The Big Bang theory has been the predominant, scientist favored theory for the origin of the universe for a number of decades. But your probably knew that already. You probably also thought that the Big Bang theory was all science, based on well established facts and observations. If so then the Big Bang magicians have you just where they want you: already believing the illusion they’re selling is 100% science. Like a person going to see a magic show believes he will see magic; a person hearing a story from a scientist believes he will hear science. Since you already believe what you hear about the big bang is science, pulling off the illusion that it is all science with no magic mixed in is now a piece of cake.
You’re already primed and expecting a good show, which in this case is good science. Therefore at the theatre, just as a good audience member of a magic show is unlikely to look behind the curtains to see how the trick was performed, since you already believe you will see science, you are unlikely to look behind the curtain to see if a fast one has been pulled. If, however, you’ve had questions or suspicions, or this has piqued your curiosity and you want to know how the tricks behind the big bang have been so well hidden, you’re in luck. I will reveal shortly a couple of the biggest of the many tricks employed to create the illusion that the Big Bang is all solid science. But first, a brief explanation of how magicians create compelling illusions to better understand how perception is manipulated.
The classic magic trick is well described in the 2006 movie “The Prestige”. In it, designer of illusions and the apparatus with which to perform them – Mr. Cutter -played by Michael Caine explains the three parts or acts to the classic illusion:
“The first part is called the Pledge. The Magician shows you something ordinary – a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object, perhaps he asks you to inspect it. …”
“The second act is called the Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something, and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it Because you’re not really looking. You don’t want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough.”
“You have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act – the hardest part. The part we call The Prestige.”
Thus the course of a typical magic trick runs like this: the pledge is presented – say a small bird. Then the turn – the magician makes the pledge do something extraordinary – like disappear. And finally the pièce de résistance: the prestige – the magician brings the bird back again. But with the big bang, the order of appearance is reversed – instead of starting with something, they start with nothing, and then produce something. And since no one wants to go back to nothing, literally ceasing to exist, the big bang magicians get a pass on having to do the trick two ways, and only need to do it one way: from nothing to something. So when it comes to the big bang illusion, the magicians are free to go straight from the pledge to the prestige like so:
First Act: The Pledge.
The magicians, who like to be called scientists, tell us they will produce a universe out of nothing. Since we are speaking of “nothing”, one supposes the only thing to inspect is that there are no objects there. Thus the stage is set: it’s a stage of nothingness. Being creatures who exist in 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time, we find it difficult to even conceive of the true stage of which they speak – real nothingness. We barely have words sufficient to describe a time when time didn’t exist, and a place where space didn’t exist, much less conceive of it. But that is the true stage of nothingness.
Final Act: The Prestige.
The magicians tell us out of this time where there is no time, and from a place where there is no space, somehow space and time are created, so that into it can explode all the energy that will ever exist, created from a nothingness where energy didn’t exist. This is the singularity, and as it expands into existence it cools and creates everything that exists because as the magicians tell us, the laws of physics allow it to. Finally to bring the applause they produce exquisite equations and marvelous evidence like that from WMAP, a “baby picture” of the universe – supposedly just 375,000 years1 after the big bang. Thus with this and other evidence they assure us that their story is true and consists of all science. And there you have it. The illusion is complete.
Perhaps you caught where magic has been substituted for science. For those who didn’t, following are two of the key tricks.
Smoke and Mirrors
Good magicians masterfully use misdirection. They have many ways of doing it, and smoke and mirrors are but one of them. Scientists trying to save pet theories like the big bang have also mastered the use of misdirection. But theirs is a logical misdirection. Some call it bait and switch. The logical term is “equivocation”, defined as:
“…the illegitimate switching of the meaning of a term during the reasoning.” Internet Encyclopedia of Fallacies
The first trick relies on the premise that you won’t catch them changing the meaning of the word “nothing.” Preparation for the first illusion begins by tricking you into believing that the scientist who speak of nothing mean the same thing when you speak of nothing. (Which by the way is likely not the “nothing” required of the initial conditions of the big bang where not even space and time exist.) If you listen to them closely, they are not speaking of the same nothing the average person thinks of, nor even the requirements of the big bang initial conditions. They speak of “the vacuum of space” but they really don’t mean “nothing”. They mean “no matter in it”. (And in passing why are they speaking of a “vacuum” in “space” when there is no “space” to have a vacuum before the big bang?) The “vacuum of space” – as they well know – is not nothing. Following is how cosmologist and high wizard Lawrence Krauss who wrote an entire book on how to get a universe from nothing describes nothing:
“First, I want to be clear about what kind of ‘nothing’ I am discussing at the moment. This is the simplest version of nothing, namely empty space. For the moment, I will assume space exists, with nothing at all in it, and that the laws of physics also exist. … I suspect that, at the times of Plato and Aquinas, when they pondered why there was something rather than nothing, empty space with nothing in it was probably a good approximation of what they were thinking about.”2
To understand how the switch was done, you must first recognize that here in the pledge the magician has already slipped two somethings into his so called “nothing”.
First of all, he has slipped in the laws of physics. Why should he be granted that the laws of physics exist in his nothing? The laws of physics appear finely tuned (which requires a tuner), so why should we suppose they just exist in his “nothing” unless someone finely tuned them and put them there?
Second he has slipped in space. Plato likely viewed space as an area of empty nothingness, but scientists in the age of Einstein and Relativity do not. Space is not simply emptiness, it has properties. In fact, as Krauss describes it,
“Empty space can have a non-zero energy associated with it.”3
Theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind describes the nothingness of space this way:
“Vacuum energy sounds like an oxymoron. The vacuum is empty space. By definition it is empty, so how can it have any energy? The answer lies in the weirdness brought to the world by quantum mechanics, the weird uncertainty, the weird granularity, and the weird incessant jitteriness. Even empty space has the “quantum jitters.”4
Vacuum energy points to the third item slipped in: Energy.
Did you watch the shell game closely? In the shell game, magicians show you the pledge then ask you to keep your eye on it. Inside the big bang shell is supposed to be “nothingness”. But the big bang magicians have surreptitiously slipped in things they claim don’t exist. Here’s the problem with each one:
- The laws of physics. The laws of physics don’t work in a singularity, and there’s no reason to assume they exist before the singularity. In fact some if not all physicists believe the laws of physics were created by the big bang itself, and so cannot exist at the time before the big bang, (or have anything to do with starting the big bang). Take for example Professor Michio Kaku:
“The big bang gave us everything…even the laws of physics themselves, we think were born at the instant of creation.”5
So they obviously did not exist in the “nothingness” before it. But being magicians, they claim the universe was shaped by laws that didn’t yet exist.
- Space – The big bang itself was supposed to create time and space. So space obviously cannot exist in the nothingness before the big bang. And though the magicians claim the big bang happened “everywhere” (since the singularity is at the beginning a mere point), before there is a singularity, there is no place or space; nor time for that matter, for a singularity to exist. Yet being the magicians that they are, the scientists claim the singularity itself creates a space and time for itself to exist. What an amazing trick!
- Finally, here’s the big one – the “vacuum energy” or “quantum jitters” or “non-zero energy.” These are all pointing to the same thing: that supposedly before anything existed, there existed the “vacuum energy” or whatever they want to call it.
This is a masterful piece of magic. They have tricked you into believing that “something” is “nothing”. They then go on to use this something – calling it nothing – to build other things. As magicians are wont to do, this is an intentional piece of misdirection, because as physicists, they are all well acquainted with what has been described as the most famous equation in the world – Einstein’s equation that ushered in the nuclear age: e=mc2. That equation shows that matter and energy are different manifestations of the same thing, or as Professor Kaku put it:
“The Genius of Einstein was that he was able to show that they [matter and energy] really are two aspects of the same thing.”6
Thus to state that the “vacuum” has “energy” or “jitteriness” is to place something (whether energy or matter, it doesn’t matter because ultimately it’s an aspect of a real object) inside what is supposed to be nothing. So while they claim to be explaining how to get a universe from “precisely nothing”7, they are really explaining how to apply finely tuned laws of physics to an object already existing, to get something else. That is not a creation out of nothing. That is merely a transformation. But the big bang magicians want you to believe it’s a creation out of nothing. This equivocation on “nothing” is the key to the first trick. This brings us to the next big bang trick – another transformation.
Big Bang Hocus Pocus
No one is sure where the phrase “Hocus Pocus” came from. Some say an early magician used it to distract people during a magic trick; others that it is a parody on the Latin words used during the Eucharist. However it came about, it has become associated with a magician invoking change, a transformation. And thus it is appropriate here. The big bang magicians claim to explain how everything came about from nothing: the singularity that explodes and becomes everything we see today.
But have they really explained anything, or have they merely managed to surreptitiously change what we think they’re doing?
- They claim to explain how everything came from nothing, but as we have seen, they don’t really start with nothing.
- They claim that the laws of physics allow the universe to create itself and develop as it has – here is how Stephen Hawking put it:
“Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”8
But they never explain where the laws of physics (another something inserted into their nothingness) come from, nor why they are finely tuned as they are.9
- Finally they do what they accuse Creationists of doing – they abandon science for a long ago disproved theory: spontaneous creation. Here’s Hawking again:
“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”10
In this last item we have the biggest change the science magicians hope you won’t notice. Never mind the concept – spontaneous creation, is the same concept as it’s name sake – spontaneous generation – which was decisively disproved by the 1859 experiments of Louis Pasteur. Clearly the idea is without merit, but the trick you need to see is the scientific magic. They didn’t use the words “Hocus Pocus”, but there was most definitely a change. Namely, the scientists have gone from explaining using science to merely describing what happens. “Spontaneous Creation” is not a scientific explanation of anything. It is a descriptive label used since they have no other choice, having painted themselves into a corner by declaring God didn’t do it, and affirming nothing else existed before the beginning, thus they have no candidate in existence that could do it. Just as mockers of God can claim an imaginary Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) as a deity, so scientists can claim an imaginary spontaneous creation. But just as the “religion” of the FSM is not a real religion, neither is spontaneous generation real science. Yet what else can they say, but that it “spontaneously” happened? Once you eliminate God and everything else, there simply is no other option regardless of how unscientific or ridiculous it sounds.
Logically, this is known as a category error or category fallacy. They have presented the singularity and spontaneous creation as a scientific explanation of how the universe was created out of nothing, when in fact all they’ve presented is a descriptive a story of what they believe happened – there is no science anywhere that starts from absolute nothingness and proceeds to explain how everything came to be while remaining within the bounds of the science they themselves profess to believe and uphold.
So there you have it: An introduction into some of the magic of the big bang. The magicians have other tricks up their sleeves, but those are stories for another time. For now, a word to the wise:
When going to a magic show, what you see is not the reality you think you see, it is the illusion the magician wants you to see.
When considering the big bang, unless you look at the details, the big bang is not the 100% pure science you expect to see, it’s the science/illusion mixture the big bang magicians want you to see.
1. “Supposedly” because the universe is not 14.7 billion years old as claimed, nor even 380,000 years old thus the time frame of that which is captured in the WMAP data is in dispute.
WMAP Date from: NASA’s WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anistrophy Probe) site, accessed 1/3/2016 http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/media/060915/index.html
David Spergel, astrophysicist at Princeton University uses the analogy of a “Baby picture” for the WMAP picture in Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole episode “What happened before the beginning?”, Science Channel Documentary, 2010
2. Krauss, Lawrence M., A Universe From Nothing – Why there is something rather than nothing, New York: Freepress, 2012 p. 149
3. Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 150
4. Susskind, Leonard The Cosmic Landscape – String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design New
York: Little, Brown and Company 2006 p. 72-73
5. Kaku, Michio theoretical physicist, City College of New York in How The Universe Works episode “Big Bang”, Discovery Channel Documentary, 2010
6. Kaku, Michio, Exploring Einstein: Life of a Genius, BBC documentary, 2005
7. Krauss, Lawrence How The Universe Works episode “Big Bang”, Discovery Channel Documentary, 2010
8. Hawking, Stephen and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Random House Pub., 2010. p. 180.
9. In passing, to explain Cosmic fine tuning big bang theorists invoke the multiverse, which is a fairy tale for another time.
10. Hawking, The Grand Design, p. 180
Image: Based on Public Domain NASA/JPL image