A Universe from Nothing: scientific criticism ?

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Discussion by: Gamall Wednesday Ida

Hello,

Are there any reviews out there criticising the scientific content of A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, by L. Krauss ?

To be clear, I have no interest whatsoever in reviews by literary critics, philosophers, "technologists," or theologians. I am interested in reviews and comments by physicists in the relevant fields, focusing on the physics.

Regards,

G.

 

PS: the reason I ask is that searching for the keywords only yields criticism from a religious point of view.

47 COMMENTS

  1. As a theoretical physicist, I cannot scientifically criticize Prof. Krauss’s book “A Universe from Nothing”. The reason why, is because Prof. Krauss subject matter is derived from the observable experiments and data supporting the theory that the Universe was created due to the big bang, which itself arose out of a state of rapid quantum fluctuations, from nothing. Prof. Krauss finds it of equal importance to educate the reader by clarifying what “nothing” really is and how the scientific understanding or usage of the term “nothing” is more informative than the non-scientific philosophers or theologians semantic, hopelessly abstract and non applicable definition. The proposition that the Universe derived from nothing is for most non-scientific philosophers and theologians hard to grasp, their criticism is always based on the philosophical/theological definition of the word “nothing”. Hence it makes it very difficult to debate this subject when the opposing side actively refuses to gain any understanding of physics.

    It all starts with the Big Bang about 13.72 billion years ago. We first need to understand how this could happen and what evidence there is for this event. Well, there are several things. There are the residual elements of hydrogen, helium, and lithium in the Universe today; the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation (evidence for which comes from the Boomerang experiment and later from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe); and the Hubble expansion (using type Ia supernovae along with redshift we can infer the expansion rate of the Universe). There are certain problems with this scenario according to Prof. Krauss. First, there is the cosmological constant problem, where the calculated energy of empty space is 120 orders of magnitude greater than everything else in the Universe. Second, there is a flatness problem, which relates to the density of matter and energy in the Universe. This density affects the curvature of the Universe, and we need a critical value for the flatness we see in the Universe today. Since any deviation gets magnified over time as the Universe expanded, it must have been even closer to critical density in the beginning. Then there is the horizon problem, which relates to the fact that the CMB radiation is extremely uniform. He shows that looking back to the “light scattering surface” shortly after the bang, anything separated beyond one degree in our sky would be “beyond the horizon” since light can only travel so fast. An inflationary component shortly after the big bang provides an elegant solution to these things. Of course today, we now are aware of such things as dark matter and dark energy, concepts which are necessary to explain why things are the way they are today. Then there is the “nothing” part.

    It seems that virtual particles that appear and disappear on timescales too short to measure are responsible for most of our mass, and, in fact, everything visible in our Universe. It is this stuff, called a cosmological constant, that can impart energy to empty space – the dark energy that is responsible for the expansion we measure in the current Universe. Prof. Krauss also tells the reader that studies of the CMB show us that the Universe is basically flat, and thus has zero total energy and could have begun from nothing. He states then, that this answers the question of why there is something instead of nothing. If you start with nothing in quantum mechanics, you’ll always get something, that simple!

    He explains a type of Universe called a closed Universe in which the total energy is definitely and precisely zero. Such a Universe, he states, could “quantum mechanically appear spontaneously with impunity carrying no net energy.” The characteristic lifetime of such a Universe would be on the order of the Planck time (a very, very short time). In determining the “boundary conditions” for such a Universe that may begin from nothing, we have two facts to note: First, that in quantum gravity, a Universe can appear from nothing, and it can contain matter and radiation as long as the total energy is zero. Secondly, in order for these Universes to last more than an infinitesimal time, a component like inflation is necessary; this inflation will allow an initially tiny closed Universe to exponentially spread to an infinitely large flat Universe, just like the one we live in.

    So as a theoretical physicist I can confirm that everything Prof. Krauss says in his book is scientifically backed by thorough research and it reflects the current knowledge and understanding that we have of our Universe.

    I hope this helps!

    Best regards,

    Scientific Philosopher

    • In reply to #1 by scientific_philosopher:

      As a theoretical physicist, I cannot scientifically criticize Prof. Krauss’s book “A Universe from Nothing”. The reason why, is because Prof. Krauss subject matter is derived from the observable experiments and data supporting the theory that the Universe was created due to the big bang . . . nothing.

      The theoretical physicists’ nothing, is not the layperson’s nothing. I guess that the theoretical physicists’ nothing is really no-thing, ie. no material thing. The layperson would say that ‘a state of rapid quantum fluctuations’ is something. Surely at least quantum fluctuations are a cause for the effect of a big bang? To a philosopher, that’s not nothing! To a philosopher, and to a scientist, it’s surely a big something ~ just not a material something.

      Wouldn’t it help if scientists like Krauss could use terminology which makes it clear to the scientist and lay person alike, what is meant by ‘nothing’? What would such a ‘title’ say?

      I.E.” We seem to have a universe which was made from . . . ? ? ?

      • In reply to #8 by SurLaffaLot:

        Wouldn’t it help if scientists like Krauss could use terminology which makes it clear to the scientist and lay person alike, what is meant by ‘nothing’? What would such a ‘title’ say?

        If you read the book he talks about the whole distinction between “nothing” in a metaphysical sense and his definition very early on. A title isn’t supposed to explain the whole book, its supposed to be provocative both in the sense of making people think and getting them to talk about the book, I think the title is excellent actually.

      • In reply to #8 by SurLaffaLot:

        In reply to #1 by scientificphilosopher:_

        As a theoretical physicist, I cannot scientifically criticize Prof. Krauss’s book “A Universe from Nothing”. The reason why, is because Prof. Krauss subject matter is derived from the observable experiments and data supporting the theory that the Universe w…

        Thank you for your input, it’s much appreciated! As you have noted, the theoretical physicists “nothing”, is not the laypersons “nothing”. Why is it something rather than nothing? Well, ultimately there are a variety of answers, which is why Prof. Krauss wrote a whole book about it. But the remarkable thing is that our picture has changed completely because we changed what we mean by something and nothing. Nothing is far more subtle than you might imagine, for the Bible for example, nothing would have been a vast, eternal empty Universe. That would have been, a void. Well that kind of nothing we now understand namely empty space if you get rid of all the particles and all the radiation that kind of nothing is actually quite complicated. In the modern Universe it’s a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence on a timescale so short you can’t see them. So there’s nothing there but actually lots of stuff is happening. You just can’t see it, and that kind of nothing, one of the remarkable things we’ve learned is that kind of nothing is unstable. Empty space is unstable.

        Now religious people will argue, but how can we possibly know that? Virtual particles exist in such a short time frame, we can’t measure them.

        We can’t measure those particles directly, but we can measure their effects indirectly, because they affect the properties of atoms for example. And when we include them, and we can include them in the calculations and predictions we make, if we don’t include them we get the wrong answer. If we do include them, we get the right answer to nine decimal places, the best predictions in all of physics. The only place where you can predict final numbers from first principles to nine decimal places is there. So we know those effects are happening because we can measure them indirectly, and that’s why we’re so confident. We may never be able to explain 100% how the Universe began, and this is fine with me, because as a Scientist this does not proof the existence of God, in fact my scientific knowledge and current understand of our Universe convinces me otherwise. The Universe is not as orderly as most religious people think, the Universe follows certain physical laws, but examining the information that we have today it all points to a coincidental existence rather than to a purposely created existence. No intelligent creator would have come up or used such a coincidental and hostile formula to build the foundations for humanities/life’s environment on it.

        The important thing about the Universe is, it doesn’t give a damn about what we like or what we think. The Universe is the way it is whether we like it or not, which is the one thing that I really hope people will understand. It will not bend to religious people’s doctrine, nor to their God hypothesis. I can only ask you to read Prof. Krauss’s book if you really want to understand the new definition of nothing, it’s too much information to cite here.

        The title of the book is only misleading if you look at it from a non-scientific philosophers and theologians point of view, since their definition of “nothing” is set in stone and not open to change. The word nothing doesn’t really exist and it’s in my humble opinion a human expression to describe a state of nonexistence/nothingness when it comes to things that we do not understand. Science has discovered that there is no such thing as nothing. Now religious people could use the very same argument but the difference is God’s non-existence is based on scientific/historical/archaeological evidence that we have. It’s for all to see, just a very few dare to look at it. Even an empty glass is not empty, it’s filled with molecules, each of which is made up of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.

        • In reply to #14 by scientific_philosopher:

          As you have noted, the theoretical physicists “nothing”, is not the laypersons “nothing”.

          Most lay persons have a very limited view of “physical nothing”. Many features such as high vacuum are not “nothing”.

          The heliopause is the theoretical boundary where the Sun’s solar wind is stopped by the interstellar medium; where the solar wind’s strength is no longer great enough to push back the stellar winds of the surrounding stars. The crossing of the heliopause should be signaled by a sharp drop in the temperature of charged particles,[22] a change in the direction of the magnetic field, and an increase in the amount of galactic cosmic rays.

          It is quite comical that theists seek to challenge the science, given that the claim that the universe was created from “nothing”, is a Vatican I Pope Pius IX pronouncement:-

          Pope Pius IX, who defined dogmatically papal infallibility during the First Vatican Council in 1869–70. The council has a section on “Faith and Reason” that includes the following on science and faith:

          (5. If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.

          As you will see below, it is also the source of much theistic illogical anti-science fumble-brained thinking!

          (9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)

          (“10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I)

        • In reply to #14 by scientific_philosopher:

          Hawkins radiation and the Casimir effect are two observations that prove virtual particles.

          Maybe Kraus took the title ‘A universe from nothing’ because ”The universe is energy from start to finish” sounded too hippy like. Not that it had a start, the big bang was a shift in state according to most physicists. And we know energy can’t be destroyed…

          • In reply to #24 by mr_DNA:

            And we know energy can’t be destroyed…

            Nor created. That’s what makes zero a beautiful number.

  2. I agree with the other comments. Although I’m not a physicist my understanding is that everything in Krauss’s book is fairly non-controversial. Not that all the issues are settled or even close to settled but from what I remember he was always up front when he presented such issues and said “a possible theory is…” as opposed to claiming it was settled. I think you do have a good point though, I did a google search as well after reading your topic and found the same thing, nothing substantial in terms of a review I could find from any physicists but lots of criticism from philosophers, religious types, etc.

  3. If you’re using regular Google to find anything might want to occasionally try searching for relatively unusual things from a different perspective. Maybe add a few more key words. If you are logged into Google when you spend time on richarddawkins.net then Google probably assumes that you’re interested in religion.

    Like when I sometimes use a PC that’s already logged on to Google for YouTube or something by one of my kids. Search results rankings become tainted with some kind of soccer perspective on everything. Just logging off the Google account might not work, because Google rank weightings may then default to whatever helpful search parameters have been assigned to your particular IP address, ISP, physical location, or region of the network.

  4. Most of the negative reviews I’ve read are from philosophers. Krauss if I remember correctly has in the past called them pretty much useless regarding these questions. It’s no wonder they hate his book. I pretty much agree with his assessment BTW.

    • In reply to #5 by Skeptic:

      Most of the negative reviews I’ve read are from philosophers. Krauss if I remember correctly has in the past called them pretty much useless regarding these questions. It’s no wonder they hate his book. I pretty much agree with his assessment BTW.

      But philosophers are experts in nothing!

  5. Thanks for the answers, especially the detailed #1.

    It was also my understanding that the scientific content is non-controversial, but it never hurts to be careful, especially when one is outside of one’s own field (as I am with physics). And it’s my standard modus operandi to seek out negative criticism along with (and even more than) positive one — it’s often more informative, and more fun to read.

    What is frustrating in that case is that there seems to be no negative criticism worth reading. At least, if there is, it’s drowned out by the rest (and yes, I played with the keywords). Oh well…

    • In reply to #7 by Gamall Wednesday Ida:

      Thanks for the answers, especially the detailed #1.

      It was also my understanding that the scientific content is non-controversial, but it never hurts to be careful, especially when one is outside of one’s own field (as I am with physics). And it’s my standard modus operandi to seek out negative cri…

      You’re welcome, and I’m glad I could help!

      The thing is, from a scientific point of view Prof. Krauss’s book is not as controversial as the coverage of the book seems to make it out. As you have noticed, the majority of criticism is by non-scientific philosophers and religious people who have no understanding of Physics and are with great certainty science illiterates. Their main goal is not to educate themselves, but rather suppress, spread their dogma and attack anything that may be consider a threat to their belief system. The information in Prof. Krauss’s book has been around for awhile, physicists or scientists in general don’t care very much about what the publics opinion is, they don’t participate in debates, they do their research and publish books and papers, and make the information available to students around the world. For us scientists or scientific philosophers the existence or non-existence of god is an irrelevant argument and it should be to any educated human being. But that’s why religious/non-scientific philosophers had so much power in the media and tabloid press over the years. Science a few years ago had almost no face and was not represented by anyone, so it made itself intangible and hard to understand, especially to the layperson. Prof. Krauss and Prof. Dawkins have greatly contributed to make science tangible and easy to understand again.

      I remember when I started my scientific career, I was pretty much like that. I did my research, I consider historical and archeological facts for my own personal quest to find the truth if there is a God or not. I believe that through my education and years of research of historical and archeological evidence to be in a good position to argue that religion is myth, not as revealed truth as the “Intelligent Design” people do. A study of comparative religions shows that they all have almost similar myths which support the historical and archeological evidence that God and religion is man made and not the other way around. And that’s it, only a few years later, I realized that there has been massive growth in the religious/supernatural in our society despite our scientific breakthroughs and modern understanding of the Universe aso. In fact in Germany, I am only one of a handful scientists who give science a public face and I have ever since devoted my time to educate students and debate non-scientific philosophers and theologians. I can only urge students and scientific philosophers to oppose religious and non-scientific philosophers criticism, if you don’t know or have the information, just goolge or ask for help in scientific forums or from scientific faculties, they will always point you in the right direction.

  6. If a scientist wants to offer his definition/usage of the word “nothing” and discuss issues arising out of it, that’s fine by me. But there’s nothing intrinsic to that which gives him the right to deny others the continuing use of the simple but clear meaning it usually has- that would be like inviting an electrician because he’s an electrician to offer specific insights on gay marriage; he might have an interesting perspective because of his profession but he’d still be expected to stand in line to acquire ownership of the word. Scientists and their supporters tend to forget that knowing how to weigh fruit doesn’t automatically equip you to decide on its quality.

    • In reply to #10 by jburnforti:

      If a scientist wants to offer his definition/usage of the word “nothing” and discuss issues arising out of it, that’s fine by me. But there’s nothing intrinsic to that which gives him the right to deny others the continuing use of the simple but clear meaning it usually has

      I agree if some scientist did deny people the right you are talking about that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t recall Krauss doing that at all. Have you read the book?

      • Nah! Reading it would endanger this person! Then they’d have to think. Think about “scientific” meanings of words and junk. Then, they might LEARN something!!! Holy shit, after that they might strike up a conversation with someone about the book and it’s “scientific” meaning…. Then, maybe even start an OP on a website looking to discuss the book…

        In reply to #12 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #10 by jburnforti:

        If a scientist wants to offer his definition/usage of the word “nothing” and discuss issues arising out of it, that’s fine by me. But there’s nothing intrinsic to that which gives him the right to deny others the continuing use of the simple but clear meaning it usual…

      • You’re quite right to ask me and, no, I haven’t read the book. But, from what has been posted so far, I’d probably find it very convincing as long as it stuck to matters within science’s province. I’ve watched Krauss with great pleasure in the past and am a supporter (though very certainly a scientific layman). I seldom feel equipped to debate science with scientists and, anyway,seldom would feel the need to. I’m more likely, as here, to come out of my corner when a scientist or, in this case, supporter of appears to claim that the territory, i.e. the word “nothing” is, so to speak science’s alone. I don’t believe I have to be a scientist to dispute that. I apologise if I misread/misunderstood the post – but did I? if I didn’t, then I maintain that “nothing” is an abstraction which does not have to be physically available to us to be at least as meaningful as other abstractions. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (hope I got it right) is equally as real as the pipe it isn’t but different and one doesn’t exclude the other. Physics may replace Metaphysics one day but not yet, I think. I say this because I read plenty of popular science and mathematics and, even if lost when following some of the reasoning, have no difficulty understanding the conclusions. What science does well, it surely does very well. But nobody, not scientists nor anyone yet has the big answers nailed so I’ll stick with the use of the word “nothing” to mean the absence of anything (even including nothingness). As we’ve established, I’m not in a position to criticise Krauss’s book but am criticising comments made which, it seems, arise out of it. That, I believe, is reasonable. reply to #12 by Red Dog:*

        In reply to #10 by jburnforti:

        If a scientist wants to offer his definition/usage of the word “nothing” and discuss issues arising out of it, that’s fine by me. But there’s nothing intrinsic to that which gives him the right to deny others the continuing use of the simple but clear meaning it usual…

    • In reply to #11 by jburnforti:

      Your “no interest whatsoever” got my goat – this is primarily a discussion site open to anyone with a valid interest. Your OP (implicitly) defines who’s invited to the table and I believe you should take that form of enquiry elsewhere.

      …and in a forum, there are several “tables” — generally called threads — with different subjects. Not everyone has to be invited to every table.

      The reason I have no interest whatsoever in such perspectives is that, in my own field — where I can evaluate them — they are most often either correct but trivial, trivially wrong, or too nebulous to have a truth value. I don’t see how a layperson could learn anything from the cringe-worthy pontifications of another layperson on the Halting problem, say. And I have no reason to believe that the ratio is better in physics than it is in theo. comp. sci. Being a layperson as far as physics goes, it is therefore a very good heuristic for me to shun those perspectives (actually I’ve read a few of them). That is all it is.

      In reply to #10 by jburnforti:

      Scientists and their supporters tend to forget that knowing how to weigh fruit doesn’t automatically equip you to decide on its quality.

      That is an old canard. Mass does not suffice, but the combination of mass, acidity, chemical composition, temperature etcetera is a pretty good approximation. Additional measures of brain activity when exposed to the fruit would yield an even better one. The main difficulty of the exercise is to define what is meant by “quality of a fruit” in such a way as to have a workable and useful definition. If it’s not measurable — at least quantifiable in principle — it’s probably insufficiently defined. Distilling vague intuitions about the world into precise, consistent definitions is a terribly important part of the scientific process: it is the identification of the structure of the underlying problem, and knowing what problem you are trying to solve is half the battle. The important half.

    • In reply to #10 by jburnforti:

      If a scientist wants to offer his definition/usage of the word “nothing” and discuss issues arising out of it, that’s fine by me. But there’s nothing intrinsic to that which gives him the right to deny others the continuing use of the simple but clear meaning it usually has- that would be like invi…

      Just what is the “simple but clear cut meaning (nothing) usually has”?

      I’m fairly certain that whenever I have used the word nothing in conversation I have in reality been referring to a circumstance or place where there is in fact something. That something just wasn’t of interest to me.

      It seems to me that if an individual of any (or no) expertise wants to discuss “nothing” then a conversation specific definition of the term would be absolutely vital if any meaningful conversation were to be had.

    • In reply to #10 by jburnforti:

      If a scientist wants to offer his definition/usage of the word “nothing” and discuss issues arising out of it, that’s fine by me. But there’s nothing intrinsic to that which gives him the right to deny others the continuing use of the simple but clear meaning it usually has- that would be like invi…

      The point scientists are trying to make is that you can’t actually have “nothing”, that even the emptiness of deep space, or a complete vacuum, is not truly empty, but full of tiny fluctuations and virtual particles. We can have the ideal of nothing in our minds, but we can’t have nothing in the real world.Remember, the world is the way it is no matter how much you wish is it was otherwise.

  7. Your “no interest whatsoever” got my goat – this is primarily a discussion site open to anyone with a valid interest. Your OP (implicitly) defines who’s invited to the table and I believe you should take that form of enquiry elsewhere.

      • Can that least amount exceed zero?
        In reply to #20 by canadian_right:

        In reply to #18 by Pascendi:

        Scientific_philosopher, please define the word “nothing.”

        The least amount of anything that the physical, real, universe will allow.

        • In reply to #29 by Pascendi:

          Can that least amount exceed zero?

          There is nowhere in the observable universe where, gravity, radiation, or energy levels are zero. (See comment 17) It always exceeds zero.

          Scientific_philosopher, please define the word “nothing.”

          The least amount of anything that the physical, real, universe will allow.

          • And, further to the point I made in 38, we might as well rule out “nowhere” here simply because there can’t be a nowhere in the universe. what would be clarified or improved?eIn reply to #30 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #29 by Pascendi:

            Can that least amount exceed zero?

            There is nowhere in the observable universe where, gravity, radiation, or energy levels are zero. (See comment 17) It always exceeds zero.

            Scientific_philosopher, please define the word “nothing.”

            The least amount of anything that t…

  8. Much ado about.

    I think Professor Krauss is bang on with his use of the word nothing. In all normal use the absence of matter and radiation is what we all mean by nothing. This is the nothing to which he refers. If you wish to concern yourself with the more esoteric concept of nothing he goes into detail about the apparent impossibility of such a state. Job done, good title.

  9. Theologians don’t use the word “nothing” in the physicist’s sense of that word. When physicists use the word “nothing” in their sense of it, that word signifies something. When theologians use that word in their sense of it, it means “not anything.” When they tell you that God creates out of nothing, they mean that exists or begins to exist only because He wills it into existence. He doesn’t think to Himself, “Aha, there’s a chunk of nothing. I’ll sculpt it into something.”

  10. I’ve found Krauss to be boss-hog in his field. String theorists like Kaku are perhaps a little too theoretical to have good rebutall of this truth-addicted physics guru. Krauss is a great representative of science and it’s relevance to humanity. A polite, well argued person who, in terms of scientific presentation to the public, lies somewhere between Dawkins’ perceived “Why the hell don’t you people see this?” and DeGrasse-Tyson’s “You never even thought of this, so HERE”

  11. I am sorry for my earlier bit, but I kinda smelled the “just a theory” type of argument and even though the “something from nothing” argument is kind of more specialized, I cannot stand when a scientist uses a word and defines it clearly and then someone with an axe to grind (not jburnforit– I am not sniping, here), uses a smokescreen to imagine “problems with the concept” due to a deliberate twisting of the words in the thesis.

    • In reply to #28 by crookedshoes:

      I am sorry for my earlier bit, but I kinda smelled the “just a theory” type of argument and even though the “something from nothing” argument is kind of more specialized, I cannot stand when a scientist uses a word and defines it clearly and then someone with an axe to grind ….

      Hi Crookedshoes. Reading these and other Comments about the different concepts of ‘nothing’, I kept thinking about the scientific versus ‘street’ uses of the word theory – and all the problems that still causes. I see you also had that in mind and, although I’m not a scientist, I’ve had that issue nagging at me every time I see ‘nothing’ being misunderstood…. Mac.

  12. “Are there any reviews out there criticising the scientific content of ‘A Universe from Nothing…’ …by physicists in the relevant fields, focusing on the physics.”

    The proviso “in the relevant fields” is designed to exclude, for example and perhaps in particular, David Albert’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. Presumably Albert has the wrong kind of Doctorate in Theoretical Physics?

    But what are “the relevant fields”? Krauss’s hypothesis is based on the supposed fundamental nature of fields, as distinct from the dominant string or superstring theory, where strings or branes are fundamental. That puts Krauss outside the mainstream, so that, whether he is ultimately right or wrong, for the present “physicists in the relevant fields” – e.g. Brian Greene – mostly disagree with his hypothesis.

    In his book, Krauss supports his view (that string theory is a “Theory of Anything”!) with Wilczek’s satirical remark about the 10^500 possible universes string theory implies: “First, one throws a dart against a blank wall, and then one goes to the wall and draws a bull’s-eye around where the dart landed.” But Krauss himself appeals to some form of multiverse theory to support his own hypothesis. Roger Penrose’s assessment of the specialness of our universe in this (thermodynamic) sense is that it is one in 10^10^123, or say 10^10^120 times more unlikely than one in 10^500.

    David Albert’s key criticism was that Krauss’s “nothing” is not “nothing” at all: in atomic physics partcles were fundamental, in quantum physics perhaps “wavicles”, in string theory strings (or branes); in Krauss’s quantum gravity fields are fundamental, and they are not “nothing”.

    Krauss’s hypothesis was actually just pre-empted by Alex Vilenkin, who is therefore thoroughly relevant. Vilenkin ends his own book, “Many Worlds in One”, by pointing out that before the supposed vacuum fluctuation which gave rise to our own universe the vacuum and its fields existed, and beyond that, the relevant laws of physics existed, so that there is still no ultimate explanation of existence (his conclusion, not mine). That is exactly Albert’s position.

  13. Possibly because the book mostly is concerned with telling the general public about information considered to be factual by physicists. The only criticism could be stylistic, not about the facts. And it seems to be generally accepted that the style is superb, given the difficult task of translating complex mathematics into everyday language.

  14. I know a particle physicist, whom I asked for her thoughts on the book before reading it myself. She felt that it was scientifically accurate and as rigorous as practicable in a book written for laymen and, thus, devoid of the math. Her one criticism was that Krauss spent too much time criticizing creationism and religion in general, when it wasn’t really necessary to do so within the scope of the title. I don’t know her religious beliefs, if any, but it seemed to irritate her. Krauss does make it a point to needle creationists at various points throughout the book and he spends a good amount of time “correcting” them in the end. I agree with her that it wasn’t necessary, however, I think it was important to Krauss to address his most ardent critics, namely creationists, in this book. It’s a good book either way and, IMHO, who doesn’t enjoy a little Fundie abuse where it’s deserved.

    • In reply to #33 by GnuAtheist:

      Krauss does make it a point to needle creationists at various points throughout the book and he spends a good amount of time “correcting” them in the end. I agree with her that it wasn’t necessary, however, I think it was important to Krauss to address his most ardent critics, namely creationists, in this book. It’s a good book either way and, IMHO, who doesn’t enjoy a little Fundie abuse where it’s deserved.

      A: Is that a trick question? Fundies don’t!

      Krauss needles philosophers, string theorists and biologists too. But they just laugh because they know he’s wrong. Fundies get angry because they know Krauss is right. And Krauss knows that making Fundies angry makes them say even crazier things than normal, and then some of the other lesser fundies notice that, and wise up. So Krauss moves mysteriously, but does good work in all ways.

      And people should not be afraid to take on fundies, to needle them, to question them, to LABEL them and ridicule them, and chase them back into the shadows. Fundies damage civilized society. Show them the error of their ways, and try to have fun doing it if you can.

  15. We have no delusions that astrophysics and the big bang should be intuitively comprehensible by an ant or dog. To me it is amazing that is it as comprehensible as it is by the cream of the crop of human specialists. There is no reason at all for a flat earth creationist to have any hope. Christians imagine it should be intuitively obvious even when they have no experience in those domains to hone intuition.

  16. I have read up to message 36. So no serious scientific criticism of the book yet ?

    It would appear that the philosophical and religious “nothing” is a state incompatible with reality. “Stuff” exists whether they like it or not. Absolutely no need for the supernatural !

    • If we use that approach, we’ll find ourselves ruling out all sorts of abstractions and absolutes, many of which like “nothing” serve, if as nothing (see what I mean?) else, as benchmarks. If it’s true ( and I have no reason to doubt it) that no part of the universe is completely empty, how would that invalidate using the word “nothing” as part of the explanation. You could probably find another form of words but wouldn’t you still be saying the same thing? . In reply to #37 by Mr DArcy:*

      I have read up to message 36. So no serious scientific criticism of the book yet ?

      It would appear that the philosophical and religious “nothing” is a state incompatible with reality. “Stuff” exists whether they like it or not. Absolutely no need for the supernatural !

      • In reply to #38 by jburnforti:

        If it’s true ( and I have no reason to doubt it) that no part of the universe is completely empty, how would tha…

        The problem is that it’s not “part of the universe” that’s under discussion. To quote Krauss (emphasis mine):

        It’s true that I’m applying the laws of quantum mechanics to it, but I’m applying it to nothing, to literally nothing. No space, no time, nothing. There may have been meta-laws that created it, but how you can call that universe that didn’t exist “something” is beyond me.

        The universe (time included) is the object under consideration here, not just part of it.

        • I think it behoves me to read the book before taking any further part ( which is great because I so seldom get the chance to use the word behove). Thanks, though, for very interesting comments.In reply to #41 by Gamall Wednesday Ida:

          In reply to #38 by jburnforti:

          If it’s true ( and I have no reason to doubt it) that no part of the universe is completely empty, how would tha…

          The problem is that it’s not “part of the universe” that’s under discussion. To quote Krauss (emphasis mine):

          It’s true that I’m applying the laws of…

    • In reply to #37 by Mr DArcy:

      I have read up to message 36. So no serious scientific criticism of the book yet ?

      It would appear that the philosophical and religious “nothing” is a state incompatible with reality. “Stuff” exists whether they like it or not. Absolutely no need for the supernatural !

      I think the point about the historical theological/philosophical definition of “nothing”, as “not anything”, is that the theologians making such a claim, not only had no concept of “nothing” in their experience of the physical world, but they had no understanding of “anything” either! (Matter, energy, forces etc). They were therefore in no position to make a coherent definition, but were undeterred by their ignorance of the necessary inputs. – Just like their present day followers.

  17. I was fortunate to be able to discuss the subject of “nothing” with Lawrence Krauss when we were both at the atheist conf. in DC last year. [Link to personal blog removed by moderator.] Physical nothing is what we can study in the lab, and is nothing (so to speak) like the metaphysical nothing of Aristotle or Leibniz. The simple model of “nothing” we get in our daily lives, as when we take all the items out of a box and there is “nothing” left inside, or “that from which nothing comes,” are without referent at the quantum level. Philosophers of the past, simply did not know that, and it led to the presupposition of a creator deity to “make things ex nihilo.” Prof. Krauss is pointing out that we have no need for that hypothesis.

    • In reply to #43 by Quine:

      I was fortunate to be able to discuss the subject of “nothing” with Lawrence Krauss when we were both at the atheist conf. in DC last year. I had written, previously, about the difference between “metaphysical nothing” and “physical nothing.” Physical nothing is what we can study in the lab, and is…

      Wow, cool website. I’m not even on Twitter. I’ve never felt like more of a dilettante in rationalism than I do at the moment.

      I know Roedy has his own site. Are there any more of you out there hiding your bushels under your lightsabre, or whatever the expression is?

      The message “Link to personal blog removed” or similar used to appear on this website all the time. You don’t see it so much these days, but it always puzzled me why articles on RDnet encouraging members to attend conventions on the other side of the planet were so prevalent, yet the medium through which most of us communicate was apparently frowned upon.

      Come to our Rally for Rationalism this weekend in Wilmington, Delaware!

      I cannot attend because I live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Here is my [Link to personal blog removed by moderater] though, through which I and my non-religious friends will express our support and hopefully make friends with Delawarians and others in the US. Ha ha. We look forward to hearing from all of you!

  18. It covers, somewhat vague and ambiguously, why a nonexistent space cannot exist. It does not give people a fluid history and definition of what, even empty, space is made out of. It does not outline the discoveries of Dirac, the further development of quantum field theory from the insufficient ‘Dirac’s sea’, and how that informs us of what ‘empty’ space actually is. I wouldn’t say that I could write a better book, because I do not write books, but I feel it could have been more comprehensive and evidential in terms of explanation.

  19. In reply to #44 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #43 by Quine:

    I was fortunate to be able to discuss the subject of “nothing” with Lawrence Krauss when we were both at the atheist conf. in DC last year. I had written, previously, about the difference between “metaphysical nothing” and “physical nothing.” Physical nothing is what we ca…

    Thanks Katy. Check out this post that just went up on Facebook by Lawrence Krauss. He had another round with WLC, and I am looking forward to seeing the video on that when we can get it.

    -Q

    P.S. It helps if you put links to (you know where) in comments deeper down the threads. (hint, hint …)

    P.P.S. See this recent interview with Lawrence.

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