Here’s the question from a fellow reader who e-mailed this to me:

Here goes, if I can express my question lucidly:
Most of physical matter appears to be contained within something else. For example, protons and electrons are contained within atoms, and atoms are a part of all matter. All organisms found on this planet are contained on this planet which itself is contained within the solar system which in turn is contained within a galaxy which is considered a part of the universe which is thought to be INFINITE. So, going with this theme, in what is the UNIVERSE contained? If it is contained in something bigger than itself, then the universe is FINITE. If our UNIVERSE is contained in something else, then is that SOMETHING ELSE contained within something else, and so on and so on?
Is this a different paradigm for analyzing our ‘UNIVERSE’ around us or Am I Just Being Silly?!! 🙂
There are some interesting new theories about this very question and some answers have come from String Theory. I’ll try to do a descent job of explaining what I’ve read on the subject and of course it will be in layman’s language and hopefully I won’t butcher any of the ideas too badly, so here goes. The first thing about string theory is the ideas in it are complicated and require something like at least 11 parallel dimensions in order for the theory to even work. The string part of string theory is derived from the notion that beyond the smallest known particles like quarks (which behave very unusually and in many ways prove some esoteric ideas, but that’s another story) are the tiniest of the tiniest bits that make up all known things. And once clumped together into something they take on certain characteristics. These strings are ubber tiny strings that vibrate and it is through their vibration that they attract other like strings and make stuff. I love this idea as the universe would literally be made up of inaudible music created from the tiny strings. So these strings vibrate at a certain pitch and collect to make different sorts of bigger compounds.
But the most interesting part of String Theory is the question that it set out to answer which was the notion of how did the Big Bang happen? Or what came before the Big Bang? And something to note here is that the Big Bang is a more complicated idea than most of us are taught, here’s a brief synopsis. All of a sudden space-time blasted into being, it started out very hot and very close together and has been pushing out since then. The part that we often misunderstand is the notion of space-time which is a complicated idea. Literally everything that exits in the Universe, all of time and space was created in that one moment which came from nothing. That’s a pretty heavy and strange idea.
Now the beautiful thing about String Theory, and in my opinion where it dovetails with the metaphors of all religions and the notion of “as above so below,” is the idea that what created the Big Bang was a bunch of universes all sort of floating around in what is now called a multiverse and two of these universes happened to collide into one another thus creating our universe (sort of like sex or the idea of the Goddess and the God or in esoteric Judaic and Christian traditions, the notion of God and his female soul Sophia or the feminine side of God co-creating the Universe).  Of course one then asks where did this multiverse come from and so on which is the appeal of the easy answer/creationism/intelligent design.