What came before the big bang?


“Many people interpret “nothing” in this context to mean empty space, but as I have been at pains to point out, space simply did not exist prior to the big bang.”

This part is very confusing. Space, as I understood it, does not exist at all. It is defined as the very absence of anything. How can space “exist” even less than not at all.

1 Like

Allow me to summarize:

Q: “What came before the Big Bang?”

A: “I don’t know.”


there was no ‘before’. time banged into existence alongside distance.


It’s a hard concept to wrap one’s head around.  “Empty” space is still space, with dimensions defined by the matter around it, and it may contain energy, both real and virtual.

None of that existed before the Big Bang; no matter, no energy, no space or time.  What was it like back then?  That question literally has no answer, since there was nothing, not even emptiness, and we have nothing to compare it to.

Since the universe is finite, and had a definite beginning, it is easy to think that it must exist within some larger spacetime. That makes for lively speculation and fun scifi stories, but it is irrelevant since everything we will ever experience, including spacetime itself, came into being 13.8 billion years ago.

“Inflation” is another mindbender.  It is the expansion of space itself, under, around, and between matter.  It has nothing to do with the movement of matter, which is something else entirely. Although nothing can move faster than light, there is apparently no upper limit of the rate of inflation. Runaway inflation is one of the more interesting ideas about how the universe may end.


Maybe I should try to put this in more sophisticated words, but this is what I’ve got: physics is frickin’ nifty.

I’d have been damn tempted to major in astrophysics if I’d been able to. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to pre-calc or geometry in high school, and the university didn’t offer any remedial classes, it was straight into calculus (or trigonometry) or nothin’, so it was “astrophysics for non-majors” for me. (thankfully, the university actually had a pretty rich set of classes available).

1 Like

Also, the Big Bang is still just a theory, not a proven event. It fits our understandings of physics in some ways, but not in others.

My major problem with the Big Bang theory is that it is necessarily extrapolative. We’re looking at the universe from a single point in space. We’re gazing out into unimaginably vast territory and trying to glean information about this incomprehensible unknown from age old bits of wandering light and errant radiation. And we’re observing on a time frame so absolutely miniscule as to be almost meaningless.

With this trifling speck of information, we then extrapolate the entire history of the entire universe. We say that because of the way the light reaching us is spectrum shifted, and the way everything appears to be moving outward from a single general point, that means we can simply extrapolate to find that the entire universe exploded out of that apparant origin point.

It’s not a bad theory, considering the supremely limited data we have, but it seems so very… premature… to act as though the Big Bang is anything like a certainty. If we had another vantage point to compare with, we might find we’ve been deceived by appearances, or that we’ve made some fundamental error in our “calculations”, so to speak.

It’s a working theory. That’s fine. We may not ever find a better one, given our… non-privileged vantage point… in the universe. But I’m sick of hearing these absurd postulations of the nature and existence of time and space “before” the Big Bang. I’m annoyed by how we take these scraps of information and extrapolate them out as universal fact.

Mark Twain eloquently writes on the matter of extrapolation, in his book Life On The Mississippi.

The Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and ‘let on’ to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor `development of species’, either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague–vague.

Please observe. In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. This is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year.

Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod.

And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen.

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.


What happened on Monday at 00:01?

Now, what happened on Monday two minutes earlier?


Would it be better to ask “Why is there something instead of nothing?” How about “Why is the universe bounded in time but not in space?”


Or, “What exists elsewhen, not within the space time that defines our Universe?”

I think it might have been The Big Woop

From the article:

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the explosive dispersal of
galaxies from a common center into the depths of a limitless void.


Again, I must stress that the speck from which space emerges is not
located in anything. It is not an object surrounded by emptiness.

This is pretty mind-blowing, but then, so is much of science. I’m pretty nerdy and relatively scientifically-literate, but it was only a few years ago that I properly understood this. And you know who I blame? Well, the name doesn’t help, but we’re kind of stuck with that. But, at least Our Best Science Explainers will help, right? Nope. Watch this:

Gah! Did you see that? Big explosion in black space! And that’s from the new Neil deGrasse Tyson Cosmos! If he can’t get it right, no wonder no one understands this incredibly crucial point.

Or here’s one from NASA:


Pretty much the only visualization I’ve seen which even tries to get it right is this from Minute Physics:

C’mon everyone else.


Exactly! that really irks me too, more often than not the explanations and examples I am given of the big bang show the universe expanding from a single point, even descriptions of all the matter in the universe existing in something the size of a pin head or marble or something until the big bang. Why do I keep seeing these explanations if there are, well, completely false?

I think this is one of the main ideas that the article is arguing against. Apparently one of the big misunderstandings is the idea that the universe expanded from a single point. It didn’t.


Yes the Big Bang is just a theory, but it explains a lot of experimental data across a wide variety of experiment types - cosmic background radiation, abundance of elements, the expansion of space, and others. So the not a bad theory actually is supported by more than your trifling set of data. We can observe back to almost 14 billion years in the past, those objects are now 46 billion years away from us. I’ll admit, that we have only been observing for 30,000 years, or 5000 years or 100 years depending on which instruments and recording methods you like. And then this theory can support or disrupt the other theories of physics that connect to it and from which we can make useful predictions.

I liked Max Tagmark’s book, Our Mathematical Universe, (review) as one scientists viewpoint of some of these questions. He tells of trying to break the theory over and over again to match the observed experiments, and problems with the experiments and observations as well.

All the Mark Twain quote does is remind us to be careful of extrapolations of theories beyond their usefulness or when the facts disprove the theory. His example is obvious to him and to everyone else. I will take a posse of astrophysicists over Mark Twain to explain the universe any day. I tried to read the quote as Hal Holbrook but ended up sounding like Brent Spiner on that one Star Trek episode. Both sounded like crotchety old men.


GAH!! Stop conflating Theory with an educated guess. And no, I will not explain such a basic concept

With that outburst aside, the very fact we are having these conversations is the most absurd, sublime, and mind bending concept I can conceive of.

1 Like

If the big bang is ‘just a theory’ then I hope the anvil that I lob–according to the Theory of Gravity–doesnt hit the coyote.

Seriously, the BB crowd is very well educated. Stop conflating scientific Theories with what lay people call theories. It is embarrassing.


In the beginning, there was nothing. Then God said “Let there be light!” And there was still nothing, only now you could see it.


You do understand that I was using “just a theory” sarcastically to Glitch. I hope I can join you on the same side of your aggravation and I am attempting to not contribute to it. Then again joining things and having lay people and non lay people sounds like an in-group out-group thing. I’d just like the benefit of a doubt.

The big fuse and a rather large match?