Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lawrence M. Krauss's "A Universe from Nothing"

Lawrence M. Krauss is a renowned cosmologist and science popularizer, and is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. Hailed by Scientific American as a rare public intellectual, he is also the author of more than three hundred scientific publications and nine books, including the international bestseller, The Physics of Star Trek. He received his PhD from MIT in 1982 and then joined the Society of Fellows at Harvard, and was a professor at Yale University and Chair of the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University before taking his present position. Internationally known for his work in theoretical physics, he is the winner of numerous international awards, and is the only physicist to have received major awards from all three US physics societies, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics, and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Krauss applied the “Page 99 Test” to his recent bestseller, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, and reported the following:
Well, much to my surprise, Ford Madox Ford's statement seems to hold true for my book, A Universe from Nothing. Page 99 involves a discussion of one of the weirdest features of what is perhaps the most unusual and important discovery in cosmology in the past 50 years, something that has totally changed our picture of the present universe, and its future, and probably also its origins. I am referring to the fact that empty space--that is space devoid of any matter or radiation at all--actually contains energy, and in fact the dominant energy in the universe resides in empty space! This single remarkable fact is responsible for my decision to write a book describing the amazing revolutions that have taken place in the Universe over the past 25 years that have brought us to the threshold of addressing that longstanding question: Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? As I describe in the book, it is not only plausible, but indeed all evidence we have about the universe is suggestive of the fact that our universe arose from nothingness by natural processes that we may soon be able to fully describe, just as the presently observed diversity of life on earth arose by the natural processes of mutation and natural selection. While this doesn't preclude the possibility of some divine intelligence assembling the universe, it certainly makes the alternative much more plausible. Moreover, besides celebrating our newfound knowledge of nature and the excitement of discovery, I wrote the book to explain how the very notions of 'nothing' and 'something' have completely changed over the course of millennia, as science has progressed, and in particular to explain why these terms are scientific terms, and not religious or philosophical ones.

In any case, here is a key paragraph on that page that is at the heart of one of the reasons something can come from nothing:
This is an example of something that Guth coined as the ultimate "free lunch". Including the effects of gravity in thinking about the universe allows objects to have--amazingly--"negative" as well as "positive" energy. This facet of gravity allows for the possibility that positive energy stuff, like matter and radiation, can be complemented by negative energy configurations that just balance the energy of the created positive energy stuff. In so doing, gravity can start out with an empty universe--and end up with a filled one.
Learn more about the book and author at Lawrence M. Krauss's website.

--Marshal Zeringue