Was there a time before the universe existed?

Karan asked:

A) If we treat the ‘cosmic Egg’ state of the Universe as being at time=0 (that is when no time existed), do we have a negative direction of time in which events unfold in a very different way? That is, if we treat time to be like the number line with the ‘positive time’ that we experience leading to the rising entropy of the universe from its birth to its current state and further; could there also be ‘negative time’ in which we did not exist and neither did our universe?

B) Could time be a more fundamental dimension which contains the space dimensions? That is, could time have been there before the formation of the universe, with a value equal to zero at its formation (leading us to think that time started with the Big Bang), and increasing values ever after?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

Time is not a number, nor a dimension, nor a direction. Time does not move. What you need to appreciate in the context of your question is that science employs a rigorous theoretical conception which has nothing to do with your and my experience of time. In the framework of this theory, you can play with numbers, dimensions etc., but you cannot simply conclude from the numbers and the games you play with them, that there is a ‘thing’ or ‘state’ or actual ‘dimension’ that does something independently of your theory.

Yes, you can give time a number, like we do with our clocks. But consider this: You can also draw a map of the world, but that’s not the world. Someone once said, ‘don’t confuse the map with the terrain’, and that’s exactly what you are doing here.

In many countries in the world daylight saving is introduced in summer. We all turn our clocks back. Does it change anything about time? Of course not. The time is still the same. We just change the number on the clock. Time is not ‘moving backward’ or anything of the sort. Time is doing nothing. And none of us grows a day younger or older just because we changed a number on our clocks.

In the theory of relativity, where events seems to change time (maybe this is what you are alluding to?), time is relative to an observer. It is not much different from the example of daylight saving. Observer A observes an event relative to his/her self, while to another observer who is watching the same events pass much more quickly. But this has to do with the physical dimension in which both observers are enclosed. You can understand this better if just stay on earth and think about you and flies. The reason why they’re so hard to catch, is because for them, the time it takes for your hand to approach is much slower than for for yourself. Because they are so small and short-lived, their sense of time is different from yours.

What this boils down to is this. Don’t confuse the scientific conception of time with real time. In science, there are exact and unambiguous instrumental and operational definitions. In science, time is treated as an independent existent, which can then be manipulated mathematically. In some circumstances, e.g. in quantum mechanics, this involves time moving forward and backward relative to the events which are being timed. But once again this depends on the observer. A particle which – mathematically – is moving backward in time, does not move backward in its own time, only in that of the observer or the equation.

So to come to a conclusion: ‘Real time’ is objective and constant; it does not move, bend, twist or anything of the sort. All these are human ideas. Time is nothing you can grasp with your hand, only with your mind. If you don’t have life, then time is not a meaningful word. Time is something that arises from a consciousness that needs to organise its own processes into past, present and future. Things like rocks and water and stars don’t have time, because they cannot be aware of it. So the universe does not give birth to time, nor time to the universe. Remove consciousness from the world and time disappear.

In one word: Time is the human idea of time. There is nothing you can find anywhere in the universe that answers to the clause ‘time in itself’.


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