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I wrote this in reply to the reader’s question below, but the Daily Telegraph has not published it. The Telegraph Editor is regrettably a god-believer.


SIR—Glenys Roberts (Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2008) asks, “Surely the really interesting thing is what happened BEFORE the Big Bang?”

The answer derives from a merging of quantum physics and high-energy particle physics with cosmology and astrophysics. Knowledge of advanced theoretical and experimental research is required for a full understanding of the necessary principles. I summarise what follows from a book that I have been writing and is nearly complete.

In the beginning was the void. Time and space were nothingness.

Vic Stenger, physicist, explains how quantum mechanics provides a purely natural mechanism for the transition empty Universe to non-empty Universe.
Physics, in all its powers, resolves that the Universe was instantly self-created, uncaused, from an unstable void or false vacuum—a timeless quantum void—with the property that incipient, virtual particles were omnipresent. It was timeless chaotic emptiness.
For quantum uncertainty is all pervasive, throughout the world and the Universe, even unto the void. In short an unstable void or its alter ego the Universe is all there is to contemplate.

Yet in REAL TIME universes are all there can be.
They are eternally present, forever existing, because their absence would imply an unstable state of the void that cannot exist in time.

Thus, our Universe simply is . . .
. . . . because at least one universe is always necessarily present.
For if not, there would be a void instead—but a void being truly unstable, a universe would instantly replace it. Therefore, a universe–or universes—must be. THEY ALWAYS WERE; AND ALWAYS SHALL BE.

Therefore too, because time cannot exist prior to universes, universes cannot have a first cause. With no first cause, there is no primary origin, no creation. Therefore postulations of the supernatural are superfluous, dispensable and worthless. Theism results from inadequate knowledge of science, and people’s gods exist only in their heads. Atheism is the natural condition of the Universe into which we are all born, and innocently persists until indoctrination into some ‘faith’ is pressured upon, most usually, children.

“The nothingness ‘before’ the creation of the Universe is the most complete void we can imagine. No space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity . . .” Heinz Pagels, physicist.

Although, like the stars, the void may not be humanly approachable, its physics is within human reach, because it is entrenched in the theory of cosmological inflation which has abundant empirical evidence supporting it.

Charles Darwin said: ““Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science”. The Descent of Man.

Terence Meaden
Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and Kellogg College

Views: 193

Replies to This Discussion

You say:

"For quantum uncertainty is all pervasive, throughout the world and the Universe, even unto the void."

This sounds like the theospeak we get from theists.

I first have to admit that I am unlikely ever to understand the mathematics leading to these conclusions. If this is where the evidence takes us I have to adopt a kind of "faith" in accepting the interpretation of my betters. This is an approach close to one we often criticise when adopted by the followers of religion but we must face the fact that the "look at the evidence and make up your own mind" advice is beyond the talents of the majority when we enter the deeper realms of science.

So, what advice do we give?
To Jim Ashby
Thanks for writing.
Sorry but I am almost literally running to the car and the airport, and will be away a week.
Meanwhile, find, buy or borrow, one or more of these books by Vic Stenger. Their titles explain.

1988 Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe, Prometheus Books, ISBN 0879754516

1990 Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses, Prometheus Books, ISBN 087975575X.

1995 The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1573920223.

2000 Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1573928593.

2003 Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1591020182.

2006 The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do The Laws Of Physics Come From?, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1591024242.

2007 God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1591024811. New York Times bestseller
Ah yes of course (!); but I had been on Vic Stenger's "a void-l" discussion site for some years, so I already had the book list to hand.
I thought that many of the laws of physics, (I know for a fact Newtonian Mechanics, and it would not also surprise me that Thermodynamics also needs some revision) once you get to the quantum level.
The first law of thermodynamic is a statistical law (as is the second). There are situations where it fails. In particular, there are 'quantum fluctuations' where particle-antiparticle pairs are produced and annihilated even in a vacuum.

There are several, interconnected, ideas here that are somewhat tricky to deal with. One of them is time and causality. In the simplest model of the Big Bang, that of general relativity, time actually *begins* at the Big Bang. Remember that time is affected by gravity and that the density of energy and matter increases as we go back in time. Also remember that time is *part* of the universe and so it isn't so unreasonable to think it may have begun along with the universe itself. Hence, there simply may not *be* a 'before the Big Bang'. Since causality is dependent on time, this also answers the question of cause: there is none.

The problem with general relativity is that it does not include what we know about quantum mechanics. The difficulty is that we don't know a way of merging those two world views, although there are some conjectures. In some of these models, the universe starts as a run-away quantum fluctuation. The neat thing is that the energy associated with gravity is negative and exactly cancels out that due to matter other forms of energy. In other words, the first law is satisfied even as 'something comes from nothing'.

Another possibility is that there was a previous, contracting universe that 'bounced'. This is actually predicted by one attempt to merge general relativity with quantum mechanics. Essentially, the quantum fluctuations 'spread out' the singularity predicted by general relativity.

Finally, that 'point' only represents what became the current 'observable' universe. If the universe is currently infinite, it always would have been infinite (whenever there was time, that is). So that 'point' would not have been everything, just what would develop into everything we see now.
To Enlightened Observer:

"For quantum uncertainty is all pervasive, throughout the world and the Universe, even unto the void."

For rhetorical purposes, I chose to write in biblio-speak.
But you make a point that needs addressing. It could almost be called a matter of faith, except that there is faith and ‘faith’.

Religious faith relies on nothing at all, as you well know. Religious faith is belief without proof.

Scientific ‘faith’, if one dares enunciate such a word when linked to science, is quite another matter.
When millions of scientists perform hundreds of millions of experiments during the course of 150 years and they arrive at sets of conclusions as deduced from the results that beautifully and scientifically explain the sequence of the evolution of life, the rest of us who have not participated in these experiments nonetheless have absolute belief, which could be called ‘faith’, in the thoroughness and correctness of scientific method and the veracity of the scientists and the exactness of their data, calculations and deductions.

And this is because when it comes to science everything is testable.

The experiments can be repeated elsewhere by any one else with the right level of experimental and theoretical knowledge.

The theoretical physics can be checked elsewhere by anyone else with the right level of theoretical and experimental knowledge.
Repeated and checked, they lead to the same results.
Hence, you and any other scientist together with anyone else in possession of truly unbiased commonsense, should have ‘faith’ that those who are cerebrally equipped and prepared with the necessary levels of deep science and mathematics have achieved the best solutions that are possible at this time. And that further discoveries and advances may lead to modifications and improvements of conclusions already published.

Thus, because we trust in the scientific method of openness, double-checking and verifiable honesty, we have the highest of intellectual reasons for trusting in the conclusions reached by those equipped to do so.

THE ADVICE WE GIVE TO OTHERS: Although one may be in no position to participate oneself either experimentally or theoretically in such advanced physics, one has every good reason for trusting those who do. And that if one’s level of education can be raised high enough, and if one is guided through the complex mathematics by the best teachers, then we too should indeed have complete trust or ‘faith’ in that they are correct on the basis of present-day knowledge.

For myself, I studied quantum mechanics at Oxford to a pretty high level, and performed experiments involving quantum physics in low temperature physics on liquid helium and superconductivity at Oxford, Harwell, Grenoble and in Canada.
I am not up-to-date with theories that take us to the research frontiers of high-energy physics close to the moment of the Big Bang—but I trust those splendid if not enviable scientists who do.

P.S. I shall be leaving today (in fact in less than an hour's time) for a week at a European conference on archaeology in Malta, and will not be able to contribute to further group correspondence until my return.
This 'void'. Is it truly a 'thing' or simply an undefined mathematical term which theoretical physicists have tried to describe in laymans terms as this 'void'?
Could "Zero-point energy" exist before the big bang?

Also, I have heard that nothingness is unstable, and it was only a matter of time before it, like a "bit", changed from a 0 to a 1. Nothing to something. Anyone care to elaborate on this if they have heard about it?
Again, this depends on whether there *was* a 'before the Big Bang'. If there was, then there would eventually be a quantum fluctuation large enough to 'run away' and make a universe. At least, that is one model. :)
Claudia M. Mazzucco has asked me to locate this item for her, so writing this sentence it should get shifted to today's date. Terry Meaden.
Surely what happened before the big bang, and what, if anything exists outside of our observable universe, are questions that can only be speculated about at this point. Of course experiments can only reveal something about our own universe, since, by definition, that is where we exist. Quantum mechanics and particle physics, etc. can be useful in this speculation, but the resultant ideas still rise to nothing approaching a scientific theory, since no form of experiment can be performed outside our box. I agree that perhaps we can learn to pierce this veil by using concepts and ideas that exist in this universe and outside of it, but certainly, we are not there yet from what I know.

It is my own view, based on nothing but fun informed speculation, that our entire observable universe is but a tiny drop of paint on an infinite cosmos, consisting of nothing more than potential energy, in a form we are not yet familiar with. That universes can form in this infinite void, under conditions we have yet to understand, and that eventually they return to the potential energy from where they came. And that this has always been the case, and will always be the case. In other words time and space being infinite, but of course in a framework we have no access to at this time, our own concepts of time and space being perturbed by the existence of matter in our universe.
The law of causality states that all effects require a cause, including the Big Bang, for if there was absolutely no reason for something to occur then it simply wouldn't. However, since the Big Bang gave rise to a nearly uniform ball of expanding energy (extremely simple) it makes no sense to assume that God (extremely complex) set our universe in motion. Why trace our universe back from a state of complexity (mankind) to simplicity (ball of expanding energy) only to assume that an even more complex, and entirely unproven. God gave rise to it? It seems that theists will jump on any opportunity to defend their God, even if it means hypochritically accepting some science (Big Bang) while dismissing most of it (ex. natural selection).


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