Before the Big Bang: On Origins, Beginnings, Endings

[Another bit from my work-in-progress You Are Here. A Travelogue, our common history as the universe evolving. This section starts the cosmic history section as a kind of preliminary reflection on Origins and Endings. I’ve omitted all the endnotes. The ‘table’ at the end is stuffed in terms of not being able to copy the original table format to this blog. Bit of a long read as usual, probably not suited to reading on a screen…]

Cosmic Deep Time ‒ The Evolution of Matter (Space-Time)

fourdimmansions […] the bounds whereinbourne our solied bodies all attomed attain arrest
– James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, p. 367

Before the Big Bang: On Origins, Beginnings, Endings

As stars, a fault of vision, as a lamp,
A mock show, dew drops, a bubble,
A dream, a lightning flash, a cloud ‒
Thus should one view what is conditioned.
– Buddha, The Diamond Sutra

Before beginning the mapping of evolution and the conditioned world of ‘the ten thousand things’ from the cosmic ‘big bang’, from the Origin or origins, let us first linguistically step back for a moment to look at the key words and concepts we are using. Let us, to begin with, look at the deep-time origins of the word ‘origin’. (It’s taking us a while to get to anything obvious happening, but that seems to be the nature of origins and the earliest times on every level of evolution. Remember infancy and childhood? So damn wide, so damn long…).

The ancient etymological roots of cognate words like ‘origin, original, originate, orient, orientate, aboriginal’ all go back to the Latin word oriri, which means the rising of the sun or moon, to arise, to have a beginning, to spring up, be born, and hence the Latin noun origo: the source or origin of a spring. The stem and root of oriri in turn is or-, to rise, and this is a variety of the old Indo-European root *er- (variation *ar-), to stir up, as in Sanskrit arnas, rolling (waves).

Thus, etymologically, the ‘origins’ would seem to lie in an ‘arising’ from the unknown depths of a spring, a source, the place (or non-place) of a mysterious stirring up of the waters, the first rolling waves or vibrations within some oceanic immensity, let us now call it, the void or ‘vacuum or quantum field’. The Origin itself, ‘before’ and beyond this arising, ‒ in Taoism also known as the ‘Tao’, in Buddhism as ‘original nature’ or ‘dharma-Buddha nature’ (bussho/hossho) or as ‘Emptiness/Void’ (sunyata), in Vedanta as the Non-Dual (advaita), in Plotin simply as the One, in Meister Eckhart as ‘the Godhead’, in Kabbalah the ‘Ain Sof’ ‒ this unconditioned Origin is ever-present, beyond-beginning-and-end, beyond-time-and-space, beyond-motion, beyond gods and humans, beyond creation and evolution, unborn, uncreated, ‘now-ever’. Although neither one with nor separate from them, the Origin, the Nameless, is not the beginnings-and-endings of things, thoughts or senses. Here is Lao Tzu’s famous version in the Tao Te Ching:

There was something undifferentiated and yet complete/which existed before heaven and earth./ Soundless and formless, it depends on nothing and does not change./ It operates everywhere and is free from danger./ It may be considered the mother of the universe./ I do not know its name. I call it Tao. (Tao Te Ching 25)

Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form./Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound./ Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible. […] It returns to nothingness./The form of the formless./ The image of the imageless./ It is called indefinable and beyond imagination. /Stand before it and there is no beginning. /Follow it and there is no end./Stay with the ancient Tao./ Move with the present./ Knowing the ancient origin is the essence of Tao. (Tao Te Ching 14)

The Buddha’s Heart Sutra states this Tao or Unconditioned is also not separate from but identical with, the ‘ten thousand things’ including human selves, as the identity of ‘form’ (rupa) and ‘emptiness’ (sunyata)

Here, O Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness… the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

Here, however, at this point in our travelogue, our concern is not with the Tao or Emptiness, the nameless unconditioned Origin-beyond-time-and-thought-and-sense, beyond any beginning or ending, but with the actual beginnings, the differentiations and namings, of the apparent ‘fall’ into time and evolution, the ‘startling start’ or ‘big bang’ of the space-time universe, of the ‘ten thousand things’.

For the word ‘beginning’ derives from the Old Saxon word –ginnan, to start, which word in turn of course simply means a sudden jump or movement, a being startled. ‘To start’ in turn derives from Middle English stertlen, Old English styrtan, to stumble or jump up. In Joycean terms, we are here not talking of the ‘woid’ (void-word, void as seminal Logos) at the ‘buginning’ (is there a ‘bug’ in it right from the start, as a bugger of a beginning?), but rather of the ‘sound dance’ in the ‘muddle’ (and indeed it is).


Many transcultural creation myths describe the cosmic beginnings as a first or ‘Hadean’ dark time of chaos or void out of which – either spontaneously of its own mysterious self-organizing dynamic within its subterranean or marine depths, or else through the external agency of a supreme creator being – order, form, structure, life, primordial beings arise. Cultures with this kind of cosmogenesis as their base narrative ‒ and ours from Sumerian creation myths and Biblical Genesis to quantum mechanics and the standard model is one of them – have often expected there to be ‘periods of mythical-ritual renewal at certain cyclical periods in which the world returns to its original chaos to rise again out of this initial state.’

Is our time perhaps such a chaotic time of ‘touching base’, of a ‘réculer pour mieux sauter’ (stepping back in order to leap better)? And/or are we rather merely ‘in between stories’ (Thomas Berry), in a liminal time of limbo and transition, the old stories no longer functioning, the new ones perhaps emerging, but not yet formed and extensive enough to become new average consciousness as average consciousness is stuck in previous modes and paradigms lagging behind and no longer suited to new realities?

Interestingly, the first moves out of archaic and magic-mythic creation myths and into empirical wisdom and rational thought in East and West, in both China and Greece, made, just like those creation myths, the question of the origin of the universe central to their thinking. For Lao-tzu (sixth-fifth or more probably fourth-third century BCE), the Tao (‘The Way’) was the undefinable and indeterminate boundless out of which the manifold ‘ten thousand things’ arose and into which they returned, while his rough contemporary in the west Anaximander (c. 612-545 BCE) simply called it the Boundless (apeiron).

To these sages or philosophers it was clear that the fundamental, limitless Origin (Anaximander also used the word archē: ‘beginning’ or ‘rule’, while Lao-tzu also used the term wu: ‘void’, ‘emptiness’, ‘non-being’) from which the world or universe emerged could not itself be just another part of that bounded, limited world and its dualistic concepts. The Origin as the ‘Non-Dual’, the non-divided, could not be positively expressed in the medium of language itself which is inherently ‘dual’, i.e. defined, even in poetry, by divisions, by a subject making distinctions about an object seen as separate from itself, by separation and dualism, by subject, verb and predicate. Language could only either use paradoxes and negations like the ‘boundless’, ‘non-being’, the ‘non-dual’, ‘emptiness’ or else attempt to point beyond itself to an ineffable referent expressed in symbols like ‘Tao’ or the ‘One’.

Thus the Origin, the ‘void’, ‘emptiness’, the ‘non-dual’, the ‘unconditioned’ or ‘un-manifest’ – as even such linguistic negations may suggest ‒ is not just another ‘thing’, ‘being’, ‘space’, ‘dimension’ or ‘event’ separate from us, another real or conceptual object that is ‘out there’, separate from us, its surfaces to be viewed, analysed, measured, thought about, ‘grasped’ like a billiard ball, statistic or a mathematical formula.

Western philosophical thinking has wrestled with the linguistic paradoxes of change and movement, beginning and ending, of ‘before’ and ‘after’, i.e. of time, from Parmenides and Zeno to Leibniz and Hume. Apparently the everyday English mind is also unconsciously preoccupied with this strange phenomenon: ‘time’ is the most commonly used noun in the English language. Scientific thinking faces the same problem with its quantitative, linear, dualistic, cause-and-effect notion of the ‘big bang’, suggesting as it necessarily does some distinct, ‘objective’, original ‘event’ (or events) that somehow ‘created’ space-time and our evolving universe (or universes) out of ‘nothing’, or, probably the same thing, with the equally spontaneous, acausal emergence of elementary particles or ‘wavicles’ like leptons and quarks out of the ‘vacuum state’ or ‘quantum foam’.

Psychoanalysis and philosophical aesthetics face a similar problem with the spontaneous, sometimes seemingly ‘magical’, emergence of mental entities like creative images, ideas, symbols, words into consciousness from what it terms the ‘unconscious’. All these seem to be very similar, isomorphic if not identical, processes of spontaneous creativity. How can something arise from ‘nothing’, Being from Non-Being, or, more personally as the famous Zen koan has it, ‘what was your face before you were born?’

Just as koans are not to be intellectually ‘solved’ but rather ‘lived’ and ‘meditated’, thus we cannot rationally, in space-time-bound thought and language, know or define the unconditioned Origin, the Non-Dual, i.e. ‘what caused’ or ‘was before’ the creative big bang that seems to have initiated the conditioned and causal, the divided and dual, space-time itself and the universe (and thus ultimately mind and language). Nor do (can?) we really know how the first stars and galaxies were created, nor how life first emerged on Earth, nor how hominins emerged from primates, nor how and when a truly human individual, or even Modern mind, ‘begins’.

The perennial Western rational quest for some so-called ‘first’, ‘final’ or ‘fundamental’ cause, substance or particle as an objective, external something or other has always ultimately ended in an infinite regress or else in circularity and begging-the-question. Modern scientistic, rational-reductionist thinking, now seemingly hegemonic, seeks to reduce everything to ever smaller, more ‘elementary’ or ‘fundamental’ things, only to find that there seems to be no final end and firm resting place in some ultimate particle but rather ‘it’s turtles all the way down’: even ‘the history of physics often involves finding that fundamental particles are nothing of the sort.’

Or else Western rational thought pursues this quest for the ultimate firm ‘something out there’ only to end up where it began, namely at the ‘nothing in here’. Thus, for example, minds and mentation are reduced to brains, brains to cells, cells to genes and molecules, molecules to atoms, atoms to elementary particles, elementary particles to collections of space-time points, these collections to sets of numbers and these sets of numbers to ‘pure sets’, i.e. mental entities or mentation; the logical consequence of this vicious circularity of the rational or scientific mind is then, paradoxically, something like the Buddha’s trans-rational insight, namely that, as a New Scientist article puts it:

…this just means that nothing is fundamental, in the same way there is no first or last stop on London Underground’s Circle Line. The moral to draw from the reductionist scenario seems to be that either what is fundamental is not material, or that nothing at all is fundamental.

Just as we cannot rationally know the Origins as a material or immaterial object of thinking or knowledge, we also cannot know how humanity-and-planet, mind-and-ecosphere will be evolving, transforming or transcending itself in the present and future. Like our own individual conception and death, both Origin and End, alpha and omega, the Joycean ‘woid’ at the ‘buginning’ and the ‘unbewised’ at the end, would seem, in rational thought, to lie in an abyss of darkness, a darkness which, as we now know, makes up ninety five percent of the universe itself (‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter’), and thus of us. And even of the five percent that is supposed to be visible, half has apparently ‘gone missing’ since the big bang. Apparently it was only found again in 2017. Peep-o, now you see me, now you don’t.

Yet in the same way we are aware of that five percent of the universe that is visible matter, we may be aware of certain phenomena and patterns apparently having emerged and emerging out of the process of planetary and human evolution and draw rational inferences from these, as many have done and as we will also be doing here.

In principle, however, it is important to remember that these kinds of rational questions are all within the cognitive domain of ‘known unknowns’ as defined by rational thinking itself (i.e. things we know we don’t know, like the almost total darkness that is our universe, the ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, of scientific cosmology). These known unknowns are in turn necessarily backgrounded by, overlap with, and perhaps are even drawn towards, an invisible ‘event horizon’ or ‘chaotic attractor’ of ‘unknown unknowns’, i.e. perspectives, questions and answers, we cannot even as yet conceive of within our present prevailing modern-rational paradigms. In cognitive evolutionary terms, as mental paradigms (codes, framings, narratives) also evolve like matter or organisms towards increasing differentiation, complexity and depth and as previously unknown unknowns become known unknowns and as known unknowns then become knowns, an invisible (higher, deeper) ‘event horizon’ of further unknown unknowns will necessarily open up, and so on, ad infinitum. In the realm of Mind too, it’s turtles all the way up.


More specifically, we do not know if humanity, human consciousness and morality, Mind, may or may not transition, transform or mutate into some as yet unknown, although possibly emerging, wider, more inclusive and higher/deeper-level ‘trans-human’, transpersonal, trans-rational consciousness or being or Mind, some new networked form of so-called ‘digital life’ or possibly man-machine ‘cyborg’, or else, in my view, preferably, some liberated and as yet unknown global form of humanity as conscious and participatory Here Comes Everybody (James Joyce, Finnegans Wake). All such possible social evolutions could in turn continue to evolve even through known and unknown cosmic, planetary or socio-historical disruptions and cataclysms, disasters which now, from our present level of prevalent and rational consciousness, seem quite likely and probably terminal for much of human civilization and the biosphere as presently evolved.

We do not know if industrial-capitalist business as usual, total toxification, ecocide and climate chaos, global civilizational collapse or nuclear catastrophe may not disastrously devastate, simplify or even destroy much of the biosphere as presently evolved, and thus, at least for a very lengthy period in human terms (perhaps millions of years), the great evolutionary human experiment it sustains. We do not know if average human consciousness (premodern and modern), under increasing pressures and overwhelming stresses, in fear and panic, may not first enter a brutal, backward-spiralling time of anti-rational regression to earlier magic-mythic, neo-tribalist or modern nationalist-ethnocentric forms and their authoritarian and dystopian social expressions. A new dark ages of a digitalised totalitarianism, of warring police states or territorial warlords fighting in the ruins over diminishing resources is certainly within the realm of possibility.

On the other hand, Mind contains not only the ignorance of despair but also the ‘wise ignorance’ (docta ignorantia) and utopian imaginary of hope, of acausal spontaneity and creative emergence. This is a hope of clarity and imagination, one that is, in Rebecca Solnit’s phrase, beyond both optimism and pessimism since it is, like evolution itself, an expression of trust in the unknown and the unknowable. And thus we also do not know if humans or trans- humans may or may not ‒ while, hopefully, not repressing but rather celebrating and consciously incorporating their own deep roots and embodiment in evolved matter, in the planetary ecosphere, in the body, in pre-rational and rational mind ‒ liberate themselves from their voluntary slavery and transform the present unconscious, ecocidal, technocratic, repressive, market- and power-driven Anthropocene into a conscious, participatory Anthropocene, a new globally democratic civilization of ‘Here Comes Everybody’.

This latter utopian possibility, this leap into a new political and spiritual dimension of evolution, could be some newly emergent participatory form of Earth’s ‘global mind’, a higher/deeper planetary civilization of self-managing ‘universal individuals’ and ‘individualised collectives’ perhaps. This might be an ecological civilization which now consciously honours and institutionally expresses its lasting and marvellous embeddedness in, and interdependence with, the evolved body, ecosphere and material cosmos, even as it expresses and transcends them. It would also be a civilisation which honours, incorporates, transforms and transcends its own premodern heritage of the small face-to-face support group, nature-proximity and cosmological meaning, as well as its modern heritage of the dignity of the individual, democracy, the rule of law, social justice, rational science and universal human rights.

We cannot know what new dimensions of reality and mind such a possible collective liberation and transformation could open up. Just as premodern human could not have conceived of the material and mental possibilities and horizons of modern humans, we postmoderns do not know what now unknown, material and immaterial, technological and spiritual possibilities and dimensions may emerge on many levels of human or transhuman evolution of consciousness, sociality and culture. We do not know what the unleashed creativity of a politically, economically and spiritually liberated humanity could yet produce.

We do not know if 13th-century Sufi poet al-Rumi is right and the first creative spark and startle of the beginnings shall be matched by another equally creative startle at the end:

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream

and that will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.

Meanwhile, evolution, change, time – cascading up from the first great fire of the big bang ‒ is itself the fiery substance of which we are made:

How Many Heart Beats will it Take You to Read This

Time is the substance from which I am made. […] it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.
– Jorge Luis Borges, ‘A New Refutation of Time’

Here we are pumping weights, following diets,
worrying about next week’s visit by the mother-in-law
or if the mad monk in speedos will be Prime MInister
& we couldn’t give a toss that the ageing earth

has only got another billion years before the sun
fries it like an egg in the pan of its increased fury
& the last star in the universe quietly dies out
a hundred trillion years from now, & black holes

go on in the blackness maybe for a trillion
trillion trillion trillion times longer than the age
the universe is now, which, if you compressed it
into a single day, your average human life

would take one two thousandth of a second,
all two billion bleeding heart beats of it.

All these words, the images, the myth, the map, although a part of the reality, can, by definition, never be the reality it is mapping, yet let the mapping begin.

Figure 2 provides an overview of the first stage of our common journey in the first great Super-Wave of Matter or Space-Time: the three Great Waves of Atoms, Stars and Planets proceeding in nine Waves.

Figure 2



1.1 Great Hadean Forces Split 2.1 Cosmic Dark Ages 3.1 Milky Way Galaxy
1.2 Hadean Elementary Particles 2.2 First-Generation Stars, Galaxies & Lighter Elements 3.2 Solar System
1.3 Archean Atoms (H, He, Li) 2.3 Supernovae & Heavier Elements 3.3 Hadean Geological Epoch (bombardment, lithosphere)

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on July 1, 2018.

3 Responses to “Before the Big Bang: On Origins, Beginnings, Endings”

  1. Well, shoot…I wanted to continue reading!!!

  2. Much appreciated, Kristi. Very much helps motivate me to keep pluggin away at the dang thing, a bit of a monster that I need to find ways of taming…

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