Observing the Evolution of the Universe Since the Big Bang
If the universe began with the Big Bang, then how did it evolve since then? Did time always exist, counting off the millenniums before and after the start of the universe?
This article is a discussion how our observation of the universe is affected by our comprehension of its evolution. Specifically, these issues will be discussed:
- Time, and the passage of time.
- Eternity, either infinite or cyclic in nature.
- Laws of physics and the space/time continuum.
- Measurement and observation changes the outcome.
As time marches on, the Universe will continue to evolve. The changes will continue into eternity, but will there ever be an end to time?
Is eternity actually infinite, or does time repeat itself in a circular or cyclic progression so that the past and the future keep repeating?
A cyclic space/time continuum can be the answer to the problem that arises when we try to place endpoints on time, a beginning and an end.
As time continues, nothing in the entire universe is isolated. Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Forces control the universe that we have only begun to understand. We have yet to fully comprehend quantum mechanics, relativity theory, or how space and time function together as a single entity.1
Even our attempts to measure scientific data has an affect on the conclusion, which I'll elaborate on last.
The Progress of Time May Be Endless
I don't believe there is a beginning or an end to time. Mathematically it makes more sense that time is either of two things: Infinite or cyclic.
- If time is infinite, then it goes on forever—possibly evolving with infinite possibilities.
- If time is cyclic, then it repeats itself—either with the same pattern or in an infinite number of ways.
If time is indeed infinite then we can assume that everything imaginable will eventually have a chance to occur in some way in some place at some time.
If time is cyclic, then all physical events and all thoughts of all species will repeat forever and ever. Moreover, if events do have minor differences on each repetition, then even cyclic time offers the chance for every alternative event imaginable to eventually happen.
Everything in the space-time continuum will repeat itself forever with endlessly varying possibilities. Each repetition would be a different reality and there would be an infinite number of realities.
Either way, infinite or cyclic, there would never be an end to this. Time would never cease to exist.
The Big Bang Is a Paradox
The paradox: If time doesn't have a beginning or an end, can anything have existed before the Big Bang?
Based on our present knowledge of physics, the latest scientific findings support the theory of the Big Bang. This implies that there was a beginning. That, in turn, implies that there must be an end. One might say that all beginnings have an end.
However, we run into trouble when we try to impose an infinite measure on the timeline of the universe from the Big Bang to a future that eventually ends. It brings up questions of what exists beyond the end, which is a paradoxical question.
Does time have a beginning and an end? If we want to believe that there is a beginning, then we have to describe it in some way.
It's easier for the human mind to comprehend time with a start and an end. Infinity is somewhat incomprehensible.
Here's where we run into trouble. Our thinking creates a paradox.
- If we insist on having a beginning, then what came before that?
- If we insist on having an end then the question is: "What comes next?"
Time Is Also a Paradox
If the end is really terminal, then there is nothing left. The universe must be void of all matter. If what comes after the end is void of all matter, then how long does that lack of all existence last?
That very question implies that "time" still exists!
If time still exists then we haven't really reached the end yet. Therefore we might say that matter still exists in the universe.
If matter becomes non-existent due to being sucked into a black hole, for example, then time also ceases to exist. There is no measure of it. There is nothing with which to measure it.
Just think for a moment: If time continues to tick away after all matter is sucked into a black hole, then the universe has a chance to recycle—to start over. This defies the idea of an absolute end. Hence, the paradox.
Our comprehension of endless space and time is limited due to our inability to imagine a universe without time.
Our Limited Comprehension of Space and Time
As human beings, with human functioning brains, we are limited to comprehending only what our five senses allow us to conceive and experience. We may be limited in our understanding of the universe, but the space-time continuum goes beyond human imagination.
Considering that, we might assume there is more to it—more to the universe, more to life, more to the laws of physics.
Do the Laws of Physics Have Infinite Possibilities?
It's hard for the human mind to comprehend the concept of infinity. That's why we prefer to think that the universe started at a specific point in time: The Big Bang!
As I see it, the Big Bang could not have been the beginning. It was simply the starting point of the next stage of the continuation of time.
Prior to the Big Bang, the laws of physics may have been vastly different from what we know today.
Once everything gets sucked into a black hole, time itself becomes meaningless. Eventually it all explodes into another Big Bang, another universe, and another timeline all over again. Maybe it will be very different in endless possible ways.
There may very well be an infinite number of laws of physics, even though there is only one that we are aware of. Everything we do is controlled by that one set of laws that rule the physical universe as we know it—presently.
The Butterfly Effect
Everything we experience in our little corner of space, and in our small segment of time, is just a small part of the entire picture. It goes without saying that we are part of the puzzle. Our very own existence has a strong effect on the rest of the puzzle.
Things on Earth are different because we are here. It's very possible that things in the outer limits of the universe are also modified with every move we make.
Did you ever think back to things you've done in the past and suddenly you realized how those actions affected the way your life is today? One little action can have a major affect on the future, as well as on other parts of the world.
This phenomenon is explained as the butterfly effect. A butterfly flapping its wings will, over time, cause huge changes to the future.2
The only problem that stems form this fact is that when we try to analyze something, or measure something, we cause it to change. So our observation of the way the universe is changing causes us to see things not as they are.
How the Act of Observation Changes Things
We cannot measure or analyze anything without changing the outcome. So there is no way we can completely envision the actual reality of our world.
I learned the following example in my college engineering days:
Simply by connecting a measuring device to an electronic circuit to test its functionality, changes the function of the circuit.
The fact that a voltmeter, for example, is connected to a circuit will change the way the circuit behaves. The circuit's new function is now related to the voltmeter being involved.
Everything and everyone is different due to everything and everyone else that exists. Every single element in the universe is interrelated to one another.
I think this is true with our minds as well as physical objects. We relate to one another in such a way that only a complex algorithm can define, and we continue to struggle with our misconceptions and misunderstandings.
Even time causes misconceptions. Einstein explained how the passage of time fluctuates for an observer based on mass and motion.3
However, in order to maintain our structured way of handling our daily affairs and keeping our technological developments under strict control, we need to maintain a very precise view of time.
For this reason, Atomic clocks use the caesium atom to attain a more precise measurement of time as far as we are concerned. It also helps us analyze the movement of everything we observe in the universe as best we can. But determining the end result of its evolution remains a mystery.
Evolution to Equilibrium
Change keeps occurring, possibly until everything is equal. Then time can no longer progress, and time stops. When time stops, space becomes meaningless, for space can only exist throughout the passage of time—the space-time continuum.
I’d rather imagine that the end of the evolving universe would be total equilibrium. It all becomes balanced and there's nothing left to evolve.
Equilibrium makes sense. Once that balance is achieved, nothing remains that would change. Therefore space and time become insignificant.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Glenn Stok