"The Universe is not a collection of objects, but is an inseparable web of vibrating energy patterns in which no one component has reality independently from the entirety. Included in the entirety is the observer."
- Paul Davies -
The most popular view of the big bang is illustrated in Figure 1a where the universe begins as a microscopic dot, which then explodes into space. The bang released a huge amount of matter and antimatter which eventually cooled to give us the universe that we see today. Matter, of course, won out, but nobody knows why. This model is complicated by the fact that the empty space between particles has some very peculiar properties (like curvature and non-zero energy), and that space itself is expanding. It fails to explain why all electrons, for example, have exactly the same mass. It is also plagued with numerous conundrums where matter is described as being both a wave and a particle. (For more conundrums see "The Persistant Failure of a Two Substance Paradigm").
String theory proposes that the universe exploded into strings (Figure 1b), where each type of particle is described as a string vibrating at a specific frequency (in a ten dimentional space). A substance that breaks up into strings is bizarre indeed - and the strings must continue to vibrate at the same frequency for the entire life of the universe! Trying to explain antimatter using strings is a serious challenge. How do you visualize anti-strings vibrating with an anti-frequency?
A more likely scenario is one that is proposed by foamy ether theory.
When our universe was created during the Big Bang, a super compressed ball of ether began to expand in an empty void. As it expanded, its density eventually reduced to the point where the ether turned to liquid. As the universe continued to expand, the liquid ether started to break up into a web like foam (see Figure 1c).
Conventional big bang theories have individual particles or strings exploding into an empty expanding space. Ether theory provides an alternative model. If you give the ether enough elasticity and stickiness, it will never actually break up, but continue to stretch like a huge expanding sponge. It is similar to a can of shaving lotion where a liquid under high pressure expands into a foam when released. Kinks in the foamy ether are atomic particles. Conventional models that have particles or strings existing in an expanding vacuum of empty space are replaced by a three dimensional weblike foam expanding in a void. Conventional space is replace by foamy ether and particles are replaced by kinks or distortion of the ether.
I find this view more attractive, because everything in the universe is still connected (including the observer), as apposed to a view where individual particles or strings are blown into a flat empty space where the connection is lost.
So where's the matter? Once again, we need to give ether the appropriate properties. Because the ether was in an extremely turbulent and coiled-up state when it was still a liquid, it expanded into a foam with a many countless kinks or knots in it. Try to imagine it behaving more like a helix shaped phone cord being pulled apart rather than a rubber band being stretched. When the cord is released, it tends to curl back up into its natural state, as opposed to an elastic band that would just shrink in size while still retaining its shape. So each kink or knot in ether is an atomic particle (or matter), and the foamy ether between particles is what conventional theory calls space.
Now this ether has been stretching for some 13.8 billion years, so you can imagine that it is strung pretty tightly. So tightly that if you could pluck it, the wave created would travel at 299,792 km/sec (the speed of light). This explains why the speed of light is in fact a fixed number. And the speed of light is the same wherever you are, because the tension on the foamy ether is the same in all locations of the universe (more on that later).
Since the stretched ether is trying to restore itself to its original curled up state, it is natural for the kinks or knots to have a tendency of clustering together. This is how atoms such as hydrogen were formed in the early stages of the Big Bang. These clusters continued to form larger clusters (i.e. molecules) that finally created a universe that we see today.