# Nothingness and the rise of something

Discussion in 'Physics & Math' started by litewave, May 2, 2009.

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1. ### litewaveRegistered Senior Member

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I have recently read a few articles by physicist Victor Stenger and about his book The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? and it seems he has a fascinating answer to the ancient question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?". Since I am not a scientist I'd like to know what you think about it.

Stenger equates nothingness with a state of perfect symmetry. If I understand correctly, the property of perfect symmetry is equivalent to the absence of all things. Whatever thing you could conceive of doesn't exist in this state because the thing would be differentiated from the rest of reality and thus would break the perfect symmetry. This state of nothingness has no measurable matter/energy, space or time.

Interestingly though, it seems that from the property of perfect symmetry result all laws of physics - conservation laws, general relativity, quantum mechanics. The mathematics behind this monumental claim is beyond me. But it was already shown a century ago by Emmy Noether that conservation laws such as conservation of energy, momentum and angular momentum are the result of invariance of physical laws with respect to translation in time, translation in space and direction in space, respectively. That is, no point in time or space or direction in space is special. Now Stenger shows that other, more abstract symmetries are the source of other laws of physics. Including the source of quantum mechanical laws, which enable the state of nothingness (perfect symmetry) to transform randomly into the state of thingness (broken symmetry) with measurable space, time and matter/energy. In one article Stenger calculates that the probability of moving from nothingness to thingness is 68.7%! So nothingness is unstable and can turn into something. Symmetry can be broken but reality in an asymmetric state is still governed by laws based on symmetry.

So, do I understand correctly, that the state of perfect symmetry inherently and necessarily contains the possibility of breaking that symmetry and thus something can rise from nothing?

Here are some links I got these ideas from:

www.csicop.org/sb/2006-06/reality-check.html

Last edited: May 2, 2009

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3. ### granpaRegistered Senior Member

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time obviously had to have a beginning but that doesnt mean that there was ever a time when 'nothing' existed. for as long as there has been time there has always existed 'something'.

the idea of something coming from nothing is absurd.

asking what came before the beginning is like asking whats north of the north pole. (or what is the sound of one hand clapping). the question itself is meaningless.

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5. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Can you tell why your assert this? It certainly is not obvious to me, but my understanding of the Big Bang does have a beginning to time - That “Big Bang fact” is for me a violation of the "obvious" fact that time had no beginning.

I.e. To me it is obvious there is both the current moment and prior moment one second earlier. (History suggests that there will be a moment one second later also, but that is not as certain.)

Also, it is obvious that one second ago, this same situation of both a present and past also prevailed. I.e. a time two seconds ago (which is one second prior to the "now" that existed one second ago) a past time also existed.

Why can one not continue this second-by-second stepping back into the past without end? I.e. is it not exactly the opposite of your claim what is “obvious”? I.e. there was ALWAYS one second earlier, or time had no beginning?

I am not trying to refute the Big Bang conclusion that time had a beginning, only your claim that it is "obvious" time had a beginning.

Physics has shown many obvious things to be false. The sun does not go around the Earth, even though it is obvious that it does. It is obvious that a single photon cannot go by two well separated paths, but physic has shown that it does. Etc. Thus, I am not very surprised that the above "proof" showing how obvious it is that time had no beginning has also been shown by physics of the big bang to be false.

I have read the OP's first and last links and skimmed the middle one. Thus, I also find this statement of yours, "absurd." Have your read any of the OP's links?

I would recommend the last one be read first as it has no math. It does mention one result, which I happen to know is true as years ago I did the quantum mechanical model of the simple harmonic oscillator problem and the zero point energy, E/2, is the correct minimum system. He may be a little misleading if implying each of the energy levels hold a single photon; but he is correct as he is showing the possible system energies, which turns out to be (nE + E/2), where n is the number of photons, and not the "obvious" nE. (His point was to show that with boson even nothing has positive energy.)

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7. ### StrangerInAStrangeLandSubQuantum MechanicValued Senior Member

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Those links are unnecessary to know the idea of something coming from nothing is absurd.
According to the OP, people again want to call something nothing.
A state of perfect symmetry does NOT equate to nothing. The property of perfect symmetry is NOT equivalent to the absence of all things.
As long as anything exists, there is space & time. As long as anything exists, it is something not nothing.
The probability of moving from nothingness to thingness is 0. He doesn't even know it's possible to have a universe of perfect symmetry. He certainly doesn't know what the probability is that it could be or the probability that it could change.
Nothing does NOT have positive energy or any energy. Nothing does not have anything. It's NO THING.

Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2009
8. ### ImperfectionistPope Humanzee the FirstRegistered Senior Member

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It seems absurd, but consider the particles in physics that have no mass. What seems solid to us, upon investigation, turns out to be mostly empty. Stenger explains that all the mass and energy that make up the universe is balanced by gravitational potential energy, meaning that the universe looks exactly as it should if it came from nothing.

9. ### StrangerInAStrangeLandSubQuantum MechanicValued Senior Member

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According to the makeup long ascribed to atoms, everything we think of as solid is mostly empty. That seems freaky but it doesn't make it nothing.
Mostly empty is not empty. Mostly empty is not nothing.

Stenger did not explain that because it did not happen & because he clearly says there was something yet he calls it nothing. That doesn't just seem absurd, it is absurd.

10. ### ImperfectionistPope Humanzee the FirstRegistered Senior Member

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Things don't make common sense at the quantum level, that is the point I was getting at.

11. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Your common sense based* assertions are not even 1% as persuasive as a mathematical argument that contradicts them. We know that common sense often is not correct when applied outside of the realm of the experience it is based on.

If you object to the idea that nothing is perfectly symmetrical, what symmetry would you suggest for nothing? Clearly if even only one photon exists, there is axial symmetry** about its direction of travel and but a front region and a behind region with a division between them which travels at the speed of light.

Are you objecting to the idea that the total energy of nothing state is zero? Or only that nothing can divide into equal and opposite (positive and negative) energies? (like the E/2 and -E/2 of bosons and fermions). Are you aware that the vacuum does this? (ELECTRON/ POSITRON pair production or “vacuum polarization”)?

BTW, Stenger was very explicit in stating that he was not asserting that the universe did happen by the idea he has suggested. He only asserts that it is a possible way, consistent with physics, for it to have happened. I have not looked at the second of the OP’s links carefully yet to know if his math is all ok, but I bet it is, so am giving him the benefit of the doubt, until some flaw is pointed out to me. As I stated before, his math bets the hell out of your common sense objections. (Assuming it is error free.)
---------------
*I assume that you have no other basis for your assertion that it is absurd. Do you also think it absurd that one photon can pass thru two different paths? Is it absurd that the world is round and not flat? Or many other violation of common sense?

** I am not sure this is true as it has a plain in which the electic field of it exists, which probably breaks that rotational symmetry. Perhaps mirror symmetry exists? I do not know much about symmetry and symmetric transforms; however as ANY translation or rotation leaves nothing invariant, saying that nothing has "perfect symmetry" seems to be very correct.

Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2009
12. ### granpaRegistered Senior Member

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we normally speak of a chain of events as A causes B which causes C which couses D and so on. but then we have to ask what caused the first event? maybe (when discussing the ultimate nature of reality at a deep quantum level) we should just say instead that later events are influenced (not caused) by earlier events.

13. ### PsychoticEpisodeIt is very dry in here todayValued Senior Member

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Why is it that most people believe at some point in the history of all there is, that nothing preceded something? I personally don't find it difficult to believe that something always was. I can't see it being any other way.

14. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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As I stated earlier, my preference was always for Hoyl's steady state universe, but unfortunately all the evidence now known supports the Big Bang instead. I.e. a singularity at t = 0.

Many of us, including some physicist much more capable than me, do not like singularities, (black holes included.) but what can you do if not able to suggest an alternative consistent with the observations and well confirmed math models?

15. ### glitchRegistered Member

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We think of t=0 which necessitates empty space with no content so that relative activity can't possibly occur. An infinite volume (not nothing), is representive of a set of possibilities (infinite locations).

We need an infinite possibility set that has no relative property so defining it as irrelevent is the best, and having no relative property negates the space/time requirement.

16. ### spidergoatVenued Serial MemberlistValued Senior Member

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That breaks down at the quantum level, where effects can precede causes, there are even uncaused events.

17. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Yes, as far as is known, all natural decay of radio isotopes is an example of an uncaused event.

If there is an unknown cause, it act continuously without significant change for very long periods as radio active dating is consistent with other dating methods and / or other radio-isotope clocks when two or more can be used.

18. ### BenTheManDr. of Physics, Prof. of LoveValued Senior Member

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What does perfect symmetry'' mean? Symmetry in physics has some mathematical definition, and there exists some quantitative notion of what the word means---there appears to be nothing like that here.

19. ### Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Yes and I think the relate to the system remaining invariant under various transforms like rotation thru 90 degrees etc. or tanslations. If this is true, nothing has every possible symmetry of the defined symmetry groups.

20. ### granpaRegistered Senior Member

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the idea that 'nothing' would have had perfect symmetry seems pretty questionable to me. if he had said instead that the universe somehow evolved toward a state of greater and greater symmetry then maybe I could buy it.

Last edited: May 4, 2009
21. ### spidergoatVenued Serial MemberlistValued Senior Member

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Nothing would be identical to everything, wouldn't it? Because everything necessarily includes it's opposite.

22. ### StrangerInAStrangeLandSubQuantum MechanicValued Senior Member

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NO thing is not identical to EVERY thing. EVERY thing does not include NO thing.

23. ### CptBorkRobbing the Shalebridge CradleValued Senior Member

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How could a perfect symmetry break down imperfectly in the first place? Why do people even try dealing with subjects like this that go well beyond the realm of physics and human comprehension? It's a futile pursuit at this point- all physics does is tell us what the laws are that govern the workings of the universe, it doesn't say anything at all about why these laws exist.