Some physicists think they can explain why the universe first formed. If they are right, our entire cosmos may have sprung out of nothing at all.
People have wrestled with the mystery of why the universe exists for thousands of years. Pretty much every ancient culture came up with its own creation story – most of them leaving the matter in the hands of the gods – and philosophers have written reams on the subject. But science has had little to say about this ultimate question.
Philosophers indeed have written reams on this subject and science little for the simple obvious inescapable reason that science must forever remain mute when discussing what isn’t science.
Place a can of tomato soup on the table in front of you. Question: is there something on the table or nothing? A philosopher will answer “Something.” But a scientist of the stripe of, say, Lawrence Krauss or Alexander Vilenkin might say “Nothing.”
Why this affront to commonsense? Let’s see.
Scientists like Krauss are running around claiming the universe was created from nothing. Now nothing is a very simple concept. It means the complete absence of anything, where anything means something. To thus insist nothing is equivalent to something is to exhibit a mild form of lunacy.
The Beeb: “Quantum mechanics tells us that there is no such thing as empty space. Even the most perfect vacuum is actually filled by a roiling cloud of particles and antiparticles, which flare into existence and almost instantaneously fade back into nothingness.”
I read that as admitting a “perfect” vacuum is filled with something and not nothing. You? That means “perfect”, where perfect evidently means imperfect, vacuums cannot be candidates for creation from nothing.
Stephen Hawking, the creature, is quoted saying “In quantum physics, if something is not forbidden, it necessarily happens.”
Dude. Necessarily is one of philosophy’s strongest words, second in importance, maybe, to Truth itself. If something necessarily happens then it will happen no matter what. Something which necessarily happens cannot be contingent on any state of the universe. Whatever this necessary thing is, we are doomed to face it.
Not forbidden by quantum mechanics is you turning into a wave and entering your house simultaneously by your garage and front doors (and reappearing inside intact). If Hawking is right, this necessarily must happen. Good party trick.
“Look here Briggs, Hawking didn’t say when. Given enough opportunities, it will eventually happen.”
Ah, the frequentist fallacy, wherein probabilities are somehow imbued with causative powers. Bunk. Whenever any quantum mechanical event happens, such as you splitting in two or when “virtual” particles appear in a “vacuum”, something causes the event to occur. It is impossible that nothing causes quantum mechanical events.
It is possible, and seems to be true, that we cannot know these causes. But because we cannot know them does not mean they do not exist. Nothing cannot be a cause. How could it? It is nothing.
In other words, little bubbles of space and time can form spontaneously. “If space and time are quantized, they can fluctuate,” says Lawrence Krauss at Arizona State University in Tempe. “So you can create virtual space-times just as you can create virtual particles.”
Accept this. In accepting this we are forced to admit “little bubbles of space and time” are something. They are not nothing. Yet notice Krauss’s use of “spontaneously”, here a synonym for “from nothing” or “uncaused.” Krauss is thus assuming what he wishes to prove. And assuming the impossible at that.
Krauss believes in magic. If what he says is true, only magic could account for why quantum mechanical events occur. Magic, unfortunately, is still not nothing.
The BBC quotes him as concluding, “The laws of physics as we understand them make it eminently plausible that our universe arose from nothing – no space, no time, no particles, nothing that we now know of.”
Are the laws of physics nothing? From whence did they arrive? Why these laws and not others? No matter how you answer, you end up at something and not nothing.
Before you can catch onto his trick, Krauss and another physicist named Linde distract you with multiverses, breathlessly reporting, “There could be a mind-boggling smorgasbord of universes”. Fine, let there be. But in this scenario another universe somehow created ours. Is another universe nothing or something? And where did all those other universes come from? It can’t be nothing. Pushing the “problem” back one level does not make it disappear.
I’m no expert in multiverses, but I did read in Gell-Mann’s The Quark and Jaguar of his exasperation with fellow physicists who confuse probability, which is a measure of information, with reality, which is real. When we flip a coin, probability-as-measure-of-ignorance informs what might happen; it’s not that the coin splits and becomes both head and tails in separate universes.