I have been active on the stock market since 1985, and during all that time I have gone through all the ups and downs of the economy. I have probably made all the mistakes – but over time my investing in stocks has always paid off. I have used stocks to buy a family home and to finance early retirement. Over the last months a few people, especially ‘juniors’ have asked how to start investing. Instead of having to repeat my personal ideas over and over, I summarize them in this short and (hopefully) easily digestible blogpost. Feedback highly appreciated.
What are the basic elements that you will need to consider as a newbie investor?
You will need to open a brokerage account. There are many, many options available. I think you will need to consider two parameters: the scope of what it delivers to you versus the cost of the account. Some brokerage accounts are free, and even every transaction is free (or at least very cheap); whereas other brokers ask for a high yearly fee and the fees for buying and selling stocks is expensive too. Think about this: free brokers will focus on scale, so you may get less personal help (e.g. no news letters, no support hotline etc etc). Expensive brokers may provide more support, but at some point you may start to wonder where all your fees end up. Lazy as I am, I have chosen the simple way. My bank is very virtuous as it is a (non-for profit) cooperative bank, and I decided to use its broker service too. This turned out to be a good choice, as it is a middle way between the two options described above.
Your brokerage account is live, and you can start to buy and sell stocks. But before you start spending your money, you will need to fine-tune the reason WHY you are investing. You should define what type of investor you are. Do you want to… (1) Use stock investment as an alternative to a savings account? (2) Retire at 40? (3) Experience the thrill of the market? (4) Steadily increase your wealth? (5) Build a house or buy a car? If you pick #3 from the list, you may be a day-trader kind of person (I am not, so I can‘t help you much with that strategy. Day-trading is a profession in itself). If you pick #1 or #4, you may be a value investor. If you select #2 or #5, you may be looking for tenbagger stocks that provide very strong returns within a well-defined time horizon. In any case: it is important that you define your personal strategy and wishes.
Before you buy any stocks, it is better to save some money, personally I would say 500€/$ would be a minimal amount. The main reasons are (1) buying stocks may cost a transaction fee, e.g. 10€/$ per order. (2) you will need some money as a buffer for your daily life. Always critically compare any debt that you have with your invest in stocks. It doesn’t make sense to have a credit card debt costing you 10-20% per year and at the same time earn 10-20% (or less!) through stocks. I always lived by the golden rule that debts are like lice: you want to get rid of them, pronto. It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked: if an economic crisis occurs you may quickly end up in dire straights! I only invest “extra money”, money that I do not depend on.
So where are you going to put that initial sum? There are two approaches for your first (or actually any) investment: (1) get advice from someone who is knowledgeable about stocks. This could be a clever aunt whose been active in the market for 50+ years, a cousin, your banker, a taxi-driver, a guy in a bar or even your spouse. Or (2) educate yourself about the best stocks to pick. I would wager that (1) NEVER works out, for the simple reason that it is easy for any individual to give advice about OTHER people’s money, in this case YOUR money. Don’t trust any of these people, as their interests may be completely opposite to your personal interests (that man at the bank gets a commission for the funds that he sells to you; he doesn’t care one iota whether it makes you money). Thus, strategy 2 is the one you want to follow. Investing is a constant learning process, you will want to understand the difference between an ETF and actively managed funds and trusts, you will want to know what Earnings-Per-Share EPS means and why it matters, and you will want to understand an annual financial report (example).
If you are overwhelmed at first, don’t worry. The before-mentioned ETFs are a good way to get your feet wet. ETFs represent bundles of stocks, some covering regions (e.g. the world, emerging markets, or the USA), others cover industries (e.g. precious metals, robotics), etc… ETFs are not actively managed, and therefore have lower costs and fees than funds. Here a small selection to illustrate this topic: JustETFs or Vanguard (these are commercial sites, with which I am not associated. You can also find more neutral information in wikipedia – with which I am also not associated ;-) also see my disclaimer at the bottom of this post). ETFs have an advantage/disadvantage: consider an ETF that contains stocks from 30 companies. Some of these companies will do great on the market (e.g. stocks #1-10), whereas the rest is doing not so well (e.g. stocks 11-25) and some are actually doing very poorly (#26-30). You will agree that is would naturally be better if you as an investor would actively pick the stocks #1-10, and ignore the rest. Now, as the ETF investor, you don’t need to worry about this; since as long as the whole bundle of 30 stocks continues to increase in value, you can be happy. But as you become more stock market savvy, you may want to get rid of the ETF and start focusing on individual stocks instead, and optimize your strategy (you could say that you start creating your own personal ETF – or portfolio). I only invest in individual companies myself, and sold my last shares in ETFs a dozen years ago.
So now you are up and running, and you have seeded your brokerage account with your initial ETF or some interesting, hand-picked stocks, perhaps a solid company that pays out some dividends too. But HORROR and DAMNATION! Suddenly the market starts a down-turn, people start selling off their stocks, the market plunges and the newspapers and news reporters go CRAZY. CORONA Covid-19 outbreak alert! Personally, I am in the market for the long run, my favorite holding period is forever. I attempt to pick companies that have a strong competitive advantage, an economic moat, as Warren Buffett puts it. Such invests usually bounce back after a crisis, usually to higher levels than before (whereas many other companies will disappear… and not just from the stock exchange). This is illustrated e.g. by a historical view of the Dow Jones Index. Still, as an investor you will need to consider that markets not only rise, but that downward corrections will happen. Are you willing/prepared to sit out the crisis? If you are very unlucky, it may happen that you enter the market at its height, and that it goes down or stays level for 20 years (example Nikkei Index). There are a few stock market truths that you should consider when it comes to crises: (1) Time in the Market is Better Than Timing the Market. This means that we private investors are very poor at picking the best moment for buying (during a hype phase) and selling (during a downturn). You will for sure loose money by ad hoc decisions. (2) Buy on bad news, sell on good news. During a crisis, stocks will be cheap. As a crash occurs, hold your breath and wait, then start buying small portions again over the months that follow. (3) Sell and buy, buy and sell, your money ends up on the road to hell. If you keep on shuffling stocks about, you will continuously have to pay taxes, fees and increase the risk that you buy some losers and at the wrong time too, also due to poor research. Common sense prevails to weather the storm, as illustrated in this useful “list of finance rules” by Kiplinger.
I hope this post provides some insights; have fun investing!
More extensive disclaimers can be found under “contact”.
Then one morning, as I stood on the roof looking at the horizon through my spyglass, I noted three independent pillars of white smoke, considerable distances away, twenty to thirty miles to the east, south, and north. They hadn’t been there the day before, and I wondered about their origin. I went in search of Imani and told some people to warn Apollo.
Half an hour later, he joined us on the roof. He stared at the smoke through his binoculars and went in search of a woman whom he knew. The two of them returned a full hour later. Imani and I had continued to look at the pillars of smoke, but they hadn’t changed much in character or size. Apollo introduced the woman as Aderyn, a former power plant inspector who had lived in the area before the pandemic. She was gray-haired, sturdy, and in her fifties. Her glasses dated back to the Fifties, too. She took Apollo’s binoculars and studied the three pillars of smoke.
Finally, she dropped the lenses and turned to us. “In the northeast, Pawnee Generating Station. In the north, Rawhide Energy Station, and in the south, the Ray D. Nixon Power Plant. All three are about 40, definitely less than 60 miles from here. I used to service all three of them before I was made redundant.” I wasn’t sure whether she meant that she had been fired or had been become jobless by the pandemic.
“Are you sure? The smoke seems to originate from a source nearer by… perhaps 20-30 miles?”
She raised her binoculars again. “No, these must be the power stations. It isn’t smoke, you see, it’s steam. And it’s the Denver air. Everything seems closer. My uncle used to say: on a clear day in Colorado, you can see the grim reaper walking towards you.”
Apollo looked at us. “What do you make of it?”
“Owosh,” said Imani, with grit.
“Exactly. Robots,” I said. “If I would be a hyper-intelligent robot, interested in embarking on some hyper-evolution, I would crave energy. A helluva lot of electricity. Break into a power plant, get it working, charge the drones… bob’s your uncle.”
“But where do they get the coal?”
Aderyn smiled. “I presume there is still a shitload of coal on-site. Wagons and wagons full of the stuff. That could last for a few weeks.”
I added, “From what we have seen, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for these creatures to crawl into a mine, drill for coal, and get it onto a train. And drive the train over here, too.”
“Hm. Any evidence for those statements?”
I looked at my notes. “I checked over the last hour and counted forty drones traveling toward the plant in the northeast, about twenty flying away from it. Of those twenty, four came directly towards us and landed somewhere south from here. If you look very closely, you can see drones flying towards the plants and away from them. You lose sight of them in the distance. I bet considerable robotic gymnastics are going on there.”
A few years ago, I was hosting a business dinner in New York, with half a dozen men and women after a day of intensive meetings. Perfect food, some great wine, and a great group of people from hard- and software companies, the majority from the USA, some from Europe.
Initially, the conversation focused on business, but as the evening got older, it turned to other topics. We discussed politics, history… and computing. These folks were all computer specialists and most with a degree in engineering. At a certain point, the discussion turned to the theory that we, as humans, do not exist, but instead, we are just avatars, simulations within a very sophisticated software, running on very advanced hardware. This theory is not new: Elon Musk is one of its proponents. It is based on the observation that computers are becoming more and more advanced and that the distinction between virtual reality (VR) and “real” reality seems to disappear. The metaverse seems to support this theory too. Sometime in the far future, somebody will be able to create a computer that doesn’t just simulate a single human brain (which according to some estimates may be possible in 50 years or so), but the brain of all humans. It is just a matter of scale; throw in some quantum computing, sufficient hardware, and real-time analytics with deep machine learning, and it should be possible to achieve.
Thus, at this very moment, we might be imagining to be physically alive; today and here on this planet, whereas, in reality, we are just characters in a very advanced computer game being played by an acne-faced teenager 200 years in the future. Everything that we experience: all pain and war and suffering and all love and rewards and happiness would then only be part of a simulation.
Little speaks against this theory from a technical standpoint. As long as technological progress continues to accelerate at the same pace it has for the last 150 years or so, this is easily imaginable. This is naturally also a weakness of the theory: life on Earth, as well as history, hardly ever were linear. We only experience a very small fragment of all of history, yet we consider our lifespan to be all-encompassing. For instance, about every 1000 years or so, a major volcanic eruption happens, which tends to dramatically alter the progress of humanity’s culture. Nevertheless one could argue that such catastrophes might delay the development of a super VR computer, but the delay doesn’t mean that it could never be created.
So why do I still think there is no value in the theory that we are all just part of a very advanced computer simulation? At the Free University of Amsterdam where I studied biology many years ago, one of the highlights of the first year was a course in Philosophy and Methodology of Natural Sciences. I have forgotten the professor’s name, but the man did a tremendous job at hammering home some basic scientific principles. I am not sure whether students still get such courses today, but this was really worthwhile stuff. The course also dwelled on the value of theories and hypotheses. What is a valuable theory? To get to the point: a theory only has value if it can be either proven or disproven. One can theorize about everything, put forward the wildest ideas, but if you cannot test a theory, it is worthless. So, the “simulation theory” MIGHT be true, there is NO way to prove or disprove it; it is a theory that isn’t falsifiable. By what criteria could anyone prove that we are, or are not part of a simulation? After all, at some time point, the simulation would be so perfect that it couldn’t be identified as a simulation anymore, it would be like real life. It is similar to stating that we are created by an invisible fairy living at the bottom of our garden – a theory that people may shrug at, or ridicule, but which would be very hard to prove or disprove. And, as my professor taught me thirty years ago, non-falsifiable theories have, from the scientific point of view, no value.
Adventure snack for the weekend: chapter 24 of my novel “REBOUND.” This is the third and final book of the TWO JOURNEYS TRILOGY. It is my major book release in 2022. Stay tuned for more news – get a copy in your favorite internet bookstore; pre-order today!
I woke up with a start, disoriented. The room didn’t look like the room in Denver, and Imani’s bed hadn’t been slept in… It took me a while to realize I was thousands of miles farther east and it was many weeks later. I sat on the edge of the bed for a while, feeling exhausted. Jaws licked my hand; I stroked his big head. Immediately, Bo and Lex came, they always did. None of the dogs allowed me to give favors to a single dog, the love had to be shared. I sunk to the floor and rubbed their heads. They would be on a boat for a long time, which would be stressful… for all four of us. Getting up, I stumbled into the bathroom, switched on the LED light and washed my face. I shaved and cut my hair with a blunt pair of scissors.
The mirror informed me unkindly that I looked like a worn-out Snake Plissken, with a bad haircut, a shabby face, and tendons and skin instead of Plissken’s muscle. And I didn’t feel as tough and confident as the Snake either, today I was more in Patrick Dewaere’s league, a moody French actor that I had greatly admired; until he committed suicide at the early age of 35. Befitting thoughts to start the day. I fed the dogs: dried elk meat that Francois had provided. They loved it. I packed my stuff in a large bag and tidied the room a little. Who knows who might be using it in the future?
I set off towards Francois’ place. Although it was still early, he wasn’t in. I made myself a large coffee and had some crackers and meat for breakfast. I went over my list of the final stuff I still needed to do. Then I went to the boat, which was waiting patiently. I tightened the ropes and checked the fuel, equipment, and anchor. I went to a store downtown that I had passed the day before and got some more maps. I also got an additional satnav; sure, the ship had a built-in navigation system, but it is better to have a spare. Finally, I had everything and was ready to go. The wind was stronger now, and the sky overcast. Francois was neither at his house nor at the boat. I decided to move the catamaran closer to Francois’ place; walking half a mile between the two was senseless.
And then I waited. Francois didn’t appear. Had something happened? Had Harry returned? I had no clue where he could be. Soon it was ten, then eleven. I grew more and more impatient, as I wanted to make a good distance before nightfall. I might be forced to return, should the ship malfunction. I walked up and down the pier, nervously. Then, finally, I saw Francois appear, from the direction where the ship had been anchored. He was carrying a duffel bag, so heavy it made him tilt to the side. His head was bent down; he looked miserable. I stared at his sad figure, as he came towards me, wondering what had happened.
Then he raised his head, and for an instant, I saw his face for the very first time with a serious expression. But when he discovered me and the boat, his face lighted up immediately.
“Alan! I thought you had left!”
“I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye, could I?”
He hurried forwards and handed me the bag. “Put that on board.”
It was tremendously heavy. ”More books to read? You packed those already for me, remember?”
“Not books! My clothing and essentials; I had to get new stuff from the store. You don’t want to share a cabin with a sailor that doesn’t change his underwear, do you? Now help me, we must stow away some more food. I packed the boxes early this morning. The water should be sufficient for two.”
“You rascal. Are you sure you want to come along?”
“I’m sure. Harry can stay with his bloody moose! I have left him a farewell note. To tell you the truth: I don’t think he will even notice that I am gone.”
It took us half an hour to store his stuff on the boat. Then Francois moved behind the wheel, stuck a captain’s cap on his white manes, and started the engine. “Are you ready, son?”
“Yessir, never been more ready than this.” My heart was beating and even the three dogs showed nervous anticipation. I loosened to ropes and pushed the boat from the shore. Francois made a cross and mumbled a prayer. Firmly he stood behind the wheel and then steered the boat out of the harbor, the engine happily put-putting. We entered The Narrows, and after a few minutes, we passed between Cahill Point and North Head. One last look at the lighthouse of Fort Amhurst, and our boat entered the Atlantic Ocean, its large, heavy waves moving us up and down. The ocean’s vast expanse in front of us: 2500 kilometers of wild water… and beyond that the great unknown of Europe. Francois lifted his cap from his head. “May we have fair winds and following seas.”
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Very grateful for the following feedback from one of the readers of REBOUND. The 2022 novel REBOUND by Clemens P. Suter is available in all internet stores, as ebook and paperback. This is really great and encouraging praise for the adventure novel REBOUND.
>>> Find buying information for all paperbacks and eBooks by Clemens P. Suter here or get a kindle or paperback copy at amazon.com.
I have to tell you that this book was one of my most enjoyable reads. I told my wife numerous times that I was really liking it. I like that some things are left open-ended. We never fully find out what the craft that Alan and Imani discover are or do, not everything needs to be explicitly spelled out. I laughed at the brief QAnon reference. Though the novel has a large cast of characters–largely as a result of Alan’s travels–there are only a few that play a large role, which keeps the narrative from becoming unwieldy. I have to praise you that you have a wonderful knack for knowing when to move Alan to a new setting just as circumstances are about to become stale. The relationship between Alan and Imani is so pure – I really enjoyed it. The image of “Imani hanging out of the window with a pump-action rifle, giving both barrels to a car full of down-and-outers” (p. 139) is a great one. The descriptions are excellent, the pacing is perfect, and the characters evolve in ways that feel natural.
Lately, I have suffered from nightmares, which ended in murder and blood. Sometimes my imagination is too vivid, or the movies I watch on Mubi are too violent.
Anyway, last night was different, as I dreamed I was watching a talk show, and the experience was even quite enlightening. Imagine a studio, with a host, a virologist, a politician, and… the Corona Virus! A dapper gent, dressed in a three-piece suite, with oily hair. The discussion went something like this.
Host: “So what do you propose should be done to stop the increase of infected people?”
Virologist: “We only have one possibility! We need a lockdown for those that are not vaccinated. Otherwise, the numbers will explode over winter.”
Politician: “A lockdown is out of the question. The incidence rates may be up, the mortality exploding, but we need freedom, for all citizens.”
The host to the virus: “And what do you think about that, Mr. Corona?”
Corina (looking slightly confused). “Well, I… I have no preference.”
Host: “But don’t the masks help? And the social distancing?”
Researcher: “Definitely! We will need to reimplement these! If people stick to those simple rules and wear masks, the problems are solvable. And the vaccine… people must get vaccinated! It also depends on how we calculate the R-value. And let’s not forget the incidence.”
Corona (managing to look bored and satisfied at the same time): “Sounds like a plan.”
Host: “You do not seem to be overwhelmed…?”
Corona: “Look at it this way. at the moment the infection rate is, without a doubt, satisfactory. Sure, I could have infected hundreds of millions of people, but I have already bypassed HIV and the Spanish Flu in mortality rate. I am pleased with the outcome.”
Host: “But aren’t you afraid that you will be eradicated? Haven’t you read about the vaccines, the safety measures, the vaccines, the new medications?”
Corona: “I’m a virus. I do not read newspapers.”
Politician (snorts): “That is absolutely irresponsible! I bet you do not vote either!”
Corona: “I do not watch the news, I do not listen to researchers or politicians, nor do I listen to people who object to wearing masks or those who refuse to get vaccinated. I am indifferent to public opinion… to any opinion. Certainly, for us viruses, plants, and animals are easier prey as they cannot plan ahead at all, yet humans… they are still sufficiently primitive. Take your scientists… on the one hand, their salaries are paid through taxes, collected from the public, yet when the rubber hits the road, nobody listens to them! It’s a contradiction… hilarious and sad at the same time.”
Virologist: “Now listen…”
Corona (hanging back in his chair, suddenly with a whisky in his hand): “For a virus, the job is easy. Multiply, multiply, make the most of the stupidity of our hosts. It’s a slam dunk! No kidding, it’s as easy as drinking water and, after that, as much fun as peeing in the snow.”
Politician (red-faced): “So what you are saying is that we haven’t made any difference? May I perhaps remind you of the billions we have invested with our anti-pandemic plan?”
Corona: “Yes, you did. And it slowed me down a bit. But… I am still here. And I will be here for many years to come. I have already branched out into a dozen other species.”
Virologist (looking clever): “So what do you suggest we do then?”
Corona (looking more clever): “I will gladly tell you, as you won’t be able to implement this within a reasonable timeframe. By the time you will finish discussing and planning I will have mutated into something new and much more exciting. Anyway, the key is education. At the start of the pandemic, people didn’t understand an exponential growth curve. By now most have at least an inkling of what it encompasses. But, now, humans do not understand the benefit of vaccinations… so in most countries, more than 30% are not getting vaccinated. I love it! It’s a gas! Without proper education… without proper information, I’m on a roll! Ooooh yes… Somebody Stop Me!”
Host (looking sweaty, with a slight cough): “Ahh… urghuurghu. With that our time is, alas, up. I thank our panel for the discussion and valuable input… urghuurghu… and I wish all our viewers a perfect night. Urhurghuuu and please stay healthy.” (Thinking he is off-camera, he whispers) “Is it too late to get the vaccine, once you start coughing?” (The virologist covers her face with both hands and shakes her head violently).
I returned from a business trip to Kansas City, and as I sat on the plane, it suddenly occurred to me that I must have witnessed the stupefying safety pantomime over 400 times. That’s a whopping 1000 or so minutes shaved of my life, thank you FAA and EASA. And it doesn’t do any good either: just ask a fellow traveler to repeat what’s in the safety instructions and what to do if the plane crashed into the Hudson River, and you will only get back embarrassed smiles. I can guess what passengers will do if a plane makes an emergency landing: some will instinctively push and shove to get to the exit first.
OK, I’m exaggerating. Mostly I feel sorry for the crew that needs to go through the exercise, while the passengers are staring into their smartphones.
It’s not that I fly excessively, but thanks to my adventurous parents I had an early start getting airborne. I recall times when air travel was still “special”; reserved for a few businessmen or tourists that were perhaps a bit better off than the ordinary citizen. Any country was exotic back then: half of the world was out of bounds being communist and therefore utterly boring, and many of the other countries had no infrastructure to support mass tourism. Nowadays, if you haven’t visited Iceland, the Arabian peninsula, Chili, the Congo or Detroit you do not count as a well-traveled tourist. And these days, in every single country, you can buy exactly the same stuff. I know a Japanese couple that vacations every year in Tuscany, Italy, and friends of ours from Switzerland have been traveling with a camper through Yellowstone – every summer, eight years running. Get a life and stay at home, folks?
But I’m getting distracted. Back then (I am talking about the 1970s) when you entered an airplane, smoking was naturally not allowed. In the non-smoker section and until after take off that is, after that you could light up your cigarette, cigar or even a pipe. The crew was constantly emptying the ashtrays in the armrests. Air travel makes us humans nervous (surprisingly very few people are aware of this), and thus the cheap cigarettes bought in the tax-free shop allowed for a soothing and relaxing smoke.
The smoky air and the lack of water offered (in those days nobody realized that dehydration is an unpleasant accompanying effect of air travel) put a terrible strain on travelers, leading to colds and coughs. My mother suffered from asthma, so we usually sat in the non-smoking section; enjoying the recycled, second hand smoke coming from the vents.
Halfway during the flight, a movie screen was lowered in the front, and a beamer came out of the overhead. A badly edited movie was projected on the screen to keep passengers occupied. These systems regularly broke down, so sometimes there was no movie to watch, but in that case we could revert to a handful of radio channels; two with pop-, one with classical- and one with jazz music. After an intercontinental flight you knew all the tunes by heart, as the programs only had about twenty pieces each.
The door to the cockpit had no lock and sometimes even stood open (thanks to Osama bin Laden, this ridiculous practice was stopped). The captain regularly walked through the cabin to chat with the passengers. You could ask the stewardess (there were no stewards back then) for a visit to the cockpit and the pilot would explain the basics of aviation.
Due to security, you had to arrive at the airport early: for intercontinental flights this meant about 45 minutes before takeoff. For domestic flights three minutes sufficed. Security checks consisted of a quick look at your passport, your hand luggage wasn’t scanned. I recall passengers sitting on the plane with taped-up boxes; anybody’s guess what they contained. Customs did take those boxes apart after landing; I once witnessed the extraction of a 6 pound fish from such a box (its freshness debatable after an eight hour flight). Once, on a flight in the USA, a passenger’s gun was confiscated. This didn’t upset us too much. After all, we were too busy smoking in the line for customs. Ashtrays were available next to all waiting lines. We did throw our cigarette butts on the floor, I recall that a lady once scolded me, stating that this practice was “frowned upon” in the US. I was young and much ashamed.
On most flights you had to pay for alcoholic beverages, soft drinks were free, but water was hard to get, sometimes I way thirsty. At the airports there was very little distraction: a single tax free shop and one restaurant were all that you could visit, if those were available at all. Many terminals were rather empty buildings; a counter and uncomfortable metal chairs.
A few things didn’t change over the years: the crews were just as polite back then as they are now, which is surprising in light of the higher numbers of passengers and increased security measures these days. There are a few more female pilots and a few more male stewards. The passengers are the same too: most almost unnoticeable, a very few very obnoxious – which is in my opinion usually explainable by higher levels of flight anxiety.
Flying back then was more of an experience: the planes were louder, the flights took longer, the seats were harder, the Jetlag lasted ages… and the destinations were more exotic.
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After being involved in several discussions on social media about the creation of the universe, I decided to jot down a few ideas about this challenging question: how was our universe formed? This text is based on discussions with several people, and it is by no means comprehensive.
Science has shown that the universe was formed about 14 billion years ago through the Big Bang. But what does the space look like into which our universe is expanding? This is an incorrect assumption. In fact, during the Big Bang, space and time were created. That means that space was infinitely small at that time point. Since then, space is expanding, but not into a ‘room’ that already existed. This also means that our universe originated where you are now… in fact: it originated everywhere. This is completely opposed to “common sense”, but one of the cornerstones for understanding the universe.
Do multiple universes exist? First of all, the universe (as the name suggests) means EVERYTHING (the observable Universe, with a radius of 46.5 billion light-years, probably contains 200 billion galaxies, each with an average of 100 million of stars). To describe how this universe came into being, astrophysicists create models and formulas. And based on those mathematical models (which are universally applicable), it cannot be excluded that an endless number of other universes exist in parallel. There could even be a variant of you in another universe – walking around with a tail. However, these are mathematical models. We can’t see those universes. We can’t look beyond our own space and our own time, so this is all hypothetical. We can only be sure that our own universe exists.
What existed before the Big Bang? We can not see these hypothetical multiverses, and likewise, we can also not see what happened before the Big Bang, since time and space came into existence with the Big Bang. Any hypothesis about what happened before the Big Bang or what caused it is speculation or fantasy (and in some cases religion). As Stephen Hawking indicated (and I hope I recap that correctly), the question is senseless, as we can only see or model our own universe. We can’t make any statements beyond what can be observed.
But the universe must have been created by something? Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask. As human beings, we are locked in cultures where everything must have cause and effect, and everything has linearity. As an example, from our perspective, time flows very regularly, but Einstein showed that speed and gravity will make time run slower. This seems senseless, as we can’t observe this (in our daily lives). We tend to believe in cause and effect; that only nothing comes from nothing. But this may well be a meme in our society or culture… the human brain always wants to find patterns, reasons… but perhaps some things happen without a cause? The question seems to be dictated by our culture. Perhaps this question is comparable to: “what is the sound of the smell of the number 7?” To some (esoteric) people, this question may be logical, to the rest of us it doesn’t make any sense. Any suggestion for what caused our universe to come into existence doesn’t resolve the question of its origin. It could for instance be a goddess, or another, bigger “universe” or whatever. But this fantasy entity (we can’t detect / see it) must then have been created too. Thus, this only adds an additional layer of complexity to the discussion. The truth of the matter is that you exist, and all the rest and the entire universe exist too. What can’t be observed “isn’t”, whereas the universe “is”. If non-existence would be the normal state of the universe, you wouldn’t be here.