Part 3: Homo sapiens has produced a great diversity of wonderful guesswork about the birth of the universe. Or has the universe no distinct starting point? Has each beginning another beginning?
My birthday is March 10, 1945. My Mam has always told me that I arrived a couple of days later than she expected me to be born. So I started counting backwards: nine months and a couple of days before March 10, that means June 6, 1944, D-Day! I asked her if she and my Dad celebrated D-Day together in bed, allowing me to become the child of a moment of joy and of hope for peace to come soon, right after the nightmares of two World Wars. As a response she offered me a cup of tea, but she didn’t say ‘No’, which is a very meaningful answer as far as my Mam is concerned!
On which day can we celebrate the birth of our universe? How many ‘days’ do we have to count back to arrive at C-day, Conception Day? To whom can we ask that question, where to inquire when there is no ‘Mam’ hanging around?
Homo sapiens has always been intrigued by this question, so from the very beginning of our species we have produced a lot of wonderful guesswork.
Was there a Potter, “one with an inordinate fondness for beetles,” as evolutionary biologist Jack B.S. Haldane jokingly speculates, in response to some theologians who asked him what could be inferred about the mind of the Creator from the works of His Creation? He said so in reference to there being over 400,000 known species of beetles in the world. But where did this Potter come from? Each beginning seems to assume another beginning, whether it is a Potter or a God or a Big Bang or the Mother of all Universes. Was there a Plan, an Intelligent Plan, an Unintelligent or even an outright Stupid Plan, not to mention Ordinary Bungle? Do we ask the right question, as Stephen Hawking is wondering: Time may be a circle instead of a straight line, having neither head nor tail?
Or, after all, A Universe from Nothing, to quote the title of a book of the internationally known theoretical physicist, Prof. Lawrence M. Krauss? Or do we live in a cyclic creative/destructive universe, an eternal process of expansion and contraction, ad infinitum? Is the surprisingly modern-looking vision of Theravada Buddhism correct? In their ‘Pali Canon’ the kappa is the unit of time for very long periods. A kappa is a period of expansion and contraction of the universe, as this is also described in some versions of the Big Bang theory. A period of five kappa’s is the time it takes to accomplish five cycles of expansion and contraction of the universe.
The universe has in Buddhism no distinct starting point. It undergoes a continuous, cyclical movement of expansion and contraction, without demonstrable beginning. A Big Bang in Buddhism is merely the point where the expansion starts again. According to Buddhism there are many universes simultaneously, at different stages of development, a Multiverse, a vision shared by the majority of physicists and cosmologists nowadays, among them Lord Martin John Rees, Professor of Cosmology and Astronomy at Cambridge University.
Is this universe nothing more than a small atom in this much larger multiverse? Theoretical physicist Prof. Michio Kaku estimates the number of possible universes at 10 to the 5 hundredth! So start counting: 10x10x10…altogether, 500 times.
Or is this Earth of us the hell of another planet, as writer Aldous L. Huxley was wondering? Or the Kindergarten? Do universes give birth to other universes, just as we, humans, give birth to our children? Is the potter in a pantheistic way one and the same with his clay, his creation, by disappearing into it? Is he or she alive and kicking in his or her piece of art?
“Cleave a piece of wood and you will find me, lift a stone and I am there,” as the Gospel of Thomas, discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi, tells us in saying 77. That would make everything and everyone to be that potter, me and U2!
Or still that Biblical Creator, that one who, according to his bishop James Usher (1581-1656) from Ireland, created man and woman on a Sunday evening, October 23, 4004 BCE? Other sources mention October 26, 4004 BCE. That must have been on a Wednesday, 9 o’clock in the morning.
He figured out that Adam and Eve have enjoyed the Garden of Eden for only a very short time: on Monday, November 10, 4004 BCE they had to get out already! Marc Chagall reporting:
Or has the universe always existed, having no beginning or end, as recently assumed by Ahmed Ali Farag and Saurya Badger in “Cosmology from Quantum Potential” in Physics Letters B. Volume 741, 04-02-2015, pp. 276-279.
Or does Osho see it clearly? “Hence I say there has never been any beginning and there will never be any end. Maybe a beginning, maybe many beginnings and maybe many ends, but never the first and never the last. We are always in the middle. Existence is not a creation, but a creativity. It is not that one day it begins and ends one day. It goes on and on; it is an ongoing process.” Osho, The Book of Wisdom, Ch 28, Q 3
In a lecture I attended, in the auditorium of the University of Amsterdam, in the summer of 2006, Nobel Laureate (Physics, 2004) David Gross, introduced by Prof. Dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf, recognized that modern cosmology is not yet able to give a clear answer to the question of the ‘First Beginning’. He called it the first challenge to the natural sciences for the years to come. Also Prof. Jan Oort, in one of the last interviews before his death in 1992, had to acknowledge that he would probably die with a head full of questions, particularly this burning question about the first beginning. However, the Big Bang cosmology believes to be able to give a fairly reliable record of what happened afterwards. About that next time!
All articles of this series can be found in: At Home in the Universe