vs. … we may never know what it was like.
New Scientist reposted this longish article from December 2012 recently, we’re told (possibly as part of a subscription campaign?), presumably because it’s still a fair summary of ruminations about what might have happened before the Big Bang, including
Can we really be sure now that the universe had a beginning? Or are we in for an infinite cycle of belief and disbelief over the matter? “For the first time in history, we have the tools to address the origin question scientifically,” says Vilenkin. “So I have a feeling we are getting near to the truth.”
Any hope of us observing the ultimate origin is fading, however. Soon after Vilenkin and Mithani published their argument, physicist Leonard Susskind of Stanford University in California responded with two papers. In them, he says that a beginning, if it did indeed occur, is likely to have been so far in the past that for all practical purposes the universe has been around forever.
He argues that because space inflates exponentially, the volume of the vacuum at later times is overwhelmingly greater than at earlier times. With many more bubble universes in existence, chances are that the patch of vacuum we call home formed later on too. The true beginning is likely to have been an awfully long time ago – so far away, that no imprint on the universe has survived. “I find it a paradoxical situation to say that there must have been a beginning, but it is with certainty before any nameable time,” says Susskind.
Vilenkin acknowledges this. “It’s ironic,” he says. “The universe may have a beginning but we may never be able to know exactly what the beginning was like.” More.