Is “something” out there?

In 2012, the well-known science writer Jim Holt produced a fascinating book titled “Why does the world exist.” In it he explores what some philosophers have called the prime question of philosophy, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Now, I have always had a problem with the use of the word “why.” For me it always implies causation or intent, as if some entity, conscious or not, faced a choice, “should there be something? or just nothing?” and came down on the side of something. A scientific question should be more in the form of, “How did it come about that there is something rather than nothing,” but we won’t quibble in this case, particularly since the author goes on to invoke the whole range of the religious, the philosophic, the literary, and the scientific for answers to his question. The principal argument in many of these cases seems to be whether “something” can arise out of nothing. Unfortunately not just the religious and philosophers assume that possibility, but many who claim to be scientists. Some modern physicists have written entire books based on the claim that the universe, that is, our universe not only could but did arise out of nothing, by means of a great explosion of nothingness, or something they call, without definition, a “quantum fluctuation.” I’d like to start from the position that, regardless of what, that the great mass of something that we presently inhabit and are a part of, had to itself start with something.

As with any creation myth, the question will remain, “How and from what source did that primal something itself come into being ?” Perhaps, in the words to come, we will come to some agreement about possible answers to that question. But, of course, perhaps not.

There are a few, perhaps just now in what some call the information age, that actually appear to believe that that the world, that is, our universe, may not actually exist. That what we see, taste, touch out there is something created by us, only in our heads, or alternatively, that this entire assemblage, ourselves included, is no more that a vast complex simulation, a computer model, so to speak, by an author in another (real?) universe. For the sake of this argument we will say, “If you choose to believe that, then this discussion is not for you, so you may leave the room. Please close the door as you go, and report directly to the principal’s office for reassignment. You will not receive credit for this course.”

Others, who actually accept that there is a real world outside our heads are almost universally in agreement that, whatever existed before this world, that there must have existed something that had the potential of becoming the universe we are part of. That potential, in the same sense that Newtonian physics calls potential energy, contained in itself the possibility of becoming “something.” Personally, I am convinced that this “potential” substance or phenomenon, there at the supposed beginning of our universe did not mysteriously disappear but is still here, doing its work of creation and sustenance of this (temporarily) existing construct. Therefore, there should be evidence of its existence and presence. Two questions remain: what does it consist of? and what is the evidence of its presence?

First, I think we can dismiss and abandon all candidates for this role for which there is no conceivable test. Among those I first place all “big bang,” “something from nothing,” “chaotic expansion,” “quantum fluctuation” candidates. As soon as there exists a “something from something” possibility, all of these others become discards. So also do those who pose “something as yet undiscovered,” possibilities, like Hoyle’s “C-field,” a substanceless hypothetical without a hint of what it might consist of, but is only a filler for a blank, empty place in his theory. So, too, all of those theories that demand an arbitrary “constant,” that can be changed as desired to fit a preconceived outcome. What’s left? The trash bin is already spilling over the edge. Well, I don’t think it can be particle-based. As you know, I’m convinced that the particle approach is , while not a dead end, is more a terminally open-ended situation, characterized by an unending string of new, mysterious “particles” streaming out from the LHC.

In one sense, of course, the “prime question” is moot. Unless you are one of those we just sent out of the room, there is agreement that there actually is “something.” So we can move on to ask what it might be, even if we can’t determine where it cam from. As some of you already know, I have a prime candidate. Let’s start from the evidence. Staring from the nearby, the local, I am sitting at my desk facing my computer screen, typing the letters that appear in front of me. But I am not directly connected to that screen, by wires, mechanical linkages, strings, or sound waves. My keyboard is what is called “wireless,” meaning there is no “physical” connection to effect this messaging, but it is sent and received remotely via some medium I cannot see taste. or touch. Now I long ago gave up my belief in magic in favor of a conviction that there existed some physical cause for every physical phenomenon, so I must believe that this messaging miracle is making use of a physical medium that my frail sensory system cannot detect, except through its effects on things I can detect. Is this the medium we are looking for?

Let’s step away a little further. Near my right hand lies an iPhone, model 4s, also not physically attached to any wire or box or other device. But I can touch its face in a particular spot and after a moment’s delay speak to and actually see an image of, my twelve-year old grandson at a distance of 3000 miles away in New York State. Through a system that sends my message to an antenna, then to an orbiting satellite and back to earth, all of the time maintaining clarity, consistency and completeness, via a similar medium as the one between keyboard and screen. Is this the same medium?

A leap further, beyond the limits of this planet and its earth-bound devices. At a nearby observatory, I can “see” by means of light in the visible range, as well as by energy in the range of gamma rays, x-rays, radio waves, the images of and behavior of phenomena we have come to call stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies, at distances estimated to be billions of miles from us, in the reaches of outer space. Slightly closer at hand I have just seen images from a device sent to orbit the planet Jupiter, millions of miles away, those images also transmitted via a medium that must fill the space from there to here. Again, are these all the same medium? From the fact that they successfully use the same methods and systems and devices, it seems they must be the same.

To me, the inescapable conclusion is that there exists a single medium, both nearby and distant, that has the same character and structure, the same useful features, that it can be made use of both near at hand and at great distances. It is not air, because we know there is none of that out in the starry regions of space. The “standard models,” unfortunately, posit mysteries, “dark energy” and “dark matter” and seem comfortable with those characterizations. Others seek yet more “particles,” even virtual ones, meaning they don’t exist for long enough to be detected.

My choice is something that we have detected and make use of every day. And what is that? Let’s approach this logically.

We know from Maxwell’s Equations, tested and proven, that the presence of a moving magnetic field generates an accompanying electric field. And vice versa, a moving electric field generates a magnetic field. And since we also know, at the scale of fields (and, if they exist, of particles), everything is in perpetual motion, Voila! where there is one there must be the other. The second important premise is that, in the probable event that a Big Bang never happened, whatever something that was present when this, our local universe, had its birth, must still be around. What was there then is still here today, or by the commutative property of mathematics, what is here today must have been around then. An electromagnetic field is here today and is the medium for light and all the other coherent EM radiation we live with and make use of, that is, in fact one the most important tools of modern life. Perhaps that is the medium that enabled and still enables the creation and persistence of what we call the perceptible universe, from the tiniest perceptible entities out to the distant and magnificent stars and galaxies we search out and study so assiduously. Perhaps that is the answer to the question of “how is it that the speed of light has the limit it has?” And how is it that there is something rather than nothing.

The supposition follows, that, Yes, there is an existent electromagnetic field, detectable in what has until now been known as the CMBR, mistakenly assumed to be the echo of a big bang. And detectable as the origin and medium for light and all other EM radiation. And as the source of gravity, planetary magnetic fields, the condensations we call stars and galaxies, even the perceptible phenomenon we call matter. Remember, E = mc2. If this is true, then the universe , its origins and history, suddenly becomes a simpler narrative, more accessible and clear, with new doors and windows opening for our research and our use, Perhaps?

This alternative to the so-called “standard models” is something I have tried to document in two books and nearly six years of articles in my website at, first sketched out in the picnic at the edge of the universe in 2011, followed by imagine darkness in 2015, as well as continuing discussions online. This has been mostly the result of looking at current science and by what John Hands calls retrodiction, the examination of prior research outcomes and discoveries, from the point of view that those results might have been misattributed to existing theories, not examined independently as potentially resulting from other causes. As I search for alternatives and test my model, this may change, of course, but it seems to be holding up, so far.

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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2 Responses to Is “something” out there?

  1. Guy Burneko says:

    This is illuminating in conception and execution: Light as metaphor for and as event of cosmogenesis in all its registers

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