Where Did The Universe Come From? – by Chris Ferrie and Geraint F. Lewis
“I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.”– Steven Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
As we move next to ultimate reality and a return to the question of the existence of the divine, I thought it might make sense to revisit the question of the origin of the universe, historically the major justification for belief in God. I stumbled onto this book while visiting Stanford University and could not pass it by as again I came face to face with a lay explanation of the scientific solution to this fundamental problem. One of the earliest axioms of the ancient Greek philosophers was that something cannot come from nothing, and in truth most of us still assume this to be the case. I suspect even the most committed physicist would be hard pressed to believe a pebble, a book, an automobile, or a novel life-form materialized out of thin air, but each of these is in fact possible (albeit infinitesimally so) in the strange world of quantum mechanics. In the first 37 pages, Ferrie and Lewis present with great clarity the hypothesis of a “universe from nothing” based on this system.
Quantum physics we are told began with Max Planck’s revelation that the glow from heated metal comes from the discreet ‘jiggling’ of charges in ‘chunks’ called quanta. Then Albert Einstein building on James Clerk Maxwell’s four equations on electromagnetic waves and the fixed speed of light in a vacuum formulated the general and special theories of relativity which reveal that (1) space and time are relative and only the speed of light is absolute and (2) mass and energy are interchangeable (E=mc2). After the Russian mathematician, Alexander Friedmann conceived of the universe as dynamic and evolving and Edwin Hubble documented the universe was expanding, it became apparent that if one rolls back time, the cosmos began with something like Georges Lemaitre’s ‘primeval atom’ – a theory which Fred Hoyle mockingly called the Big Bang. However the job of the scientist is now much more manageable as in that case only the appearance of this primeval atom or ‘singularity’ must be explained. So far so good!
Ferrie and Lewis next take on nothing, which they designate as a “chunk of space devoid of any matter or radiation”1 (they freely admitting that it is hard to imagine the alternative kind of nothing “where you strip away the space and time themselves.”). It turns out that empty space “seethes with particles popping in and out of existence” a phenomenon known as quantum fluctuations. Werner Heisenberg explained this phenomenon by developing matrixes of numbers which when multiplied together gave different results based on the order of multiplication (that is A x B is not equal to B x A) with the unexpected discovery that we can never precisely know all the properties of an object, a conclusion which came to be known as the uncertainty principle. The upshot of this theory, according to Niels Bohr, is that we must learn to reject our preconceived notion that things exist (at least in the exact sense we assume).
(continued next post)
1 Ferrie, Chris and Lewis, Geraint F., Where Did The Universe Come From? Sourcebooks, Naperville, IL, 2021. LCCN 2021003815, page 25.
2Ibid., page 26.