Stumbling through Cyberspace Looking for the stars, and finding–nothing!

Yesterday had some interesting events. After hearing from a friend that he had purchased my book, The Picnic at the Edge of the Universe, on Amazon, I went there and checked if that sale had moved it up on their best-seller list (in the category of Cosmology). It had, and it tells you something when sale number four moves you up from 75th place to thirty-first!. But in looking, I discovered that a new book, not yet published, had entered the list at spot number 7, below Brian Greene and Stephen Hawking, but well above my own position. The book is “A Universe from Nothing”, by Lawrence M. Krauss, currently director of the Origins Initiative, at Arizona State University. The book did not yet have a sampling section, so I went to Google and looked up Dr. Krauss. I found a lecture of his by the same name, introduced by Richard Dawkins, from sometime in 2009. I’d like to report on what he said, with the warning that I haven’t of course read the book, and he may have changed some of his views in the intervening 2-3 years.

I particularly wanted to know his thoughts on how our universe might have been created out of nothing, since writers and scientists from the time of Epicurus to modern times have averred that this is impossible without “divine” intervention, which all of those writers disavow. Well it turns out that Dr. Krauss has several ideas about this. First he says that “nothing” is really not “nothing”, but is actually “empty” space, where quantum theory allows for things to happen, like “quantum fluctuations”, which he then proceeds to give credit for initiating the “big bang”, resulting in “everything” that we now observe.

This required a further search, of course, for the definition of a “quantum fluctuation”. That was easily provided by Wikipedia. Briefly stated, that definition is as follows:

In quantum physics, a quantum fluctuation is the temporary change in the amount of energy in a point in space, arising from Werner Heisenberg‘s uncertainty principleThat means that conservation of energy can appear to be violated, but only for small times. This allows the creation of particle-antiparticle pairs of virtual particles. “

Very neat, I thought, but what are “virtual particles”? Again Wikipedia supplied the answer. “In physics, a virtual particle is a particle that exists for a limited time and space. The energy and momentum of a virtual particle are uncertain according to the uncertainty principle. The degree of uncertainty of each is inversely proportional to time duration (for energy) or to position span (for momentum).

Virtual particles exhibit some of the phenomena that real particles do, such as obedience to the conservation laws. If a single particle is detected, then the consequences of its existence are prolonged to such a degree that it cannot be virtual.”

So, the way this appears to me, is that the “big bang”. if it occurred, was caused by the interaction of “particles” that did not exist for a long enough time to be considered real, but did exist long enough to generate the biggest explosion known to (or conceived of) by we poor mortals. This is perhaps my biggest hangup with mathematical cosmologists. Because of the existence of a theory (mathematical) that was invented (not “discovered”) by a modern mathematician (a quantum mechanition) and hence did not,  presumably exist before the big bang, everything we know about the universe has come about.

I think this incredible circularity is a result of the belief, held by most mathematical cosmologists, that “If the math works, it must be real.” (Just read Brian Green’s latest book and my comments on it in an earlier post)

For those of you who have any uncertainty about the “big bang”, I recommend my own book “The Picnic at the Edge of the Universe”. For those still a little bit uncertain about the “uncertainty principle”,  I recommend Chapter 6, Quantum Behavior, in Richard Feynman’s “Six Easy Pieces”. This is where Feynman explains the origins of the uncertainty principle, but explains that it resulted from a beam of photons being directed at an interference experiment to enable observation of the results, which by this action actually interferes with the interference experiment (bur Feynman does not point out this last fact).

Dr. Krauss’s lecture can be viewed on YouTube at:


About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
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3 Responses to Stumbling through Cyberspace Looking for the stars, and finding–nothing!

  1. Neil Bates says:

    Yes, Charles, a rather circular “arguement” about origins. Our universe coming from a physical vacuum, already holding the specific laws of physics expressing the given particles (whether “virtual” or “actual”), is like saying that rain comes from clouds. Sure, water rain from water vapor clouds, ammonia rain from ammonia vapor clouds, etc. ad banalium. It doesn’t explain the true a priori “why is there something instead of nothing.” More from me later.
    PS: Charles, please, set up “remember personal info” if you can to avoid retyping, tx.

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