Is Time Finite or Infinite? Time Before the Big Bang?

An examination of the most carefully written scientific treatments of the astronomical evidence, and of the cosmological theory which appears to fit the evidence, will discover that the big bang theory does not posit an absolute beginning of the cosmos — a coming into existence out of nothing — but only an initial event in the development of the cosmos as we now know it, an event that occurred at a time that is estimated as between fifteen and twenty billion years ago.

Our present techniques of observation and measurement, and the technical facilities they employ, do not permit us to penetrate the past beyond the time, some fifteen to twenty billion years ago, when the big bang occurred.

What is being said here is not that past time is limited (finite rather than infinite), but only that our knowledge of past time is limited — limited to a time beyond which our observations and measurements cannot go. Time may extend back infinitely beyond that initial explosion of matter, out of which the present shape of the cosmos has developed, but unless some radical alteration in our techniques and instruments of observation and measurements occurs, we will never be able to penetrate the veil that hides the infinite past from us.

— Mortimer J. Adler

10 Responses to “Is Time Finite or Infinite? Time Before the Big Bang?”

  1. Schnoodle Says:

    Without getting too far into big bang cosmology it must be remembered that the big bang theory is in response to the well accepted idea that the cosmos and time did in fact have a beginning. We do not need to have any techniques or instrumentation to establish this fact. However, this writer does accept that there are those who will not accept it but there are those who will read it and accept it. If time were indeed infinite then that would mean that an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before now arrived and this proposition is mathematically impossible. I will illustrate by using an illustration.

    If an infinite amount of dashes had occurred the now in the illustration would have never entered the screen. Since the now in the center does in fact appear then the dashes had a beginning. If you replace the dashes with passing moments, minutes, years, decades or centuries the same principle would apply. An infinite amount of moments, minutes, years, decades or centuries could not have passed before now. Let me use another illustration. If I contract you to work for me and I promise to pay you after an infinite number of days had passed would you agree to work under this agreement? I would agree with it because I would never have to pay you. If you approached me for pay I would simply state the original agreement that an infinite amount of time had not passed yet and was not time to pay you. There are those who will say that moments, minutes, days, years, decades and centuries do not exist so time does not exist but this is semantics. It is like saying that inches feet and yards do not exist so distance does not exist. I do not know many rational people who would agree that distance does not exist. Whether you are using inches or millimeters the expression of “distance” is the same and shows that it is only a linguistic manor of expressing an actual thing – distance – in an abstract way that others can comprehend what is being said. This applies to time as well, as Einstein would most probably agree. Time may in fact be relative but time does indeed exist and since it could not have been infinite it had to have a beginning.

  2. Kyle Says:

    This is all assuming the Big Bang Theory even happened. Or was the universe as we know it created by God, some six thousand years ago? Tons of evidence would disagree with the big bang theory. Probably to much to actual use it to provide foundation for an argument that it does.

    • Tj New Says:

      If you use that aspect, the universe could have been created 5 minutes ago with all of our thoughts,memories,and behaviors already implanted in us… Who’s to say that a god theory is closer to the truth than any other theory. (I contend that it is not even close) You are using an argument of adverse consequences which in no changes the facts of an existence of a supernatural being. If there are any positive facts to the existence anything supernatural (in your words god) please inform me. (Taking me to Mount Olympus doesn’t count nor does the bible)

  3. Jim Says:

    This is a riddle that has puzzled me even as a child. How could something have always existed? How could the universe have suddenly appeared when there was nothing before? Wouldn’t that event had to have been born from a previous event, or space, or time, to have ever happened.

    Therefore, time existed before the big bang. How much time? Was that time infinite?

  4. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is more than I expected when I found a link on Digg telling that the info is awesome. Thanks.

  5. Casey Horsfall Says:

    I’d just like to say that what I am about to express below is very silly, like a hermit crab. Few shall venture beyond these first few sentences… and those that do will probably wished they hadn’t. The words that follow this ridiculous exposition are full of a vitality and youth the likes of which have never been seen for ages – it’s very respectable. What isn’t respectable, though, is sand. It’s so gritty and sandy and gritty and brown, like a Quizno’s Sub. I’m sorry if I’ve offended anybody by that crude statement… I really do like velocity.

    OK, this has been bothering me.
    According to the “Law of Conservation of Mass” matter “cannot be created or destroyed”. This means that the only reasonable explanation for the existence of everything is that everything has always been here, or never has. So, if everything has always been here, then time has always been here, which means time never began. Similarly, if “matter cannot be… destroyed” then it will always be here, which means that time will never end. So basically, time is a little like this:

    – a never ending line that stretches in both directions for infinity –

    If this is indeed true and not just a bunch of nonsense, then I must pose the question; who the heck is Waldo and why are we looking for him?

    Also, if time is indeed infinite, and Waldo is in fact an “undetectable entity”, then everything that is physically possible has already happened infinity times… and will happen again infinity more. Let me explain this idea drawing from the infinite monkey theorem. The idea is that a monkey tapping random keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will eventually type out the complete works of William Shakespeare. This is absolutely ridiculous and anyone who believes this is obviously mentally unstable… unless the idea is actually a metaphor for something more tangible, which it is. The monkey is a metaphor for the random generation of numbers and code in a given context, in this case a secluded room, that are generated for an infinite amount of time.
    Every number and every possible combination of numbers will eventually be generated — it is inevitable. Similarly, if time is infinite, everything has already happened an infinite number of times and will happen again.

    More to the point… well, I really don’t have a point. I guess that makes me an idiot. All I’m trying to say is that whatever we do has already been done sometime during the existence of everything. That’s it. Now… where the heck is Waldo?

  6. Jonathan Bruckman Says:

    I think the biggest and most common misconception is that time is linear through a single dimension. We have no concept of the ‘geometry’ of time. Perhaps, from our observation point, time would seem infinite, but then so does the earth from the surface–you can continue on in a straight line forever and never reach the so called end. What if this is an analogue to the geometry of time? Perhaps, we are simply moving across the surface of time, unable to observe it’s curvature, and it is in fact a finite geometrical object in some higher dimensional space.

  7. Paul Says:

    Jonathan Bruckman’s reply seems very sensible
    but is not even necessary time does not exist, what we call time is the relative change in position of two entities this creates a comparative measure of duration. but what we measure is a relative change in position of something against a change in position of another object either the vibrations in an caesium atom as jumps back and forth between different energy levels or laser pulses bouncing of atoms, but this still gives us a duration that can in theory be divided even below the plank length.

    “Regardless of how small and accurate the value is made however, it cannot indicate a precise static instant in time at which a value would theoretically be precisely determined, because there is not a precise static instant in time underlying a dynamical physical process. If there were, all physical continuity, including motion and variation in all physical magnitudes would not be possible, as they would be frozen static at that precise instant, remaining that way….” Peter Lynds

  8. Siti Says:

    Jonathan and Paul seem to me to have got it just about right between them. It is amazing to me that from Zeno to Peter Lynds, via Plato, Leibniz, Newton, Einstein etc. etc. etc. very few people seem to get it. Time is finite but continuous – infinitely divisible but not infinitely extended.

  9. Matthew Pageau Says:

    Where to begin… Okay enough fooling around. The hard facts are not all at our disposal. We have evidence that supports both theories of time being finite and time being infinite. Both can neither be proven nor disproven. However I personally see strong evidence for time being infinite Why? Well let me explain.

    Newtons Law of Perpetual Motion
    This theory put together by Newton is that all things that are in motion tend to stay in motion. This instant the entire universe is in motion, so using logic, we can say that from second (a social construct of time) to second everything will continue to stay in motion infinitely. Now the question is, since we are in motion now, does that mean that everything has always been in motion; essentially using Newtons law backwards. I think that this is possible. We can presume we are in motion, because the infinite past has always been in motion. This can lead all the way back until the big bang theory.

    The Big Bang Theory
    The big bang is a theory that the universe created itself. There was a bit of mass infinitely dense that exploded in the most minute part of time.This mass however must have been in motion with itself to create the bang, and in such having time even during the big bang. Now the question is, well what about before the big bang? But before I go onto this I would like to explain a theory that there has actually been many big bangs, with the universe ever contracting and releasing. This would mean that the big bang does not actually explain the start of the universe, just the trend in which it pules. However all of this is theoretical, and obviously not taken from actual experience. However the question still is, did the big bang create time, was there time before the big bang?

    I have yet to find a solid theoretical explanation to prove or disprove time being actually created by the big bang. Also it brings to question, if there is nothing, no mass, no space, is there time? Does time still exist, and my personal opinion is I really don’t know because nothing like this exists. However what I do know is that there is now time, which means there must have always been time, on the fact that there is motion now, so there must have always been motion, meaning there must have always been time, and since there is motion now there will always be motion, so there will always be time. Going back to the statement that there has been no period where there is nothing relates to the idea of a true zero for time. In science there is a true zero for time, however I believe this is an abstract concept, just like time itself. Our idea of time is arbitrary brought on by the societies that have molded us, making us believe time is broken down into seconds, instead of broken down into anything else.You can look up the scientific term for a second, found by a physicist using an atom and its electrons movements through 2 hyperfine levels, but this does not mean that a second is really just a second, it is simply an arbitrary idea of an interval of an abstract idea on an infinite scale. What if the physicist decided it should be through 1 hyperfine level, our conception of time would be different. But back to the idea of a true zero. The idea of a true zero is complete inconceivable. In a true zero of time nothing would be moving, the universe would be at a stand still, which has never and will never happen. Why won’t this ever occur? Newtons law. Through this thought pattern I think that time is infinite, arbitrarily broken into increments, but occurring simultaneously on a continuum.

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