Having recently finished up Steven Hawking’s Into the Universe, I have now started on another Discovery Channel production–How the Universe Works. I probably wouldn’t have started it since I just finished a similar series, but I noticed that Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs–a personal favorite) was narrating it and I was enthusiastic to see one of these things WITHOUT the obligatory British accent. And even more than that, Mr. Rowe’s intelligent and down-to-earth quips about the paradoxes of theoretical physics and the confounding mystery of the big bang proved to be a very refreshing and welcome counter to the comments given on the show by the hyper-enthusiastic science populizer Lawrence M. Krauss. If your not familiar with Dr. Krauss, he is the author of The Physics of Star Trek and, more recently, A Universe from Nothing.
Dr. Krauss was the subject of a recent New York Times article “There’s More to Nothing Than We Knew.” The article gives a nice introduction to Krauss and his work:
The point of the book, Dr. Krauss, a self-described nonbeliever, writes at the outset, is not to try to make people lose their faith, but to illuminate how modern science has changed the meaning of nothingness from a vague philosophical concept to something we can almost put under a lab microscope.
How well you think he succeeds might depend on how far you yourself want to go down the rabbit hole of nonbeing. Why, for example, should we assume that nothingness is more natural than somethingness? Indeed, you might ask why it is that we think there is something here at all. The total energy of the universe might actually be zero, according to the strange bookkeeping of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, as Dr. Krauss points out. “The universe,” Alan H. Guth, a physicist at M.I.T., likes to say, “might be the ultimate free lunch.” Even space and time themselves might be a kind of holographic illusion, string theorists say.
. . . .
Dr. Krauss delineates three different kinds of nothingness. First is what may have passed muster as nothing with the ancient Greeks: empty space. But we now know that even empty space is filled with energy, vibrating with electromagnetic fields and so-called virtual particles dancing in and out of existence on borrowed energy courtesy of the randomness that characterizes reality on the smallest scales, according to the rules of quantum theory.
Second is nothing, without even space and time. Following a similar quantum logic, theorists have proposed that whole universes, little bubbles of space-time, could pop into existence, like bubbles in boiling water, out of this nothing.
There is a deeper nothing in which even the laws of physics are absent. Where do the laws come from? Are they born with the universe, or is the universe born in accordance with them? Here Dr. Krauss, unhappily in my view, resorts to the newest and most controversial toy in the cosmologist’s toolbox: the multiverse, a nearly infinite assemblage of universes, each with its own randomly determined rules, particles and forces, that represent solutions to the basic equations of string theory — the alleged theory of everything, or perhaps, as wags say, anything.
Within this landscape of possibilities, almost anything goes.
For me, a self-described nonbeliever (in the multiverse), I’m glad there are all of these shows now about the beginning of the universe. Honestly, the more these gentleman talk the more fanatic and “religious” they sound. And concurrently, the more they make the idea of a designer the rational and respectable conclusion by comparison.