THE COLUMN

Issue No. 76/September 26, 1996


IN THEORY

IVAN HOFFMAN

Scientists tell us that likely as not the universe started with a big bang. At one time, everything that exists in the universe today was tightly compressed into a dot, a dot so dense that it defies any human ability to comprehend it. And then, apparently anywhere from 5 to 20 billion years ago, on a Wednesday, at about 2:30 in the afternoon, BOOMMMM!

What came before the big bang is not the subject of this piece. What came after is. And what came after is the totality of everything. All the stars and worlds came after. All the animals, insects, and humans came after. All the music, all the art, all the TCP/IP protocols, all these came after the big bang.

Love came after the big bang as well. In theory.

These same scientists tell us also that if we listen very carefully, with very sensitive instruments, we can detect the residue of the big bang. We can hear it as background noise to the music of the spheres. Additionally, if we add up all the stuff in the universe, weigh it, compute its total volume and mass, we find that there is apparently some stuff missing, stuff that can only be accounted for by calling it the residue from the big bang. It may be dark matter, it may be invisible but it is there. Somewhere. In theory.

And somewhere in all this theory is also the mathematical concept known as the "conservation of matter." Not being a scientist myself, PBS to the contrary notwithstanding, what I understand the "conservation of matter" concept to mean is that there is a sum total of matter in the universe and even though matter changes form the sum total remains the same. For example, if you have a gallon of water (matter) and you boil it (convert its matter form), you end up with steam (another form of matter) plus something called "energy." If you add the total matter in the form of steam plus energy you end up with the same amount of matter you started out with when it was water. In theory. I am not certain how tea bags figure into this but let's leave that aside.

If love was indeed part of everything that existed in that incredibly dense dot immediately before the big bang, and love exists after the big bang, then in theory at least the sum total of love that existed in the beginning of time exists today. It changes form and seems to move from one person, one animal, one way of being expressed to another but remains constant in amount.

If, in a theoretical example of course, I once loved someone very deeply but that love no longer exists between us, meaning that the form of love that previously existed has changed, then that original love has to exist somewhere else if the "conservation of matter" idea is correct. So the question then becomes: what happened to the love that we shared and what form has it now taken? If it is not water, where is the steam and the energy?

No matter what form of love I have today for the person whom I once loved very deeply, I can still feel some residue of it in my heart. It may be invisible but it is plain to my heart. There are things in the universe that cannot be seen but they are there nonetheless. Sometimes we can prove these things scientifically. Sometimes they have to be taken on faith. Love cannot be seen but it is there nonetheless. In theory.

And if I continue to love that someone even if the form of that love has changed, then the totality of the love I continue to have plus the new form of love plus "energy" should equal the amount of love with which I started out. And even if the form of love has changed, in this theoretical example only of course, I may want it to return to its original form. I may want to believe not that there is love out there in some form that I cannot see or feel but that there is love out there in the form that it used to be.

But in the same way that we can never go back to the moment of the big bang, we can never cram all the stuff of the universe back into that dense dot, we cannot recreate what did at one point exist in one form but no longer does. Matter, having once changed forms, can seem to return to its previous form but it is not actually the same matter that existed before it changed. It is different matter. It may look the same to us, but at the very heart of it all, it is different matter.

And all that may remain of the original form, the form that exploded in our hearts at the start, is some residue.

In theory.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman


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