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What came before the Big Bang?  This is a common question, but it’s a question with no answer, because there was no such thing as a ‘before’ the Big Bang – time itself did not begin until the Big Bang happened. 

What will happen at the end of the Universe?  Again, this seemingly sensible question doesn’t actually make sense, because if something is still happening, then it’s not the end of the Universe yet.

What’s one minus one?  Zero, of course.  But what does that mean, zero?  How can you have zero of something?  You can’t.  Nothing isn’t something.  Zero is a relatively recent concept in mathematics – the ancient Greeks didn’t have it at all.  And it doesn’t really exist in science; we now know that even supposedly completely “empty” space is teeming with virtual particles, and that energy cannot be subtracted from a closed system, so a “zero” state will never be achieved.

My song brings together the mystery around the number zero with the mystery of the beginning and end of the Universe.  When I grew up, there were lots of theories about what would happen to the Universe – whether it would keep expanding forever, or whether it would one day start collapsing in on itself, or whether it miraculously had exactly enough matter in it to slow down in its expansion and then just stop, and stay that size forever.  Nowadays, since we discovered dark energy, we think the first of these possibilities is the most likely.  This, coupled with the concept of entropy (see under E), means bad news for anyone hoping the Universe will carry on much as it is forever.  Eventually, all the stars will die and no new stars will be born, all the atoms will separate so far that they stop colliding with each other, then maybe even those atoms will die out.  Basically, this song was never very likely to be very jolly.  Sorry about that.

The instrument I use to play this song is a zither, a type of instrument invented well over two thousand years ago.  There are lots of different types of zither, and most of them are much bigger than the one I use in the show.

You can also read the words and see the vocal score.


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