I am new to this group, but I would like to introduce myself by drawing attention to the most fundamental question of all - "why is there anything and not simply nothing at all?" It could be stated alternatively as "why does existence exist?" I raise this question because it seems to get overlooked by cosmologists who talk about big bang theories without considering where the combustible material came from for a big bang to occur, and by philosophers concerned with a first cause or prime mover without considering what the very origins of space and time themselves were. It has to be born in mind that "nothing at all" is exactly that - nothing - not a void waiting to be filled which necessitates the existence of space and time. And the question begins with the word "why" and not "how" although any thoughts on "how" would be interesting to hear.
A start at an explanation for rules of nature is "symmetry breaking" after the Big Bang.
The elementary particles in quantum mechanics are defined by what the symmetries of spacetime do to the quantum states of the particle.
The "symmetries of spacetime" in question are symmetries which leave physical laws unchanged.
Suppose |a> and |b> are two possible quantum states of a particle. Then there's an "amplitude" <a|b> for the particle to be in quantum state |a> given that it's in quantum state |b>. The amplitude is sort of like the square root of a probability.
The symmetries of spacetime - for example moving your coordinates 1 meter to the left - are supposed to leave the laws of physics unchanged. Here's how this is expressed in quantum mechanics. Suppose S is a symmetry. If you apply S to a quantum state <a| you get a new state <S(a)|. Saying the laws of physics are unchanged means that the amplitude <S(a)|S(b)> after you apply the symmetry, is the same as the amplitude <a|b> before applying the symmetry.
So, applying S transforms the quantum states of the particle in a particular way. The way the symmetries of spacetime change the quantum states of a particle, defines which elementary particle it is.
So this gives a fundamental reason for the elementary particles to be what they are. There are only a limited number of different ways in which the symmetries of spacetime can transform the quantum states of a particle.
But why is spacetime the way it is? Why does it have the symmetries it does? Why does quantum mechanics work the way it does?
The Big Bang is sometimes thought to have started with a quantum fluctuation in Something. This would be how matter started to exist.
But why are there quantum fluctuations? What was the Something?
Why are complex numbers "used" by Nature in quantum mechanics - and not something else?
Nobody knows answers for a lot of these questions.
And that's a very interesting magazine, too! Thanks for introducing us to it.
Rose, consider that the asking of a question, any question, presupposes that "simply nothing at all" is impossible. There has to at least be a questioner, a questioned, and a social arena in which questioning exists.
Here is one for you.
Ruth, even in the same universe there might be places where there is nothing as we understand it together with places where there is something. As such, even if reality consisted of but a single universe the concept of nothing would be meaningful despite the existence of matter and energy. However, I don't think Rose is talking about that kind of 'nothing'. Correct me if I am wrong Rose but I believe you are saying that even the void of an empty space-time is, nonetheless, at least a space-time and, as such, in this sense is still something. Again, correct me if I am wrong but I think you are using the word, nothing, in a more absolute sense that does not even include the potential (in the form of a space-time) for something to exist. So I think the question you are asking is that of why we are in a realm compatible with existence instead of one that in no way can accommodate it.
In my last reply I said the answer might have something to do with randomness. In part I said:
…... Science asserts that on the quantum level particles randomly pop out of existence and randomly pop into existence from nonexistence. Moreover, quantum mechanics completely honors the probabilities of the possible outcomes associated with a quantum situation. Of course probability is founded in randomness. These data suggest the hypothesis that complete randomness in some way is the foundation of existence and nonexistence. That is, they suggest that existence and nonexistence are founded in utter unguided chaotic nonsense. Suppose otherwise – Then there would be a meaningful first cause for existence and nonexistence and we would be left with the question of why it existed. On the other hand utter unguided chaotic nonsense (complete randomness) would necessitate existence and nonexistence in the form of possible outcomes of its randomness even though it as their cause had no meaning….
For every manifestation (outcome) of nonsense (complete randomness) on the quantum level there would have to exist an opposite outcome somewhere (perhaps in another universe) that was possible on the quantum level to ensure that order was not mandated by precluding possible random outcomes (i.e., not mandated by biasing - thru a distorting of - the range of possible random outcomes). In this manner all sorts of universes might be created in which the laws of physics on the macro level would be generated by probabilities being honored on a comprehensive basis by quantum mechanics on the micro.
If complete randomness were the ‘first cause’ there would be no need to ask why there is something instead of completely nothing somewhere because that question would be no more meaningful than one of why there was completely nothing somewhere instead of something. The answer to each question would be the same……The situation is the result of utter nonsense.
Of course this can be no more than a hypothesis but it would eliminate the question of why there should be something instead of completely nothing in our universe (and any vice versa type of question that might apply to another universe).
Ruth, you said “…There has to at least be a questioner, a questioned (person), and a social arena in which questioning exists…” Descartes and Hawking might disagree with you.
Descartes said “I think therefore I am” but he said there was no way one could determine whether his or her perceptions validly reflected an objective reality. That is, he said there was no way that one could establish that he or she was not living in a dream world or in a world that was distorted by the perceiving process. This position has been held (rightfully) valid by philosophy for more than 400 years. As such, we cannot legitimately contend that there is a questioned (person) nor a social arena in which the questioning exists. (I would be interested in any ideas you have to the contrary.)
Scientifically, it makes no sense to honor one part of nature and not another. Nature made us beings and, in so doing, precluded us from knowing absolutely whether our perceptions validly reflect an objective reality. As such, in order to not disrespect any part of nature, from a scientific perspective we should be careful not to assume (jump to the conclusion) that they do.
Hawking incidentally addressed this in his last book, The Grand Design. On page number 45 he wrote:
Berkeley (1685-1753) even went so far as to say that nothing exists except the mind and its ideas. When a friend remarked to English author Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) that Berkeley’s claim could not possibly be refuted, Johnson is said to have responded by walking over to a large stone, kicking it, and proclaiming, “I refute it thus.” Of course the pain Dr. Johnson experienced in his foot was also an idea in his mind, so he wasn’t really refuting Berkeley’s ideas.
The inability we have as beings to know whether our perceptions validly reflect an objective reality can be used to disprove the existence of a Biblical type god. That is, a Biblical type god is supposed to be perfect in goodness while demanding that we worship it. However, as beings our inability to know whether our perceptions validly reflect an objective reality precludes us from even knowing whether a Biblical type god exists never mind worshipping one. As such, the demand by a Biblical type god that we worship it constitutes a demand that we do something that is impossible. Demanding that we do something that is impossible is inconsistent with the quality that a Biblical type god is supposed to have of being perfect in goodness. Therefore, the concept of a Biblical type god is a self-contradictory one and, as such, a Biblical type god cannot exist in reality.
This disproof has a particular type of advantage. In that it is founded in our own inabilities instead of in inabilities that we might assign to a Biblical type god it takes away from the theist the answer that a disproof is invalid because it limits the greatness of a Biblical type god.
Luara, I can't say I understand what you wrote, but then I don't know how to put a man on the moon and bring him safely home. I don't know much of anything about chemistry, biology, or physics even as realize each one fascinates me. Seeing my adopted son when he was five-days old and bringing this new life into mine was a miracle only to be matched five-months and thirteen-days later when my biological children were born and we became family. So much of life is a mystery, many of which have answers with a little digging and learning.
Watching them grow, teaching me as I taught them things, and always filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude that we have life, if only for a very short time when thought in terms of the universal time and space. Jeez! I am so lucky!
The laws of quantum mechanics can produce a universe out of nothing as long as the total energy content is 0. The total energy content of our universe appears to be 0, we're better than 99% sure of this. This video should help explain some of it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjaGktVQdNg
Another perspective on laws of quantum mechanics via Deepak Chopra:
You can go Stephen Hawking's way. I am not a physicist but I'll try to explain as well as I can. The ultimate result that Hawking put in his book, A Brief History Of Time, is that as we run the cosmic movie backward we encounter the Big Bang. Very near the Big Bang, our physical laws break down and prediction of events at such early moments in the universe's life is just not possible. Why? Because time breaks down. In other words, time as we know it, had a beginning at the Big Bang (a singularity, Hawkins calls it). Thus he maintains that, our theories can't really explain what happened before the Big Bang and so that part should be cut out from the universe's model. But, who would be satisfied with that?
There are quite a few interesting theory as to how our started. One is the so called brane theory. Just like a sheet of paper can be considered a 2-D surface on a three dimensional Earth (although if you were a stickler for accuracy, you might argue that the sheet of paper is in fact not a 2-D surface), this theory maintains that space actually consists of 9 dimensions all rolled into one and our universe is just a three dimensional membrane in it. Now, this is where it gets imaginative, proponents of this theory say that there are multiple branes like this, and that a Big Bang occurs when two of this branes collide with each other, and a new universe is born. What exists before this? A sort of primordial soup rich with ingredients necessary for the evolution of a positively rapidly evolving universe? We don't know. But we are working on it. There are some equally creative theories like this out there, all of them trying to explain how the Big Bang happened?
But why did the universe ever come into being? This is an important question and perhaps an unanswerable one. Maybe the only answers we can get in our lifetime are philosophical musings or extremely shallow religious dogmatic beliefs. But, if we are to reach the answer, I believe answering "how" is an essential first step. Cosmologists are trying to answer such questions. We can't expect them to be quick about it though. And regardless of the question, the knowledge that we obtain in the process for looking the answer is making us richer as a species, and heck, what can be better than that?