Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Shouldn't There be Something Rather Than Nothing?

"This model is different, because the universe never collapses." (Roger Penrose)

This morning, I read this brief article outlining a theory advanced by the genius mathematician-cosmologist Roger Penrose that the universe existed BEFORE the Big Bang. I don't pretend to understand the sketchy explanation offered by the article or even the somewhat more expansive, if less detailed, one Penrose himself serves up in the interview below, but I'm intrigued by the notion of a cyclical universe that may have had no beginning and may have no end. This inspired me to post the following "note" to my Facebook page this morning:

I used to buy into the popular belief that nothingness is necessarily the "default position" of reality and that we need to explain the appearance of the universe out of original nothingness, which, of course, theists do by insisting that only God, by whatever name, could be responsible. But lately I've come to question this prevailing assumption. I've begun to think that, given the presence of something rather than nothing, which seems awfully difficult to explain in terms of something originating from nothing, perhaps the real default position of reality is somethingness. In other words, perhaps the universe has always existed and has, as Penrose might be taken to imply, cycled through an eternity of eons.


Anonymous said...

You are very perceptive. The state of "nothing" is unstable. Something can also come from nothing since the total energy in the universe sums to nothing. Gravity is negative energy and mass, light, motion are positive energy. When the calculation is done, it turns out that the negative gravitational energy is balanced by the positive energy in the universe resulting in a sum of zero total energy. Read "The Self-Generating Universe" for the details including the math.

Tom Armstrong said...

The fact that there is something (now) rather than an inviolable nothingness is a testiment to the sentiment in your blogpost. Still, I am fully uncomfortable with this circumstance.

Occam's Razor ought to 'cut' here re the most magnitudinous determination what am. An inviolate nothingness is the simplest and easiest to justify and explain base circumstance. And yet, here we and tons of stuff are. It's as if the universe was founded and run by a corporation: Acme Enterprizes.

Nagarjuna said...

I wonder if Occam's Razor truly cuts the way you suggest. That is, is the simplest plausible explanation of the origin of the universe that it came from absolute nothingness, with the creative help, perhaps, of a divine being that eternally exists, or is it actually simpler to suppose that the universe always existed and that no inexplicable divine being was a necessary factor in its existence?

Tom Armstrong said...

I'm not positing a divine Creator -- since 'creates' a whole host of complications, including the one of Who created the Creator? and where did He come from?

I'm looking toward a First Moment. And, if there is not one of those, the "base universe" or something else that was primary, before the icing of 'life' reared its hoary head and growled. [Or, are you saying that there has always been 'life'!!?]

Nagarjuna said...

I guess I find the "base universe" idea more plausible than one in which the universe originated from absolute nothingness during a "First Moment." Of course, that could change after I become more conversant with quantum theoretical speculations on how there might, indeed, have been a "First Moment" in which the most elementary constituents of the universe sprang into existence out of sheer nothingness.

In any case, I don't see how "life" could have always existed. It seems to me that life, and, especially, life with anything approaching what I am comfortable calling "consciousness," had to have evolved out of simpler organizations of matter and energy.

Yet, this seems to contradict ancient and modern religious and philosophical--e.g., Wilberian-- notions of the so-called "physical" universe being an "involution" of pure consciousness a la Brahman. I just can't fathom, at present, how this notion could be true. Yet, if it isn't true, it seems that the Wilberian integral model essentially collapses.