Applied Cosmic Anthropology
-Asian Social Institute (ASI)

in the beginning

by Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D.

The numerous facts collected by various sciences indicate ... that our universe had a certain beginning, from which it developed into its present state through the process of gradual evolution.

George Gamow, 1972:328

 

In the very beginning, there was a void, a curious form of vacuum, a nothingness containing no space, no time, no matter, no light, no sound. Yet the laws of nature were in place and this curious vacuum held potential.

Leon Lederer, The God Particle

 

 

Where did all the things we see around us today come from? What are our beginnings? How did we all begin? How could today’s complexities and diversities have come into being? What is our relationship with the beginning of all things?

 

Over thousands of years, there have been so many stories told, over and over again, all purporting to explain the beginnings of humanity and our Cosmos. These stories are told to us, in the form of myths, legends, symbols, imagery, metaphors, and theories. There is this one story I love to tell, and this is the story of the big bang, which began to shape only recently.

 

In the beginning, there was nothing—no space, no time, no sound, no light, no matter ever existed. But the beginning was not really empty.  For in this nothingness, there exists a tiny single point or dot, smaller than the tip of a needle. Called singularity, this primordial dot is said to be a very hot substance. And it was believed to be the primal building block of everything we see around us today. This primal building block was not dead; it vibrated with tremendous energy and possessed all the innate potentialities that would later create the conditions and ingredients for life to exist.

 

Nothingness, for the physicists, is not emptiness or void; it is not a vacuum or empty space. British cosmologist Paul Davies and astrophysicist John Gribbin invite us to think of an empty box as a perfect vacuum---empty space. But, in fact, according to them, this empty box is not really inert but “full of ghostly particles” restively appearing, interacting, and vanishing. Physicist Alan Guth reinforces this view by saying that “the apparently quiescent vacuum is not really empty at all, but on a subatomic level is a perpetual tempest, seething with activity. John Gribbin describes the vacuum as “a seething mass of virtual particles in its own right, even when there are no ‘real’ particles present.”

 

So, in the beginning, there was nothing—no space, no time, no sound, no light. In other words, the entire universe we see now had been squeezed into nothingness in the beginning. In the midst of this nothingness, however, was the singularity, advanced by many theorists as the ‘primal atom.’

 

The concept of nothingness, also void or empty space, and atom goes back more than 2,500 years ago during the time of the early Greek philosophers—Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus. Leucippus and Democritus contend that in the beginning there was only atom and the void. Democritus’s concept of atom and void goes together, where one cannot function without the other in building today’s Cosmos. To him, without the void, atoms cannot move about and combine to increase in “bulk” and eventually form the stars and planets. As Leucippus argued: “The worlds are formed when atoms fall into the void and are entangled with one another; and from their motion as they increase in bulk arises the substance of the stars” (Danielson, 2000:23). In the view of the ancient Greek atomists, the void is necessary; void, however, is taken to mean simply as an empty space or a room for the atoms to move around. For as Zeno, who also flourished during the mid-5th century B.C., counter-argued: “movement is impossible,” especially in the absence of an empty space (Danielson, 2000:25). Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) expressed the oneness of place and motion in his concept of “locomotion” contending that place itself has “potency” and that motion is a change of place. In Book 4 of his Physics, we read the following quotation (Danielson, 2000:37):

 

The physicist must have a knowledge of Place . . . namely, whether there is such a thing or not, and the manner of its existence and what it is, both because all suppose that things which exist are somewhere (the non-existent is nowhere—where is the goat-stag or the sphinx?), and because “motion” in its most general and primary sense is change of place, which we call “locomotion.”

 

Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) reinforced the atom-void interaction of Democritus when he advanced that “if there were no space (which we call also void and place and intangible nature), bodies would have nothing in which to be and through which to move, as they are plainly seen to move” (Danielson, 2000:26). This view continued over the centuries and re-echoed by the famous Roman poet Lucretius (c. 99-55 B.C.) in his poem On the Nature of Things, written about 50 B.C. A quotation from Danielson reads as follows (2000:29):

 

         Yet bodies do not fill up every place:

         For besides those there is an empty space,

         A void. . . .

         A void is space intangible, thus proved:

         For were there none, no body could be moved; . . .

 

Lucretius utilizes the alphabet as a metaphor to explain how the combination and permutation of only 26 letters (in the English language, at least) can produce volumes of literature. In like manner, according to him, a mere handful of atoms can fill up the void or empty space of the Cosmos with various forms.

 

Democritus’ concept of atom and void was pursued by Isaac Newton (1642-1727), known to be the founder of classical physics. Newton presented a mechanical model of the Cosmos, governed by fixed laws that determine the movement and changes observed in the physical world, including the movements of the planets. These laws are the basic laws of nature ensure the stability of the Solar system. Events that occur in the physical realities are traceable to the motion of matter in space. The movement of particles is directed by the force of gravity, the force which holds the stars, planets, and meteors, in their orbits around the Sun. This force of gravity also prevents the masses from flying apart and even pulls those flying bodies back towards a common center. The intensity of this force is dependent on the mass and distance of the particles. Matter, in the perspective of classical physics is regarded as solid and indestructible objects, while void is thought of as empty space. This Newtonian conception of matter and space is undoubtedly akin to that of the Greek atomists.

 

But, according to quantum theory, the beginning was not really empty, for in the midst of this nothingness there exists a tiny single point, a very hot, dense substance, a primeval atom that teems with all the essential elements that would later, on their own devices, give life to all the things we now see around us. Thus, in the beginning, we have both this “nothingness” and the single point, or “singularity,” the primal atom, interacting with each other. The inseparability and interdependence of particles (matter) and the space surrounding them has been emphasized in Einstein’s field theory of gravity and quantum field theory. According to these theories, the two cannot be separated and regarded as isolated entities. The space (also field, void, vacuum, or nothingness) is where all particles and their interactions is carried on.

 

The field exists always and everywhere; it can never be removed. It is the carrier of all material phenomena. It is the “void” out of which the proton creates the pi-mesons. Being and fading of particles are merely forms of motion of the field (W. Thiring, 1968:159, quoted in Capra, 1975:208).

 

Space is viewed as a field, which is at the same time associated in the large-scale world with the forces of gravity and electromagnetism. Space or void is considered in terms of gravitational and electromagnetic field. Thus, space or vacuum is far from empty for, as we shall see shortly, it contains potential and virtual particles which can anytime manifest themselves in real forms of the particle world.

 

It was Alexander Friedmann’s big bang model that argued that everything emerged from a point. This idea that in the beginning there was nothing, yet there is something (a single point) can be mind-boggling and perplexing to an ordinary individual, who are uninitiated to the world of particle physics. Yet, this apparently weird idea is really it. Nothingness, for the physicists, is not emptiness or void; it is not a vacuum or “empty space.” British Cosmologist Paul Davies and Astrophysicist John Gribbin invite us to think of an empty box as a perfect vacuum---empty space (1992:142-143). But, in fact, according to them, this empty box is not really inert but “full of ghostly particles” restively appearing, interacting, and vanishing.

 

The apparently inert vacuum is actually a sea of restless activity, full of ghostly particles which appear, interact and vanish. And this applies whether or not the box is emptied of all ‘permanent’ matter---the same restless vacuum activity goes on all around us, including in the space between atoms of ordinary matter.

 

It was in the late 1930s and early 1940s that scientists like Richard Feynman, found out that even though vacuum is empty of matter, “it is buzzing with energy and hidden activity.” It is not “absence” or “devoid” of particles, but as a dynamic and active state ready to burst in the form of real particles.

 

This restless vacuum is populated by virtual atomic particles ready to take real and permanent life given the right amount of energy or impetus. When this happens, particles are really appearing out of nothing, or out of the vacuum. So we have now a case of creating something and, in fact, everything, out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). But, as Gary Zukav explains it: “This happens as particles interact and it also happens, literally, out of nowhere . . . Where there is ‘nothing’ there suddenly is ‘something.' According to Paul Davies, this theory is more scientific and “removed the need to postulate the supernatural input of matter at the beginning of time. The idea that the Cosmos was created from the vacuum or empty space is traced back to the paper of Edward P. Tryon of the Columbia University “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?” which appeared in the journal Nature in 1973.

 

The idea that the Cosmos was created from the vacuum or empty space is traced back to the paper of Edward P. Tryon of the Columbia University “Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?” which appeared in the journal Nature in 1973. And it has been observed that there is a tendency for many of us to equate empty space or vacuum with nothingness. But according to quantum theory and general relativity, space is not really empty and passive, but full of buzzing energy. If this is so, then, we can also say that in the beginning there was really energy. And this energy was concentrated on a single point, now known to many of us as the “initial singularity,” which John D. Barrow describes  as that state “at which everything hits everything else: all the mass in the universe is compressed into a state of infinite density” (1994:5). Lucretius, the great Greek philosopher, call this by many names--‘raw material,’ ‘generative bodies’ or ‘seeds’ of things, ‘primary particles’—because they come first and everything else is composed of them (1957:42).

 

According to Davies and Gribbin, “it is possible to picture a singularity by imagining all the matter in the universe squashed into a single point, no longer envisaging the point mass surrounded by space, since space would have to be shrunk to a point as well” (1992:107). As physicist Dan Lincoln (2005) maintains,

Everything in the vastness of space was concentrated into a single point, not just a sort of point, but a quantum singularity. This had no size at all. Not only was all the matter and energy of the Universe packed into a single point, space itself was packed into the same point.

 

And what is inside this initial singularity that vibrates with restive energy? During the 1930s, the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître introduced his theory of the “primeval atom,” a very dense state in which the particles of the whole universe existed as a huge atomic nucleus (Craig Sean McConnell, 2002: 318). And he had his supporters, among whom was Pope Pius XII who endorsed the idea in a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1951. The concept of atom, of course, was introduced much earlier by the two Greek philosophers Leucippus of Miletus and his disciple Democritus of Abdera. Originally conceived by Leucippus, atom was viewed as the smallest indivisible unit and the primordial building block from which all the things in the Cosmos. Primarily using the method of logical reasoning, Democritus (460-362 B.C.) expressed the dominant view of the Greeks during that time that in the beginning there was only atom (literally “not able to be cut”) and the void. The void he proposed is a sort of nothingness in which the atom moves. According to Leucippus and Democritus, there are an infinite number of atoms, differing in size and shape. These atoms move in the void. In the void, collisions between atoms were inevitable; atoms of irregular shapes got entangled with one another, eventually forming groups of atoms. It was in this manner that the world was finally formed.

 

One of the most convincing evidences that the Cosmos started from the initial singularity is Edwin Hubble’s discovery in 1929 that the universe is expanding. If this is so, then, as Barrow conjectured “when we reverse the direction of history and look into the past we should find evidence that it emerged from a smaller, denser state—a state that appears to have once had zero size. It is this apparent beginning that has become known as the big bang (1994:4-5). This is followed through by Physicist Alan Guth when he raised the following points (1997: 86):

 

By extrapolating backwards in time, one learns that the instant of the big bang explosion itself (where “t = 0”) is characterized by a point of infinite density, infinite pressure, and infinite temperature. This instant is also frequently called a singularity, a mathematical word that refers to the infinite values of the density, pressure, and temperature. It is often said that this singularity marks the beginning of the universe, the beginning of time itself.

 

In 1965 German-American physicist Arno Allan Penzias and the American physicist Robert Woodrow Wilson discovered a background radiation, called the “cosmic microwave background,” or CMB. Working then at the Bell Laboratories, the two detected a steady “hiss” of CMB radiation, the intensity of which diminishes as the Cosmos expands. They found out that the Cosmos is filled with this radiation, which they observe as “the faint afterglow of the hot primeval fireball.”

 

The questions of what existed before the big bang and what happened before the big bang are from the perspective of the physical sciences meaningless, since there was no before. Time only began when the “big bang” happened. Before this fiery explosion, there was no time, not even space. So, the question of where did the big bang happen also becomes pointless, since there was no place yet to talk of. The big bang did not occur at some defined place or location. Neither was there matter or somebody. The question of who caused the big bang is not also meaningful and there was no need to postulate the existence of a creator either, since before the beginning of time, there was simply nothing and nobody. Even the question of why there was nothing at all before the big bang becomes irrelevant. The big bang is pure and simple the beginning.#

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