion is theological.
posted by tomorama at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2002


Tomorama: According to quantum theory...and being oversimplistic because I don't fully understand it either...yes, anvils CAN fall out of thin air for no reason. It's highly improbable, yes, but the entire fact that we are even sitting here discussing it demonstrates that somehow we won some sort of cosmic lottery.

Kablam: How would you rephrase the question?
posted by mathis23 at 1:43 PM on April 25, 2002


I think the answer to how evolution, the big bang and the history of the universe were set into motion is theological.

And we're off! Guh.
posted by LionIndex at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2002


okay, i'll bite too.

Everything that has a beginning must have a cause.

Right. But that "cause" doesn't need to have any sort of narrative structure to it, as in a theological or mythical motivation. The "cause" could just as validly be the result of scientific priciples being put into motion, as this article (which admittedly, I didn't comprehend all of) suggests.

Just because we don't understand a scientific phenomenon (and by "we" I mean scientists, as well) doesn't mean that there can't be a scientific "cause" for the origin of the universe.
posted by damn yankee at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2002


Well, I don't think God said "Hmm, I think I'll make a universe." *POOF*.

I don't think science is wrong. I think science and theology complement each other. At some point, God decided to set a unvierse in motion, and through science we figure out exactly how He did that.
posted by tomorama at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2002


Fascinating article. Thanks to this thread, I've recently been entertaining the idea that our universe originated as an offshoot from another, pan-dimensional universe. (The Big Bang being like water spurting from a pinhole leak in a garden hose.) This theory of a "false vacuum" is somehow less mind-bending.
posted by Dean King at 1:50 PM on April 25, 2002


How could a freak occurance *just happen*? Do anvils fall out of thin air for no reason?

Well, no, not usually. But, however, if your question is "Do particle-antiparticle pairs just appear in a vacuum spontaneously?" then the answer would be "yes, occasionally". Larger things could appear, but the chances are very very very small.

Now if you really want to blow your mind, read up on evaporating black holes, and then ask yourself where the matter went.
posted by bshort at 1:52 PM on April 25, 2002


I didn't intend to say anything bad about you, tomorama; we've just gone over it a million times, as I'm sure you know, having a user number 10x less than mine.
posted by LionIndex at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2002


The universe itself contains the laws of physics by its nature. Before there was a universe there would have been a different set of physics. Considering we're stuck in this universe its most likely impossible to understand what physics were like before our own universe began exanding. At least according to some people I've read. Asking what happened before the universe came into being is something on a non-question because we don't have the framework to begin to understand it.

Hey, there's always the steady state theory.
posted by skallas at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2002


Dean King: Interesting...and I have heard the theory that our universe somehow 'bubbled off' of another but of course this begs the question...where did the original universe come from?
posted by mathis23 at 1:56 PM on April 25, 2002


Not knowing physics adequately I always fancied the idea that if one could observe pre big bang anything could happen. Like the appearance of a series of absurd objects (refridgerator full of marbles, siamese clowns, Mr Potatohead etc) as nature tried to kick start the universe.
posted by jackspot at 2:00 PM on April 25, 2002


The more I think about this, the more I realize that the question hasn't really been answered. OK, spacetime came forth due to some obscenely improbable quantum fluctuation which occurred in 'nothingness.' Well...how did this fluctuation even 'know' to occur? This new theory would beg that some sort of system/existence occurred before our own. And now we're back to square one.

Oh my God, somebody get me a Tylenol(tm).
posted by mathis23 at 2:01 PM on April 25, 2002


I didn't intend to say anything bad about you, tomorama; we've just gone over it a million times, as I'm sure you know, having a user number 10x less than mine.

I know. I've seen the kinds of responses theological statements have gotten on here in the past, but it doesn't keep me from saying what I think. I believe my input is worth something and I'm not afraid to toss it out there. If everybody with a viewpoint opposed to the "metafilter norm" kept quiet, we might as well call it BoringFilter.

Debate is healthy. Sometimes I learn something. Sometimes somebody else does.
posted by tomorama at 2:03 PM on April 25, 2002


Tomorama, I hold more of a Gnostic view. This God is merely an errant child, a caretaker of the Universe. The true creators are not speaking to us, or, more likely, they are speaking to us in a language we cannot understand.

Btw, it is difficult to conjecture about what existed *before* the universe began since it is also generally agreed upon that time itself began then.

For an interesting alternative take on this I recommend Julian Barbour's book The End of Time in which he argues that the creation event is the NOW. All that exists is the present moment. That is, we have no proof of the past except relics which only exist in the present. His book is a good exercise at least for clearing up a lot of the semantic confusion that arises when speaking about time and events.

What other people call the creation event, the Big Bang singularity is merely a shared reference among alternate histories, a singularity in a larger timeless universe he calls Platonia.
posted by vacapinta at 2:05 PM on April 25, 2002


As to an original universe that we spurted from, I'd be more interested to know if it is still there/here. False vacuum seems much harder for me to visualize at all.
posted by bittennails at 2:05 PM on April 25, 2002


The primordial "stuff" of inflation, he and other cosmologists contend, is very likely a spontaneous creation, a no-strings gift that boiled out of absolutely nowhere by means of an utterly random but nonetheless scientifically possible process.

But, as expounded, he really is depending on "something" that which caused something. His nothing is not really "nothing".

The very nature of science is the study of causation. This guy is flirting with belief, or as tomorama says correctly: "theological".
posted by aaronshaf at 2:07 PM on April 25, 2002


"Prove that the universe was not created, exactly as it is, five minutes ago."
posted by aaronshaf at 2:11 PM on April 25, 2002


sorry to be kind of snooty and off topic, but hearing "begs the question" gets under my skin a lot lately. To quote, "An argument which improperly assumes as true the very point the speaker is trying to argue for is said in formal logic to "beg the question." Here is an example of a question-begging argument: "This painting is trash because it is obviously worthless." The speaker is simply asserting the worthlessness of the work, not presenting any evidence to demonstrate that this is in fact the case. Since we never use "begs" with this odd meaning ("to improperly take for granted") in any other phrase, many people mistakenly suppose the phrase implies something quite different: that the argument demands that a question about it be asked--raises the question. If you're not comfortable with formal terms of logic, it's best to stay away from this phrase, or risk embarrassing yourself."

Sorry, sorry, sorry, awfully sorry, sorry. I just couldn't take it anymore.
posted by Sr_Cluba at 2:12 PM on April 25, 2002 [2 favorites]


sorry to be kind of snooty and off topic, but hearing "begs the question" gets under my skin a lot lately. To quote, "An argument which improperly assumes as true the very point the speaker is trying to argue for is said in formal logic to "beg the question." Here is an example of a question-begging argument: "This painting is trash because it is obviously worthless." The speaker is simply asserting the worthlessness of the work, not presenting any evidence to demonstrate that this is in fact the case. Since we never use "begs" with this odd meaning ("to improperly take for granted") in any other phrase, many people mistakenly suppose the phrase implies something quite different: that the argument demands that a question about it be asked--raises the question. If you're not comfortable with formal terms of logic, it's best to stay away from this phrase, or risk embarrassing yourself."

Sorry, sorry, sorry, awfully sorry, sorry. I just couldn't take it anymore.
posted by Sr_Cluba at 2:14 PM on April 25, 2002


sorry to be kind of snooty and off topic, but hearing "begs the question" gets under my skin a lot lately.

I'm so embarrassed.
posted by mathis23 at 2:16 PM on April 25, 2002


I would rephrase the question like this: Describe membrane theory. Using membrane theory, describe intra- and inter-membrane transfers of energy packets. Describe low energy (particle) and high energy (wave) concentrations and dispersions. Now, doesn't applying linearality to the universe look silly?

In other words, it didn't matter if Barney the dinosaur got along with T-Rex or not. Barney never met T-Rex. So why keep arguing if they were friends or not?
posted by kablam at 2:18 PM on April 25, 2002


Hey mathis23, I'm not sure a Tylenol is even strong enough when you try to contemplate some of the other arguments that go something like this (apologies for my lawyer brain trying to get all scientific): In true "nothingness" anything is possible -- even unbelieveably unlikely events. Since anything is possible, then ultimately everything will eventually (indeed must) occur (kind of like if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing, one will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare?). If you take this to the extreme, not only can such nothingness spawn our universe, but must have also created (and be creating) an infinite number of other universes.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:19 PM on April 25, 2002


"Prove that the universe was not created, exactly as it is, five minutes ago."

So? Prove that it was. I don't see us getting anywhere.
posted by jalexei at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2002


How could a freak occurance *just happen*?

It's pretty much the same answer as to why we're here: if we weren't here, we wouldn't be able to ask the question. Or, to put it another way, since we'd be asking that question no matter what time or place we existed in, it's not as though where or how or when we are is a freak occurance.

Everything that has a beginning must have a cause.

That's an axiom we draw from our own experiences, which are limited to a terribly small subset of possible universe situations. It really only holds true for a Newtonion model. Causality breaks down in some places, and the pre-universe was likely a very strange place for physics.

Unrelated, but strange: if the universe has and will exist for an infinite amount of time with endless big bangs, every possible thing will happen an infinite amount of times. A identical version of myself, except with chainsaws for hands, will conquer Spain an infinite number of times.
posted by skyline at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2002


Dean King: Interesting...and I have heard the theory that our universe somehow 'bubbled off' of another but of course this begs the question...where did the original universe come from?

It rests on the back of a turtle, and, of course, it's turtles all the way down.
posted by mooncrow at 2:24 PM on April 25, 2002


How can the moon rise in the east and set in the west? Objects don't just move on their own, so something must be pulling it through the sky. I call that something Artemis and her chariot. You may have a different name for it - although I wouldn't go telling her that. My god is petty and vengeful.
posted by willnot at 2:26 PM on April 25, 2002


I don't quite get the concept of linear time as kablam mentions above, I always favoured what this guy said:

Time is nothing else than the form of the internal sense, that is, of the intuitions of self and of our internal state. For time cannot be any determination of outward phenomena. It has to do neither with shape nor position; on the contrary, it determines the relation of representations in our internal state. And precisely because this internal intuition presents to us no shape or form, we endeavour to supply this want by analogies, and represent the course of time by a line progressing to infinity...Immanuel Kant.

Maybe this is easier for me to understand.
posted by bittennails at 2:26 PM on April 25, 2002


if the universe has and will exist for an infinite amount of time with endless big bangs, every possible thing will happen an infinite amount of times.

Sweet. Somewhere, sometime, in some universe, one of my interdimensional twins fully understands all of this crap.
posted by mathis23 at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2002


This puts a new spin on the recent ideas about how it will all end.

I'm much more willing to go with false vacuum over dark energy... but that's just because it's more comforting.
posted by linux at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2002


there was a good interview with stephen hawking by gregory benford on reasononline that had a discussion of "imaginary time..." (via cowlix!)
"It now appears that the way the universe began can indeed be determined, using imaginary time," Stephen said. We discussed this a bit. Stephen had been using a mathematical device in which time is replaced, as a notational convenience, by something called imaginary time. This changes the nature of the equations, so he could use some ideas from the tiny quantum world. In the new equations, a kind of tunneling occurs in which the universe, before the Big Bang, has many different ways to pass through the singularity. With imaginary time, one can calculate the chances for a given tunneling path into our early universe after the beginning of time as we know it.
i thought it sounded pretty interesting in light of recent work done on new statistical methods (using tsallis entropy :) that "suggests a new formulation of imaginary time path integrals which may lead to an improvement in the simulation of equilibrium quantum statistical averages." the operative word for me though is sounded! i don't understand any of it :)
posted by kliuless at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2002


I just realized something. All current theories point to the universe being "flat."

Irony.

Yes yes, not that kind of flat, but you try telling that to Magellan -- and hey, if you're lucky, he'll pop into existence the second you finish reading this.
posted by linux at 2:36 PM on April 25, 2002


Somewhere, sometime, in some universe, one of my interdimensional twins fully understands all of this crap.

But an infinite number of them don't.
posted by Opus Dark at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2002


Everything that has a beginning must have a cause.

Why do you say this? Is there no room for absolute randomness in your universe? AFAIK, the energy-matter interface is inherently unstable.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2002


Julian Barbour's book The End of Time in which he argues that the creation event is the NOW.
Without reading it the book, this sounds like Decartes saying that we are constantly being recreated at every moment (i just had a final over it 4 hours ago, so i got the info if anyone wants it =)
Everything that has a beginning must have a cause.
I can't name any off the top of my head, but many philosophers out there actually opose this idea and have good reasons for it...Best (which may not be that good) i can think of off the top of my head is take group A of N objects. You have object n which was created by n1. and n2 by n3...and so on and so forth...any case you come up with any n, i can come up w/ an n that created that one. Hence, an infinite regress. Its not a question of there the first n came from, if there *is* a first n, but where the group A comes from. Also, by the theory that everything must have a cause, where does God come from? If everything must have a cause, does He, to?
(sorry if i'm being way too philosophical for this post, but i'm a phil. class right now and its driving me up the wall for answers at every turn =)
posted by jmd82 at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2002


A lot of the responses seem to be giving an awful lot of credence to the theories in the article.

No matter how bright the guy is who came up with a mathematical model of what the universe is currently doing, he's no more capable then anyone else of taking the model and jumping into making claims about where it came from. Nobody has yet peeked past the beginning, and frankly, the physicists have just barely more understanding about what they're talking about then we do. A little knowlege can be a dangerous thing; it tends to make people talk out their asses.

The distinguishing characteristic of people's babbling about the origins of the universe today versus a hundred years ago is that today, our theories are even stupider. (With the possible exception of the "true theory". . . but they can't all be true! All but one theory, and probably all of them, are wrong, wrong, wrong.)
posted by Jeremy Bowers at 3:39 PM on April 25, 2002


If anything is a purely human construct it is the notion of causality.
Establishing cause and effect is neccessary for any life quality.
It does not reflect the events of external reality.
posted by Settle at 3:40 PM on April 25, 2002


Everything that has a beginning must have a cause.

This is a metaphysical debate that has been going on for many years, not a statement of fact.
posted by brittney at 3:41 PM on April 25, 2002


re: the energy-matter interface

what's cool is there might be a "meta" information-energymatter interface as well. like when hawking sez, "When we record something in our memory, the disorder of the universe will increase." which in my mind lends credence to the observer at the end of time (even though the participatory anthropic principle is CRAP :) cuz like if the universe really is nothing (or amounts to nothing) but we're just not certain if it is yet, then not knowing is what's still keeping us in existence! so as long as the universe is random, (also crap!) and therefore unknowable, we're safe :)
posted by kliuless at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2002


If you look closely you can see the answer...
posted by kfury at 4:07 PM on April 25, 2002


Our little planet rotates around a larger planet. Repeat this by 1000X and you might get the idea of how much "matter" is out there, rotating around each other. It covers so much space/distance we haven't even been able to guess at what the farthest reaches of space with our little tools. Once we can guess where it started, it still might not hold what started the entire "bang" or it might, but my guess is since millions of our years, in our little system have passed, we wouldn't find what caused "the" cause. What is to say we would even notice the beginning since it may have changed into something which may cause an end?
posted by brent at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2002


I had the same post ready kfury. Just thought it wouldn't be that great of a post.
posted by brent at 4:14 PM on April 25, 2002


Whereas the one you ended up posting was? ;-)

Don't sweat it, this one's even worse.
posted by kfury at 4:18 PM on April 25, 2002


You should check the font settings for your browser, kfury, they look terrible in that screenshot.
posted by bittennails at 4:23 PM on April 25, 2002


Standard settings. Looks just like Mefi does on any browser (mac/pc) I've ever seen. How is yours configured?
posted by kfury at 4:26 PM on April 25, 2002


So is that the actual question then? "How many comments must one roll their eyes over in a discussion about life, the universe and everything?"
posted by mathis23 at 4:33 PM on April 25, 2002


As opposed to this, standard settings, 16px,sans/verdana, IE5/mac.
posted by bittennails at 4:40 PM on April 25, 2002


I like the big text/ariel look myself. Rock on kfury!
posted by skallas at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2002


This may sound dumb, but I don't think this is an answerable question. Which is not to say it's a meaningless question, although it may be. I just don't think there's ever going to be an answer that will be emotionally and logically satisfying. I can't picture some physicist ever coming up with an answer that would me me think, "Well, OK. That makes complete sense," even if I were able to understand it. Can you think of an answer to where it all came from, why it's all here, etc. that would make you feel better?

I'll tell you, this is as close as I get to religious thinking - I believe in my heart that the universe is infinitely and recursively complex, like a fractal. No matter how deeply and completely you've got something figured out, there will always be another layer of complexity underlying that, that when it's discovered will drive you crazy and make you tear down the current explanation and make a new one. Mark my words, if you think quarks and leptons and whatnot are the basic, irreducible stuff that makes up the sub-atomic particles that make up atoms that make up molecules that make up etc., I guarantee you there's something smaller that makes up quarks, and something smaller than that that makes up the things that make up quarks, and so on, forever.
posted by RylandDotNet at 8:43 PM on April 25, 2002


there will always be another layer of complexity underlying that, that when it's discovered will drive you crazy and make you tear down the current explanation and make a new one.

I agree, and I would highly reccomend anyone interested to go watch Pi, a good example of that process in effect.

No one was there to observe the beginning of time, so no matter how 'scientific' you claim your explanation is, it requires just as much faith as any mythological narrative out there. Either way, it's faith in the unknown, so take your pick.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:36 PM on April 25, 2002


Since anything is possible, then ultimately everything will eventually (indeed must) occur (kind of like if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing, one will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare?)


I hate entering discussions late, don't you? In any case, lets think more about the association between "anything is possible" and "everything will happen". The ability of things to "happen" has to be viewed in the light of time and space. For instance, it's fine to suggest that it is entirely probable for a coffee mug with a blue floral design, containing freshly brewed moccha, to appear on my desk right at this moment. But for "everything to happen eventually", such a coffee mug has to appear EVERYWHERE and EVERYWHEN. The same coffee mug appearing next Tuesday, or in Stockholm in 1743, are different events. Given that the universe is not a solid mass of eternally renewing coffee mugs, that proposition cannot hold true, right? Even if we give the universe an infinite life time, "everything" is not going to happen.
posted by Jimbob at 9:52 PM on April 25, 2002


Given that the universe is not a solid mass of eternally renewing coffee mugs, that proposition cannot hold true, right?

I dunno, Jimbob, that's a mighty big "given" there. How do we know that the universe isn't a solid mass of eternally renewing coffee mugs?
posted by kindall at 10:00 PM on April 25, 2002


True. I guess we'll never know the truth...
posted by Jimbob at 10:03 PM on April 25, 2002


the big bang.

oh shit! i wasn't supposed to say that!

oh well.
posted by jcterminal at 10:26 PM on April 25, 2002


No matter how deeply and completely you've got something figured out, there will always be another layer of complexity underlying that, that when it's discovered will drive you crazy and make you tear down the current explanation and make a new one

Perhaps this is more of a statement about our minds, our insatiable curiosity and our impatience at the commonplace. We love to concoct conspiracy theories, to create complex lines of causation for the otherwise simple and stupid events of our everyday life.

I think, call it my own religious feeling, that much of what we discover and believe is a sequence of invented remedies to allay our mind from its terrible and chronic pain of intellectual anxiety.

We have discovered that there are no colors in the universe. There is no blue or red or yellow. There is merely a smooth continuum of indifferent electromagnetic waves which fill the space around us with their incessant reflections. Likewise, I think, we will discover other illusions in our thinking. That there is no causation. That there is no time. That these are mental constructs we ourselves have imposed upon the larger universe.

The universe is as it is because this is how it is from this particular vantage point - our vantage point. Sometimes the deeper discoveries of physics, the particular conundrums of mathematics are telling us more about what it is to be human than anything about the larger universe that created us with its arbitrary laws and gimmicks.
posted by vacapinta at 1:06 AM on April 26, 2002


"Everything that has a beginning must have a cause"...The answer has been there all along! Everything that does not have a beginning does not therefore have a cause.There is no beginning, no end, and no cause. It just is, as it has been and will be.
posted by Mack Twain at 2:05 AM on April 26, 2002


No one was there to observe the beginning of time, so no matter how 'scientific' you claim your explanation is, it requires just as much faith as any mythological narrative out there. Either way, it's faith in the unknown, so take your pick.
No human was alive to observe the dinosaurs, but I guess they existed, right?

For a new theory of the universe not requiring an initial cause check out this, Universe in 'endless cycle' story from the BBC. If anyone has a link to the full paper mentioned I'd be interested to know...
posted by talos at 3:11 AM on April 26, 2002


Since anything is possible, then ultimately everything will eventually (indeed must) occur (kind of like if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing, one will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare?)

That tends to assume that things get 'checked off' the list and therefore everything will be gotten to. When it's really just as likely that you will get an infinity of monkeys never typing anything other than gibberish, over and over and over and over...
Perhaps one monkey will forever and ever type "want a banani" without EVER getting the last letter correct!
posted by HTuttle at 3:47 AM on April 26, 2002


talos: Steinhardt's webpage

The cyclic theory in essence says that this whole Big Bang stuff is not all that important because we're merely talking about the interactions between higher dimensions. There are still other dimensions, not contracting at all, which are responsible for most of the fundamental physics in our universe. The Big Bang is an illusion. The universe is timeless.

The cyclic theory is a new, cleaner, (M-theory stripped) incarnation of the Ekpyrotic theory which was all the rage last year. If you read The Elegant Universe you'll recall that Greene discussed it there as an alternative cosmological model.
posted by vacapinta at 3:48 AM on April 26, 2002


Thanks for the link vacapinta... I've read a few things about Ekpyrotic Theory but not in detail.
posted by talos at 3:55 AM on April 26, 2002


HTuttle: Be careful when playing with infinity. Infinity is a long time.

Perhaps one monkey will forever and ever type "want a banani" without EVER getting the last letter correct

True. But, then the monkey would not be typing away randomly. In fact, the above, a defined, ordered sequence, is *exactly* what randomness is not. In a very long but finite amount of time the chances of one monkey only typing "want a banani" are extreeemely low, but not zero. In an infinite amount of time, the chances are exactly zero.

This is a direct consequence of the theory of limits and the nature of infinity which, as i mentioned, is a strange thing. It's like the sequence .99999... and so on out to infinity. This number is not ifinitely close to 1 - it IS equal to 1! Likewise, the probability of *any*

Not only will the monkey (all you need is one) type out shakespeare (and every other text known and unknown to man) but he will do it an infinite number of times. pardonyou? is correct in his/her allusion.
posted by vacapinta at 6:07 AM on April 26, 2002


oops!

Insert: Likewise, the probability of any finite sequence appearing at some point and repeating itself (only itself) to infinity is zero.

To be clearer, the infinite shakespeare texts will appear randomly interspersed among the other non-shakespearean texts. Infinity can contain an infinite number of infinities (e.g. the infinite prime numbers are a subset of the infinite counting numbers)

some quick infinity math:
infinity + infinity= infinity
infinity X infinity= infinity
infinity ^ infinity = something else! (beyond the scope of this post)
posted by vacapinta at 6:19 AM on April 26, 2002


Yes yes, not that kind of flat, but you try telling that to Magellan

wasn't it his mission to circumnavigate?
posted by tolkhan at 6:42 AM on April 26, 2002


Jeremy Bowers: a little knowlege can be a dangerous thing; it tends to make people talk out their asses.

Guth's cosmological model was (and I believe still is) the most widely accepted by physicists and cosmologists, worldwide. That doesn't prove that it's correct, but the majority of those who do understand a little more than you or I don't equate it to "talking out of his ass." I suggest this book by him. It's written with the educated layperson in mind (not an easy read, but he does an admirable job of explaining complex theories in an understandable way).

Ryland: there will always be another layer of complexity underlying that, that when it's discovered will drive you crazy and make you tear down the current explanation and make a new one.

You might want to check out "Impossibility." I read it recently after Kirk recommended it.

insomnyuk: No one was there to observe the beginning of time, so no matter how 'scientific' you claim your explanation is, it requires just as much faith as any mythological narrative out there.

So we should stop looking? Of course we can never prove that we have found the answer, but we can, at least, work to find a model that, when simulated from the beginning, develops into a state that closely matches what we can see today (cosmic background radiation, etc.). Most cosmological models don't provide this kind of accuracy - I'd be most willing to put my faith into one that does.

JimBob: Given that the universe is not a solid mass of eternally renewing coffee mugs, that proposition cannot hold true, right? Even if we give the universe an infinite life time, "everything" is not going to happen.

You're confusing the universe with the Universe. The universe is (simply) the place we call home. The Universe may include an infinite number of universes. In a Universe with an infinite number of universes, "everything" may indeed happen.

Fun topic...
posted by syzygy at 6:44 AM on April 26, 2002


insomnyuk: No one was there to observe the beginning of time, so no matter how 'scientific' you claim your explanation is, it requires just as much faith as any mythological narrative out there.

I am not convinced that it all comes down to a wishy-washy form of cosmological relativism in which all explanations are equally valid. The "no one was there so we can't say anything about it" fallacy pretty much negates not only cosmology, but also most criminal investigations, and history as well. I personally hope that if my house is ever robbed, that neither the prosecution nor the defense would say "no one was there so we can't say anything about it". Instead I would hope that they would collect physical evidence that might lead them to infer that a specific person entered my house in a specific way, and took specific objects that were later found in the criminal's possession.

I am not comfortable with relegating an inductive process to simply "a leap of faith". The reason why most scientists believe in a big bang is because there are a multitude of facts of the universe that are more consistent with a big bang then with the theory that the earth sits on the back of a elephant, that in turn sits on a stack of turtles.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2002


In an infinite amount of time, the chances are exactly zero.
Actually, if i recall my limits correctly, it is not exactly zero, but more like y approaches zero as x approaches infinity, but the the line will never actually reach zero, hence over, it become .00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001
close, yes, but still a chance =)
posted by jmd82 at 9:32 AM on April 26, 2002


Not only will the monkey (all you need is one) type out shakespeare (and every other text known and unknown to man) but he will do it an infinite number of times. pardonyou? is correct in his/her allusion.

Randomness is the same as non-compressible. (given a string s, if there is no program in an ideal computer (call the program p) that produces s as output that is shorter than s (length(p)<length (s)), then s can be considered random) the "want a banani" example is compressible (not random). but, say the monkey's l key is broken. all strings containing l will never occur. but he will still produce an infinite number of random (non-compressible) strings. just because something is random, doesn't mean that all variations it are equally likely. not every conceivable (don't read as "possible"!) universe has to exist for there to be an infinite number of universes.

(And, it seems to me, that most universes will not exist, as the pigeonhole principle will not allow it. (unless quantum theory says that no event's probability is zero?! Is that the case? I wouldn't know.))

(Oh, jmd82 is right. If limits could be interpreted as "1/x at x=infinity" then the real number line would have infintesimals, which it doesn't.)
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:58 AM on April 26, 2002


God.
posted by catatonic at 11:08 AM on April 26, 2002


I think our universe was created when someone unplugged the drain in their bathtub, and let everything dump out through the singularity from which our entire universe originated.
posted by ookamaka at 11:13 AM on April 26, 2002


"Everything that has a beginning must have a cause"

I think this is a rule that is hardcoded into our brain chemistry. We learn this rule as children and it sticks with us for life. The big "what-if?" is whether infinite time passes by in both directions from the present. In reality, I don't think that we have evolved enough to develop understanding of such a concept.

So for now, I have to settle with my own observation that at least "something" had to always exist. Whether that was a form of energy, or a form of mass, or something entirely different and unthought of. But it's amazing that we have facts, questions and theories about this...an amazing step, especially if we evolved from algae.

As Carl Sagan would say, the Universe is full of facts.
posted by samsara at 2:40 PM on April 26, 2002


sonofsamiam: I dont disagree with most of what you said. But, I think you misunderstood me. Perhaps I wasnt being clear.

just because something is random, doesn't mean that all variations it are equally likely

I didnt say that. I said if a random process (monkey) is allowed to work for an infinite time then, yes, ALL possible variations WILL occur. This arises naturally from the definition of random as incompressible - see here.

not every conceivable (don't read as "possible"!) universe has to exist for there to be an infinite number of universes

Agreement. I honestly dont know what stochastic processes are involved in the creation of universes. I was talking about monkeys and shakespeare and a common misperception about randomness and infinity. I'm talking about a generative process. I stand by what I said - ALL texts will be created (obviously only the texts that are comprised of the keys on their typewriter)

Re: the infinitesimal thing. You guys (sonofsamiam, jmd82) and me are on two sides of a philosophical chasm.
posted by vacapinta at 3:34 PM on April 26, 2002


I am not even close to a mathemitition, but the whole limit idea only comes up because the old-timer math ppl needed a way to divide by zero, but sinse you weren't allowed to divide by zero, that is where limites came into play. You could divide by a number infintestimately close to zero, without actually being zero (the limit!), and i view .99999 as the same thing...as close as you can get to 1, w/o actually BEING 1 (ie, 1/1-x as the limit of x approaches 1...if it IS 1, you can't do that, but you CAN do it with limits b/c the limit is in fact not equal to 1)...without this small little fact (of the zero limit), Calculus woud in effect not have even existed to start with (disclaimer: i'm cold on 2-years w/o calculus, so i hope i'm not completey off base...correct me if need be!!!)
posted by jmd82 at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2002


I think it's fascinating that cosmological absolutism is compatible with moral relativism.
posted by insomnyuk at 7:27 PM on April 26, 2002


I thought everything came from Walmart.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:27 AM on April 27, 2002


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