Talking Big Bang With My Ten Year Old.

Let me say right at the outset: If you’re thinking the title is a bit too grandiose, consider the original title I had. It was “Before The Big Bang”. I have made a rather concerted effort to come up with something less pretentious. I do, however admit that I haven’t succeeded fully. Constant revisions of the post, as is my wont, will hopefully yield something less grandiose.
Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly perhaps, some of the best, most profound conversations I have always seem to be with my boys aged ten and six. A phenomenon observed by many, if not most, or all parents no doubt. This could be because children are unencumbered by the baggage, opinions and “knowledge” if you will, that life experiences burden adults with. Also quite possibly because the questions are simple yet profound and the explanations have to be simple and non convoluted. Not for them E equals mc squared or relativity or the complexity of time as a fourth dimension and wormholes. This conversation  happened with my ten year old as a by product of me asking him to, at the very least, read five pages a day of  Cosmos by Carl Sagan. He kept at it for three days and hasn’t returned since, but that is a conversation for another day and time.
On a side note, I have of late discovered the writings of Carl Sagan; Pale Blue Dot, Cosmos, and A Demon Haunted World specifically. For those curious about the vast universe and all the wonders it has to offer Pale Blue Dot is a highly recommended read. It can, at times be disheartening to find out how little we actually know and how ephemeral our short few decades on this earth can be. The author put it best when he wrote “It has been said that Astronomy is a humbling and character building exercise.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

Returning to the topic I want to discuss, my ten year old asked me a simple question:

OK, before the Big Bang everything was a tiny dot you say. But you also say there was no time and no space before the Big Bang. So where exactly did that tiny little dot exist?

I tried explaining to him that the very words “where” and “when” assume the existence of time and space, but the explanation was as unconvincing to me as it was to him. The fact that I couldn’t explain that in a reasonable manner is rather unsurprising. What is also unsurprising is that a ten year old was seeking an answer to this question. A question that most if not all of us humans have for centuries asked. One that some of the brightest minds that have ever walked this Earth  have for centuries tried to answer. Then I came across the writings of Swami Vivekananda, who writes thus:

“Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. Then, if there was a time that nothing existed, where was all this manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God. In that case God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic., which would make Him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound, and every compound must undergo that change which is called destruction. So God would die — which is absurd. Therefore there never was a time when there was no creation.”

Now, it would be an understatement of cosmic proportions (using the word cosmic to stay with the topic at hand) to say that I have neither the intellectual heft nor the brilliant logical mind that Swami Vivekananda had to claim with such certitude that creation has always existed. In which case my question then becomes: What is creation? It is not time, space, matter (organic or inorganic) or anything else we can touch or feel apparently. That too is a question for another day and time.

My views and opinions  on the existence of God as they are today are irrelevant but I can make peace with the explanation provided by Swami Vivekananda. For now. It begins to scratch the surface. It is quite likely, if this piece of writing  even survives a few years in some remote corner of the internet I will read it and be amused, if not be downright embarrassed by my own naivete and lack of profundity.

Now my challenge becomes how to put this in a succinct and simple way to try and scratch the surface of this question posed by my ten year old.
As always, if you have made it thus far, thank you for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
Prosper, TX

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