Friday, August 30, 2013

Nothing from Something


The universe has always existed. At least, that's the sole logical conclusion I came to after having watched the 2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which was about nothing, no really; the subtitle is The Existence of Nothing.

I'm not going to go over the details of the debate. That's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how I came to this conclusion.

Much of the debate, or a substantial portion of it, involved journalist Jim Holt (Why Does the World Exist?) debating with physics professor Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing) about what nothing is. Really. Or more accurately, as Krauss put it, what something is. We understand nothing, basically; it no thing, not even space or time or atoms. But then there are some arguable "things": such as the structure of empty space or the laws of physics or fluctuating energy such as in quantum particles. Holt was unsatisfied with any of the propositions of nothing given, and Krauss provided three so-called flavors of nothing. Holt just doesn't believe nothing, as defined by the physicist, could have created the universe because there was still always something in all of the theoretical nothings: be it energy or random fluctuations that birthed the universe.

And I have to agree - philosophically. Nothing has no potential. It never changes. It can never change. It cannot really be imaged. (Panelist J. Richard Gott, astrophysical sciences professor, described it as the indescribable "thing" behind your head that you can't see and has no shape.) In fact, nothing, I think, is merely a philosophical idea. The opposite of everything. We can try (if to a limited degree) to imagine it. But we don't know whether it has ever existed, whether or not it's real.

And yet if it has, it still must exist. It's timeless. And nothing can affect it because there is nothing to affect.

Let me try other words. If nothing has no potential, we can never get something from nothing. The universe would have nothing from which to be birthed. There would be no laws or energy or random existence of anything. (My idea of nothing does not allow for random genesis for no reason; even biological mutation depends upon cosmic rays from the sun, as I understand it.)

So if we were never nothing, we have always been something; the universe must have always existed. The original idea was called steady state theory, which Einstein, among others, handily demolished by scientifically supporting its opposing theory: the big bang. (I'm not actually arguing against the big bang. That would be stupid and unscientific and better left to the anti-evolution people. What I'm saying is that whatever process generated the big bang, ultimately, it is timeless. This is not in contradiction, actually, with string theory, which suggests that there could be a multiverse where genesis happens all the time and has been happening since, well, always.)

But the idea of the universe always existing is mind-boggling, to say the least. I can't really understand that. And it's a bit disturbing. How can things always exist, even if its an endless cycle of birth and death? But perhaps this is better than believing in something from nothing.

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