I’m not an astronomer. I’m a computer scientist and fiction writer. So after Monday night’s lecture I was grasping for a take away, and I was struggling. I left the lecture with new found knowledge on red shifting, deuterium, and the hubble effect, but I had no new, definite insight on origins — the topic of this years humanities lab. After some thought, it dawned on me that I was approaching it from the wrong angle. I was asking myself the “how”, and no the “why”. I was asking “how was the universe derived from such confined origins” and “if the big bang was truly the creation of all, then what was before? What is nothing?”. I should have been asking “why do we need to seek for an origin in the stars” and “why do we cling to the belief that the big bang was the start of the universe?”.
My immediate answer: our obsessive need to define our origin through physics derives from our need for affirmation — a confirmation bias. That’s why Steven Hawking’s No Boundary proposal has ruffled so many feathers: it upends the commonly accepted, preexisting hypothesis of absolute creation. Similar to the general public’s reaction when proposing the world is not indeed flat (but rather continues on the ‘other side’), we have a hard time digesting that our universe may simply be a string of a higher-dimensional cosmos or a galactic reflection mirrored across this opaque primordial soup.
Of course, this is not unlike our desire to color our origin story with all shades of religion. A simple rule of thumb I carry as a fairly agnostic individual: we can neither positively confirm nor deny a Gods existence, thus claiming God is real is just as ignorant as claiming He is a farse. Similarly, we can neither confirm nor deny that the ‘big bang’ was the creation our universe. Moreover, just as religious individuals cling to their beliefs for the comfort, faith, or sanity, the scientifically minded cling to cosmic events. Disproving the big bang’s role in the creation of our universe would be adjacent to debunking religion.
But where does this leave us in the realm of our humanities lab? Obviously we’re are grounded many million years later on an apparently stable planet in an apparently stable galaxy. I arrive at the conclusion that all origins are hierarchical. The origins of man making fire led to the origins of cooking food over a fire, which in turn lead to the origins of gastronomy. Similarly, the origins of language led to the origins of story, which in turn lead to the origins of religion and so much more. My point is this: if origins can be traces up a lineage tree, it is only natural for human curiosity to trace it to the top — the origins of all origins. So, to come full circle, perhaps the greatest question to ask, and the question religion and astronomy alike attempt to answer, is “what is the origin of origins”?