I came across this comment:

You won't understand this answer, but here we go: Time and space are intrinsically connected. You cannot have one without the other. Before the Big Bang there was no space and hence there was no time. Asking about what was before it makes nonsense. This is what we have confirmed with the the effects of the gravitational wave detected this year, which were explained by Einstein 100 years ago.

Since I'm not a physicist, I don't know, what physics says on this topic, but the following question strikes me as a philosophical question, not a scientific one:

Can there be change, if there is no time?

The author of the comment seems to imply, that before the big bang, there was no time. But, in order for the big bang to happen, something must have changed. So, is it possible, that there is change, without time?

Funnily, I can imagine a world, where time exists, but no changes happen.

In my google research, I found a lot about philosophy of time, but nothing regarding this topic. Any suggestions?

  • 1
    Comment on validity of this theory : Physicist usually consider that the universe was really dense, at the really beginning. Therefore a quantum theory of gravitation is needed to describe and understand the big bang. This is the reason why people are trying hard to have a quantum description of the gravitation. String theory is one of the attempt to do so but none of them are really satisfying right now. Stephen Hawkins wrote several books about it. A brief history of time is the most famous : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Brief_History_of_Time
    – JSFDude
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 7:48
  • I've read that the traditional view of causality is no longer considered particularly useful in modern philosophy of science. We simply go along with the best mathematical models, whatever its implications may be, and if they don't stand up to experimental results, we discard it for something better. Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 10:58
  • You've hit on one of the many metaphysical problems that arise for our usual Western world-view. Scientists ignore it but it ain't going to go away. If your having trouble finding philosophers who address this issue it's because you haven't looked beyond the Academy. Try reading a Buddhist philosopher on time. By reduction neither time nor change would exist.
    – user20253
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 10:36

9 Answers 9


There cannot be change without time. Change comes from action, movement, progress, and time is essential for these processes.

Einstein first theorized about gravitational waves, "Quantum theory would have to modify not only Maxwellian electrodynamics but also the new theory of gravitation." Though Einstein and most scientists of his time held that the universe "just was" and that time stretched infinitely in both directions without a beginning or an end. In 1965 the cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered, ten years after his death.

In A Brief History of Time, as JSFDude recommends, Hawking felt God is what sparked the Big Bang and therefore space-time. But later writes that it could have been spontaneous. Either way this means our universe was a singularity, and that time began with the Big Bang.

These geniuses would agree that asking about what happened before time began makes no sense. Depending on what framework theory we're talking about the concept "changes". For example something from another plane could have started our timeline. From their perspective time existed before they started our space-time. It's even possible, that time doesn't exist at all, that all of this change and growth is just how we perceive a completely static phenomenon.

You may think, how did change come from timelessness, what could have happened to start the Big Bang when we know change cannot occur without time? It doesn't really matter because what we know of as "time" is as intrinsic to change as it is to space; i.e. change bears time.

  • I guess the real point here is that the concept of change is intrinsically related with the concept of time, and that the former would not mean what it means without the latter. Then, a new question would be: is there an equivalent of change in a timeless world? An application of this new concept comes from Christian theology. Namely, was there a change in Heaven (argued to be out of time) before Jesus came to Earth, while Jesus was on Earth, when Jesus returned to Heaven, and finally, after the apocalypse?
    – luchonacho
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 9:23
  • I'm with Parmenides. There has to be a changeless Origin.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 11:15
  • There can be a change in the slope of a function as the x-coordinate varies, for example. And in the block universe understanding of time, time is considered analogous to time, so change in some variable as the t-coordinate varies isn't fundamentally different from change in a graph as the x-coordinate varies. Also see the discussion of McTaggart and the A-series vs. B-series at plato.stanford.edu/entries/time
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 17:06
  • Hawking proposed a kind of cyclical evolutionary cosmology in Black Holes And Baby Universes. He explicitly rejected the idea we can't contemplate 'before' the big bang, or examine how it happened.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 22:45

It's arguable whether there can be time without change --if nothing ever changes at all, it's difficult to say in what sense time is passing, except perhaps by reference to something external.

For the other case, one way to conceptualize it is to think of the universe as a book. Like the Bible, this universe-book begins with the story of the beginning of the universe, and ends with it ending. Within the pages of the book, time passes chronologically from the start of the story until the end. But it isn't possible to know, from within the book, what time means outside the book. We can extrapolate back to our story's beginning, or forward to its ending, but whatever is outside the book's covers is unknowable for us.

It seems only logical that there must be some analog to our time --some sort of "meta-time"-- that operates outside our universe, and that our universe is created as that meta-time progresses. But the fact that we must conceive of it like that may just reflect the limitations of our comprehension.


Just thinking about this logically.

Change can be observed by comparing the state of something, let's say a system, at moment A with its state at moment B situated in the future.

So by definition change depends on time.

In turn this would mean that if the state of a system is altered within the very same instant it could not be considered as change since there is no moment B to compare with.

So, can there be change if there is no time? Maybe, but we wouldn't know since we're smack bang in the middle of it and need comparison to establish change has taken place.

As for the intrinsic connection between time and space, I am not a physicist either but this paper titled "Now, and the Flow of Time" may be of interest.


It is easy to imagine a world where time exists but no changes happen, because we can observe and create stillness, 'prevent' decay and even 'freeze' our television screens. We are able to perceive, facilitate and measure a certain amount of continuity or lack of change as time passes for many aspects of the universe, even to think, speak and behave as if no change has or will occur in time.

But in most cases (perhaps in all cases) this absence of change is false or at best a limited perspective, because many of the circumstances surrounding that particular aspect will still have changed over time - including, very often, the observer. In order to measure time, we must perceive change occurring somewhere.

So when we imagine before the Big Bang, if there is nothing to observe or be observed, changing or otherwise, is it possible for time to exist? Is it even necessary?

Time without change is actuality. It is what is: a finality of form (if any exists), a lack of being or becoming. Without change, time has no function, whether it exists or not.

On the other hand, change without time can be seen as potentiality: the capacity for change to occur. If time cannot be perceived, if there is nothing to observe or be observed, is it still possible for a capacity for change to exist?

Some might argue no: that a capacity for change necessarily requires something else in existence to possess it, otherwise it is nothing. But this argument assumes that something must have existed in actuality before the Big Bang, when there was no space for anything to assume an actual form of any kind, let alone time for being.

In order for something to come from nothing, from no space, there must exist a capacity for change that is formless - thus pure potentiality (or at least a similar existence of nothingness with capacity for change) would be necessary.

  • Would you have any references to others who take a similar view? This would strengthen your answer and give readers a place to go to get more information on this perspective of time and change. Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 11:53
  • I think of the case of 'time crystals': regular variations over time, which generate some of the properties of a crystal, but in the time direction.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 22:49

This question is really old now, but the answers given are factually false. In general, any dependent variable can be said to change with respect to the variable it is dependent on. And mathematically, any such continuous change is indistinguishable from a change over time. We handle these sorts of changes mathematically in exactly the same way we handle changes over time.

For example:

  • We can talk about change with respect to space. For example, the density of a fluid could be different at different places.

  • We can talk about change with respect to temperature. For example, the density of a fluid changes with temperature.

  • We can talk about change with respect to volume. For example, the surface area of a sphere changes with volume.

Regarding the question of whether there was or was not time before the big bang, I don't think anyone knows the answer with absolute certainty, but it is certainly possible that the change between "nothing" and "something" is dependent on some variable which is not time.

  • What you are talking about is potentiality: we can indeed 'talk' about a fluid's CAPACITY to change in density with respect to temperature without bringing time into the equation, but any real-world application necessarily occurs in time. When we handle these sorts of changes mathematically, we deal with pure form - assuming both time AND potentiality as necessary in practise but inconsequential to a logical treatment of the formula. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 1:02
  • @Possibility This isn't true. You can have two different fluids at the same point in time with two different densities and two different temperatures. In fact, you could use your argument on time as well by just substituting words into your first sentence: "we can indeed 'talk' about a fluid's CAPACITY to change in density with respect to time without bringing temperature into the equation". Choosing time as the measure for all other independent variables is arbitrary. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 3:38
  • 2
    @Possibility Look at a film reel, where each frame is laid out so that the movie really is changing over space, not time. We can then translate that film reel into changing with respect to time, but mathematically, the difference between the two is completely indistinguishable. When we hold the film reel, whose 'change' is dependent on space, it is 'embedded' in another larger universe whose 'change' is dependent on time. Likewise, our time dependent universe could be 'embedded' in a larger universe whose 'change' is dependent on some variable which is outside of our current understanding. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 3:55
  • I see your point here, and thank you sincerely for the physics lessons (not my strength). I agree with your criticism, but I maintain that change independent of variables would be potentiality - which exists and remains necessary both within and without even your hypothetical otherwise-dependent universe in which ours could be embedded. It would be observed as 'change' in each universe with respect to the variables on which that universe is dependent. Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 23:34

There can't be change without time, but there can't be time without change. If there is absolutely no change at all, then there is no movement at all, there is no heat, no light. It would be a dark, frozen universe with nothing to indicate passage of time.

If you are an observer that is excluded from that universe, you'd only know that time is passing because you would be changing - breathing, heart beating. But that would be cheating...no change is no change, and if there is no change, there is no time, just like there is no change without time.

The Big Bang must have begun with a change, that instantly activated time. It could have been a vibration caused by gravitational pull, or change in temperature - but it would have been a change in state going from nothing and no time to something and time.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. If you have any references that a reader could go to for more information that you support your answer. Regardless, welcome to this SE! Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 19:28

The question of time in physics is a difficult problem; both our main theories have a different conception of time which is perhaps one very good reason why it has proven so difficult to get hold of a proper theory of Quantum Gravity.

General relativity is a classical theory, and though there is time in this theory, in a sense there is no time as everything is determined once the boundary conditions are known - that is, its deterministic theory - like its predecessor, Newtonian Mechanics. Julian Barbour, for example, argues that "time is an ilusion".

Quantum Theory on the other hand has time built in right at its foundations; this is one aspect of the famous measurement problem; when a determination is made of the system - that is a measurement - the system becomes irreversible. Its for this reason one can build thermodynamics out of QM, and in the classical conception of physics this is where the arrow of time appears - or so Boltzmann argued.

Philosophically speaking, Aristotle stated that the subject of Physics as a discipline was a study of change; and that time was an aspect of change; so change, in a sense, is prior to time. Hegels ontology for example has change without time.

Time, for Kant, was one of his antinomies: there must be a beginning to time and there can be no beginning to time; how does fit in with physics where the evidence for a big bang is overwhelming? For one thing the physics close to the Big Bang are highly speculative - though they're often not marked as such - and one can really only safely begin to extrapolate when the energy density is comparable to what is within our empirical reach; but more to the point, given any theory of physics that stipulates a beginning to time, there is the logical possiblity of a theory which doesn't have one; for example, Smolin suggested a multiverse of universes, so in each universe there is a notion of time and its beginning, but there is a meta-time that has no beginning - this solves the problem you identify: how can there be change without time.


Time is our perception of change. Time is intrinsic for matter (our perception of nature), but not for fundamental entities (fundamental particles seem to exist in a universe where space and time don't exist): photons doesn't experience time. You will ask how is time only relevant to our perception of matter: "all matter is just interaction" (Feynman). There are theories of interaction in current development, check my profile link.

Despite non-intuitive, change seems to be previous to time. You ask how is it possible for change to exist without time during the big bang, you must consider that we don't understand the big bang. But it was not a common Monday.

Perhaps we can approach change as a set of photograms in a film. Change is what we see when we roll the movie. It is us that need time to understand change, change is just there. Change does not depend on the projector. This sequence of causal mechanics is what Stephen Hawking relates to physical information. Information is what lies in the photograms.

Change is our perception of different states of physical information. Time is our perception of change. There is nothing in physics preventing time to roll backwards. Apparently, it is only our perception which gives us the illusion of a direction of time.


Or Maybe... There is Change with no Time. Time is an illusion, there is only NOW and now is always changing. Time is a tool that we have created to measure change.
Time is not a universal constant.
The speed of time changes based on the observers position or speed in the universe and photons don't experience time at all.
So time is not a real thing but only a construct. Now is real and change is real. You can't go back in time because time doesn't exist but you can change things back to the way they were. Does that mean that you have gone back in time? No, it means that you changed now back to the way now was before, but it is still only now... it's always now.

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