A Universe from Nothing?

By Sean Carroll | April 28, 2012 2:55 pm

Some of you may have been following a tiny brouhaha (“kerfuffle” is so overused, don’t you think?) that has sprung up around the question of why the universe exists. You can’t say we think small around here.

First Lawrence Krauss came out with a new book, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (based in part on a popular YouTube lecture), which addresses this question from the point of view of a modern cosmologist. Then David Albert, speaking as a modern philosopher of science, came out with quite a negative review of the book in the New York Times. And discussion has gone back and forth since then: here’s Jerry Coyne (mostly siding with Albert), the Rutgers Philosophy of Cosmology blog (with interesting voices in the comments), a long interview with Krauss in the Atlantic, comments by Massimo Pigliucci, and another response by Krauss on the Scientific American site.

I’ve been meaning to chime in, for personal as well as scientific reasons. I do work on the origin of the universe, after all, and both Lawrence and David are friends of the blog (and of me): Lawrence was our first guest-blogger, and David and I did Bloggingheads dialogues here and here.

Executive summary

This is going to be kind of long, so here’s the upshot. Very roughly, there are two different kinds of questions lurking around the issue of “Why is there something rather than nothing?” One question is, within some framework of physical laws that is flexible enough to allow for the possible existence of either “stuff” or “no stuff” (where “stuff” might include space and time itself), why does the actual manifestation of reality seem to feature all this stuff? The other is, why do we have this particular framework of physical law, or even something called “physical law” at all? Lawrence (again, roughly) addresses the first question, and David cares about the second, and both sides expend a lot of energy insisting that their question is the “right” one rather than just admitting they are different questions. Nothing about modern physics explains why we have these laws rather than some totally different laws, although physicists sometimes talk that way — a mistake they might be able to avoid if they took philosophers more seriously. Then the discussion quickly degrades into name-calling and point-missing, which is unfortunate because these are smart people who agree about 95% of the interesting issues, and the chance for productive engagement diminishes considerably with each installment.

How the universe works

Let’s talk about the actual way physics works, as we understand it. Ever since Newton, the paradigm for fundamental physics has been the same, and includes three pieces. First, there is the “space of states”: basically, a list of all the possible configurations the universe could conceivably be in. Second, there is some particular state representing the universe at some time, typically taken to be the present. Third, there is some rule for saying how the universe evolves with time. You give me the universe now, the laws of physics say what it will become in the future. This way of thinking is just as true for quantum mechanics or general relativity or quantum field theory as it was for Newtonian mechanics or Maxwell’s electrodynamics.

Quantum mechanics, in particular, is a specific yet very versatile implementation of this scheme. (And quantum field theory is just a particular example of quantum mechanics, not an entirely new way of thinking.) The states are “wave functions,” and the collection of every possible wave function for some given system is “Hilbert space.” The nice thing about Hilbert space is that it’s a very restrictive set of possibilities (because it’s a vector space, for you experts); once you tell me how big it is (how many dimensions), you’ve specified your Hilbert space completely. This is in stark contrast with classical mechanics, where the space of states can get extraordinarily complicated. And then there is a little machine — “the Hamiltonian” — that tells you how to evolve from one state to another as time passes. Again, there aren’t really that many kinds of Hamiltonians you can have; once you write down a certain list of numbers (the energy eigenvalues, for you pesky experts) you are completely done.

We should be open-minded about what form the ultimate laws of physics will take, but almost all modern attempts to get at them take quantum mechanics for granted. That’s true for string theory and other approaches to quantum gravity — they might take very different views of what constitutes “spacetime” or “matter,” but very rarely do they muck about with the essentials of quantum mechanics. It’s certainly the case for all of the scenarios Lawrence considers in his book. Within this framework, specifying “the laws of physics” is just a matter of picking a Hilbert space (which is just a matter of specifying how big it is) and picking a Hamiltonian. One of the great things about quantum mechanics is how extremely restrictive it is; we don’t have a lot of room for creativity in choosing what kinds of laws of physics might exist. It seems like there’s a lot of creativity, because Hilbert space can be extremely big and the underlying simplicity of the Hamiltonian can be obscured by our (as subsets of the universe) complicated interactions with the rest of the world, but it’s always the same basic recipe.

So within that framework, what does it mean to talk about “a universe from nothing”? We still have to distinguish between two possibilities, but at least this two-element list exhausts all of them.

Possibility one: time is fundamental

The first possibility is that the quantum state of the universe really does evolve in time — i.e. that the Hamiltonian is not zero, it truly does push the state forward in time. This seems like the generic case (there are more ways to be not-zero than to be zero), and it’s certainly the one that we spend time considering in introductory courses when we foist quantum mechanics on fearful undergraduates for the first time. A wonderful and under-appreciated consequence of quantum mechanics is that, if this possibility is right (the universe truly evolves), time cannot truly begin or end — it goes on forever. Very unlike classical mechanics, where the universe’s trajectory through the space of states can bring it smack up against a singularity, at which point time presumably ceases. In QM, every state is just as good as every other state, and the evolution will go happily marching along.

So what does this have to do with something vs. nothing? Well, as the quantum state of the universe evolves, it can pass through phases where it looks an awful lot like “nothing,” conventionally understood — i.e. it could look like completely empty space, or like some peculiar non-geometric phase where we wouldn’t recognize it as “space” at all. And later, through the relentless influence of the Hamiltonian, it could evolve into something that looks very much like “something,” even very much like the universe we see around us today. So if your definition of “nothing” is “emptiness” or “lack of space itself,” the laws of quantum mechanics provide a nice way to understand how that nothing can evolve into the marvelous something we find ourselves inside. This is interesting, and important, and worth writing a book about, and it’s one of the possibilities Lawrence discusses.

Possibility two: time is emergent/approximate

The other possibility is that the universe doesn’t evolve at all — the Hamiltonian is zero, and there is some space of possible states, but we just sit there, without a fundamental “passage of time.” Now, you might suspect that this is a logical possibility but not a plausible one; after all, don’t we see things change around us all the time? But in fact this possibility is the one you immediately bump into if you simply take classical general relativity and try to “quantize” it (i.e., invent the quantum theory that would reduce to GR in the classical limit). We don’t know that this is the right thing to do — Tom Banks, for example, would argue that it’s not — but it’s a possibility that is on the table, so we should think about what it would mean if it turns out to be true.

We certainly think that we perceive time passing, but maybe time is just emergent rather than fundamental. (I don’t like using “illusory” in this context, but others are not so circumspect.) That is, perhaps there is an alternative description of that single, unmoving point in Hilbert space — a description that looks approximately like “a universe evolving through time,” at least for some period of duration. Think of a block of metal sitting on a hot surface, not evolving with time but with a temperature gradient from top to bottom. It might be possible to conceptually divide the block into slices of equal temperature, and then write down an equation for how the state of the block changes from slice to slice, and find that the resulting mathematical formalism looks just like “evolution through time.” In this case, unlike the previous one, time could end (or begin), because time was only a useful approximation to begin with, valid in a certain regime.

This kind of scenario is exactly what quantum cosmologists like James Hartle, Stephen Hawking, Alex Vilenkin, Andrei Linde and others have in mind when they are talking about the “creation of the universe from nothing.” In this kind of picture, there is literally a moment in the history of the universe prior to which there weren’t any other moments. There is a boundary of time (presumably at the Big Bang), prior to which there was … nothing. No stuff, not even a quantum wave function; there was no prior thing, because there is no sensible notion of “prior.” This is also interesting, and important, and worth writing a book about, and it’s another one of the possibilities Lawrence discusses.

Why is there a universe at all?

So modern physics has given us these two ideas, both of which are interesting, and both of which resonate with our informal notion of “coming into existence out of nothing” — one of which is time evolution from empty space (or not-even-space) into a universe bursting with stuff, and the other of which posits time as an approximate notion that comes to an end at some boundary in an abstract space of possibilities.

What, then, do we have to complain about? Well, a bit of contemplation should reveal that this kind of reasoning might, if we grant you a certain definition of “nothing,” explain how the universe could arise from nothing. But it doesn’t, and doesn’t even really try to, explain why there is something rather than nothing — why this particular evolution of the wave function, or why even the apparatus of “wave functions” and “Hamiltonians” is the right way to think about the universe at all. And maybe you don’t care about those questions, and nobody would question your right not to care; but if the subtitle of your book is “Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing,” you pretty much forfeit the right to claim you don’t care.

Do advances in modern physics and cosmology help us address these underlying questions, of why there is something called the universe at all, and why there are things called “the laws of physics,” and why those laws seem to take the form of quantum mechanics, and why some particular wave function and Hamiltonian? In a word: no. I don’t see how they could.

Sometimes physicists pretend that they are addressing these questions, which is too bad, because they are just being lazy and not thinking carefully about the problem. You might hear, for example, claims to the effect that our laws of physics could turn out to be the only conceivable laws, or the simplest possible laws. But that seems manifestly false. Just within the framework of quantum mechanics, there are an infinite number of possible Hilbert spaces, and an infinite number of possibile Hamiltonians, each of which defines a perfectly legitimate set of physical laws. And only one of them can be right, so it’s absurd to claim that our laws might be the only possible ones.

Invocations of “simplicity” are likewise of no help here. The universe could be just a single point, not evolving in time. Or it could be a single oscillator, rocking back and forth in perpetuity. Those would be very simple. There might turn out to be some definition of “simplicity” under which our laws are the simplest, but there will always be others in which they are not. And in any case, we would then have the question of why the laws are supposed to be simple? Likewise, appeals of the form “maybe all possible laws are real somewhere” fail to address the question. Why are all possible laws real?

And sometimes, on the other hand, modern cosmologists talk about different laws of physics in the context of a multiverse, and suggest that we see one set of laws rather than some other set for fundamentally anthropic reasons. But again, that’s just being sloppy. We’re talking here about the low-energy manifestation of the underlying laws, but those underlying laws are exactly the same everywhere throughout the multiverse. We are still left with the question of there are those deep-down laws that create a multiverse in the first place.

The end of explanations

All of these are interesting questions to ask, and none of them is addressed by modern physics or cosmology. Or at least, they are interesting questions to “raise,” but my own view is that the best answer is to promptly un-ask them. (Note that by now we’ve reached a purely philosophical issue, not a scientific one.)

“Why” questions don’t exist in a vacuum; they only make sense within some explanatory context. If we ask “why did the chicken cross the road?”, we understand that there are things called roads with certain properties, and things called chickens with various goals and motivations, and things that might be on the other side of the road, or other beneficial aspects of crossing it. It’s only within that context that a sensible answer to a “why” question can be offered. But the universe, and the laws of physics, aren’t embedded in some bigger context. They are the biggest context that there is, as far as we know. It’s okay to admit that a chain of explanations might end somewhere, and that somewhere might be with the universe and the laws it obeys, and the only further explanation might be “that’s just the way it is.”

Or not, of course. We should be good empiricists and be open to the possibility that what we think of as the universe really does exist within some larger context. But then we could presumably re-define that as the universe, and be stuck with the same questions. As long as you admit that there is more than one conceivable way for the universe to be (and I don’t see how one could not), there will always be some end of the line for explanations. I could be wrong about that, but an insistence that “the universe must explain itself” or some such thing seems like a completely unsupportable a priori assumption. (Not that anyone in this particular brouhaha seems to be taking such a stance.)

Sounds and furies

That’s all I have to say about the (fun, interesting) substantive questions, but I am not strong enough to resist a couple of remarks on the (tedious but strangely irresistible) procedural questions.

First, I think that Lawrence’s book makes a lot more sense when viewed as part of the ongoing atheism vs. theism popular debate, rather than as a careful philosophical investigation into a longstanding problem. Note that the afterword was written by Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence had originally asked Christopher Hitchens, before he became too ill — both of whom, while very smart people, are neither cosmologists nor philosophers. If your real goal is to refute claims that a Creator is a necessary (or even useful) part of a complete cosmological scheme, then the above points about “creation from nothing” are really quite on point. And that point is that the physical universe can perfectly well be self-contained; it doesn’t need anything or anyone from outside to get it started, even if it had a “beginning.” That doesn’t come close to addressing Leibniz’s classic question, but there’s little doubt that it’s a remarkable feature of modern physics with interesting implications for fundamental cosmology.

Second, after David’s review came out, Lawrence took the regrettable tack of lashing out at “moronic philosophers” and the discipline as a whole, rather than taking the high road and sticking to a substantive discussion of the issues. In the Atlantic interview especially, he takes numerous potshots that are just kind of silly. Like most scientists, Lawrence doesn’t get a lot out of the philosophy of science. That’s okay; the point of philosophy is not to be “useful” to science, any more than the point of mycology is to be “useful” to fungi. Philosophers of science aren’t trying to do science, they are trying to understand how science works, and how it should work, and to tease out the logic and standards underlying scientific argumentation, and to situate scientific knowledge within a broader epistemological context, and a bunch of other things that can be perfectly interesting without pretending to be science itself. And if you’re not interested, that’s fine. But trying to undermine the legitimacy of the field through a series of wisecracks is kind of lame, and ultimately anti-intellectual — it represents exactly the kind of unwillingness to engage respectfully with careful scholarship in another discipline that we so rightly deplore when people feel that way about science. It’s a shame when smart people who agree about most important things can’t disagree about some other things without throwing around insults. We should strive to be better than that.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy, Science, Top Posts
  • Víktor Batista i Roca

    Please, talk with the people who manages your ads. I’ve got to reload the page because a very annoying ad with loud music. If it had appeared again I would not even tried it again.

  • Dave Weeden

    I’ve got a degree in psychology, although I studied physics for a year and a term, and I considered post grad study in the philosophy of science (which psychology, being somewhat uncertain about its status, is quite big on). There are two shoulds in the final paragraph. How “should” science work? (I’m with Paul Feyerabend, if I understood him, that it should be pragmatic, and not philosophical.) I don’t see why, in principle, science can’t be applied to science. (Yes, I have read “Godel, Escher, Bach” if you’re asking.)

    I like this piece, but that last paragraph really bugs me. If philosophy of science has a point, and it isn’t to be useful to science, what is it? Why should it get funding? And “careful scholarship in another discipline” — do you take Conan Doyle on fairies or spiritualism seriously? or studies in exorcism? or ufology? Some people just are nuts, and don’t deserve respect.

    Maybe “we” “should strive to be better than that” but Isaac “I have stood on the shoulders of giants” Newton didn’t. Something you get from the boy scouts: a bit of friction can start a fire and/or shed light.

  • http://math-frolic.blogspot.com Shecky R

    Nice discussion Sean, though I almost think Lawrence and David are talking right past each other.
    Even so, it qualifies as a “kerfuffle” — love that word! — “brouhaha” sounds too much like a Hindu God or food dish….

  • gdt000

    I haven’t read the book but I have been following this brouhaha at a couple of blog sites and it seems to me the whole thing comes down to a semantic misunderstanding. When Krauss says “Why is there something…”, surely he is using the word “why” in the same sense as Professor Julius Sumner Miller did when he asked us “Why is it so?” Professor Miller wasn’t interested in some philosophical discussion about why his experiment produced a particular result. He was actually interested in HOW the laws of physics brought about that result.

    Clearly the book is meant to inform reasonably intelligent lay people, not philosophers of science or even other scientists and, in that context, the words how and why are effectively interchangeable. I’m sure that if Krauss had intended addressing the philosophical question of why the universe exists rather than the scientific question of why (how) it came to be, he would have written a very different book.

  • Ahab

    Dr. Krauss has failed completely in his effort to explain the existence of the laws; an effort to which he dedicated the last chapter of his book. The reason for his failure is simple: he tried to explain the existence of the laws by introducing another set of laws (some sort of meta-laws) whilst ignoring that this move does nothing more than pushing the ‘something from nothing’ question one step backward (instead of answering it).

    The sole solution to the dilemma is to treat the final set of laws as a BRUTE FACT. This move doesn’t – as some might imagine – weaken the atheist’s position one single bit, for the simple reason that (God) too is presented as a brute fact and ipso facto he gets cut out by Occam’s Razor.
    This of course is what Sean Carroll has been saying all along, as in (Does The Universe Need God p.11) and right here in the section titled (The end of explanations).

    Still, it’s my opinion that Krauss’ book is definitely one of the best pop science books out there.

  • Charles Sullivan

    Wonderfully informative and lucid. Thanks, Sean.

  • paul kramarchyk

    My 2¢.. New rule: Whenever someone mentions god, creator, or “magic man in the sky” the speaker is REQUIRED to DEFINE what they mean. Else use of these terms leaves too much to the imagination of the audience. And puts the conversation in an impenetrable fog.

    Granted, name calling is not useful. But I understand Lawrence’s ire. And share it. Philosophy is highbrow amusement. And may give you peace of mind. Science gives you testable understanding, penicillin, and microprocessors. I’ve read his book and enjoyed it. Learned more about some very interesting concepts. Give the man a break. What do you expect from a book with such an audacious title?

  • Uninvisible

    [quoth Carroll:] “and the only further explanation might be “that’s just the way it is.” Or not, of course.”

    … is this not a tautology – a “just so” explanation? how do I go about explaining that to someone who says “God just exists” or “God is” (we have all heard this).

    and are there examples of meaningless questions in real life, besides how many nothings are in a crate of bananas (dividing by zero)? (related to the “Turtles” post … also a conversation with my wife today)

    also this piece is appreciated – I was confused about the Krauss commotion.

  • http://quantummoxie.wordpress.com Ian Durham

    I’m a physicist and mathematician, but I have been accused of being a philosopher at times. For what it’s worth, I have always viewed the philosophy of science as being a bit like the “conscience of science.” In other words, it’s purpose is to call out the scientists when they violate their own rules.

  • http://www.booksofscience.com Bob Green

    Sean: You may want download “The Origin of the Universe – Case Closed”. I think it does a better job of answering why we have something. It also has the math in the Appendix to back up the argument. The short answer is that the state of “nothing” is unstable.

  • ellipsis

    Krauss: We know a lot. Albert: We don’t know everything. Both true. Case closed.

  • Ian Liberman

    Dr. Krauss elucidating on the formulation of universes, starting from quantum vacuum fluctuations, has come from many scientists, including Linde, Guth, Tryon, Hawking, Davies, Morris, Stenger and others . David Albert, who I also respect, has it wrong to focus on the science of Dr. Krauss and his version of Nothingness because it is rooted in naturalism and scientific reasoning. Extending this spontaneous creation of the universe to illustrating the process ,without the necessity of a supernatural force, is totally and scientifically logical and really needs no criticism , especially from philosophers not espousing empirical constructive suggestions. As you state about the book, ” If your real goal is to refute claims that a Creator is a necessary (or even useful) part of a complete cosmological scheme, then the above points about “creation from nothing” are really quite on point.” Dr. Kraus apologised for lumping all philosophers in the same category and that should end that issue now.

  • http://www.tevong.com/adlib.php Tevong

    I did find Krauss’s Atlantic interview petty and unfortunate for further inflating the image of physicists as arrogant towards other disciplines. It just makes it that much harder to be taken seriously and not accused of hubris.

    It’s good to see Sean’s clarity of thought and reasoning brought to the issue. It should be the final word on the matter.

  • Brett

    “Likewise, appeals of the form “maybe all possible laws are real somewhere” fail to address the question. Why are all possible laws real?”

    Actually I think the “all possible laws are real somewhere” is intriguing. At least, if one is willing to accept that math and logic exist, and that our universe is fully described by some mathematical structure (ie, there is some final theory, not just better and better approximations to reality), then it’s an elegant answer to the question of “why this structure and not another?”. There are problems with inherent randomness, like wavefunction collapse: what does it mean in this context for one possibility to be actually realized as opposed to another? Many-worlds solves this to some degree, but the fact that individual observers “choose” one branch is still a little unsettling. More generally, one thing that makes our universe special (as opposed to, eg, a single harmonic oscillator universe) is that there are observers at all, but it’s probably not unique with this property, so it raises the question as to why am I this person, in (this branch of the wavefunction of) this particular universe? Well I guess someone had to be…

  • ophu

    Choose your impossible:

    1. The entire everything came from something.

    2. The entire everything came from nothing.

    Either way, it’s impossible, and no kind of pretzel logic can change that fact.

  • http://portraitofthedumbass.blogspot.com/ Chris Heinz

    The great mother, Nothingness, was lonely. So from the potential energy of her yearning for companionship, Something == the universe was created. And the pulsating universe, expanding and contracting, makes love to the Nothingness.

    I am obviously a pulsating universe fan, I hope that the current evidence for an open universe will be defeated.

    I mean, after all, in the end, everything is a wave, yes?

    :->

  • AN

    Thanks for this. I think you’ve done a nice job summarizing this exchange, which concerns two very interesting and distinct sets of questions. I’m glad that physicists are writing popular books on the QM picture of how particles arose, and was pleased with Albert’s review since it seemed to do a nice job of explaining what Krauss’s book does and does not cover.

    But when I read Krauss’s responses to Albert’s review I was perplexed and dismayed — so I am especially glad that you address the bizarre anti-intellectual flavor of Krauss’s dismissal of philosophy.

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com James Goetz

    I have major doubt that time is fundamental because an infinite lapse of time will never occur and could never have occurred. I suppose that one exception to this might be if infinite past fundamental time was a block unit with no phenomena or only absolutely simultaneous phenomena. It could look like a geometric ray with zero phenomena or a single event with absolutely simultaneous phenomena, but not an infinitely long chronology of events while every events was preceded by an infinitely long chronology of cosmic evolution that could never have occurred. In any case, FROM ETERNITY TO HERE arrived in the mail today, yea : -)

  • Kevi n

    Hi

    Have you guys ever considered the possibilty that there is an entelligent designer behind the creation of everything it sure makes sense to me , you guys willl never come up with the answer to how it all began , it just dosnt add up Im no a expert on all, the things you talk about but form a logical stand point the big bang then out of the smoke come the remnants of the human race then million sorry billions of years later we have humans , sorry but I have more faith in that there is an creater behind all thus .

    Cheers Kevin

  • John D.

    The question of something from nothing is very simple. If there was nothing, then no laws existed either. If no laws existed…(fill in the blank here with whatever you want). Second question, why does our universe make sense? Answer: anthropic principle. Third question, why does life make so much sense? Answer: It doesn’t, you are seeing what you want to see and disregarding the rest, because that is what life has evolved to do. Why? Efficiency. So when somebody asks why did something come from nothing, simply ask, why not?

  • Cosmonut

    Sean,
    Regarding the “timeless” picture of the universe, doesn’t classical general relativity already give us that ?

    From what I understand, the classical GR cosmology can be interpreted as describing a four dimensional manifold that “just exists”.
    Time is just a coordinate which allows us to foliate the manifold into three dimensional slices, and if we use this viewpoint, then the universe can be said to have jumped into existence from a point at which the time coordinate is not defined.

    So what are quantum cosmologists like Vilenkin adding to this picture ?

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  • http://www.newevangelization.info David Roemer

    The cosmological argument for God’s existence is not based on the insight from nothing comes nothing. This is just another way of saying a being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause. This just means that something has always existed.

    The insight that leads to God’s existence is that finite beings exist and a finite being needs a cause. If all beings in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, an infinite being exists. In the west, we call the infinite being God.

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  • BillyJoe

    “if the subtitle of your book is “Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing,” you pretty much forfeit the right to claim you don’t care.”

    Krauss actually explains this in his book.
    He says the proper question is “How is there something rather than nothing”, but he used the word “why” instead of “how”, because that is the way the question is usually stated.
    And the title “How is there something rather than nothing” looks a little awkward don’t you think?
    Therefore, I don’t think he forfeits the right to say that the “why” question is not a legitimate question.

  • EF

    Finally clarity! The ‘Executive Summary’ nails it. Krauss and Albert are talking about two different questions.

  • http://adnausi.ca/ Chad English

    While I appreciate this article, I don’t think it is completely accurate. If you read Krauss’ book or watch his videos he does address the question of why there are physical laws at all. He address three, not two, definitions of “nothing”:

    1. Classical “nothing” where space and time exist and matter and energy emerge from this empty vacuum.

    2. Relativistic “nothing” from where space and time (“spacetime”) emerge.

    3. Lawless “nothing” from which laws of physics themselves emerge.

    Hence, when you say, “The other is, why do we have this particular framework of physical law, or even something called “physical law” at all? ” and suggest this is the version that David Albert is interested in, you are wrong that Krauss does not address it. He does, and here is where he discusses the “environmental” science of the multiverse as a possible yet not entirely satisfactory answer. Yes, he says it isn’t completely satisfying and says physics can’t really address it at that point. Krauss says the same thing you do here.

    Later in the article that you change this question to one about the origin of the multiverse, which is a problematic question. It is here that the question itself loses coherence: “We are still left with the question of there are those deep-down laws that create a multiverse in the first place.”

    As an exercise, try to define a “nothing” that has no properties. What words do you use to describe it? More importantly, it is a self-defeating question. It is impossible to define such a “nothing” from which you’d expect that “something” can’t spontaneous emerge because that restriction would constitute a law of physics, and then one simply asks where that law comes from.

    The only coherent questions one can ask is what are all of the possible realities and why do we exist in this particular reality. This is the multiverse question and Krauss does address that. If anybody is looking for questions beyond that then they are trying to ask why the possible exists instead of the impossible, and that kind of question answers itself.

  • http://seanthemystic.blogspot.com Sean the Mystic

    What these philosophers and scientists apparently fail to realize is that there isn’t any problem to be solved, because the universe is still nothing! The idea that there is this great “something” called the universe which must be explained is a fiction created by our minds, a learning which must be unlearned, an illusion which one can only dispel through meditation. This is the great revelation of the East, and it is a truth which Western man would do well to heed now that he has found himself in the mental cul-de-sac of a godless, meaningless universe and has no idea where to go from here. This predicament has driven many of our finest minds mad, and it will continue to drive them mad, until they learn how to look inward!

    As I see it this is the great challenge for atheistic Western man going forward: to look not to the outer cosmos for your meaning, but to the inner cosmos. As Osho put it in one of his more interesting talks: God is Dead, Now Zen Is the Only Living Truth. So I suggest scientists and philosophers of the West try to develop a “Western Zen”, a scientific mysticism, an inner orientation which does not depend on the latest scientific findings for its validation. Because without this, you will continue to debate meaningless questions and beat your heads against the walls of your own minds, and you may soon find yourself, like history’s first God-killer, Nietzsche, driven utterly mad!

    May the Force be with you…

  • http://twitter.com/#!/KeleCable Kele Cable

    re: where do the laws of physics come from

    I have been reading God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger and in Chapter 4 (“Cosmic Evidence”), he discusses where he thinks the laws of physics came from (p129-132). He says that the laws of physics follow from conservation of energy, momentum and angular momentum through “gauge invariance.” He cites Emmy Noether’s work on the problem. Is this argument generally accepted? (Not that I can even begin to understand it anyway.) Stenger does admit that such a view isn’t consensus, but has it gained traction at all?

    Also, what I like about Stenger is his combination of both physics and philosophy. He doesn’t appear to have the same anti-philosophy biases a lot of other people seem to have…

  • Cary

    I am not a scientist, but can’t seem to get my hands on enough good books that are readable, so I couldn’t wait to get this book. Having just finished it, and loving it, I though that Lawrence Krauss made understood some very complex ideas. (Sean Carroll has the same talent in his books)

    And what’s all this talk in the comments about God…..Science tries to find out what the truth is, while religion states “this is the truth”. The warning for believers came early in the book, so don’t criticize the author!

    There is also the elegance of math behind the latest probes into the laws of nature that has many of the world’s greatest minds converging to the same ideas. There is no math in religion.

    Religion is a remnant of times when people had no explanations for the way nature behaves. We don’t have all the answers yet – perhaps we never will, but we are certainly much further down the path of understanding than humans were long ago.

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    Hi Sean,

    I have a little beef. I got the impression from this article that the Hamiltonian is critically important to any theory of time and I thought to myself that that surely FROM ETERNITY TO HERE will list “Hamiltonian” in the index. So I searched the index of my new copy of FROM ETERNITY TO HERE and found no direct reference to “Hamiltonian.” I will get over this and enjoy your book, but I wanted to mention that.

    Also, I arrived to the conclusion that a non-zero Hamiltonian with infinitely lapsed time is impossible. This should not be taught as science except to indicate its impossibility. Otherwise, it is mathematical pseudoscience.

  • TB

    Krauss’ attitude towards philosophy of science is rather disheartening. It was the same with Weinberg. When a scientist is disparaging towards philosophy in a popular science book borne from a position of ignorance it does a lot of damage to the public perception of philsophy. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one ought to keep schtum, Wittgenstein might have said. Ah well, at least Einstein was a fan.

  • Uninvisible

    Are not the questions of why/how the law of physics exist precisely the same as why/how the alphabet exists? are not laws and alphabets both exclusively human constructions, precisely like supernatural stories, and thus the questions themselves merely questions about how/why human beings do what they do?

  • Jens

    Why the laws of nature are the way they are is of course an incredibly interesting question, but to me an equally interesting, and perhaps related question is, what makes the laws of nature actually work? I.e. we can deduce properties and laws of our universe from observation, but what “breathes life” into those properties and laws? What makes them work?

  • Kevin

    Another great post. Your lucidity and clarity are always appreciated, especially on this topic which is often ill-posed and the source of much confusion. I have found “Does the Universe Need God?” and the original “Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” post to be great references for discussing this topic with others, and this post will join that list.

  • David Brown

    (1) Why is there something rather than nothing?
    (2) Why does the universe exist at all?
    If Milgrom is the Kepler of modern cosmology, and if Wolfram is a serious rival to Newton and Einstein, then the Rañada-Milgrom effect and the Space Roar Profile Prediction give an answer based on the monster group, the 6 pariah groups, and a Wolframian information network below the Planck scale — string theory goes nowhere without Wolfram.
    “Even extremely simple programs can produce behavior of immense complexity.” — Stephen Wolfram
    http://wolframscience.com/reference/quick_takes.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_New_Kind_of_Science
    Is Wolfram a serious rival to Newton and Einstein? Is NKS Chapter 9 empirically valid if and only if the Rañada-Milgrom effect is empirically valid? How might Stephen Wolfram win the Nobel prize in physics? Wolfram might direct and hire 2 gravitational experimentalists to test the Rañada-Milgrom effect. According to McGaugh and Kroupa, Milgrom’s acceleration law is empirically correct. According to Prof. Matt Strassler, testing the Rañada-Milgrom effect is straightforward, easy, and relativity cheap. (Strassler is fairly certain the Rañada-Milgrom effect is wrong since it contradicts Newtonian and Einsteinian gravitational theory. However, alternate universes are needed to allow Wolfram’s mobile automaton to simulate linear operators on infinite-dimensional Hilbert space.) The Rañada-Milgrom effect and the nonzero cosmological constant are empirical evidence that alternate universes exist. The space roar might be experimental evidence that the Wolframian updating parameter is manifested in nature.
    http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Space_roar
    http://vixra.org/pdf/1204.0095v1.pdf “Seiberg-Witten M-theory as an Almost Successful Predictive Theory”
    The Gravity Probe B science team and the OPERA team completely ignored Milgrom’s work — this is a big mistake. All Wolfram has to do is to establish empirical evidence that the Rañada-Milgrom effect is true, and then NKS Chapter 9 will take its rightful place in theoretical physics.

  • Jason

    @19, Kevi n Says: So you are saying that because you don’t have a good understanding of physics or cosmology, god must have done it? Surely you must know that is a nonsensical argument.

    @29, Sean the Mystic: If you are going to assert that nothing exists to a physicist, you will need to explain it with mathematical equations and empirical evidence. Otherwise, your argument is exactly the kind of bullshit philosophy Lawrence Krauss complains about.

    @34, Uninvisible: No. Why physical laws exist and why the alphabet exists are completely different questions. By studying history, you can learn when the various alphabets were created and how they have changed over the years. For the physical laws, there is no evidence that the laws had a creator, have ever changed, or that other variations exist. There is a lot of speculation, but there is no evidence or even any good idea of how we could get evidence of different physical laws. So, the most that a scientist could say is that the physical laws are what they are, and any other speculation is squarely outside the realm of science.

  • Foster Boondoggle

    I confess to puzzlement at the deference being given to Albert here. His review in the widely read NYT was savage, polemical, and almost certainly based on a deliberate misunderstanding what Krauss was doing. “He started it” is not usually a helpful argument, but if you’re going to accuse Krauss of an intemperate response, you probably should at least gesture towards acknowledging the provocation. And that from an academic who lent his credibility to that cult bs “What the Bleep…”.

    A physics question, as an ex-physicist: you say a Hilbert space is completely determined by its dimension… Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that all Hilbert spaces of the same dimension are isomorphic? The point being that much of the physics consists in mapping the abstract dimensions of the space to the physical system. For example, a system consisting of two 1/2 spin particles on a lattice has a 4-d hilbert space. So does a system consisting of a single spin 3/2 particle on a lattice. But that doesn’t mean the two systems are the same. (Yeah, I know you talked about the Hamiltonian, but the way you characterized the role of the Hilbert space made it seem like that was secondary.)

  • http://www.pipeline.com/~lenornst/index.html Len Ornstein

    Sean:

    It seems to me that “nothingness” has a fairly unique and simple definition that’s associated with science’s unique difference from most other disciplines (including pure mathematics and religion):

    By axiomatic convention, science requires that its models (theories, laws, etc.) not only be reasonably deductively consistent, but also to be ‘testable’ by direct or indirect empirical observations. Because of the deductive impossibility of proving the absolute truth or falsity of a model, through extrapolation or interpolation from finite numbers of observations (Hume), empirical testing, at best, provides only provisional confidence in its significance – therefore, some level of residual uncertainty MUST be entertained.

    Elements of models that ‘appear’ to lie beyond observation (e.g., are “not even wrong”) are pragmatically close to “nothingness, so long as no information about them appears to be ‘extractable’ through ‘experiment’.

    Since the gravitational effects of the mass of a black hole can be detected by its effects on neighboring stars and gas, on our side of its event horizon, a black hole’s interior should not considered to be “nothing”. Likewise for possible effects of the gravity of dense masses in parts of the ‘universe’ just beyond, what for us, is a cosmic horizon (an alternative to ‘dark energy’?). And observed particle/anti-particle pair creation in the ‘vacuum’, as a ‘consequence’ of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, make ‘empty’ space – “something” – rather than “nothing”.

    But so far, multi-verses and the strings and membranes of string theories are reasonable candidates for “nothingness” – along with gods and goblins.

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  • John Merryman

    Meaning is what we have left when everything meaningless has been distilled away. Which is to say it’s all meaningless at some level, even science. When we solve all the problems, will this final solution just be a big flatline on the universal heart monitor?
    Personally I would like philosophy to dissect religion a bit more and not just petulantly attack the logic of a monotheistic entity. Organized religion crushed the life out of organic spirituality and creativeness, in the pursuit of civil conformity, long before science came along. Science and math have just emphasized the processes of reductionistic compartmentalization to the point where we exist not just to serve civil society, as religion desired, but now to serve our tools and machines.

    Consider that it was the polytheists who invented democracy. When the Gods argue, than a political system based on debate is logical, but when the Big Guy is in charge, then we get something similar in politics.

    Religion is the vision a society has of itself, while government is how society manages itself. Due to their history, the connection between the two is integral to Islam, but extremely problematic for Christianity. Logical consideration of the historical processes at work might help society understand the nature of culture, as well as other cultures, far better than nitpicking over the merits of a idealized father figure, as seems to be the extent of religious criticism.
    A spiritual absolute would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.
    One might ask if modern physics had evolved in a culture not obsessed by such a singular entity, would it have produced a cosmology originating in a physical singularity? Could it have gravitated to some fluctuating vacuum state as basis and concocted explanations for such phenomena as redshift and CMBR arising from it? We might be standing on the shoulders of giants, but they were standing on the shoulders of monotheism.

  • Uninvisible

    @Jason

    Thanks for commenting : I claim that alphabets are just like laws “of nature” because they are tools or models constructed by humans for humans to use. This would reduce the “big” questions as discussed to merely trivial artifacts of human activity.

    IOW undiscovered laws of nature, though anyone could discover them, ultimately originate with a human being. The phenomenon itself which is described by the law is something else.

    Where else would a law of nature come from? Would an alien use our law?

  • Michael

    There is an odd fact that does not seem to have been mentioned yet. In the same March 25 issue of the New York Times Book Review as David Albert’s strongly negative review that (as discussed in the blog) talks past Lawrence Krauss’ book, one finds in the final Essay a quite negative review by Philip Kitcher that talks past Leon Wieseltier’s book “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”. Albert (“but that’s just not right”) and Kitcher (“evangelical scientism”) are both in the Columbia University Philosophy Department. Was there something in the water?

  • Daniel Schealler

    @David Roemer #24

    The insight that leads to God’s existence is that finite beings exist and a finite being needs a cause. If all beings in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, an infinite being exists. In the west, we call the infinite being God.

    We could also call it Primordial Chaos and it would still fit the bill.

    Or we could call it Errol, and it would still fit just as well.

    Applying the label ‘God’ as the answer to the first cause argument is highly disingenuous, because much, much, much more is connoted by the label of ‘God’ than can possibly be merited by the First Cause argument.

    This of course assumes that we grant the first cause argument as valid in the first place, which I deny on grounds that it relies too much on human intuition about causality, which can reasonably be expected to be incorrect or otherwise incomplete when applied beyond the scope of common human experience.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    @37: Posting the same comment to multiple threads is rather bizarre. Sadly, it might make some people more sceptical of MOND than they should be. Most people working on MOND (and I know some personally) are not crackpots, but posting the same comment to multiple threads on multiple blogs is something rather typical of crackpots (I don’t think I have to mention any names here), so please, in the interest of rational discussion, stop doing it. Everyone working in the relevant areas of astrophysics is aware of MOND and there is a very healthy discussion. Your comments make it look like just another crackpot idea. Please stop.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “If philosophy of science has a point, and it isn’t to be useful to science, what is it? Why should it get funding?”

    Do you claim that only things useful to science should get funding?

    “And “careful scholarship in another discipline” — do you take Conan Doyle on fairies or spiritualism seriously? or studies in exorcism? or ufology? Some people just are nuts, and don’t deserve respect.”

    False dichotomy. You imply: it is either science, or it is crackpot/esoteric/nutty. But there are things which are not science but are still worthwhile pursuits for humanity.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “the nonzero cosmological constant are empirical evidence that alternate universes exist”

    While I think there is some evidence for the idea of a multiverse, this statement, in this form, is just wrong.

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  • http://www.newevangelization.info David Roemer

    @ Daniel Schealler #45
    Why don’t atheists admit that metaphysics leads logically to the existence of an infinite being? Wikipedia, for example, in its entry for the cosmological argument, speaks of the infinite being as being a “first cause.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a long entry on the cosmological argument and never mentions an “infinite being.” Martin Heidegger is another example of an atheist who doesn’t understand the cosmological argument.

    To repeat the argument: Finite beings exist. Finite beings need a cause. Hence, there must exist at least one infinite being.

  • Cosmonut

    @David 50
    To repeat the argument: Finite beings exist. Finite beings need a cause. Hence, there must exist at least one infinite being.

    Why do “finite beings” need a cause ?
    Even if this is true, why should there be an “infinite being” ? Maybe its an endless sequence of finite beings each causing the next one ?

    How does one know that an infinite being does not need a cause ?

    The problem with the argument is that Finite and Infinite are very vaguely defined.
    For eg: Is the interval (0, 1) a finite or infinite being ? Its length is finite, but it contains infinitely many points…

  • John Merryman

    No one seems to consider why eastern religions/philosophies don’t need a supreme being. They are inherently context oriented, not object oriented, so individuals are just nodes in some infinite/endless network, not singular beings, so there is no need for an idealized and eternal singular being.
    We mistake oneness for one; connectedness for a set. We can be connected to infinity, but not if it’s defined by limitations. Then it is a finite set. Even our finite cosmology of a singular universe keeps growing hairs to other such individualized universes. Nodes need networks.

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  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    Wikipedia, for example, in its entry for the cosmological argument, speaks of the infinite being as being a “first cause.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a long entry on the cosmological argument and never mentions an “infinite being.”

    Maybe (gasp, shudder) Wikipedia is wrong? Maybe evangelical Christians edit articles and such things don’t get noticed quickly enough by the administrators, who are of course part of the global atheist conspiracy?

    The current version of the English Wikipedia articles on “cosmological argument” doesn’t mention “infinite being”. Looks like the Devil has become a Wikipedia maintainer. :-)

  • Aidyan

    “I think that Lawrence’s book makes a lot more sense when viewed as part of the ongoing atheism vs. theism popular debate, rather than as a careful philosophical investigation into a longstanding problem.”

    Precisely. All this discussion has neither a scientific nor philosophical and even no theological interest. It is a sociological phenomenon that reflects the tension arising due to a dichotomy between what Wigner called the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences” and what I would call the unreasonable ineffectiveness of the very same science in explaining the ultimate causes of the universe it otherwise so successfully describes. There has been always that secret hope that sooner or later science would furnish us the tools to answer these ultimate questions. But nowadays science made discoveries that only amplified that tension. And if there are people like Krauss who resort to circular reasonings and self-involuted ruminations about “nothingness” it is only out of the feeling of that paroxysms, or simply out of desperation and an unconfessed disappointment for the fact that science and human reason alone are, and will forever be, intrinsically unable to tell us what really this universe is, why it is, and who we really are.

  • Bengt Frost

    It is interesting to note that it now has been a sliding what Lawrence Krauss really expresses in his book “A Universe From Nothing”. Apparently, he no longer answer the question “Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing” but rather “Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing *according to* the Quantum Mechanical Framework.

  • http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com cormac

    Very useful post, many thanks once again. I have just re-read Albert’s review and I still think it’s a pity he did not mention that Krauss is quite careful to explain early on that he is really talking about ‘how’ a universe may appear from nothing not ‘why’. That said, some of the criticisms may be valid; but as a reviewer myself, I think the whole last paragraph undermines the rest of the review (have a look and see)

  • melektaus

    Even though Carrol denounces the irrational and arrogant behavior of Krauss, Carrol seems to still have underscored the level of irrationality, ignorance and arrogance of Krauss. I understand that Krauss is his friend but the degree of such irrationality ignorance and arrogance is far worse than Carrol admits in this blog.

    Yes, of course, Krauss was being an ass. Yes, of course, his comments are uncalled for and commits the ad hominem and red herring fallacies.

    But he is guilty of far worse than that. So much so that it is hard to tell whether he is truly this thoroughly confused or whether he is just a fraud. Plane and simple. Period. He comes off as a snake-oil salesman.

    I wish everyone would read his Atlantic interview. It is damning evidence of his fraudulence and a near admission (both tacitly and sometimes explicitly) that he has exploited his audience into buying his book by trading on an equivocation.

    I find his behavior completely despicable and unacceptable and I am surprised that anyone can tolerate it.

  • Avattoir

    melektaus: @ 59: “Plane and simple” suggests you chose to enter the fray armed with a custard pie.

  • melektaus

    Unfortunately, Carrol (despite his fitting criticisms of Krauss) and many of the posters here coming to defend Krauss has missed the big picture. They have missed the biggest fallacy in Krauss’s reactions. That shouldn’t be a surprise since they are either physicists or their groupies. Sadly, identifying critical reasoning errors often requires some philosophical sophistication and many physicists and people in general today (due to a lack of a balanced education) simply missed the howler in Krauss’s silly tantrums.

    Even Carrol, I fear, makes this mistake in thinking that Krauss’s worst blunder consists in ad homs and strawman arguments.

    Yes, both Albert and Krauss are “talking about different thing” and “answering different questions”. But that obscures basic facts. just because they are talking about different things doesn’t mean that no one has made serious critical thinking errors and has been completely irrational.

    Carrol said:

    “Lawrence (again, roughly) addresses the first question, and David cares about the second, and both sides expend a lot of energy insisting that their question is the “right” one rather than just admitting they are different questions.”

    True but only one has made a serious mistake of reasoning which this kind of criticism seriously overlooks. To see this, consider this:

    Say, I wrote a book which I claim solved all the problems of modern physics. It unites all the known laws and explains how the universe arises. I claim that it is the ultimate grand unified theory of physics and puts all physicists to shame. I call them all morons and incompetent.

    But the book is actually about my religious ideas and how I posit that the whole world was created by a creator using supernatural forces and so on.

    Physicists would be right to criticize such a book. In fact, they would be right to be angry. They would even be right to call me and my book fraudulent.

    I would not avail myself of that charge if I had then said that in the preface of my book I explain that the book isn’t really about physics per se, as done by physicists, but about my own “theories” and concepts which may take a different meaning than how physicists may similarly use the same terms.

    So yes, in some sense, both myself and my physicists detractors are “talking past each other” but only one of us had made a serious mistake (called an equivocation).

    In selling my book and using those terms which has a meaning in physics to sell my book and explicitly exploiting the meaning used by physics by tying it to my usage, I have misleadingly used those terms. So even they may have a different meaning for me than how they are used by physicists, it is me, not the physicists, that have misused those terms.

    Likewise with Krauss, he has explicitly stated in selling his book (as well as the books descriptions and even its subtitle suggests) he is solving age-old *philosophical and theological problems*. He then makes ignorant statements about philosophy and calls philosophers “morons” for exposing the misleading way he uses to sell his books by exploiting that equivocation and lining his pockets with cash.

    Like quantum fields, all the foot-stomping tantrums in the world will not make the truth of this criticism (not to mention the solid criticisms of Albert) disappear into nothingness.

  • melektaus

    @Avattoir 60

    Your flippant response to my post suggests a lack of an educated, substantive response to it.

  • Cosmonut

    I agree with Melektaus @61 that Krauss’s claim is a load of nonsense, and judging by the Atlantic interview, he made deliberately fraudulent claims to sell copies.
    Krauss just made himself look extra stupid by resorting to name-calling and personal attacks when David Albert pointed out the fatal flaw in his “argument”.

    The fact is, it is logically impossible for science to explain why – or how – the Universe arises from Nothing – since the explanation necessarily begins with “something” whose behaviour is described by some mathematical framework.

    Conversely, even religious explanations (Eastern or Western) start with God or Brahman or some kind of “Infinite Being” which is very definitely a something !

    In fact, I can’t see how one could possibly have an explanation of this sort. If you start with nothing, then there’s nothing further you can say. :)

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  • http://jbg.f2s.com/quantum2.txt James Gallagher

    A great post by Sean here.

    I think time is fundamental, but I think there is an additional deterministic law in the universe to the Schrödinger Evolution – it is conscious things exercising free-will (constrained by the global evolution equation – I mean we can’t do magic :-) )

  • Lawrence Krauss

    Sean: I know you alerted me to this, but I skimmed it at the time because I was tired of all the discussion of what I see as peripheral points.. but you certainly did miss something, and several of your readers have pointed it out. I was careful to make it quite clear in the book I am discussing a “how” question, and not a ‘why” question, and that I believe most people (certainly people who do not presume purpose) when they ask such “why” question, really mean a ‘how’ question.. So I think you misrepresented me.

    LMK

  • David Brown

    @46: “Everyone working in the relevant areas of astrophysics is aware of MOND …” How many people are aware of the alleged Rañada-Milgrom effect? (I think there are very few.) Are all string theorists aware of MOND? Are all particle physicists aware of MOND? How many physicists are aware of J. P. Lestone’s heuristic string theory? My main goal is to put pressure on Wolfram. When hundreds of people ask him about the Rañada-Milgrom effect then my work is done. if the Space Roar Profile Prediction is wrong then I really am a crackpot. If the prediction is correct, then Wolfram’s NKS is as great as he thinks it is. Why did the Gravity Probe B science team ignore MOND? Why did the OPERA team ignore MOND?

  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    How the universe works

    In the first place you miss an important piece, the zeroth: What is the system. We need to identify the system under study before stating to consider what variables define its state.

    It is not true that if you give the universe now, the laws of physics say what it will become in the future. Non-deterministic theories show that future is not given.

    Any good textbook in quantum field theory (e.g. Mandl and Shaw) explains why quantum field theory is not a particular example of quantum mechanics, but a different theory.

    Only pure states for stable quantum systems are described by “wave functions” unstable quantum states are not.

    Possibility one is the correct, time is fundamental. Possibility two is based in misconceptions about causality and other fundamental issues. Those vanishing Hamiltonians are not the true generators of time-translations, but misguided attempts based in a completely incorrect understanding about covariance, the Hamiltonian method, causality…

    The example of a block of metal sitting on a hot surface is beautiful, but when we look into the details we find that time is a different beast…

  • Chris Walcutt

    With (perhaps obviously) no physics education;

    Could time be just a measurement of the difference in a system (the universe) from one moment to the next? By this I mean, before the Big Bang, there was zero movement. Then the explosion and creation of the universe with countless moving parts. Time, for my question, is just the noticeable difference between what was, to what is, to what will be in regard to the position of matter. An example of what I am thinking is much like one of those old flip-book comics. Each page is a single slice, or exact picture of the universe at a given instant. As the book is flipped, the perception of time emerges.

    In that sense, time could have a beginning and an end, but each could only happen in the event that there was absolutely zero movement. Any movement inside the system would create time, or the perception of time to an observer.

    ?

  • scribbler

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!

    I find most of it point on! Most of it in my opinion can be summed up nicely by “I agree!” For that which cannot…

    Quote from article: “All of these are interesting questions to ask, and none of them is addressed by modern physics or cosmology. Or at least, they are interesting questions to “raise,” but my own view is that the best answer is to promptly un-ask them. (Note that by now we’ve reached a purely philosophical issue, not a scientific one.)”

    I disagree. Where the Universe came from and how it started is a scientific question that demands an answer. You addressed the two main areas of thought that I render as “Redefine nothing so it turns out to be something after all.” and “Of course the Universe came from something or somewhere else that preexisted.”. The first is a convoluted restating of the second, so all scientific discussion MUST therefore seek to define the parameters of that which preexisted. While the tenner of that definition has philosophical implications, it is purely scientific in nature…

    You are indeed quite astute to realize that the average scientist is as in the dark as to the nature of that definition as the average philosopher…

    Quote from the article: “But the universe, and the laws of physics, aren’t embedded in some bigger context. They are the biggest context that there is, as far as we know.”

    Both of your explanations demand a greater context for the Universe. Either a yo-yoing ever existent universe, the so called block of metal or a multiverse… I will add the nothing from which the atheist proffers existence sprang…

    Quote from the article: “And that point is that the physical universe can perfectly well be self-contained; it doesn’t need anything or anyone from outside to get it started, even if it had a “beginning.””

    That’s the trouble with beginnings, there is ALWAYS something that came first/before the beginning of said thing, even the Universe.

    Having qualified all this I conclude that whatever you believe started the Universe’s ball rolling, scientifically speaking, we have only clues as to its nature and know nothing definitively. At best we have only idle speculation. However, I will opine that the one fact we do have and know is that that which preceded the Universe was outside the laws that confine it…

  • John Merryman

    A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

    66. Lawrence Krauss Says:
    April 30th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
    Sean: I know you alerted me to this, but I skimmed it at the time because I was tired of all the discussion of what I see as peripheral points.. but you certainly did miss something, and several of your readers have pointed it out. I was careful to make it quite clear in the book I am discussing a “how” question, and not a ‘why” question, and that I believe most people (certainly people who do not presume purpose) when they ask such “why” question, really mean a ‘how’ question.. So I think you misrepresented me.

    This isn’t philosophy or physics. It’s english. Maybe you should have sub-titled it, “How there came to be something from nothing.” Some people like clarity in language as much as in math.

  • http://scottsteffens.blogspot.com/ Scott

    @38, Jason:

    You wrote: “@29, Sean the Mystic: If you are going to assert that nothing exists to a physicist, you will need to explain it with mathematical equations and empirical evidence. Otherwise, your argument is exactly the kind of bullshit philosophy Lawrence Krauss complains about.”

    I think asking for empirical evidence of the Nothing is a little, I don’t know, oxymoronic. And mathematical equations wouldn’t help at all either, because the universe is a whole, and any abstraction from the whole will necessarily result in a contradiction. But if you want an equation it might look like this: 0=1.

    Errol Harris has done a lot of work on this idea, namely in The Restitution of Metaphysics.

  • John Merryman

    1why adv ˈhwī, ˈwī

    : for what cause, reason, or purpose

    1how adv ˈhau
    1
    a : in what manner or way
    b : for what reason : why
    c : with what meaning : to what effect
    d : by what name or title
    2
    The difference in terms is that “why” implies a prior cause or source. “How” could also presume some prior input(b), but is more concerned with method.
    “Why did the universe come to be,” vs. “How did the universe come to be.”
    If cosmology were an accounting firm, the IRS would have them on speed dial.

  • Virendra Tripathi

    I am a philosophy graduate student and my dissertation is on the concept of ‘nothing’ and therefore, i happen to know a little bit of the debates and futile exchanges surrounding this question. Sean is right. there are two questions. 1. how did the universe fine tune itself into this state. did it do on its own because of some boundaries or did something else helped it. 2. even if we know why the universe is fine tuned to what it is, the question remians why did the tuner tune it this way. as i see it, the second question is Leibniz’s question and its a question of regress. At a very early stage but i think i have a solution to the philosophical question-right now its very rough and i have to learn and develop the idea a lot. so i am not mentioning it here. cheers, and thank you Sean-smart writing-condensing so many things in such a short piece. i’ve always loved your writing.

  • John Merryman

    Scott,
    1=0?
    What if we were to say that 0=0. Would that mean that nothing is a void, rather than a singularity?

  • Sunny D

    I do wonder this sometimes, then I remember that there are extraterrestrials that already understand this way beyond our capable comprehension (their proof being their interstellar travel) and I wonder when it is that they will actually teach it to us. Instead of top-secret projects reverse-engineering UFOs and not telling us. Because I’d love to know. They know everything. They’re like God.

  • Pingback: Mathematics Rising » That something out of nothing problem…

  • http://www.newevangelization.info David Roemer

    @ Cosmonut 51
    A finite needs a cause because it can’t exist except as limited. Hence, a finite being can’t limit itself. Some other being must have limited it. Likewise, a being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause. Also, a being that is a composition of metaphysical principles or incomplete beings needs a cause.

    A finite being is a composition of two incomplete beings or principles: essence and existence. The existence is the principle that gives a being its existence. The essence is the principle that limits a being’s existence so that it is the particular finite being that it is. An infinite being is a pure act of existence without a limiting essence and can be the reason for its own existence.

    There can be an endless chain of finite beings, but an infinite being must exist outside of the chain and give the entire chain its existence.

    The interval from 0 to 1 is a mental being. It only exists when someone is considering it. It is not a real being. As for defining what is meant by being and causality, there is no definition.

  • Kevin

    #50, David Roemer: What is a “finite being”? Why does it need a cause? How does any of this apply to the universe, i.e. existence itself? Talking about beings and causes is outmoded thinking that stems straight from human cognitive biases (artificial categories, assumptions of ontological basic entities and agency). The language of physics has left such terms behind for good reason. Check out Sean’s essay, Does the Universe Need God?.

    #70, scribbler: Where the universe came from and how it started seem like basic questions, but they are actually assumptions. The assumptions are that such questions must be appropriate and must have answers. Why must the universe have come from something or somewhere, and why must it have started? When you say “there is always something else that came before the beginning of a thing,” that is true about objects in events within the universe. It is not necessarily applicable to the universe itself.

  • justin petitt

    Great article. Unfortunately, after reading the comments I realized that a lot of the posters either did not read the last section, or simply chose to disregard it. Do people really believe that by insults and nit-picking spelling?! they will better be able to get their point across? Admittedly, I have but a rudimentary understanding of cosmology/quantum theory, but I can see that some questions simply cannot be answered with 100% surety. So I’m an anthropic sort of guy, the universe is the way it is because it must be, or we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. But I’m not comfortable with the idea of infinite multiverses. Or infinite anything. The honest human mind just can’t grasp the concept. So I suppose I’ll be insulted now by “smarter” people. HAGD :)

  • scribbler

    Science applies to everything except that which prove me wrong, huh? I said that which created the Universe and set it in motion was outside of the laws that govern the Universe. The Universe, however, being in motion was set so by a force within that construct. That force was not only preexistent of the Universe, it had to be larger than the Universe. The fact that we cannot see it does not negate its necessary existence…

    That’s the logic. That’s the science.

    For your argument, I stand behind a person and toss a pencil past their ear. I then say that the pencil created itself and set itself in motion. I then say that any question about how it did so is a philosophical argument and that all that happened before hand is scientifically irrelevant and outside of the laws of nature.

    When the obvious retort of “Nonsense!” is snorted, I, like Kepler reply, “You see the farce of such a sentence when one observes a pencil and yet are blind to it when you observe the rest of the Universe?” The size of the object in no way changes the nature of it…

    The same laws that govern the pencil govern the Universe…

  • Cosmonut

    66. Lawrence Krauss Says:
    April 30th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
    Sean: I know you alerted me to this, but I skimmed it at the time because I was tired of all the discussion of what I see as peripheral points.. but you certainly did miss something, and several of your readers have pointed it out. I was careful to make it quite clear in the book I am discussing a “how” question, and not a ‘why” question, and that I believe most people (certainly people who do not presume purpose) when they ask such “why” question, really mean a ‘how’ question.. So I think you misrepresented me.

    I don’t see how changing your subtitle to a “how question” helps.

    So, suppose you change “Why there is Something rather than Nothing” to “How you can get Something from Nothing”.

    Now your explanation starts with “Let Nothing be a quantum field behaving according to such and such law…”.

    Right there you have a contradiction and this is what David Albert, Jerry Coyne and even Sean is pointing out.
    And as far as I can tell, this is not at all a peripheral issue as far as your book is concerned, but the grand conclusion you claim to have.

    What you seem to be trying to do is change the definition of “nothing” so that the “explanation” still holds.

    But this is rather like people who claim they have proved the existence of God, provided by God you mean “laws of physics”.

  • http://adnausi.ca/ Chad English

    I have to agree with Dr. Krauss on this. The “nothing” that David Albert and Sean Carroll are trying to describe is self-contradictory and incoherent. (For greater detail, see http://adnausi.ca/post/22097450303)

    You can’t possibly define a “nothing” that both has no laws of physics (“…or even something called “physical law” at all”) and has the property that we shouldn’t expect something to spontaneously emerge from it. That restriction alone is a law of physics. I challenge Drs. Albert and Carroll (or anybody who agrees with them) to try.

    Albert and Carroll aren’t describing what nothing is, just what it isn’t. Any answer for “something from nothing” inherently must have properties of this nothingness, and Albert and Carroll simply add on “but why this property?”. The question then becomes unanswerable by definition. If you get rid of the “words” to describe things you aren’t left with “nothing”, you are simply left without a language to describe the nothingness.

    Combined, these problems makes their definition of “nothing” incoherent, self-contradictory, and useless. On what basis should anyone accept that this is a form of “nothing” that we should accept as a default from which we need to explain why something happened? Where is the evidence that such a “nothing” is even possible?

    A more thoughtful approach is to define what are the barest self-consistent properties a “nothing” could possibly have. It seems to me that such properties will have to be some form of uncertainty and probability, and this is exactly the basis of the vacuum state whether you look at it from energy-time uncertainty or probability distribution of vacuum energy.

    If we can go simpler, then so be it. That’s scientific progress. But at least make the goal defining what “nothing” is, not what it isn’t.

  • scribbler

    Uncertainty and probability are something… ;-)

  • Andrei

    @82. Cosmonut Says:
    What you seem to be trying to do is change the definition of “nothing” so that the “explanation” still holds.

    Krauss’s point is not that science has answered the ages-old question, but rather rendered it obsolete pretty much for the same reason as we no longer talk about prime movers and first causes. Questions like “why the laws are the way they are and not the other way around?” and “why there are any laws in the first place?” is NOT a substitution for the question “why there is something rather than nothing?”. It’s a question “why there is this something and not some other something?” Krauss does touch these issues if only briefly, and he honestly admits he does not know the answer.

    I fail to see where in the book he claims to give any definite answers rather than merely plausible ones. The book leaves a door for subsequent discussions wide open, and if you happen to disagree with him, all you have to do is to say something like “Krauss, you’re dead wrong on this one, the ages-old question is still relevant, and here is why.” This would be totally cool.

    If, on the other hand, you say something like “regardless of your physics, your book has nothing to offer but the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation of religion”, it simply means you are not interested in any discussions short of religious apologies. Then why Krauss or anybody else should bother with you?

  • John R Ramsden

    @83 Chad, perhaps the required properties are shared between more than one “nothing”, in such a way that each nothing is prevented by the other from collapsing to a triviality, analogous to a Borromean ring, and their interplay somehow breaths perpetual life into them both.

    For example, I’ve long thought there may be something physical about the variety defined by the following simulataneous equations $x_1 + x_2 + .. + x_n = 0$ and $x_1 x_2 .. x_n = 1$. This is a Calabi-Yau variety for a start, and thus of possible relevance to string theorists.

    Each expresses the combination of its unknowns as the identity (a sort of “nothing”) for the relevant operator. Also, it obviously has the rather nice property that smaller versions of the same form can “bud off” from or recombine with their parent.

    For n = 4, and considering the terms as real/complex numbers, just its birational transforms over Q result in a vast menagerie of simple and suggestive forms, and symmetries which I am currently exploring. So Heaven knows what more a string theorist could find, with Mirror symmetry and suchlike at their disposal.

    Also (again for n = 4), there is a birational transform between x + y = z + t and X + Y + Z = T, (with each satisfying the product equation). Although the second doesn’t quite satisfy the sum equation, this seems slightly reminiscent of the AdS-CfT duality between 2D and 3D, and in some forms automorphisms between x, y and 1/x and 1/y, a symmetry shared by Maxwell’s equations!

    I could go on and on about this fascinating system, but here is not the right place. (Some might argue it isn’t the right place to mention it at all, although it is relevant to the “nothing” everyone has been discussing!) Of course for physicists, even if it is relevant, the main question is what do the values represent and how do they influence each other to evolve?

    Incidently, each rational solution to the above pair implies a rational solution to the Weierstrass equation $x^3 + y^2 = 76$. This has an infinite number of rational solutions, but only one integer solution: $x, y = 3, 7$. Is it coincidence that we see 3 space dimensions, and there are (supposedly) 7 curled up dimensions? Almost certainly, but who knows? .. ;-)

    P.S. Did I mention the n = 4 case is birationally equivalent over Q to a system of equations that defines Jacobean elliptic functions? $k^2 + K^2 = 1$, $c^2 + s^2 = 1$, $d^2 + k^2 s^2 = 1$. So it represents an infinite set of tori parametrized by a circle.

  • http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com Cormac

    Hi Sean, one serious comment on philosophers;
    “Philosophers of science aren’t trying to do science, they are trying to understand how science works, and how it should work, and to tease out the logic and standards underlying scientific argumentation, and to situate scientific knowledge within a broader epistemological context, and a bunch of other things that can be perfectly interesting without pretending to be science itself”.
    Agreed, but with a caveat: is it a given that those philosphers who do not have a high degree of training in science can understand how it works, can tease out the logic and standards underlying scientific argumentation? I’m not sure something like this can be understood in the abstract, without reference to the particular. And to fully understand particular examples is really difficult for non-scientists (just as some science historians seem to have read everything except the actual papers). Is it not a little bit like an untrained musician trying to evaluate how well an orchestra played Shostakovitch, and why they might play it?

  • http://scottsteffens.blogspot.com/ Scott

    @75, John Merryman:

    You wrote: “1=0? What if we were to say 0=0. Would that mean that nothing is a void, rather than a singularity.”

    Well, I mentioned Errol Harris as a champion of this rather counter-intuitive–and often misunderstood and written off as mystical–idea: 0=1. 

    From The Restitution of Metaphysics:

    “Again, the captious critic may object: not all continual consist of overlapping elements. For instance the number series is made up of discrete quanta, and the numbers do not overlap. But indeed they do: 1+1=2, 2+1=3; each successive number includes it’s predecessors. The only digit of which this is not true is 0, but with 0, the continuum has not yet begun. Yet 0 and 1 do overlap, for 0 is defined as the null class, which has only one member. Discrete magnitudes have to be dissected out of continuous magnitude, for if they are discrete, there must be some intervening magnitude that can again be divided into discrete magnitudes, and the continuum is inescapable” (109). 

    But what I intended the equation 0=1 to represent is simply: Nothing=Being.

    This idea is not new. One can trace its origin back to ancient Eastern traditions, but surely the comprehension of this fundamental truth has always been, and always will be, available to everyone. 

    This idea can be found in contemporary philosophy, too. It’s literally everywhere. 

    In What is Metaphysics, Heidegger invokes Hegel:

    “”Pure Being and Pure Nothing are therefore the same.” This proposition of Hegel’s (Science of Logic, vol. I, Werke III, 74) is correct. Being and Nothing do belong together, not because both–from the point of view of the Hegelian concept of thought–agree in their indeterminateness and immediacy, but rather because Being itself is essentially finite and reveals itself only in the transcendence of Dasein which is held out into the nothing” (110). 

    However many thinkers, generally operating under the inherited Western paradigm of thought, reject this line of reasoning.  For example, William James in The Problem of Being, wrote, “Philosophy stares, but brings no reasoned solution, for from nothing to being there is no logical bridge” (1003). 

    He pokes fun at what he refers to as the ‘queer rationalist temper.’ He wrote, “Mathematically you can deduce 1 from 0 by the following process: 0/0=1-1/1-1=1. Or physically if all being has (as it seems to have) a ‘polar’ construction, so that every positive part of it has a negative, we get the simple equation: +1-1=0, plus and minus being the signs of polarity in physics” (1005). 

    So the debate, the mystery of Being and the holistic question, it seems, has not been settled.

    But back to your original question, John. It’s interesting that you should mention a singularity. I believe that the correlation between the mass of a black hole and the mass of the galaxy that contains it provides at least provisional empirical evidence  for claims such as: 0=1; Nothing=Being. The reasoning behind this is rather convoluted, but a more detailed explanation is linked above. 

    Scott

  • http://specterofreason.blogspot.com Jason Streitfeld

    Sean, I don’t understand how quantum field theory is supposed to be of service to the public debate over theism and atheism. My thoughts are here: Carroll on creatio ex nihilo. I don’t expect a response, but I would be grateful for one. Mine is not a loud voice, but it is an earnest one. -Jason

  • Cosmonut

    @Andrei:
    You bring up some interesting points. So here goes…

    > Krauss’s point is not that science has answered the ages-old question, but rather rendered it obsolete pretty much for the same reason as we no longer talk about prime movers and first causes.

    I wouldn’t say so.
    Its just that there is no way to answer this question within the framework of science. Because science will always start with some model and equations to set up that explanation, and then the next question will be “Why is there anything that can be described my that model and equations ?”
    OTOH, religion has no answer to the question either. Their answer is “God did it”. But then the question is “Why is there God ?”

    > It’s a question “why there is this something and not some other something?”

    The problem is, this question can’t be anwered by science either.
    Because science will say, “This something exists, rather than that because of these laws and equations”. But then you again have the question, “Why those laws ?” like above.

    I guess this is what Sean means by “ending the chain”. At some point, ome nust necessarily say “This is as far as I can explain and not more”.
    But of course, not everyone will agree where that point is….

    >I fail to see where in the book he claims to give any definite answers rather than merely plausible ones.

    I guess that’s what annoyed me about the book.
    The title and subtitle made an enormous claim. The afterword by Dawkins supported that. But when you read the book, its just a run-of-the-mill set of hypotheses which have been around for quite a while.
    As I said, for me it was equivalent to read a book titled “God Exists: A Definite Proof” and then you find the author is just defining God as “love” or “laws of physics” or something and claiming that this is the correct definition.

    > If, on the other hand, you say something like “regardless of your physics, your book has nothing to offer but the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation of religion”, it simply means you are not interested in any discussions short of religious apologies. Then why Krauss or anybody else should bother with you?

    Yeah, its a pity that a potentially interesting discussion on science and philosophy became nasty because of all the name-calling both ways. But hopefully, the many other blog discussions are sorting this out.

  • Bengt Frost

    @68. Juan Ramón González Álvarez
    Please read the book about what Lawrence M. Krauss says about the basic principles of quantum mechanics.
    Also in an NPR interview, Krauss explains: “… literally whole universes can pop out of nothing by the laws of quantum mechanics.”

  • Andrei

    @90. Cosmonut Says:

    > I wouldn’t say so.
    > Its just that there is no way to answer this question within the framework of science.

    Well, I would, and here is why.

    Let’s start with something as close to nothing as science can tell, like the ‘void’ (to borrow the term from Victor Stenger) plus some (hypothetical at this point) basic laws of quantum gravity. It does not have space-time but can produce one due to quantum fluctuations. But it is clearly not nothing.

    Now let’s take away quantum gravity from it, in fact, any physical laws. What would we get? Shroedinger’s equation is on some basic level is just the law of energy conservation — you take that away, and the energy is no longer conserved. In fact, nothing is conserved anymore, anything can just pop in and out of existence. What you get is a sort of lawless universe that Krauss briefly mentions. But that is not nothing, it’s anything.

    Even if you define ‘nothing’ in a rather circular way as ‘out of which nothing can come’, it is still something — it can be described with a zero wave function in 1-d Hilbert space and a unit operator as a Hamiltonian. It is also not really nothing, but a rather weird kind of something perpetuating itself.

    So, my point is: wherever you go in search for that elusive ‘nothing’, you end up with still something. ‘Nothing’ looks like a logical impossibility, and The Question is reduced to ‘why there is possible rather than impossible?”. What you are left with is a word that has no meaning.

    As for the “there is no way to answer this question within the framework of science” — yes, sure. I would even add “and in any other framework either.” Unless, of course, nothing is impossible. Then the answer is trivial.

    > The problem is, this question can’t be answered by science either.

    At this point I have to agree, but I would not exclude such a possibility in the future. If science comes up with a sort of fundamental law without which nothing can exist, that would pretty much settle the question. Certainly, there may not be such a law at all, but I think it is better to keep both possibilities open.

    > The title and subtitle made an enormous claim. The afterword by Dawkins supported that.
    I can buy that. I don’t really share your sentiment that it is such a big deal, but I won’t argue against it either. The tittle/subtitle is definitely too provocative, and the afterword by Dawkins certainly calls for trouble. I guess it would be much better to turn it into something humorous and tongue-in-cheek. Bad news is that the book is already out, and there is nothing we can do about it.

  • Cosmonut

    @Andrei:
    >As for the “there is no way to answer this question within the framework of science” — yes, sure. I would even add “and in any other framework either.”

    Quite so. As I said, religious people often say, “God did it” and think that answers the Question, but not really.

    > Unless, of course, nothing is impossible….
    > If science comes up with a sort of fundamental law without which nothing can exist, that would pretty much settle the question.

    See, all these comes very close to the philosophical idea of a “Necessary Being”.
    In fact, a Necessary Being is the only potentially satisfactory answer I can imagine for the Question.

    In short, “You can’t get an Universe from nothing. You can only get an Universe from a Something which HAS TO exist.”

    However, I have no idea how one can show that anything MUST exist or whether it will ever be possible to prove anything like that.
    All scientific (and other) explanations start with assuming a model, but there is an implicit assumption that whatever is described by the model does exist already.

    Instead, we might just have to take the existence of some kind of basic stuff – like the ‘void’ or ‘spacetime foam’ for granted without any logical reason why it has to be so.

    Just an aside re energy conservation:
    Krauss makes a big deal about the total energy of the universe being zero and how this is evidence that the universe came from nothing. But that’s mostly nonsense.

    It seems energy conservation is an extremely tricky issue in General Relativity and it is not even clear how one can define energy properly.

    In fact, Sean had an article on this blog that its simply the case that energy is simply not conserved in most spacetimes described by GR – for eg, in an expanding universe.

    So, contrary to Krauss, the issue of whether the total energy is in fact zero or not is really not relevant to the argument.

    (But yes, it opens up the possibility that energy can simply be generated from empty space. Which is pretty much what happens in cosmic inflation)

  • scribbler

    Or as I put it: Nothing get so tired of being nothing, it becomes everything! Still not content, it begins to spins and explodes. When it get really, really cool, it’s us!!!

    Nonsense, guys… ;-)

    Stop denying the science that says in the OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE, something HAD to have come first based on what looks to me, an ignorant prejudice…

    Or admit that your idle speculation about that which you cannot prove is just that: Idle speculation…

  • scribbler

    Quantum mechanics require a quantum field for anything to arise out of it. Right back to square one: Where did the quantum field come from?

  • Tintin

    @ 95

    Bingo!

    …and end of discussion.

  • http://www.vanwaffle.com Van Waffle

    Love this line: “That’s okay; the point of philosophy is not to be “useful” to science, any more than the point of mycology is to be “useful” to fungi.”

  • John Merryman

    @88, Scott,

    “Discrete magnitudes have to be dissected out of continuous magnitude, for if they are discrete, there must be some intervening magnitude that can again be divided into discrete magnitudes, and the continuum is inescapable” (109).’

    Yet, wouldn’t this be the “void,” ie, the continuum. As opposed to zero simply being the initial point of measure for the first unit?

    I have a problem with treating space as only measurement. With time, we are measuring action and change, but with space, we are measuring space. Distance, area and volume, ie, the three dimensions, are aspects of space, not the basis for it. I think the spacetime construct obscures deeper factors under the patina of “measurement.” When we measure time, we measure from one event to the next, past to future, but the underlaying process is change, resulting from action, turning future into past; Tomorrow becomes yesterday within the circumstances of what is present, not external to it.

    The problem for me, is that science does have a very profound philosophy of reductionism that is very intellectually conservative and any attempt to tease back out the more wholistic elements gets derided as “mere philosophizing.” So reducing nothing from the potential of empty space, non-fluctuating vacuum, if you will, to a singular point of reference, doesn’t just distill the basic logic down to its essence, but totally changes the logical foundation.

    So instead of space as an infinite equilibrium state, we have it as a measure of action from an initial event. If space expands from a point, why do we still use a stable speed of light to judge this expansion? For example, if two galaxies expand from x lightyears apart to 2x lightyears apart, that’s not expanding space, but increasing distance. Where does that otherwise stable speed of light come from, if the very fabric of space expands?

    Now we have inflation, dark energy, multiverses, etc. to support this notion that space expands from a point, because it is just a measure of points and they are redshifted, because we can only measure light as a point, but what if light expands when we are not measuring it and only contracts when we do measure it and doesn’t travel billions of years as a discrete particle?Wouldn’t the photon we detect be a holographic sampling of this light and therefore be redshifted?

    An interesting paper on this last idea(not mine):
    http://www.fqxi.org/data/forum-attachments/2008CChristov_WaveMotion_45_154_EvolutionWavePackets.pdf

  • Gizelle Janine

    From NPR today, a review of the book noted:

    “Philosopher of science David Albert wrote a scathing review of Krauss’ book for The New York Times questioning his understanding of the meaning of “nothing.” Briefly, Albert claims that physics presumes the existence of fundamental fields in order to define nothing. Hence, it’s not really nothing, but something.”

    I would agree with that particular statement. (Think of vaccum energy.) But we all know David. Grizzled and confused generally until the very end. I’ve seen the man trip over a chair, I’m proud to say. While teaching statistical mechanics/quantum mechanics, too. Long story short: I was the only one laughing in the room. Lesson: quantum mechanics is really just about the probability of David Albert tripping over a chair teaching statistical mechanics. Woah… :D

  • Bengt Frost

    From NPR “Blackboard Rumble: Why Are Physicists Hating On Philosophy (and Philosophers)?” by Adam Frank:
    “David Albert was having none of it. As he correctly points out: Where do the fields come from? Better yet: Where do the laws of quantum mechanics come from? These are clearly meaningful questions even if, perhaps, they fall outside the domains of physics. The bulk of Albert’s review is spent articulating how deeply Krauss had missed this point.“

  • Brian Too

    While a bit off topic, I have always liked the evocative imagery and poetry of Genesis:

    “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

    Although, to a logical mind, it would be better if the order of those sentences were reversed, and some of the nouns replaced to make a bit more sense according to our scientific understanding.

    However by the standards of art and literature, that’s a fine way to start a book. These things resonate to the storyteller tradition.

  • Andrei

    @93. Cosmonut Says:
    > Krauss makes a big deal about the total energy of the universe being zero and how this is evidence that the universe came from nothing. But that’s mostly nonsense.

    Everybody makes a big deal about the total energy of the universe being zero. It is certainly not nonsense. From Sean Carroll’s book:

    The baby universe can grow to an arbitrarily large size; there is no limitation imposed, for example, by energy conservation. It is a curious feature of general relativity that the total energy of a closed, compact universe is exactly zero, once we account for the energy of the gravitational field as well as everything else. So inflation can take a microscopically tiny ball of space and blow it up to the size of our observable universe, or much larger. As Guth puts it: “Inflation is the ultimate free lunch.”

    Carroll, Sean (2009-11-06). From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time (Kindle Locations 6744-6747). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

    Krauss says essentially the same thing. I don’t see any noticeable disagreements between the two. They just focus on different matters — Carroll mostly on theoretical considerations such as time reversal, and Krauss on how recent observational data confirms these ideas.

  • lkn

    A side note, really. The excerpt from the original post:
    “Philosophers of science aren’t trying to do science, they are trying to understand how science works, and …, and a bunch of other things that can be perfectly interesting without pretending to be science itself”…
    This sounds an awful lot like “the set of all sets which are not members of themselves”…
    (To avoid Russell’s paradox we need to agree that philosophy of science is a branch of science)

  • http://facebook.com/dyami.hayes Dyami Hayes

    *This is short and somewhat crude, so give me the benefit of the doubt when lacking coherence please :)

    1. I read Krauss’ book and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it has become obvious to me that writers like him and Sam Harris (who have wonderful ideas) have an awful negative attitude towards philosophical investigation. In Harris’ case, it is likely for simplicity and to keep his audience broad. Krauss has a more emotionally charged, offensive tone that turns people off. Had a philosopher helped him write his book, it would be much more persuasive I am sure.

    2. Uses of Nothing: There seems to be a more metaphysical, abstract notion of notion which Krauss brushes off. By refusing to give a good LOGICAL argument for doing so (probably because he doesn’t understand what philosophy can accomplish, and refuses to genuinely engage in it) he invites a TONNE of criticism which otherwise could have been avoided. I will briefly also add, that to talk about NOTHING as something abstract that we aren’t sure is possible is somewhat nonsensical. There is a better chance of there existing an infinite number of universes with an infinite number of “me’s” running around than there is of this “nothingness” being real SIMPLY because it is something that can not be measured. All of OUR CURRENT measurements of what most people call Nothing are forms of nothing that are REAL; that EXIST. And while no factual existence is absolute or 100% “true”, it does represent the most probable, rational world we experience. All of our measured, observed, FACTUAL concepts of NOTHING hold the POTENTIAL to create something. Since theology and philosophy do argue against these claims (at times), his book remains an important one, though highly unrefined if you wish to sway a larger intellectual base.

    3. Uses of WHY : Sometimes the word WHY demands nothing more than a causal explanation. “Why does my head hurt? Because I bumped it this morning.” Sometimes the usage demands a PURPOSE. “Why do I exist!?” It is in this latter sense where critics find success. “Why are we the way we are?! Why are the laws of physics the way they are?!” These questions have no FACTUAL answer. That is, their answers will be tautologous. This is a philosophical claim, and one that I have found much reason to support, and little reason to reject. So while Krauss’ book cannot answer WHY(second sense) our universe exists, we exist, and the laws of physics exist, neither can any other book – unless you want to presuppose some Deity, or Nature of the Universe, Human Nature, etc… in which case, you are left with nothing more than something like, “If x… then the meaning of life is 42″

  • scribbler

    Quote: ” All of our measured, observed, FACTUAL concepts of NOTHING hold the POTENTIAL to create something.”

    This is totally unsupported by any science I am aware of…

    Let’s get literal: Nothing means NO THING…

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  • John Merryman

    “Let’s get literal: Nothing means NO THING…”

    Would empty space; the void, vacuum, etc. qualify? How would you physically eliminate it? The current model, an initial singularity, requires something, the singularity, for which the cause is a question mark, not nothing.

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  • Hypocee

    “I refute it thus”, meta-man.

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  • MWinterwolf

    Hay algo en lugar de nada, porque todo es mas probable que nada.

  • Tara Li

    Why do we have something rather than nothing? If all we had was nothing – we wouldn’t have we, to start with!

    Imagine a box a meter on a side, with a few particles of unobtainium floating around. Now, occasionally a new particle mysteriously appears – and occasionally a particle disappears. As far as we can tell – those new particles can appear *ANYWHERE* in that box. – but they can *ONLY* disappear from somewhere they already exist! Personally, this has always seemed to me to explain the dichotomy of time – I’ve never really felt a need for any more than that.

  • scribbler

    @107: We’ve covered that…

  • Cosmonut

    @102 Andrei Says:
    >Everybody makes a big deal about the total energy of the universe being zero. It is certainly not nonsense.

    Not quite.
    This requires us to go beyond popular science books:

    For example:
    http://mathoverflow.net/questions/38659/total-energy-of-the-universe/38690#38690

    OR

    In much more detail:

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/Relativity/GR/energy_gr.html

    The point is:
    - Energy is extremely tricky to define in GR
    - Even if you do define it somehow, you can only get a zero “total energy” by throwing in additional assumptions like spacetime being compact, which need not be true.

    My point is, that getting a zero total energy is irrelevant, because in GR, energy *need not be conserved* !

  • Cosmonut

    Also, Krauss gives a rather different argument for zero energy than Sean.

    For one, he argues that zero energy implies the Universe must be flat.

    I forget if this is the one is in the book, but he goes on about it at length in his popular talk, which started off the book,

    That IS nonsense.
    For one a homogenous and isotropic flat space is R^3 which is not compact (which is the condition Sean mentions.)
    Secondly, under these conditions, all we can say is that kinetic and potential energy adds up to zero. (This even works in Newtonian gravity for an object mvoing at escape velocity).

    But we don’t take into account the energy contained in the mass of all these bodies.

  • John Merryman

    113. scribbler Says:
    May 3rd, 2012 at 6:03 pm
    @107: We’ve covered that…
    So what is it? A cause; the singularity, or potential cause; the void?

  • scribbler

    It’s nothing…

    I don’t see where the confusion lies…

    The title of the book is “A Universe from Nothing”. The discussion is about a Universe arising from nothing. If I catch your argument, you seek to define something; a cause, a singularity, a potential cause or a void (empty space, though if it is empty, it must still have edges, which are something ;-) ) as nothing. As I said, if you check above, I covered that…

    To save you the trouble of searching through all the text, I surmised that in the observable Universe, something had to have come first. I further surmised that it was outside of the general laws of physics that confine the Universe. The only observation that we have to expose that beginning is that the Universe is in motion. To that end, SOMETHING bigger than the Universe set it in motion and HAD to have come first. The inescapable conclusion to me is then that of course, the Universe came from something…

    Shall I throw a pencil, now?

  • http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/tetrahedronT3 Jess Tauber

    In the past three years, in blogged but otherwise unpublished work, I’ve found nearly two dozen Pascal Triangle-based mathematical relations in the Periodic Table (at both electronic and nuclear levels), several of which map to the Fibonacci sequence and its sisters (such as the Lucas). Over the past several days alone I discovered that one can read off- directly- information about the structure of the periodic table, from aligning such Fib-sisters and reading across rows and down columns. You get n, and l, relations of ml, and ms. Perhaps more- I’m still exploring. No weird equations, no fancy dances. The numbers are exactly what they are.

    Some examples. Up to and including 89, Fibonacci numbers, taken as ATOMIC numbers, all map to leftmost positions in orbital half-rows, the odd Fibs to the singlet half row, and the evens to the doublet. Every other alkaline earth atomic number is identical to every other Pascal tetrahedral number, and, counting backwards along periods that end with alkaline earths (f,d,p,s being the right order), all postions where ml=0 are at distances from the alkaline earths that are Pascal Triangle triangular diagonal numbers. No exceptions. Lots more like this.

    This sort of thing is unlikely to be an accident, though of course it could have evolved naturally, but only when all sorts of factors need to be balanced against each other. There may be evidence that genomes/proteomes, and human languages, are organized in similar fashion. That’s a LOT of ‘coincidences’.

  • http://dev/null Vapido

    @66:

    “I was careful to make it quite clear in the book I am discussing a “how” question, and not a ‘why” question“

    .. but apparently you weren’t nearly as careful when coming up with a subtitle for your book.

    Seems rather sloppy to be so careful with what is in the book and yet so unconcerned with what goes on its cover.

  • http://1453ad.blogspot.com/ Empiricus

    History cannot explain the origin of man, science the physical universe, theology God, psychology the mind, or any other subject its object. Every subject begins assuming its object, the existence of which is either self-evident or demonstrated in a different field. Physics is no different. If anyone can correct me, please do. The result is that a scientific explanation of the universe will only be valid to those who 1) think only in scientific categories and 2) believe a logical impossibility. Better to askew all explanation.

    As Wittgenstein said, “At the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.” The laws of nature are ideas, exist, as their metaphor nature attests, as abstractions. The illusion is shown in that modern science claims that the laws of nature, human abstractions, explain the physical universe, in effect, that human ideas run the universe.

    Nothing does not exist, definitionally. Nothing is only an idea (a very useful idea for clear thinking). There never was nothing, never will be nothing, never can be nothing. All talk to the contrary is bad English. Krauss equivocates and hedges about nothing, making complication where there ought to be simplicity, confusion where there should be clarity. There never was a nothing from which the universe sprang. All questions as to how and why there is a physical universe lie permanently outside the realm of scientific inquiry.

  • scribbler

    Support?

  • Andrei

    @114. Cosmonut Says:
    My point is, that getting a zero total energy is irrelevant, because in GR, energy *need not be conserved* !

    That energy is not conserved in GR does not mean it can behave in an irregular way. It simply means that there is a larger invariant, of which energy (along with momentum and expanding space) is a part. The energy taken by itself may not be conserved, but any changes must be compensated by changes to the other part of the invariant. Similarly, in classical mechanics you have separate laws for mass conservation and energy conservation, but if you take classical definition of energy to relativity, this energy is no longer conserved — it can be turned into matter, and vice versa. However if you glue them together into a single concept, you still have strict conservation. Same goes to GR, only the combined concept is even more complicated.

    115. Cosmonut Says:
    “he argues that zero energy implies the Universe must be flat.”

    He does no such thing. :) Like Sean he explicitly states that only in a closed universe the total energy is zero. What Krauss actually says, that if you replace expanding space with Newtonian description of objects running away, only in flat universe you get that the total kinetic energy of running away objects is exactly compensated by negative gravitational energy, and if the universe were indeed dominated by regular matter, what we would observe, is an expansion that decelerates but never quite stops. However what we actually see is quite different — the space is flat, but the expansion rate in fact increases. This means, the universe must be dominated by cosmological constant, which means dark energy, which means energy of empty space, and all kinds of those weird quantum gravity effects.

    The universe must be closed but real real big, so big as we cannot detect any non-flatness. That’s the kind of universe current popular inflation theories predict.

  • Gizelle Janine

    @Brian Too: I thought you meant the band. :D

  • Gizelle Janine

    12.   Ian Liberman Says:
    April 28th, 2012 at 7:04 pm
    “Dr. Krauss elucidating on the formulation of universes, starting from quantum vacuum fluctuations, has come from many scientists, including Linde, Guth, Tryon, Hawking, Davies, Morris, Stenger and others . David Albert, who I also respect, has it wrong to focus on the science of Dr. Krauss and his version of Nothingness because it is rooted in naturalism and scientific reasoning. Extending this spontaneous creation of the universe to illustrating the process ,without the necessity of a supernatural force, is totally and scientifically logical and really needs no criticism , especially from philosophers not espousing empirical constructive suggestions. As you state about the book, ” If your real goal is to refute claims that a Creator is a necessary (or even useful) part of a complete cosmological scheme, then the above points about “creation from nothing” are really quite on point.” Dr. Kraus apologised for lumping all philosophers in the same category and that should end that issue now.”

    @Ian: What’s giving you the perception of nothing, bro? That’s the question. Get the David bat. Hehehehehe! (It’s baseball season!)

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  • Ian M

    About the only useful thing I learned as a philosophy major, long ago, was that it is usually fruitless to start debating an intriguing question if you haven’t established a clear mutual understanding of the meaning of the question and what a valid answer would look like. So my knee-jerk reaction to the question “Why is the universe (at all, or as it is)?” is to ask myself the question “What do we mean by ‘why’?”… it implies some sort of necessity. How could this question be answered?

    As I think about it we seem to have (only) two kinds of answers to ‘why’ questions: causality, and logical consistency.

    Causality-based answers to ‘why’ questions rely on our understanding of how things evolve over time, and are based on identifying the precedent conditions for the event being discussed and our understanding of processes to show how those precedent conditions inevitably led to the outcome we are discussing. For example, something like “The plane crashed because XYZ…”.

    Logic-based answers are essentially much simpler- identify the appropriate category of the ‘thing’ being discussed, and refer to its inherent properties. For example, “The sum of the interior angles of a plane triangle is 180 degrees because XYZ…”.

    If causality and logical consistency are our only two real alternatives to attempt to answer the “Why is the universe ?” question, then we can get some perspective… along three lines:

    1. A causality-based answer simply can’t work, because causality relies on the concept of time, whch is an attribute of the universe but not a possible explanatory reason for it. We’ve been trying this approach for as long as humanity has existed because we live in a world governed by causality (in its broadest sense), but precedence can’t explain the ‘start’ of time- it’s a logical contradiction.

    2. A logic-based approach doesn’t work either, because logic is based on predefined categories and attributes and relationships- and the universe doesn’t present us with such things. It can be intriguing to postulate an underlying principle that ‘requires’ the universe, and I suppose that is at the heart of some forms of religious faith, but it doesn’t really answer anything, it just raises additional “whys”- why that principle instead of some other?

    3. So that leaves me with the conclusion that the “Why is the universe ?” question isn’t really a valid question at all- there is no possible answer to it. We can expend any amount of time discussing it, but in the end it’s like all ‘paradoxical’ questions. What is the number greater than all numbers? Who shaves the barber of Seville? It looks like a real question, it sounds like a real question, but it isn’t really a question. A very disappointing conclusion.

    I suggest that the real challenge for those of us who yearn for a deeper understanding of things is to somehow think ‘out of the box’ of causality and logic. If the fundamental “Why?” question isn’t valid… what alternative form of philosophy or science could lead us to a deeper understanding?

  • John Merryman

    Scribbler,
    Why does space have to have an edge? Doesn’t that raise the usual question of what is on the other side?
    As for beginnings, that presumes time is an actual dimension, with endpoints. Which raises the same question; What came before, what comes next?

    Mature belief systems presume themselves to be hermetic and asking questions of what is outside is heretical. Why would physics fall in that trap?

    I’m not seeking a primary cause, I’m just making the argument that space, devoid of all reference, is physically nothing and that it is the imposition of limits and definitions on space; singularities, boundaries, curvature, etc. which make it something.
    Time is like temperature, a measure of action. Any measure of space is a measure of space.

    There is the vacuum. It fluctuates.

  • James

    ITS LAUGHABLE that someone who is constantly belittling the people, oh yeah the majority of the human race throughout history, who see there’s a Designer and creator to the universe is all of the sudden up in arm about wise cracks.

    You cant read read many response from you that dont expose the fear atheists have of being wrong. People who are confident dont resort to such transparent tactics unless they are trying to counterbalance some type of fear.

    You never see this in agnostics. Its an atheistic trait. The number 1 self indulgence is young earth wise cracks by you guys. You cant refute the majority view so pick on the straw man–as if that helps you sleep in any way. I mind as well go challenge my hamster to an arm wresting completion so I too can feel strong too.
    The atheists in the field are the very cause of the mistrust of the Young earthers. Trusting a bunch of misfits that spend lunch time with apple sauce in their hair as priests of the universe is not on the top of many people lists especially when every new theory is more absurd than the last.

    The day when Mr Chicken chow mein hair can tell the human race Nothing is something is not coming. Kick the can down the street all you want but there’s a reason God has been on the top of the mountain in human thought for ohhhh…ever. Its because its the only explanation of the Design, odds, and purpose of reality.
    How’s that for wise cracks? At least I did it out of fear for you and not myself.

  • Kerberus of Styx

    If the discussion has as its goal the disproof of the existence of God the discussion is absurd from the outset; as if the human mind can understand all aspects of being; certainty the scientist ego loves to imagine that it understands all aspects of being — that’s to be expected, but it’s just so childish to imagine that any scientists view of things disproofs that which can neither be proved or disproved by the human intellect.

  • ivo

    @Chad English: “It is impossible to define such a “nothing” from which you’d expect that “something” can’t spontaneous emerge because that restriction would constitute a law of physics, and then one simply asks where that law comes from.”

    Richard Carrier has an interesting and rather entertaining (semi-serious?) post, Ex Nihilo Onus Merdae Fit, where he elaborates on this very idea: a truly featureless nothing couldn’t “forbid” the possibility that something comes out of it, because that would be a physical law and therefore a feature — but there can be none by hypothesis. His take on this theme is couched in termes of probability theory, and – damn it – I can’t find fault with his reasoning. The conclusion is essentially the same as that for the nothing of QM, i.e.: absolute nothing is also (if it can exist at all) inherently unstable.

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  • John Merryman

    ” absolute nothing is also (if it can exist at all) inherently unstable.”

    I wonder what the odds are of an inflationary universe not encountering other instabilities, or debris from previous universes, given there is no time limit on nothing.

  • scribbler

    Quote: “There is the vacuum.”

    OK…

    Quote: “It fluctuates…”

    And how EXACTLY does one have a fluctuation when there is NO THING to fluctuate against or in reference to???

    Not rhetorical…

    We presumed that the “vacuum” of space was empty. We have corrected that folly. That presence of something in what we thought was a vacuum in no way implies it was always so full, does it? Why not presume that whatever put the rest of matter there put the stuff in the “vacuum” there as well? At least until PROVEN otherwise?

    Let’s not get into the “measurement vs. reality” quagmire. I proffer that true measurements reflect/quantify reality… ;-)

  • scribbler

    @ 129: Personal experience is personal proof. Personal proof is testimonial and cannot be seen and weighed by others. Therein lies the flaws of those who try to prove the existence of God by personal experience. It is personal proof that brings one to that conclusion and to the conclusions as to His Nature. It can then be offered up as testimony but cannot be tossed into the arena of “scientific proof”. Science is about the quantifying of measurable aspects of a thing and making cogent predictions based upon those quantifications. Personal proofs are about the acceptance by an individual of certain things that have crossed a threshold of acceptance to them.

    Again, as testimony to be accepted by another that leads them to find and accept the same Truth, it is invaluable. As something proffered as proof to those at large who not only do not accept it but have no way to quantify and test it, not useful at all…

    To that End and at the risk of being redundant, the only two things that we can infer and that others can infer about the Universe, since it is in motion, is that something bigger than the Universe gave it a push and that having a beginning, that something had to have existed before the Universe…

  • scribbler

    Again and at the risk of being redundant, bigger/powerful enough to have pushed the Universe and preexistent to the Universe sets that something outside of the general Laws of Physics…

    Any cogent scientific discussion of the origin of the Universe must start here, in my humble opinion. Anything else denies all scientific observations since such things began and flies in the face of the scientific method…

  • Karin Cavanaugh

    The answer can be found in the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1 of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

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  • Neal W. Welsh

    Folks who keep going back to their assertions that faith and God explains everything should realize that this indeed explains everything and these also then explain nothing. In science we take the measure of our theses by examination, repeatability and by all means the use of logic. Introducing the mystical realm of faith is a foolish endeavor since faith, per se, is NOT a tool of cognition. Got that?

  • scribbler

    @ 138 DEAD WRONG!!! My faith is the result of the scientific process! I had an idea and tested it and now react in accordance with the results. It was the Perfect use of cognition…

    Like I said above, my EXPERIENCE is useful for testimony and not empirical study, on that we agree. However, to disrespect those who offer this testimony and call them liars without PROOF of falseness is small minded and if I may, mean…

    Some of us feel like those who tried to testify to the existence of gorillas and platypuses. They had to bear the ridicule of their peers until they saw the beasties for themselves…

    Your disbelief is not proof of nonexistence and certainly not of prevarication…
    ;-)

  • http://anomalies-of-physics.blogspot.com/ An Observer

    Jeeeeeeeesus Christ ! Carroll, Crauss and David Albert represents todays physicists and philosophers. Even a pigeon understands more than them and the above commenters. Have you ever heard about something like the principle of simplicity?: The simple answer to the question “Is there something rather than nothing?” is posted in my blog here:

    http://anomalies-of-physics.blogspot.com/

    For “God’s” sake, are you able to chew an apple for once ?

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  • nugget

    Having taught Eastern and Western thought for a long time, I soon realized that in the west we ” assume” that what is or may be “god” on the one hand and the “universe” on the other are separate entities. If “god” is understood as the search for meaning, then there is no reason why there is a problem with there being “just a universe. The discussion, as I read it in general, presupposes the dichotomy between cause or first cause and any resulting effect. If reality is essentially “one”, then Occam’s razor does not rule out an effort to seek understanding of inherrent meaning. Both aetheist and theist assume that “god” and the universe are separate. Questionable assumption. Where language assumptions can cause many bad arguements.

  • nugget

    I do not have the savvy to edit my possible typos but I hope the gist of my point comes through. I understand religion to be a search for “meaning” in this universe, not an effort to prove creation ex nihilo”.

  • Leoncefalo

    I have to soundly commend John Merryman on his elegant description of something from nothing. It certainly does not add sweetness to the equation to brush arrogance all over science, at the cost of philosophy, which the human mind cannot do without. But his observation that all of modern science since Copernicus stands on the shoulders of monotheism is incontrovertible, not from a scientific view, but from a cultural one, which is more pervasive. Even Albert Einstein made constant reference to the Deity in his writings.
    See the Solvay Conferences for data.

    Whether we like it, or not, the DNA of religion is inextricably rooted in our genetic legacy, and does not look to being evicted from our consciousness any millenia coming. As far as its vast and pervasive cultural influence on all of human civilization, there is not even an iota of doubt. But it does make a critical difference today with the vast shifts of religious and scientific paradigms as to how we learn from both disciplines as to WHO homo sapiens sapiens really is. Judging from the most gruesome last 100 years we have passed on this planet, such issues as where the universe came from, is there a Higgs Boson, why G-d, suddenly take on cosmic importance. Remember that Galileo Galilei, the acknowledged father of modern science, in spite of his persecution by the Church for his dialogues, did not abjure his Christian faith, when he certainly had hundreds of reasons to do so.

    Just for arguments sake, or maybe against it, we may be able to think, speak and act about science and G-d as two separate disciplines, and as S.J.Gould showed us, that is the case. Every religion AND philosophy worth five minutes of reading accepts them as indivisible, inseparable, and inextricably united. But in order for science to untangle this ‘entanglement’ of indivisibility, it only has to proceed with science as usual. An ordained minister or priest who does not understand quantum physics or relativity is in no way hampered in his responsibilities to his parish because there are scientists who do understand them. Conversely scientists who do not understand religious beliefs are in no way hampered in their responsibilities to conduct their work ‘scientifically.’

    We might even approach the conundrum with – Is all of G-d contained in science or, is all of science contained in G-d? We can begin to wrap our brains around these for starters.

    I am certain this will continue the discussion for at least the next millenium.

  • http://www.easyweightloss.tsfl.com Ron Sonntag

    Truly, without offending, the question is stupid. We exist. Therefore, something caused existence (I know this is the anthropomorphic solution). Quantum mechanics completely supports the, however minutely possible, creation of an entire universe from nothing. Given that we have no time counter before creation, we also have no concept of just how long it took the improbable event to occur. It could have been 10^100 or 10^1000000000, but, none of these numbers means anything because the only reference point is the act of springing into existence. In support of this notion are the numerous examples of highly improbable (by our living standards) events that occur naturally. By extension, extremely, extremely improbable events must also occur.

    Rather than expend thought energy on why we exist, I would truly appreciate the global science community answering the question of how we went from understanding 99.99999% of existence (in the 80s) to now understanding maybe 5% of existence. Interesting how one recent observation of masses of stars and clusters perpendicular to our galaxy’s plane of rotation might completely explain dark matter. Hmmmmm! No magic hand-waving required!

    And, finally, the whole quantum wave entanglement issue and the creepy faster-than-light action at a distance. Consider this: What if entanglement is a manifestation of dimensional projection. That is, certain particle interactions project the particles into new dimensions. The projections of those new dimensions in our normal 4-dimensional space appear to be two particles that are quantum entangled. But, this is only because the one particle is now traveling in a new dimension. It’s 4-dimensional projection is now two images, like a corner mirror. As I move away from the corner, my two images separate.

  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    @91. Bengt Frost:
    Quantum mechanics does not say what Krauss believes, and he is also very confused about quantum field theory.

  • Bengt Frost

    “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it” – Niels Bohr
    Thus, not easy to understand or interpret quantum mechanics…

    The use of the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics in the creation of virtual particles (i.e. quantum fluctuations in the universe’s space-time fabric produces particles). The probability of a quantum outcome occurring increases in proportion to the passage of time is another principle Lawrance M. Krauss uses in his book to explain “A Universe from Nothing”.

    Still no answer to the question: Where are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?

  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    The well-known uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics does not say that “quantum fluctuations in the universe’s space-time fabric produces particles”.

    Krauss also fails to understand the energy-time ‘uncertainty’ relations. It is a pity that such serious misunderstandings of basic science are spread to broad audiences.

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  • Bengt Frost

    @148. Juan Ramón González Álvarez
    Quantum fluctuations in the universe’s space-time fabric to produce particles sure implies the uncertainty principle.

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  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    @150 Bengt Frost:

    Pseudo-philosophical statements do not imply a well-known principle which has been tested in labs for about 100 years.

  • Bengt Frost

    @152. Juan Ramón González Álvarez
    OK, let me put it like this. Virtual particles – particles with a brief existence and therefore cannot be detected directly – contribute energy and therefore mass to particles. The mass comes about from the uncertainty principle.

    For more information regarding virtual particles and their role in the creation of our universe please read what Lawrence M. Krass says about this subject in his book “A Universe from Nothing”.

  • http://www.ionvbdfp89as.com Kandace Dreiss

    There are definitely plenty of particulars like that to take into consideration. That may be a great level to convey up. I supply the ideas above as common inspiration but clearly there are questions just like the one you deliver up where an important factor will be working in sincere good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around issues like that, but I’m positive that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Both boys and girls really feel the influence of only a second’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.

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  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    @153 Beng Frost: As I already said, Krauss fails to understand basic aspects of both quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. He is not giving information (as you and others believe) but glaring misinformation.

    In fact, Krauss is responding to reviewers of his bad book with insults as “I read a moronic philosopher who did a review of my book in the New York Times“. Not only Krauss is lacking any serious argument, but he calling “moronic philosopher” to a theoretical physicist with contributions to quantum mechanics is really silly. At the other hand, the contributions of Krauss to QM or QFT are easily summarized: zero.

    Please do not insist, because I do not want to use the hard words that several reviewers of this bad book have already used. I want remain polite and just say that Krauss does not know what he is talking about.

  • Bengt Frost

    157. Juan Ramón González Álvarez
    Lawrence M. Krauss in his book “A Universe from Nothing” does not answer definitely the question of how the universe originated. I am also aware of the the criticism made against Krauss’s suggestion that the laws of quantum mechanics show how a universe can arise from nothing. Nonetheless is it a fascinating, thought-provoking and accessible book.

    Finally let me quote what Sean Carroll writes at the beginning of this blog: “Nothing about modern physics explains why we have these laws rather than some totally different laws, although physicists sometimes talk that way — a mistake they might be able to avoid if they took philosophers more seriously.”

  • http://www.michaelslezak.com Michael Slezak

    Sean, I think you notice exactly what is important about explanation, but get the implication of that realisation exactly back-to-front.

    Firstly, you notice correctly that explanations are answers to why questions. (To my knowledge this was first expressed clearly by the Bromberger in the early 1960s.)

    And secondly you notice that in answering a why question, a context is needed. (This was best detailed by van Fraassen in the 70s.)

    But the key insight this delivers is contradicted by your observations. The relevant context is not objectively defined by the question, but depends on the interest of the asker!

    Take your toy example: Why did the chicken cross the road? Part of the important context there is knowing what the ‘contrast class’ is. (ie. Are we wondering why the chicken crossed the road rather than the river? Or are we wondering why the chicken crossed the road, rather than the duck?)

    Broadly speaking, the point of realising the importance of why-questions and their implied contexts is that they are pragmatic concerns not objectively defined by the phenomena seeking to be explained.

    So in the problem of why there is something rather than nothing, there is no reason to think the required context doesn’t exist. The context doesn’t have to be “bigger” in any sense. The context depends on the use to which that explanation will be put.

    I do think that the question is poorly formulated — the proper context and pragmatic concerns of the question have not been properly delineated. And so different answers, that turn on different assumed contexts, will mistakenly be thought to compete with one another — something you more-or-less point out.

  • Erravan

    It’s a shame that Dr. Krauss didn’t confront the criticisms head-on. He wrote a very interesting popular science book that conforms to his professed strategy of scientific “seduction.” It’s also a shame that Dr. Albert is equally obsessed with the meaning of the term “nothing.” For all his talk in his review about having discussions about religion that deal “with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world,” he seems rather fixated on a minor point of definitions, which is rather philosophical of him. Suffice it to say that even if Krauss’ definition of “nothing” isn’t philosophically “nothing,” it might as well be nothing to religious thinkers who will take any old “something” to mean the Abrahamic God and all the idiotic baggage that goes along with it.

    I think Dr. Albert sorely misses this point, and for that matter, wrote an almost totally irrelevant review that ignored 95% of the book’s contents – a fascinating and accessible coverage of the topic – in favor of taking up what is functionally to society an obscure shortcoming; to speak of “nerdy”… which was Albert’s word for Dr. Krauss. To be a public intellectual – as Dr. Albert is – and be anything less than highly critical of the scale of religious dishonesty at a time when we know so much about the nature of the universe – which he doesn’t even approach in his review – is not itself dishonest, but is very… not good, almost counterproductive.

    With that, I can understand Dr. Krauss’ frustration and urge to reference “moronic” philosophers.

  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    @158 Bengt Frost:

    I do not think that I need to repeat once again my scientific points about the book. In the philosophical side, I will only add that the book is being considered “bad philosophy” by several philosophers who have studied the old problem of the existence.

    Regarding the question about the laws of nature, I am glad that most of physicists understand what is the scope and what the methods of science. I cannot say the same of certain cosmologists.

  • Phillip Wong

    So, we know there are laws of nature, and these laws allow us to learn a lot about the universe.The question we are asking is “where the laws of nature come from”? The answer to this have several responses:

    1. The total energy is zero, therefore the laws that our universe obey exist.

    and

    2. If there was nothing, there is no conservation of nature, and thus, the void( or nothing) have nothing to stop something to come into being.

    and

    It is logically impossible to have nothing. Try it! Explain nothing! You can ‘t, because you need to use something.( like the period at the end of this sentence..lol)

    Sorry, I must say LOL.

    Reply to 1. This would be an argument if one can make that implication that Energy=0 implies laws of nature, but there is no such connection. If such implication is established, that I guess would sort of a law…

    reply to 2. This is the most funny thing ever. Even saying it is funny. It is sort of like laws of nature is a prison to prevent everything from happen( whatever “everything” mean here). I find it funny that some one would compare laws with prisons. A lack of laws( or void, or nothing) would not have anything. There not be “everything” bursting to happen. Weird..

    Reply to 3. This is weird. It is like telling someone to say something without saying any words. Defining “nothing” do need words, but does not mean nothing is logically impossible, nor does it mean every word have a definition. Some words has to be intuitive self-evident to not have a regress.

  • Phillip Wong

    I must say, all this is rather amusing to me. Why is there something( and not nothing), and why this something is not answerable without begging the question. I swear, if you are going to bring in quantum field, or general relativity, or fancy laws, I am going to ask you where does come from, and I am going to punch you( I told you to not F me. Did I not?).

  • Brett

    @ #163

    “I must say, all this is rather amusing to me”

    I was just thinking; ‘so this is how you get all the crazies to come out of the woodwork, eh?’

    This is amusing because it has no answer. If there was a boundary to the universe that we could observe, then the next logical step would be asking; ‘what’s beyond the boundary?’

    Like a child, we can and MOST LIKELY WILL, continue to ask about the next iteration of superposition on the the question ‘why’ for the rest of eternity. Maybe that’s why we are inherently over-dramatic about everything; because at the end of the day, like Stephen Hawking perceives it and Feynman used to joke, it’s all trivial.

  • Phillip Wong

    @164

    It is not trivial. It is the biggest question there is. A lot physicists are being intellectual dishonest about this “nothing”. Nothing is not some form of exotic something. If they tell me virtual particles, and quantum fields are nothing, they should be fucking arrested for lying to the public.

  • tonio09

    Here’s the an explanation that everybody can understand:

    The universe cannot be explained in a way that the human brain can understand it completely.

    We all seem to forget that we are 99% the same as a chimpanzee. Can a chimpanzee understand quantum mechanics? It can’t. Then why do we think that humans have the ability to understand the universe, aka everything there is?

  • Phillip Wong

    @166,

    well, human can understand. There was never nothing. There was always something. Modal realism is the most plausible explanation for why.

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  • P Ryan

    @165 Phillip Wong

    The quantum fluctuations and virtual particles describe a way in which the universe came into being with out the need for any energy at all. However, the question “What caused the universe to come into existence” still hasn’t been answered. But there’s a problem with this question (as put so well by 126 Ian M); We can’t answer it with our understanding of logic and causality as we’ll just be describing how logic and causality were created using logic and causality. The use of causality implies a time and place, but the universe was created out side of time and space. The universe was created at no particular time or particular place so doesn’t need a cause for it to happen at a particular time or place. Once the options for time and place are removed the only two options left are: The universe “was” (If you can even use that word) either created or not created.

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  • Danny

    I just saw the interview on the Colbert Report and I considered picking up this book. I’ve now decided against it but not because I think it won’t inform me. I’m a layperson. I’m sure there’s plenty for me to learn from this book. I’m just so tired of the way these subjects are endlessly framed in this science vs religion deathmatch. The last paragraph of David Albert’s review really spoke to me:

    “…it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.”

    Why does gaining a clearer understanding of the origins or beginnings or the nature of the universe have to be anything at all to do with religion? I’m an atheist and Richard Dawkins annoys me for the same reason. You will never, EVER defeat religion with science and it’s a tiring, tiresome, futile exercise. While I would probably get a lot out of this book, I’m going to avoid it for the simple reason that it seems to be claiming to answer a question that I already know it won’t.

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  • DavinciBoson

    Lawrence is flat out wrong. The key logical error the author makes is to assume that the virtual particles that spring from ‘nothing’ in empty space are actually coming from nothing (physics doesn’t know) and that he somehow misses that the whole virtual particle scenario actually happens within the laws of physics and time and space, whereas the real question is, ‘what created the laws of physics and time/space?’.

    Now. As the nature and workings of a state outside of time and space is inconceivable to physics as physics and the human mind works within the boundaries of time and space and the laws of physics, it is safe to say that we can never know what the truth is via the current state of physics and logic.

    This book is a lame and unscientific attempt by the globalist new world order to destroy religion once and for all. They’re implementing a global Orwellian technocratic world government serfdom, and they’re doing it by sinister and destructive means. In doing so they need maximum control over the populations and they cannot have devotion to something other than the state. Destruction of Theism is essential to them and this is why there is a massive Atheist, anti-Theist campaign in the media in recent years. You’d have to literally have your head in the sand not to notice the saturation of the media/Hollywood with anti-religious content.

    They’re attempting to replace it with a environmental, eco-fascist, Gaia, mother Goddess, man is evil, nature is good, new age religion that ties in with their man made global warming fraud (there is zero evidence to support anthropogenic global warming and overwhelming evidence against it). Such religion will be state-based and enable the state to be God. They’re also promoting the Zacharia Sitchin nonsense to replace God with an alien (see movies such as ‘Paul’ and ‘Prometheus’ for the apex of such propaganda) this also ties in with their future promotion of a false flag ‘alien threat’, a Bin Ladenesque ultimate external enemy designed to unite humanity under a world government. Note that recently many Western Governments have begun releasing their ‘x-files’ within a relatively short time of each other. In other words a coordinated agenda. Werner Von Braun, father of the V2 rocket, warned us of such a tactic from the globalist elite.

    Bottom line, this book is propaganda, and logically flawed propaganda at that.

  • Grog

    The most important thing out of all of this is: something comes from nothing. Let’s apply that to our current existence, and try to make the most of it. Otherwise, what is the point of even living?

  • lyle ridings

    Sean Carroll, smart people should – like Krauss – have the guts to call what they see as the truth by it’s appropriate name – “moronic philosophers”.

    Krauss is in good company: Hawking and Mlodinow…The Grand Design…
    Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

    Why did you not take your friend David Albert to task for his, in your own words, “quite a negative review of the book”, as you so specifically did Krauss?

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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