A Universe from Nothing?

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.

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176 Responses to A Universe from Nothing?

  1. Cosmonut says:

    @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…

  2. John Merryman says:

    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.

  3. Pingback: Some physics and philosophy « blueollie

  4. Pingback: String Theory & Quantum Gravity: Simplified – Wired Cosmos

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. Aidyan says:

    “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.

  7. Bengt Frost says:

    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.

  8. cormac says:

    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)

  9. melektaus says:

    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.

  10. Avattoir says:

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

  11. melektaus says:

    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.

  12. melektaus says:

    @Avattoir 60

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

  13. Cosmonut says:

    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. 🙂

  14. Pingback: The Relationship between Physics and Philosophy « What There Is and Why There Is Anything

  15. 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 🙂 )

  16. Lawrence Krauss says:

    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

  17. David Brown says:

    @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?

  18. 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…

  19. Chris Walcutt says:

    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.

    ?

  20. scribbler says:

    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…

  21. John Merryman says:

    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.

  22. Scott says:

    @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.

  23. John Merryman says:

    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.

  24. Virendra Tripathi says:

    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.

  25. John Merryman says:

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