I must be in a bad way; last night I watched a repeated Horizon on BBC4 about, er, what happened before the Big Bang. I've often wondered... Well no, to be honest, I haven't, but it was good to hear about the Big Ideas the boffins are tossing around these days - sometimes tossing at each other with a degree of force and venom. Roland Penrose, who was Mr Big Bang for years and was happy to declare that there couldn't be a 'Before' because Time 'came into being' with the Big Bang, has done a commendable volte face and now has his own ideas on Before. So do a whole battalion of other megabrains, who speak of Inflation (which seems to be the big alternative to Big Bang), Multiverses, Black Holes, Swiss cheeses, Gravity Waves, things called 'Branes (i.e. membranes) that exist in ten-dimensional space, whatever the heck that is... Towards the end, the succession of frankly geeky males was broken by the welcome surprise of a rather glamorous and exotic lady Prof who'd had a Eureka moment over a cup of coffee. It involved String Theory and the Universe being a Wave, and for some reason it seemed to mean that there needn't be a Before. I think.
Okay, so what is all this about? Is it looking for something 'before Time' - surely a logical contradiction, as without Time there can't be a Before? Or is it a matter of pushing back yet further
the really big question - how does Something emerge from Nothing? Do any of these new ideas actually answer that? Can the question ever be answered in terms of Space-Time reality? Doesn't it ultimately belong somewhere else? Perhaps it loses some of its difficulty if we acknowledge the existence (hardly the word, but what can you do?) of a timeless world - a world such as we sometimes subjectively and intuitively know, and which, after all, we inhabit for a large part of our lives, 'Returning each morning from a timeless world', as Auden puts it. Incidentally, for those exercised by the question of whether God exists, this acknowledgment would, in a way, settle the matter: 'Dieu n'existe pas, Il est eternel.' I think that was Francois Mauriac. I'm sure he wasn't thinking about what happened before the Big Bang.