Something and Nothing

Lawrence Krauss' cosmology

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Something and Nothing

#1  Postby THWOTH » Apr 25, 2012 11:44 am

I took a long walk yesterday after watching Krauss' 2008 lecture at IAA summarising his book 'A Universe From Nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing' on Youtube. It certainly gave me food for thought...

[Reveal] Spoiler: Youtube lecture (1h 5mins)
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo[/youtube]


Now I haven't read the book - yet - but as I understand it Krauss tells usthat quantum theory and experiment has demonstrated that so-called empty space, such as the space between an atom's nucleus and its electrons, or the empty space of an absolute vacuum in which there are no particles, is not really empty; it is full of quantum fluctuation in which a whole host of virtual particles are being created and subsumed. He says that the fluctuations in the the 'nothing' of an absolute vacuum, which by definition is void of anything (any-thing), may result in something, and indeed have done so with regards to our local universe.

I'm not an expert in quantum theory, or in fact know anything about it in anything other than the most broad and superficial terms, but I'm quite happy to accept this, not least because there seems to be general consensus among experts that Krauss; explanations fit with what we actually do know and have demonstrated.

However, perhaps overly burdened by my ignorance, I stumbled upon a certain quandary with regards to Krauss' explanation. Perhaps those of you who do have a grasp on the technicalities can help me out here (which is why I'm posting this specifically in the Science section of the forum and not in the Philosophy bear pit)? :ask:

If we am to accept that the 'nothing' of the absolute vacuum, 'The Void' if you like, is packed with a frenzy of quantum activity, from which 'something' or 'anything' can arise, then 'nothing' is no longer nothing in any meaningful sense. Instead it is actually 'a something; 'nothing' is that from which something can arise. Giving this 'nothing' a property, particularly a theoretically sound and demonstrable property, makes it a something-or-other or a something-in-particular, surely?

Does the question not follow that this 'nothing' must also consist in 'something' and if so, isn't Krauss' explanation, as rigorous and parsimonious as it is, undermined, particular with reference to his books subtitle 'Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing'?

I know that Krauss' explanation is defined by the limits of our current understanding and knowledge, and that we have to use certain words to describe that explanation aside from the purity of mathematical expression, but hasn't he failed, to some extent, to support his assertions, though of course he has taken pains to qualify them.

Any thoughts would be warmly welcomed. :D
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Re: Something and Nothing

#2  Postby Teuton » Apr 25, 2012 12:56 pm

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Re: Something and Nothing

#3  Postby Teuton » Apr 25, 2012 1:02 pm

Krauss has been fooling around with the word "nothing". His book's title should read "A Universe From Something: Why there is something rather than nothing is a question that isn't answered in this book". Of course, the misleading title he chose sells better.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#4  Postby Matt_B » Apr 25, 2012 1:28 pm

Teuton wrote:Krauss has been fooling around with the word "nothing". His book's title should read "A Universe From Something: Why there is something rather than nothing is a question that isn't answered in this book". Of course, the misleading title he chose sells better.


Given that the whole point of the book is that the idea of "nothing" as being an absence of "something" has no basis in physics, I'd think a little poetic licence is forgiveable.

Still, perhaps you were also disappointed by the lack of tarmac in Roger Penrose's The Road To Reality, or that Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell was rather short on nuts?
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Re: Something and Nothing

#5  Postby THWOTH » Apr 25, 2012 1:30 pm

Cheers Teuton :cheers:

Mr Albert didn't like it at all did he? He seems quite cross about it in fact. :D

I found a similar review on Jerry Coyne's blog and as luck would have it a substantial response to that, and by implication to David Albert's criticisms, from Dr Krauss himself...

Lawrence Krauss wrote:... It is not lost on me that the goal posts have changed..I was honest about this.. my point is that the question of ‘nothing’ is one that needs to be explored from a scientific perspective.. and when one does so, the whole meaning of the question becomes less important.. nothing is not so simple anymore.. and moreover, the claims that I define nothing to be the quantum vacuum is something I keep reading in some of these reviews, but that is disingenuous. I carefully tried, in 3 steps, to progressively explore different versions of what one might operationally call nothing from a physicists perspective.. The first version is indeed the empty vacuum of space–the eternal void of the bible if you wish. Such a version of nothing can quickly be dispensed with as easily leading to something, and not really that different from something.. as I point out. ( and for some reason this bothers some people who think it shouldn’t be so..) But then I talk about how the complete absence of space itself, of our universe, can lead to the creation of space.. our universe.. when quantum gravitational considerations are included…. Now, in this case, there may be ‘something’..perhaps an eternal multiverse out of which our universe may arise.. but in no sense did OUR universe, or OUR vacuum state in our universe, exist before such spontaneous creation may occur.. Finally I point out that the laws of physics themselves may be unique to our universe. (It is true as I point out that quantum mechanics itself may be common to all universes or not.. I have no idea.. but that is not the point..it is a side issue).

I made the point somewhere in the book that when one considers these things the question why is there something rather than nothing (where we live to ask the question) is like asking why some flowers are blue and others red.. it may not be a fundamentally interesting question from a scientific perspective.. That may be disappointing, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be true.. If it is a bait and switch that is because science as done the switching.. I may not be focusing on the classical question that has bother philosophers, but I don’t think I ever claim to.. I am more interested in the questions of the real universe…

Moreover, the point of the book is to carefully show that the characteristics of our universe are more or less precisely those characteristics of a universe that could spontaneously arise and evolve by physical, and not supernatural causes.. and that didn’t have to be the case! I think that alone is worth celebrating, and explaining, and with all due respect, having read the literature, I don’t think that has been described carefully and knowledgably (with both the particle physics and cosmological issues treated) and in an up to date fashion in the public literature before..

And finally, without the pretense that it may appear that this sentence, I do think in spirit that what it does is similar to what Darwin’s book tried to do.. albeit I agree without being the monumental piece of new exploratory science that his masterpiece uniquely was in the history of science.. it simply tries to plausibly understand how the diverse and wonderful universe we see, which appears naively to be designed, can arise by purely physical processes that might be both understood and predictive….

Full text » »

Victor Stenger seems a lot more relaxed about it though.

I'd still welcome the input of someone with a grounding in quantum theory, if they feel so inclined of course.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#6  Postby Teuton » Apr 25, 2012 1:43 pm

Matt_B wrote:
Given that the whole point of the book is that the idea of "nothing" as being an absence of "something" has no basis in physics, I'd think a little poetic licence is forgiveable.


Of course, there can be no physics of nothingness, since nothingness is nothing physical (nor anything nonphysical).
Nothingness, the nothing (* is the absence of being—end of story. It is not what Krauss thinks it is!

(* I hate it when "nothing" is used as a noun rather than as an indefinite pronoun without being combined with the definite or indefinite article.)
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Re: Something and Nothing

#7  Postby Matt_B » Apr 25, 2012 2:05 pm

Teuton wrote:
Matt_B wrote:
Given that the whole point of the book is that the idea of "nothing" as being an absence of "something" has no basis in physics, I'd think a little poetic licence is forgiveable.


Of course, there can be no physics of nothingness, since nothingness is nothing physical (nor anything nonphysical).
Nothingness, the nothing (* is the absence of being—end of story. It is not what Krauss thinks it is!

(* I hate it when "nothing" is used as a noun rather than as an indefinite pronoun without being combined with the definite or indefinite article.)


You can strop all you like about it, but when dictionary definitions and common usage have the word used in a multitude of different contexts - including ones Krauss deals with in the book such as empty space, or the state of the universe prior to the big bang - I'd think that's something you're just going to have to get used to.

I guess we've had all this before with Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained. In both cases you'd have to be taking the author perversely literally to expect them to be answering questions that are, by their philosophical definitions, unanswerable rather than saying how scientific developments have largely sidestepped them to produce practical answers to better formulated questions.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#8  Postby Teuton » Apr 25, 2012 4:19 pm

THWOTH wrote:
Lawrence Krauss wrote:I carefully tried, in 3 steps, to progressively explore different versions of what one might operationally call nothing from a physicists perspective.. The first version is indeed the empty vacuum of space–the eternal void of the bible if you wish. Such a version of nothing can quickly be dispensed with as easily leading to something, and not really that different from something.. as I point out. ( and for some reason this bothers some people who think it shouldn’t be so..) But then I talk about how the complete absence of space itself, of our universe, can lead to the creation of space.. our universe.. when quantum gravitational considerations are included….


Nevertheless, Krauss explains something in terms of something else rather than in terms of nothing. Anyway, to explain something in terms of nothing would be to explain nothing, i.e. not to explain anything.

"If the explanation cannot begin with some entity, then it is hard to see how any explanation is feasible. Some philosophers conclude ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is unanswerable. They think the question stumps us by imposing an impossible explanatory demand, namely, Deduce the existence of something without using any existential premises. Logicians should feel no more ashamed of their inability to perform this deduction than geometers should feel ashamed at being unable to square the circle."

(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness)

As for the alleged absence of space itself in theories of quantum gravity, it turns out that even those theories aren't ontology-free.

"Quantum theory in general resists any straightforward ontological reading, and this goes double for quantum gravity. In quantum mechanics, one has particles, albeit with indefinite properties. In quantum field theory, one again has particles (at least in suitably symmetric spacetimes), but these are secondary to the fields, which again are things, albeit with indefinite properties. On the face of it, the only difference in quantum gravity is that spacetime itself becomes a kind of quantum field, and one would perhaps be inclined to say that the properties of spacetime become indefinite."

(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/quantum-gravity)

Quantum fields are something rather than nothing!
Quantum fields have various physical properties, and physical properties are something rather than nothing!

"Einstein’s discovery is that Newtonian space and time and the gravitational field are the same entity. There is a tradition of expressing this discovery saying that 'there is no gravitational field: space and time become dynamical’'. I think that this is a convoluted and misleading way of thinking, which does not do justice to Einstein’s discovery, and has the additional flaw of becoming meaningless as soon as we take into account the fact that the gravitational field has quantum properties. The clean way of expressing Einstein’s discovery is to say that there are no space and time: there are only dynamical objects. The world is made by dynamical fields. These do not live in, or on, spacetime: they form and exhaust reality. One of these fields is the gravitational field."
(p. 27)

"Conceptually, what disappears with GR is the idea of space as the 'container' of the physical world. As mentioned, this disappearance is not so revolutionary after all: to some extent it amounts to return to the pre-Newtonian view of space as a relation between equal-status physical entities. …With or without such an explicit reference to God, for three centuries space has been regarded as the preferred Entity with respect to which all other entities are located. In the 20th and 21st centuries and with GR we have been learning that we do not need this frame to keep reality in place. Reality keeps itself in place. Objects interact with other objects, and this is reality. Reality is the net of these interactions. We do not need an external entity to hold this net. We do not need Space, to hold the universe."
(p. 32)

(Rovelli, Carlo. "The Disappearance of Space and Time." In The Ontology of Spacetime, edited by Dennis Dieks, 25-36. Vol. 1 of Philosophy and Foundations of Physics, edited by Dennis Dieks and Miklos Redei. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006.)

This is the relationist view of space plus the view that the fundamental physical objects are (quantum) fields. particularly the gravitational field. And fields are spatially extended entities, so even if space is ontologically reducible or decomposable, spatiality (spatial extension) is not. According to the theory of loop quantum gravity, there are discrete space atoms with a tiny volume, and so spatiality, again, remains unreduced and irreducible. Rovelli rejects the absolutist container/occupier view of space, according to which space contains physical objects (particles, fields) that occupy it. His quantum fields are spatially unlocated but still spatially extended.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#9  Postby Teuton » Apr 25, 2012 4:42 pm

An interview with Krauss:

http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/arc ... te/256203/

I start to dislike him. His arrogant, offensive, and primitive philosophy/philosopher bashing pisses me off.

"[T]he deference to empirical science displayed by the Logical Positivists is still a feature of much Anglo-American analytic philosophy, creating an intellectual climate inimical to the pursuit of speculative metaphysics. This hostility is paralleled in the popular writings of many scientists, who seem to think that any legitimate issues once embraced by metaphysics now belong exclusively to the province of empirical science—issues such as the nature of space and time, and the mind-body problem. Such writers are often blithely unaware of the uncritical metaphysical assumptions pervading their works and the philosophical naivety of many of their arguments. [my emph.] But it is ironic that the deference shown by many philosophers to the latest scientific theories is not reciprocated by the popularizing scientists, who do not conceal their contempt for philosophy in general as well as metaphysics in particular."

(Lowe, E. J. "Opposition to Metaphysics." In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, edited by Ted Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. p. 559)
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Re: Something and Nothing

#10  Postby Teuton » Apr 25, 2012 4:47 pm

"Lawrence Krauss: another physicist with an anti-philosophy complex"

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.de/2 ... -with.html

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Re: Something and Nothing

#11  Postby twistor59 » Apr 25, 2012 4:48 pm

Teuton wrote:
(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness)

As for the alleged absence of space itself in theories of quantum gravity, it turns out that even those theories aren't ontology-free.

"Quantum theory in general resists any straightforward ontological reading, and this goes double for quantum gravity. In quantum mechanics, one has particles, albeit with indefinite properties. In quantum field theory, one again has particles (at least in suitably symmetric spacetimes), but these are secondary to the fields, which again are things, albeit with indefinite properties. On the face of it, the only difference in quantum gravity is that spacetime itself becomes a kind of quantum field, and one would perhaps be inclined to say that the properties of spacetime become indefinite."


Huh?
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Re: Something and Nothing

#12  Postby THWOTH » Apr 25, 2012 4:51 pm

Thanks for your efforts Teuton, but I think I've resolved the quandary over terms - as Krauss says this is a moving of the goalposts moment - I was hoping for a more technical explanation of what the quantum fluctuations in an absolute-vacuum might consist in. For example, they are obviously subject to the laws of physics but how do they relate to the laws of physics; are they responsible for the laws by which they operate, in some way? As I said, my paucity of understanding of this area is something I want to get a bit of a handle on - which is why I posted it here and not in the Philosophy section.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#13  Postby John P. M. » Apr 25, 2012 4:52 pm

We've had this discussion already.

Perhaps he should have called his book "Why there's no such thing as nothing", with a more descriptive subtitle. :dunno:
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Re: Something and Nothing

#14  Postby THWOTH » Apr 25, 2012 4:57 pm

John P. M. wrote:We've had this discussion already.

Perhaps he should have called his book "Why there's no such thing as nothing", with a more descriptive subtitle. :dunno:

Oh. I didn't find that one when I searched . Ta.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#15  Postby twistor59 » Apr 25, 2012 5:00 pm

THWOTH wrote:Thanks for your efforts Teuton, but I think I've resolved the quandary over terms - as Krauss says this is a moving of the goalposts moment - I was hoping for a more technical explanation of what the quantum fluctuations in an absolute-vacuum might consist in. For example, they are obviously subject to the laws of physics but how do they relate to the laws of physics; are they responsible for the laws by which they operate, in some way?


I think it's a bloody difficult question. I doubt if anyone knows the answer. :scratch:
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Re: Something and Nothing

#16  Postby THWOTH » Apr 25, 2012 5:03 pm

Ah. Then its probably a silly question.
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Re: Something and Nothing

#17  Postby Shrunk » Apr 25, 2012 5:03 pm

John P. M. wrote:We've had this discussion already.

Perhaps he should have called his book "Why there's no such thing as nothing", with a more descriptive subtitle. :dunno:


Not a bad suggestion. I think the argument over the precise meaning of "nothing" evades the main point. The "nothing" that physicists like Krauss describe may be completely unrelated to the "nothing" that some philosophers discuss. But in terms of the question of the origin of the universe, that may be irrelevant. It's a bit as if philosophers, for some reason, were arguing over whether the universe could have emerged from a plate of scrambled eggs and, when physicists come up with a convincing theory of how the universe actually emerged, people complain "But that has nothing to do with scrambled eggs. Where do the scrambled eggs fit in?"
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Re: Something and Nothing

#18  Postby John P. M. » Apr 25, 2012 5:07 pm

I can't really come up with a title that wouldn't be silly, redundant or trivial, at least linguistically speaking, so my above attempt would have to have been chosen with one's tongue in one's cheek I think. :lol:
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Re: Something and Nothing

#19  Postby Shrunk » Apr 28, 2012 1:18 pm

Teuton wrote:An interview with Krauss:

http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/arc ... te/256203/

I start to dislike him. His arrogant, offensive, and primitive philosophy/philosopher bashing pisses me off.


He has written an article clarifying and, to some extent, apologizing for the remarks he made there:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... -of-philos
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Re: Something and Nothing

#20  Postby Teuton » Apr 28, 2012 1:23 pm

Here's another comment by David Albert, who reviewed Krauss's book and was called a "moronic philosopher" by Krauss (despite the fact that Albert has also a Ph.D. in physics):

http://philocosmology.wordpress.com/201 ... omment-275

:silenced:
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