by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
July 19, 2004
SEATTLE, Wash. -- What was there before the Big Bang? This question has tormented such great thinkers as our President ("I'll tell you what there was. There was the terrorist conspiracy to commit the Big Bang. But fortunately we got word of it in time, thanks to our incomparable intelligence agencies and like that. So it never happened.")
The more normal answer is: nothing. Before the Big Bang there was nothing at all - no time, no space, no seatbelt law, no Jay Leno - in a word, nothing.
The old Latin tag is Ex nihilo nihil fit: Nothing comes from nothing.
Or so everyone supposes.
What troubles me (or comforts me, at times) is the opening of the Gospel of St. John, which happens to be one of the earliest sentences I knew in Greek: En arkhe en ho logos... In the beginning was the Word.
In Christian parlance, the Word is a synonym for Jesus, and can simply mean that this Person of the Trinity was always there, too. With a spectacular disregard for normal grammar, Jesus said to those who asked him about Abraham: "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58)
But the opening words of John might be read as more than that. Logos is the Greek word for word itself: logorrhea means an unstanchable flood of words. But it means more than merely word. It means the whole system of meaning (language) of which a word is an essential element.
But beyond that, it means the whole system of meaning, tout court. Of meaning itself.
Logos designates the interconnectedness of things, and not merely that, but the logical and inevitable interconnectedness of things. It means reason. Our "logic" derives from it.
The moment the Big Bang occurred, stuff found itself in the world like the fellow in the limerick:
A gay young man named Bloom
Which elements of the stuff that suddenly came into existence at the very beginning had the right to do what and with which and to whom? There must have been, before the Big Bang, a prior code for all this, the logos. There must have been, I regret to say, arithmetic.
Whether there was the much more benign form of arithmetic known as bonus arithmetic - the brain child of none other than Dr. Soup - I do not know. But I do wish that no strict mathematician had ever abolished bonus arithmetic, for it was the sort that really attracts the numerically challenged, like me.
In bonus arithmetic 2+25. You get an extra point for being right: 2+2=4+1. Hence five.
This works in subtraction, as well. Take 5-2=4, since...but I'm sure you've taken the point.
Forgive me if I leave it there. I'm sure it would work in decimals and multiplication, but I never pursued the subject into those abstruse regions.
In any case, I hope that I have settled the matter of what there was before the Big Bang. Before the Big Bang were the Rules, clearly printed in large type just outside the front door, which even the tiniest bangs had to follow.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.