At Ricochet, Claire Berlinski hosts her father, mathematician and philosopher David Berlinski, on a topic he could hardly be expected to resist: What Really Happened at the Beginning of Time – principally because the topic forces one to take philosophy seriously:
What happened before the Big Bang. This is what Nunov Yerbiz would like to know. Me too. No one knows. The Big Bang marks the point at which physical theories start to stutter.
Physicists often say that space and time began with the Big Bang. But as Mr. Yerbiz notices, this is hardly a coherent position. To ask for the time that time began is a little like asking for the length of length. The measure has been applied to itself. The Vise is at work here too.
In order to say that space and time began, physicists must renounce the old, comfortable sense that while things may begin or come to an end, beginnings and endings make sense only against the context of an antecedent temporal flow. If the Vise is evident, so is the ladder. Climb it up, the physicists say, and then give up what you is troubling you. Not so easy to do. How would knowing more mathematics help, I wonder? Are these sorts of questions mathematical? They appear all over again when physicists argue that space and time are not even fundamental physical categories. The jiggling fundaments lie elsewhere; and from them, space and time may be derived. That may be so within a particular theory, but the theory must be understood against the background of what can only be called the instinctive human sense that whatever the derivation in theory, space and time remain fundamental. Kicking away this ladder involves kicking away the very intuitions by which things are in the first place judged. Better to give the theory a kick, no?