Saturday, September 04, 2010

Has Stephen Hawking got his sums right? 0 =1??

Centre of Milky Way Galaxy; Image from Hubble Site

Professor Stephen Hawking has decided that there is no need for God to explain the Universe. Although it is clearly dodgy to debate his argument without reading the book, the nature of his argument, according to condensed reports, does open itself to thought.

He is quoted  as saying:
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing," says Hawking. "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going".

So far, so good. He has demolished the Pyrotechnnologist God, the idea of a BigPerson outside of the universe who initiates the causal chain that sets the Big Bang going; the idea of a Creator who exists for eternity, but suddenly, possibly out of  boredom, decides to create a cosmos out of nothing, just to have something to watch. Bit like switching on daytime TV. The dismissal of that conception is not a problem, except for religious fundamentalists, but they have problems with the thinking of the man sitting next to them, so that is not a problem.

The problem I, and many others have, is the idea that "the universe can and will create itself from nothing."  Spontaneously.

Nothing is nothing. No-thing. It means no energy, no matter, no branes, no strings, no dimensions,  no laws of physics, nothing. It is zero. To assert that something can come from nothing is to assert that zero is equal to one, 0=1, which would overturn mathematics, the most  positive of all our mental disciplines. Not to mention causing all computers to malfunction. This is a big problem.

Let's go from what we actually know. We know for certain that the universe is expanding. As we go forward in time, it gets bigger. Indeed, it is not an expansion of matter within space and time, it is an expansion of space and time.


So if we run the arrow of time backwards, the universe gets "smaller" until it reaches a point of origin in space and time. In our imagination, this point is small, but that is an illusion, because what we are looking at is all that is, which is...how to express it...a big lot of very big bigness.

Now physicists have been studying the state of affairs in the few milliseconds after the Big Bang. They can work out conditions and interactions of particles and things. Hawking appears to have concluded that we now have a full understanding of all the laws that obtained then. He may or may not be right. The point is, as they work their way back, there comes a point where distinctions are no longer possible. Existence is just that, existence. A Singularity.

Now although the conditions that obtain within a Singularity are by definition beyond the reach of science, I personally cannot imagine that the Singularity is anything but totally undifferentiated. It is beyond space and time, and differentiation can only exist withing space and time. The singularity is also infinitely massive, and infinitely energetic, since it is destined to become the Universe. There is nothing outside of the Singularity, (see above) so it must be infinitely extensive. It is beyond time, so it is eternal and unchanging.

What intrigues me is that this description of the Singularity, which is the result of rigorous use of the scientific, analytical function of our brain, is that it is remarkably close to the description of the Infinite given by mystics, who arrive at the Infinite through the rigorous use of the synthetic function of the brain. Synthetic in the sense of refusing to let the mind wander from one point to another, a refusal to look at distinctions.

The only difference is that the mystics view their Singularity with an overwhelming sense of positive awe. They describe merging with the One as a state of total undifferentiation.

It is very clear that some may choose to regard these two singularities as totally different things, one real and one imaginary. More on this later, because this was a bit of a diversion.

The key point is that the Singularity Exists. That there is being, rather than non-being.

Again, there are two possible views on this. One is to regard it as completely inconsequential: if there were no being, we would not be here to wonder. We are here, so there is no cause for wonderment.

The other view is to contemplate the Mystery of Being - both in its singular state, and its differentiated state, as viewed by us in the matrix of life that sustains us. To me, being is the ultimate mystery - a question completely beyond the bounds of science, since it is untestable. The only thought we can bring to it is that Being manifests a tiny portion of Itself to us every time we use our senses. The trees, grass, flowers, sky, sun, stars are all an exposure of an infinitesimal fragment of the Immensity that was once a Singularity and is now a differentiated unfolding universe in its many levels - matter, energy (both visible and dark) stars, planets, life, consciousness with all the infinite complexities that occur within human consciousness, right down to events like #MetGate.

In encountering the natural world and other human beings (and by encountering I mean authentically experiencing them, not just registering their form in our perceptions in an automatic, habit driven way), we are experiencing a part of the Mystery that is Being.

Think of the cosmos as a hologram, where each part contains an image that is most accurately seen in its totality.

One of the most important encounters is with other people. There are two main options here: to experience them as objects, or reflexively as sentient beings. The former can result in killing; the latter can result in loving.

The highest response it to give a loving response to those that are trying to kill us, metaphorically or physically. To love our enemies, not just our friends.

Behaviour authenticates or refutes belief. It is useless to entertain high thoughts and behave like a complete bastard. The loveless fundamentalist is a walking advertisement of the falsity of his belief system.

Somebody said, "If you cannot find God in the next person you meet, it is pointless looking any further".

That is how Quakers think. "There is that of God within everyone".


I'm just saying. I'm not trying to start an argument.

PS Stephen Hawking is a genius, but not infallible.

PPS Does unconfirmable M-theory plus the anthropic tautology represents the end to the quest to solve the  riddle of existence?







19 comments:

Glenn Vowles MSc, PGCE, BA said...

'We know for certain that the universe is expanding.'

Can anything be known for certain?

'To assert that something can come from nothing is to assert that zero is equal to one, 0=1, which would overturn mathematics, the most positive of all our mental disciplines. Not to mention causing all computers to malfunction. This is a big problem.'

Could it be that right at the instant of the big bang zero was equal to one?

Personnally I'm fascinated by what Hawking has said. It seem to tie in with chaos theory and systems thinking - that properties emerge from systems rather than being 'designed'. Could it be that properties such as 1=1 emerged from the big bang...?

DocRichard said...

Hi Glenn
Can anything be known for certain?
Strictly, no, nothing can be known for absolute 100% certainty. However, all the observations indicate that the universe is expanding, so that is what we have to go for at the moment.

Could it be that right at the instant of the big bang zero was equal to one?

Well, this would have to be the case if Nothing "spontaneously created" Being. However, mathematically, it remains an absurdity, on a par perhaps with the idea that the universe rests on the back of a large tortoise.

"properties emerge from systems rather than being 'designed'. Could it be that properties such as 1=1 emerged from the BB?"

Properties emerge from a pre-existent system. Hawking is positing the absence of a pre-existent system.

For us, the big philosophical question revolves around the ethics of human relations with our life support system. Does Hawking advance this cause or not? His thinking around mankind colonising space because we have messed up this planet suggests that he has not got the point.

I stand by my wonder at the existence of existence.

Regards
Richard

Be Pure Be Vigilant Behave said...

Indeed there is much to wonder about.

"There is that of God within everyone"

But which god? gods and goddesses come in all shapes.

And for every god within us, there is also a demon.

DocRichard said...

Yes, the we create our own gods and demons. Such gods which demand perfect behaviour from us create their own mirror image demons, as we repress all our imperfect traits, shoving them into a dark recess where they emerge when they can to cause us to do the theings that our gods forbid. This is why the fundamentalists, with their high standards for conduct of believers, can act with such unimaginable inhumanity to those outside of their codes.

Be Pure Be Vigilant Behave said...

A profoundly dualistic world view you have.

As you say, repression of natural instincts is very dangerous.

However, civilisation inevitably forces its members to repress natural instincts around sexuality and aggression in particular, in order to fit within elaborated social structures, so it seems that acting with "unimaginable inhumanity" (maybe you have a lack of imagination, doctor?) is an inevitable accompaniment of civilisation.

weggis said...

Well, quite.

If there were "inhumanity" that was "unimaginable" then we would not know about it, would we?

weggis said...

Doc,
"We know for certain that the universe is expanding."
Do we?

As I understand it we observe the edges of the Universe and the light we receive is in the red shift so we conclude that it is moving away from us, ergo the Universe “is” expanding.

BUT, that light was emitted 15 billion years ago, so from my point of view all we know is that the Universe WAS expanding shortly after the so called big bang. Which it would be wouldn’t it, there’s just been a big bang explosion.

How do we know what it is doing today or was doing in the intervening period?

For all we know it might have reached some unknown limit and started contracting?

Another question that I find fascinating. We believe, from our limited understanding that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. But what if it could? What would we see? If something was travelling towards us, or away from us, faster than speed of light we would not see IT, but a blank in space. Rather like a black hole, wouldn't you say.

Passing Geek said...

As it has been stated in many holy texts that God is "beyond our understanding." And that may be true for the universe.

The Hadron experiment is guaranteed to provide interesting results, but I have heard physicists involved muse (when challenged) that it may produce a realisation that the Universe and its origins is "not accessible to our comprehension".

weggis said...

I have long since come to the realisation that we will never know what's really going on at the quantum level simply because we are to big to get down there and have a look for ourselves.
Like wise we are too small to get out there and find out what's really going on in the far reaches of the universe.

We are Goldilocks.

DocRichard said...

Dualistic? There's no need to be rude. OK. Maybe there is. To monists I am a dualist, to dualists I am a monist. Goldilocks position, as Weggis says.

I wouldn't diss civilisation. I wd classify the actions of dictators, warmongers & genociders (?) as uncivilised. Tony Bush and George Blair are examples of the veneer of civilisation cracking.

Nobody that knows me regards me as lacking in imagination. Rather the opposite. I was using "unimaginable" as a superlative. Insert your own preference in its place.

Well, yes, Weg, I suppose the Universe might already be collapsing, afawk. Though I expect there are astrophysical reasons to support the view that it is not. We have to go from the data, and that at the moment just points to expansion.

I am uncomfortably aware that we are like a bunch of amateurs, and that the physicists could come down on us like a tonne of quarks on this little conversation. But so long as we're enjoying ourselves, that's all that matters isn't it? Er...or...well what is truth, anyway?

Interesting remark about the Hadron collider and incomprehensibility. I sometimes wonder if there is not an infinite regress of particles. And also, if a physicist conceives of a particle, and believes in it hard enough, it will eventually appear. This is a Very Bad Thought. http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2007/11/particle-physics-bad-thoughts-and.html

Now, back to Metgate.

Be Pure Be Vigilant Behave said...

Oh dear, we do seem to be at cross porpoises, doctor.

There's nothing rude about calling / being called a dualist, it's a simple statement of fact:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism

"Moral dualism is the belief of the great complement (in eastern and naturalistic religions) or conflict (in western religions) between the benevolent and the malignant. Most religious systems have some form of moral dualism - in western religions, for instance, a conflict between good and evil."

I'll go for yin/yang complementarity meself, rather than the Xian conflict stuff that you appear to favour: way I see it is, you can't have one without the other.

And, as you pointed out, in contradiction to the "god within" theory may I say, we humans construct our own evil gods or benign demons. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Ditto on civilisation. I'm merely pointing out the simple fact, obvious if you try to be objective, that civilisation has its inherent and unavoidable Other / dark side. Look back in history. No civilisation has ever existed without the perfectly imaginable and normal human behaviours of torture, rape, murder, genocide and suchlike.

Such is the nature of this animal we are. Reality cannot be evaded. (No denialism now!)

As below, so above.

Passing Geek and physicists: "the Universe and its origins is "not accessible to our comprehension"

As you say, very likely. Excellent. Maybe the human animal needs to learn some humility. Better late than never, eh.

Humans are not in control of much - least of all ourselves.

DocRichard said...

Be pure &c
I think you are projecting on me. I was describing the state of affairs in the mind of a moralist (dualist if you like). I was not advocating it. I am a longstanding taoist (amateur).

I agree that civilisation, through requiring inhibitions, causes repressions and outbreaks of uncivilised behaviour. That is why we need continuous remodelling of the norms through democratic channels, to update the prevalent laws so that they are reasonable. Civilisation (like democracy) may be imperfect, but the alternative is not attractive in the slightest. Look at Somalia.

I also agree that the universe is inaccessible to our comprehension; but this does not mean that our comprehension cannot approach the reality in an assymptotic way. But our knowledge is never complete.

BPBVB said...

"I think you are projecting on me"

Now that IS rude. No, I think we misunderstand each other and are anyway partly talking different languages.

The possibilian view seems like a useful starting point for questions of religion and modern physics:

"Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position -- one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."

Possible Possibilian said...

"I think you are projecting on me"

Now that IS rude. No, more likely, and more prosaically, we are misunderstanding one another, and partly speaking different languages.

The possibilian view seems like a useful starting point for such religious and modern physics questions:

"Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position -- one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."

1:25 PM

BPBVB said...

There's no "projection" from my side, doctor. Maybe the boot is on the other foot.

More charitably, I'd say that we are misunderstanding one another. Perhaps even speaking different languages.

BPBVB said...

No "projection" from my side, doctor. Maybe the boot is on the other foot.

More charitably, I'd suggest that we are misunderstanding one another.

DocRichard said...

BP
I agree, we are misunderstanding each other.

Possibilian posted this, and I think it got lost:

"I think you are projecting on me"

Now that IS rude. No, more likely, and more prosaically, we are misunderstanding one another, and partly speaking different languages.

The possibilian view seems like a useful starting point for such religious and modern physics questions:

"Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position -- one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."


RL: That seems reasonable to me - a development of agnosticism. I try to avoid any set positions. Being a political ecologist is enough for me, as a serious position.

Speculation about cosmogony is an interesting intellectual pastime, but living in harmony with Nature is a universal human ethological imperative.

Anonymous said...

I think Stephen Hawking's explanation is incomplete because he stops at nothingness as something purely objective in this universe. He should have completed the cycle, from the observer (him) to the observed (the universe) back to the observer (him) and notice that question - is he sure this is not a limitation of the observer's knowing? Nothingness is not a purely objective condition- by Don Juan, sciencechatforum.com

Anonymous said...

I think Stephen Hawking's explanation is incomplete because he stops at nothingness as something purely objective in this universe. He should have completed the cycle, from the observer (him) to the observed (the universe) back to the observer (him) and notice that question - is he sure this is not a limitation of the observer's knowing? Nothingness is not a purely objective condition- by Don Juan, sciencechatforum.com