When Nothing is not Nothing

In a book called A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss attempts to demonstrate that the universe could have come from “nothing”. This post debates that position, and holds that when you call upon laws of quantum mechanics and wave functions and so on, that you are really referring to “something” – here is an excerpt:

Of course, the problem with all of this is the same as the problem with the original suggestion that the laws of QM show that a universe can come from nothing. The laws of QM are not nothing, and neither are “the symmetries of the void” nor anything that “can be described mathematically,” “has an explicit wave function,” etc. In general, if you can characterize it in terms of physical law — which Krauss, Stenger, and like-minded atheists all want to do vis-à-vis “nothing” — then it isn’t nothing. It’s something physical, and thus something rather than nothing. Obviously.

and again:

But this is the muddleheaded stuff of a freshman philosophy paper — treating “nothing” as if it were an especially unusual, ethereal kind of substance whose nature it would require tremendous intellectual effort to fathom.  Which, as everyone knows until he finds he has a motive for suggesting otherwise, it is not.  Nothing is nothing so fancy as that.

Another critique on Krauss comes from philosopher David Albert:

Philosopher David Albert, a specialist in quantum theory, offers a more balanced assessment of Krauss’s book in The New York Times Book Review. And by balanced assessment, I mean merciless smack down. Albert asks, “Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?” Modern quantum field theories, Albert points out, “have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.”

Online, a discussion between science writer John Horgan and Lawrence Krauss:

3. jhorgan 10:43 am 04/23/2012

Caleb and Lawrence, thanks for your comments. Larry, I’ll always be grateful to you for helping bring me up to speed on modern cosmology a dozen years ago when I was researching an article for Scientific American. And what’s disappointing is that, apart from the discovery of the acceleration of the cosmic expansion, which was certainly a big surprise, nothing has really changed since then. You and/or your popularizing colleagues–Hawking, Greene, Kaku, Susskind–are still marketing various unsubstantiated versions of inflation, multiverse theories, string theory, vacuum energy, anthropic principle, etc. What’s ironic is that, although you don’t have any more evidence for these speculations, your marketing of them has become more aggressive, a trend that I predicted in The End of Science. Even Caleb implicitly acknowledges that your book’s title oversells its actual content, and yet you accuse ME of hype. Come on Larry, face it, physics, at least in its grandest mode, is in big trouble.(emphasis added.)
Which prompts a walk-back from Krauss:

6. lawkrauss 11:09 am 04/23/2012

John.. first, I didn’t make any definitive claims.. and I get offended when people claim I make such.. second I tried to indicate how much has changed in the last 22 years.. that is the purpose of the book.. things are dramatically different than they were then, and I went through a very careful analysis to describe these changes….. the analysis of fluctuations in the CMB, the discovery that the universe is flat.. these are REAL empirical discoveries that both impact upon and add credence to many of our ideas..
Link to this

7. jhorgan 5:37 pm 04/23/2012

Larry, so you’re saying that you’re not claiming to have answered the question posed by your book’s title? You’re just tossing some ideas around, and you don’t expect anyone to take them too seriously? OK, that’s a useful clarification. It also means that things have not progressed in the last 22 years, in spite of what you just asserted. I think you better tell Dawkins, before he embarrasses himself further.(emphasis added.)

At which point, Krauss apparently takes a powder and doesn’t respond.

See the whole article here.

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