Is Nothing Sacred?
Alan Boyle, writing for MSNBC, asks "Is the grand design within our grasp?" By which, he means to say, has the unified theory of everything been found? Do we finally have GUT, the Grand Unified Theory? The theory that puts even God in the place of unnecessary hypotheses?
Well, I don't know, so interested readers will just have to go to the link and see what they think, but I do have a question about something -- or rather, nothing -- that Boyle reports on in the claims of Lawrence Krauss, Leonard Mlodinow, and Stephen Hawking. Boyle especially cites Krauss:
What Krauss finds exciting is that there could be ways to verify that something can come from nothing -- which is the point behind Hawking's claim that God isn't necessary to explain the universe's creation.In an interview that Boyle offers at the bottom of the article, Mlodinow adds to what Krauss has said:
Physicists have noted that the positive energy contained in particles and the negative energy represented by gravitational attraction appear to balance out precisely. "Empirically, we can actually have evidence that the universe came from nothing. One of the key things is that the total energy of the universe is zero, which is only possible if the universe came from nothing. It could have been otherwise. It could have been not zero," Krauss said.
The concept of a zero-energy universe and getting something from nothing may sound crazy, but this article from Mercury magazine and this video of one of Krauss' lectures, both titled "A Universe From Nothing," show that the ideas has (have) been percolating among scientists for years. Such ideas are central to "The Grand Design," as well as to the book that Krauss is currently in the midst of writing.
As far as God goes, we describe our theory of where the universe came from, and why the laws of nature are as they are. And we show that with this theory, there's no need for a God to create the universe or to create the laws of physics as they are. All of this can come purely from physics, from science, from nature.Sounds like Pierre-Simon Laplace redux: "Sire, I have not need of that hypothesis," Laplace reportedly informed Napoleon, when the latter asked why God wasn't mentioned in his celestial mechanics.
Anyway, my postponed question is this: What do Hawking and the others mean here by "nothing"? It actually sounds like an unstable something that can fracture into an exact balance of "positive energy contained in particles and . . . negative energy represented by gravitational attraction." As such, this original 'nothing' would appear to have had some sort of ontological status, a 'nothing' that exists.
Is this the only concept of "nothing" that is possible? Wouldn't a more radical concept of nothing insist on absolute nothingness, which does not exist, rather than a 'nothing' that does exist? We're talking metaphysics, not physics, and I wonder if Hawking and his fellow physicists aren't perhaps equivocating on the term "nothing." One might as well claim that 'nothing' is sacred because it is 'Creator' of the universe!
I suspect that my cyber-friend, Bill Vallicella, would have some choice words on this 'scientific' issue. He's already had some thoughts about nothing . . .