August 29, 2013

Something From Nothing?!

From this, the empty set, nothing:

{   }

to this, a lot of something:

(Credit: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California,
Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team)

by Robert Lawrence Kuhn
eSkeptic, August 28, 2013

I have read this essay twice. The following excerpts make very little sense to me and seem like woo. The only way I can understand what is being said is if I substitute a different word for "nothing," such as "reality." Even then I have difficulty understanding or accepting what the author is trying to communicate. I have put my specific reactions in brackets after each excerpt.

What the author is calling "nothing" really isn't a space, state of existence, or condition with no thing. In his purported nine levels of nothing, for example, only the ninth can truly be said to have no thing. The other eight have things and therefore are really not nothing.


Having read this essay, Lawrence Krauss's book A Universe From Nothing: Why There's Something Rather Than Nothing, Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, and other books and essays on this subject, I'm beginning to wonder if there is some perverse pleasure or humor such thinkers derive from telling the public that all that there is in our universe arose from "nothing."  Not funny.

Until a better way is found for expressing scientific ideas about the origin and characteristics of the universe than is displayed in the essay linked above, there will be little hope for the vast majority of humans, including the higher educated ones among us, for understanding what the best minds of science have come up with regarding that universe.

Smile and chide me for not understanding the essay if you must. I'm not that smart. But this is a serious matter. Either the editors of eSkeptic and other such otherwise very good magazines, or the thinkers and scientists themselves, must develop a better way of communicating such important ideas about the origins and nature of the universe when they seek to inform and educate the interested public. The current speculative word play approach is unhelpful as education, and hardly more convincing than the woo the Abrahamic religions offer about the universe and its origins.

Here are some excerpts (please spare me the "I've taken things out of context" whine) from the referenced essay:

"I have no choice but to conclude that there is foundational force, selector, productive principle or type of necessity—some deep reason—that brings about the absence of Nothing. [Why must the author have no choice but to propose the existence of a force, selector (one or something that acts to select among options), a principle (rule or law) that acts and produces something incredibly complex and tangible like a universe; a necessity (necessitating or compelling something), or a reason (a causal explanation) that actually brings into existence that which we call the universe?  Alternatively, he could have as easily concluded that there is no first causal entity or idea behind the universe. That the existence of the universe is the starting point or substrate and that there is no first causal entity, even at or prior to the Big Bang. Couldn't he?]

"....although space-time (unified) as well as mass-energy (unified) do not exist, pre-existing laws, particularly laws of quantum mechanics, do exist. And it is these laws that make it the case that universes can and do, from time to time, pop into existence from “Nothing,” creating spacetime as well as mass-energy. [Do tell. How exactly might the stuff of universes become an observable, tangible reality from the actions of the laws of physics, which are, after all, human mental artifacts? Aren't they?]

"....among the realities which aren’t concrete things, or which do not depend on the existence of concrete things, and thus cannot be eliminated, there may be some realities that are plausible candidates for explaining the world of concrete things. [What? Among the things which are not concrete, e.g. ideas, there may be non-concrete things that explain the universe of concrete things. Well, I certainly hope so.]

"....it is no contradiction to find 'things' that compose these different kinds or levels of Nothing. [Things can be that which comprise “nothing.”  Got it.]

"....physicists’ Nothing is Nothing Level 5, barely half way to utterly Nothing. [Hmmm.]

"....at the primordial beginning, explanatorily and timelessly prior to time, some thing was self-existing. The essence of this something necessitated its existence such that non-existence to it would be as inherently impossible as physical immortality to us is factually impossible. [Some thing existed before time that had an essence.  This essence was characterized by a predilection (a tendency toward, or a necessitation, if you will) that required its own compulsory coming into existence?!]

"Perhaps even these explanations are so mundane and bedrock is so bizarre that abstract objects or pure possibilities somehow harbor generative powers." [Abstractions and possibilities can generate such things as universes?!]

Oh, my.  Well, we are a young species.  Science is a relatively recent develop in the 200,000 year existence of Homo sapiens.  Quantum physics remains as mystery to the brightest among us.  Perhaps the difficulty many of us have in comprehending the origins and characteristics of the universe does not lie within us or the language we use rather in the universe, itself.

"There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." - Richard Feynman

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