Stephen Hawking explains what happened before Big Bang

Commentary: The physicist tells Neil deGrasse Tyson what came before the Big Bang. Was there anything there? Was there nothing there? Was there even a there there?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Stephen Hawking Addresses The Cambridge Union

Before the bang, there wasn't even a whimper.

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So there was this chicken, OK? And then there was this egg.

No, wait. There was this egg, you see. And then there was this chicken. 

It's easy to see quite a few scientific theories as relying on a decision as to when something began. The universe, for example. 

We've heard a lot about the Big Bang. It's the moment when something impossibly tiny began to grow over the next billions of years to become the universe that we know (at least partially) today.

But what was there before it? Anything? Nothing? Some small, inaudible bangs?

Neil deGrasse Tyson, on his "Star Talk" show, sat his fellow physicist Stephen Hawking down and asked for his view.  

Hawking offered a simple and direct answer. 

"Nothing was around before the Big, Big Bang," Hawking said. 

He explained that Einstein's Theory of Relativity insists space and time form a continuum curved by the matter and energy in it. 

For Hawking, therefore, the beginning of the universe is best described by a Euclidean approach.

"Ordinary real time is replaced by imaginary time," he said. Honestly, that happens to me all the time. I imagine time has gone by at a certain pace, only to discover I've been imagining things.

For Hawking, however, imaginary time "behaves like a fourth direction of space." He and Euclid believe imaginary time is a "four-dimensional curved surface like the surface of the Earth, but with two more dimensions."

Six-dimensional, then?

The universe, insisted Hawking, has no boundaries. Yes, it's like true love.

In essence, the curved surface that is space-time can be compared with our own little planet.

"One can regard imaginary and real time as beginning at the South Pole, which is a smooth point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold. There is nothing south of the South Pole, so there was nothing around before the Big Bang," Hawking said. 

It's a smooth argument. Yet because we're mere humans, it's hard for us to define and explain a potential infinity we don't entirely grasp. 

Astronomers work very hard to detect what might have happened shortly after the Big Bang. Just days ago, they detected signals that carry an imprint from some of the first stars ever born.

Still, I can't help having detected over the years that humans are far less bright than they think they are. There's too much we don't know, because there's too much we haven't experienced and we tend to look at so many things from a human-centric perspective. 

Perhaps, one day soon, aliens will descend upon us to inform us that our ideas of physics are laughably rudimentary and that we don't understand the existence of another thousand dimensions of life, the universe and everything. 

Then again, another famous physicist, Michio Kaku, believes we should steer clear of aliens entirely.

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