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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham%27s_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. ;