Friday, August 30, 2013

Nothing is something.

In his dense excerpt of 200 pages, Lawrence M. Krauss has expounded on the principles that govern our universe. To read his book, one has to constantly keep a pen and paper by their side; everything he says stays in your mind until you reach the next paragraph. For the general public, like us, it is undoubtedly a stimulating read. However, certain aspects of his writing have, probably rightly so, stirred disagreeing comments among critics.

As claimed in the title, Krauss succeeds in convincing the reader that the universe did indeed come forth from ‘nothing’. This introduces the notion of nothing actually being something. Although, Krauss explains it in the opposite order; scientists did not begin with theorising that nothing is something, in fact they tried to understand if there is something within nothing. And if there is something in nothing, then what is it, and how did it appear into nothing.

Matter is a subject fully explained in every students Physics text book. We have gone through our school system understanding how everything that is anything is made up of matter. Physics text books were simple, they dealt with what was there, what could be seen, what could be physically experimented on. Albeit, at the stage where most people in my age group abandoned physics, it got complicated. Krauss takes us through this complication.

If the universe is made up entirely of matter, and matter as we all know ultimately succumbs to the pull of gravity, we can confidently conclude that this universe is sucking itself in. If it took an explosion, such as the Big Bang to create it, it is the Big Crunch that would destroy it. Except when Hubble invented his namesake telescope, we learned that the universe was expanding. This is did not concur with the previous concept of everything made of matter. For the universe to expand, Krauss states that something that negates gravity would have to exist. If gravity was what pulled objects in, something had to exist that pulled them away. From here came the idea of the shape of our universe. 

Krauss states the universe can be present in three forms; closed, flat or open, depending on the ratio of matter to dark matter. A flat universe is the one that would keep expanding, and since Hubble had already proved that, scientists needed to prove that the universe was indeed, flat. This was further proved by the hot and cold spots on BOOMERANG.

If scientists were able to measure the two matters, and calculate how much one outweighed the other, they would essentially be able to calculate the life span of our universe. Through Einstein’s theory of relativity, scientists understood the possibility of gravity being bent in space. If gravity existed in space, then space could be curved too. Using this principle, far away galaxies were measured simply by viewing the light travelling through that curved space. Once they were able to calculate the light, they could do the same for space and furthermore for gravity. Now if they subtracted the force of gravity on matter, they would ultimately end up with a figure that pointed to the dark matter.

Of course the issue with this experiment was that they measured only the matter that was visible to them. Krauss explained earlier how if we looked far enough in light, we should be able to see the Big Bang itself. Even if this were somehow possible through the use of advanced apparatus, the plasma formed by elements at that time would not allow radiation to pass through and we can only see things in the presence of radiation. Similarly, there could be galaxies beyond our viewing possibility, and the results of this experiment could be gravely flawed.

Nevertheless, it was carried out and concluded that the level of dark matter present in the universe significantly outnumbers that of visible matter. This explained the expansion of our universe. Yet, it still didn't explain where this matter and dark matter came from.

Krauss then introduces us to Quantum Physics. The uncertainty principle guided the scientists to the idea of something coming out of nothing. It states the certain particles can spontaneously appear in space, react and disappear before one has the chance to record them. Hence the thing that we call ‘nothing’ is unstable in being, and must become something. In the case of the creation of the universe, the reaction could have led to a by product before the particles could disappear. The expansion of the universe into what it is today could be explained by the expansion of the space inhabiting these particles. The expansion would have to be faster than the speed of light, which even though isn't possible for anything; it is in the case of space, since light travels in space.

Ultimately Krauss successfully guides us through the process that leads him and other scientists to conclude that the universe did come from the ‘nothing’ that contains something.
As well equipped as Krauss is with his scientific research and data, his book seems to lack the objectivity one would expect from a man so passionate about science. His views on string theorists directly state, “First, one throws the dart against a blank wall, and then one goes to the wall and draws a bull’s-eye around where the dart landed.” He failed to understand that this is exactly what he himself has done several times in the book. The idea of nothing was his dart, and the uncertainty principle the bull’s eye. How certain can he be of the Uncertainty Principle is acting here. I agree that it makes sense, but when Krauss’s introduced the concept of a universe from nothing, he makes it sound like literally nothing. 

By the end, when he has given the reader sufficient knowledge to arrive at the same conclusion as him, he wavers in determination of defining nothing as just nothing and insists that something exists in nothing, and that something lead to the creation of the universe. This bothers me as a reader; it sounds as if he insisted on making the reader expect a universe out of literally nothing to instigate excitement and curiosity in our minds, however by the end it sounds like no amazing phenomenon. I find myself in agreement with the idea of something erupting from nothing, what I don’t like though, is being misled to believe that he had uncovered a controversial law of physics. Techniques such as this are adopted by fiction writers, not scientists in my opinion.

Another angle of his book that was disconcerting was his constant efforts to discuss religion. In his book, he neither proved nor disproved the existence of God. Yet he insists that this discussion leads one to accept that God has no important role in our world.

“I find oddly satisfying the possibility that, in either scenario, even a seemingly omnipotent God would have no freedom in the creation of our universe. No doubt because it further suggests that God is unnecessary-or at best redundant.”

Having read his book to the best of my ability, every time he mentioned religion, it took me by surprise. As a reader of a book of scientific theories I made sure to read objectively, and the reminder that these theories proved/disproved religion made it frustratingly difficult to do so.

In hindsight though, I see these issues holding little significance in comparison to the vast amount of information and knowledge Lawrence M. Krauss’s book has given me access to. It is as exceptional collection of data, one that does not deserve to be read just once.

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