I saw a great documentary last night about 'nothing'. It's about vacuums, and how if you have a total vacuum atoms will pop out of nowhere! Pretty crazy stuff. Atoms literally coming out of nowhere, then disappearing quickly.

It got me thinking, before the big bang if there was nothing, then presumably atoms would be popping out of nowhere still. If enough atoms suddenly popped simultaneously into the same space could it create the big bang? The chance of this is 1 in trillions on trillions but if time is infinite then surely the chance of this happening is 1?

Also if time is infinite and atoms really do pop out of nowhere, if you go back in time far enough was there ever a moment when a donkey appeared out of nowhere in a giant vacuum simply as a result of a complex pattern of atoms appearing out of nowhere?

I'm a Physics noob but love thinking about all this stuff, is this something people have thought about before? And what other theories of how the big bang happened in the first place are there?

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    $\begingroup$ Silly question. BB created space and materia/energy. Before BB there is noothing. Nothing has to be taken wordly. $\endgroup$
    – Georg
    Sep 18, 2011 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Georg, sorry but that is based on pure speculation. The matter of fact is, we will never know. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Sep 18, 2011 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael, that is BB-Threory. You may doubt that theory, but as long as someone asks about BB, he has to accept all parts of it. $\endgroup$
    – Georg
    Sep 18, 2011 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Georg: BB theory is consistent with a cosmological bounce. We have no idea how the singularity resolution will work out when we do the quantum gravity phenomenology correctly. $\endgroup$ Sep 19, 2011 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Georg: Most models have it looking like another big bang on the other side, which is why people talk about the cosmological arrow of time. The big problem with it, as you kind of hint at, is what happens to entropy in a cosmological bounce scenario (my naïve answer about the black holes would be "they haven't formed yet at the minimum radius of the universe, so there's no problem following the universe into the past". But that's an open question that depends on your scenario, and no one knows how to correctly extend the BB solution to $t=0$ yet, so we'll have to see. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2011 at 11:03

2 Answers 2


I'm with Georg, though I'm not sure why he didn't post his response as an answer rather than question. The show that you saw, and some of the directions they appear to be leading you, are concerned with quantum fluctuation theory and virtual particles. These are interesting fields and you are certainly not the first person to think along those lines.

However, as Georg pointed out, the big bang of the big bang theory created space. Virtual particles have real consequences (e.g. Hawking radiation) but they exist because there is space in which they can do so. The big bang did not take place "somewhere" in a big empty space, the big bang happened "everywhere simultaneously" because it is the origin of space and time as we know it. Within the current construct, it essentially makes no sense to even ask what happened "before" the big bang because there wasn't a before, or whatever was before was lost behind the universal event horizon (someone correct my wording here please). Nonetheless, there have been some investigations along those lines using a sonic analogy.

As for the donkey appearing out of nowhere (or any other macroscopic object for that matter), the answer is don't count on it. It is true that the mathematics allows for such things, but the probability associated with them is unimaginably small. If you want to press the point, you might like to read about Russell's teapot but don't be surprised if people who actually use physics aren't interested in wasting time on your navel gazing.

PS - Also, it is worth noting that virtual particles "exist" only within the framework of the uncertainty principle and that conservation of mass/energy ensures that they will, in most cases, be annihilated. The liklihood of a combination of circumstances that would allow for a substantial number of particles to "materialize" from nothing is negligible.


In the BB hypothesis there is no explanation of how all begins. There are however some models in the framework of quantum field theory to complete the idea of origin. There is also a horizon problem that leads to the inflationary model.

is this something people have thought about before? The nucleosynthesis theory try to give us explanation of how light atoms like H were produced. Acording to this a few minutes after the big bang the quark-gluon plasma begins to fusion and produce protons. The universe has cooled down sufficiently to form stable protons and neutrons. A key parameter for this model is the baryon per photon ratio. It allows one to determine the conditions under which nuclear fusion occurs. The value of this parameter is put by hand in order to explain the abundances of light elements and be in agreement with the observations. Other problem to this model is antimatter. To solve this baryogenesis is a hypothetical processes that produced an asymmetry between baryons and antibaryons in the very early universe, resulting in the substantial amounts of residual matter that make up the matter we observe today.

And what other theories of how the big bang happened in the first place are there? There are some interesting ideas involving brane theory in which our universe comes from a collision between two universe.


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