Time and the Universe

There is one question most of us ask, but do not know the answer to. Since early childhood, I have asked the same question to my parents, teachers, friends, almost everyone I know…. And yet, no clear answers.

How did the universe begin? What is the underlying principle, if there is one, that governs the evolution of the entire world?

Often, the answer was that the universe began with a ‘Big Bang’ – one huge mass exploded and gave rise to the universe. As I started hearing this answer more and more frequently, I learned to ask, “but what was there before the Big Bang?” Like almost everyone else, I have wondered about all the time that passed before the instant that the Big Bang happened.

Then someone said, “Time began at the instant of the Big Bang. The idea of time is abstract, and it is meaningless to ask what happened before the Big Bang.”

I have had a hard time digesting it, like so many other ideas of science and our understanding.

The picture of a clock comes instantly to my mind, when I think of ‘time’. Each tick measures how much time has passed. But what exactly do we mean by time?

Physicists and philosophers have related time to change. Time measures how long it takes for seasons to change, for the earth to rotate, for a train to travel, and so on…

Now, if everything in the universe stopped moving – the sun, earth, galaxies, everything came to a standstill – and no seasons changed, no wind blew, no rain fell, would there be any meaning to the idea of time?

No, and yes. Physically, nothing would change. But at a mental level, one could still think different thoughts, one after the other, giving us an idea of before and after. This sequence of thoughts, as it changes, is an indicator of time.

But what if both thoughts and the physical universe paused? Would time pass?

Clocks still. Thoughts still.

I find the idea of time beautiful. It is one of those things that directly connects physical motion to thoughts in a conscience.


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