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On Creating Something From Nothing?
by David Darling

On Creating Something from Nothing
David Darling Ponders the Origin of the Universe

It's the simple questions that usually tax science the most.

For instance, why should there be something instead of nothing? The Universe is so outrageously enormous and elaborate. Why did it-or God, if you prefer-go to all the bother?

Yes, I know that if the Universe was not more or less the way it is then there would be no one to reflect on such problems. But that is a comment, not an explanation . The fact is, nothing could be simpler than nothing-so why is there something instead?

Science has started delving into the minutiae of genesis. No one bats an eyelid these days when cosmologists talk about what conditions might have been like around one ten million trillionth of a second after the moment of creation. And once we have got the tricky business of linking gravitation with quantum mechanics sorted out, then maybe we can push things right back to the very first instant of all.

Well, I've read the party manifesto on this and I didn't buy it. I can go along with the quantum foam stuff, the good news (for once) about inflation, the quark soup and so on. That's fine.

I may not be able to imagine it-who can? But, as far as I am concerned, the fact that the Universe was an incredibly weird place 10^-43 seconds after "time zero" is no big deal.

What is a big deal-the biggest deal of all-is how you get something out of nothing.

Don't let the cosmologists try to kid you on this one. They have not got a clue either-despite the fact that they are doing a pretty good job of convincing themselves and others that this is really not a problem.

Don't let the cosmologists try to kid you on this one. They have not got a clue either-despite the fact that they are doing a pretty good job of convincing themselves and others that this is really not a problem.

"In the beginning," they will say, "there was nothing-no time, space, matter or energy. Then there was a quantum fluctuation from which..." Whoa! Stop right there. You see what I mean?

First there is nothing then there is something. And the cosmologists try to bridge the two with a quantum flutter, a tremor of uncertainty that sparks it all off.

Then they are away and before you know it, they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.

---- I may not have been born in Yorkshire but I'm a firm believer that you cannot get owt for nowt

---- I don't have a problem with this scenario from the quantum fluctuation onward. Why shouldn't human beings build a theory of how the Universe evolved from a simple to a complex state. But there is a very real problem in explaining how it got started in the first place.

You cannot fudge this by appealing to quantum mechanics. Either there is nothing to begin with, in which case there is no quantum vacuum, no pre-geometric dust, no time in which anything can happen, no physical laws that can effect a change from nothingness into somethingness; or there is something, in which case that needs explaining.

You cannot fudge this by appealing to quantum mechanics. Either there is nothing to begin with, in which case there is no quantum vacuum, no pre-geometric dust, no time in which anything can happen, no physical laws that can effect a change from nothingness into somethingness; or there is something, in which case that needs explaining.

One of the most specious analogies that cosmologists have come up with is between the origin of the Universe and the North Pole. Just as there is nothing north of the North Pole, so there was nothing before the Big Bang. Voila! We are supposed to be convinced by that, especially since it was Stephen Hawking who dreamt it up.

But it will not do. The Earth did not grow from its North Pole. There was not ever a disembodied point from which the material of the planet sprang. The North Pole only exists because the Earth exists-not the other way around.

It's the same with neurologists who are peering into the brain to see how consciousness comes about. I do not have a problem with being told how memory works, how we parse sentences, how the visual cortex handles images.

I can believe that we might come to understand the ins and outs of our grey matter almost as well as we can follow the operations of a sophisticated computer. But I draw the line at believing that this knowledge will advance our understanding of why we are conscious one jot.

Why shouldn't the brain do everything it does and still be completely unaware? Why shouldn't it just process information and trigger survival responses without going to the trouble of generating consciousness?

You only have to read the musings of Daniel Dennett, Roger Penrose, Francis Crick and others to appreciate that we are discovering everything about the brain- except why it is conscious.

No, I'm sorry, I may not have been born in Yorkshire but I'm a firm believer that you cannot get owt for nowt. Not a Universe from a nothing-verse, nor consciousness from a thinking brain.

I suspect that mainstream science may go on for a few more years before it bumps so hard against these problems that it is forced to recognise that something is wrong.

And then? Let me guess: if you cannot get something for nothing then that must mean there has always been something.

Hmmm. And if the brain doesn't produce consciousness...well, no, that is just too crazy isn't it?

David Darling is an astronomer and author of After Life (Fourth Estate) and Zen Physics (HarperCollins)."

(Darling D., "On creating something from nothing?", New Scientist, Vol 151, No. 2047, 14 September 1996, p49)

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