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Central London Humanists Message Board Meetings › Why is there something rather than nothing? And did 'You-Know-Who' create it?

Why is there something rather than nothing? And did 'You-Know-Who' create it?

Josh K.
Group Organizer
London, GB
Post #: 86
On May 16 2012 Jeffrey Herrmann gave a talk to the group - Why is there something rather than nothing? And did 'You-Know-Who' create it? It was one of our best attended meetings and has given rise to quite a few comments.

Steve Clapman - Well done Jeff, the talk was great, we now need other members to come forward with a proposal for a talk (come on Jim). I was asked to post the book that Jeff recommended

David Miller - A very good talk Jeff. Thought provoking and yes, baffling = good. As a humanist I want to be made to think about things. So this expansion happened at faster than the speed of light - I haven't got my head around that yet. Are you sure the expansion bit isn't a construct to fill in a hole in the big bang theory?

Kris - Thank's for posting title of book but, probably 2 baffling for me. Possible subject for the next meeting: I realise the only constant is change but why do humans change & turn towards "God" as they get older? Could you consider & where is their evidence, I know of some but certainly not all; of chemical/electrical changes in the brain. I went to a lecture one given by a neurologist doing research at Kings. Have now lost contact with him. It's only a suggestion.

Brendan Armstrong - Interesting lecture by knowledgeable speaker. Only problem is that as there is no evidence to suggests that nothing exists or ever has, is it not 'begging the question' to suppose the title has any meaning. Nevertheless interesting subject.

Jim - Excellent, thought-provoking talk that stimulated a lot of interest

David Lewis - A well-presented lecture but frankly rather disappointing. Most of his material was not new, at least for anyone who's read Dawkins. I was hoping for something more but the speaker was unable to provide a convincing possible explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. His reference to the universal truths of mathematics was baffling, to say the least!

Jeffrey H.
user 7008405
London, GB
Post #: 72
First, thanks to Josh for setting up this thread.

There were many good questions and criticisms of my talk, so as long as interest continues, I would like to reply to the people who have commented.

To begin, I'll paste in a reply that I sent directly to Dave Miller in response to his question about the big bang which can be read above:
The inflationary theories (there are several variants) arose because the traditional big bang theory had three insoluble problems:  it could not explain why the universe is nearly uniform on large scales, why the universe is exactly or nearly flat, not curved,  and why vast numbers of magnetic monopoles predicted by the big bang theory do not in fact still exist.  Inflation solves those three problems all at once. This is explained in Alan Guth's book, The Inflationary Universe, although it is not light reading.  So, inflation is a necessary "construct" to solve problems with the big bang theory up to a time t= 10 exp -32 sec. and then traditional big bang theory works for the next 13.7 billion years. 
Next, in reply to Kris: If it was too baffling, the fault is all mine. Nothing I tried to say was to difficult for anyone who came to the talk, if only I had presented it more clearly.
In reply to Brendan: the philosopher Adolph Gruenbaum agrees with you that the question isn't even a meaningful one. I would accept that view if someone showed me an iron clad proof that Nothing is logically impossible. But if Nothing is only impossible because some "laws of physics" that govern the natural world prevent Nothing from existing (except for a brief, random quantum fluctuation before returning to something), the question Why .... then does have meaning in my opinion. An it is answerable by the methods of science, not theology or philosophy.
Next to Jim: you raised the point during Q & A that the mathematical facts or truths that I argued would have some existence, even if there were Nothing at all, derive from axioms, which is correct. A member also pointed out after the Q & A that the rules of logic would appear to have the same sort of reality or existence despite the absence of Something. I don't think either observation refutes my point. They did get me thinking further, and they comments raise in my mind the well-known puzzling fact that mathematics, which ultimately is grounded in formal logic, should so well describe the natural world. I still think there is something significant in the fact that those abstract truths of mathematics and logic almost miraculously lead to "laws of physics" that actually describe the Something that does exist. This is something I would happily discuss further with you.
Finally among the comments posted so far, to David: I am sorry that, like Kris, some of what I said was baffling and even more sorry that what I said was disappointing. It is difficult to say something novel on this well-discussed question, and where I tried, I found most people disagreed. I certainly haven't provided a compelling answer to the question, any more than modern physics and cosmology have. However, I still do think that if an answer is ever to be achieved, it will come from some principle or principles that contain within themselves the reason for their own validity. That was a point I tried to make at the end, but obviously without success.
A former member
Post #: 5
Thank you for your reply to me, I don't think it would have been to baffling had it not been for 2 matters 1) I left school long ago & can only remember a little of algebra & geometry & no arithmatic . 2) I had previously "tried" a few things in my youth, nursing, loved the gerriatric ward but realised it wasn't for me. (40 patients in a long ward, at one end some with hands tied to the cot bars, at the other the walking wounded). I'd come across the philosophy short course at Birbeck but realised it wasn't for me. Know you've stimulated my thought re: U Tube univercity I look forward to hours of fun. Thank you again, I really did enjoy the lecture.
A former member
Post #: 1

Firstly well done on your talk. Thanks for your responce to my review. Not quite satified with your answer though so just a few more questions. My understanding is that science is based on observations and then explainations for the observations which are then testable. I am not sure how you are defining 'nothing' so am not sure where the concept of 'nothing' comes from except from the idea of a lack of stuff. Doesn't 'nothing' have to be proven first before you can ask a question about it (a bit like god). If you are waiting to see proof of 'nothing' being impossible are you not just shifting the burden of proof? I suppose if 'nothing' is needed to explain some known of observable phenomena then you can say it is a concept that has use and therfore meaning.
Jeffrey H.
user 7008405
London, GB
Post #: 73
Your question about how to define Nothing is at the heart of the miniature universe of commentary on Krauss' book, A Universe From Nothing, and in my talk I didn't address the definitional issue, partly because my talk was already running too long. I think many physicists would say that by nothing they mean empty space with no thing in it. But as we have learned from 70 or 80 years of quantum physics, experimental and theoretical, when you look for space that is utterly empty, you can't ever find it, and the theoretical explanation, which gives testable predictions that are borne out by experiments, is that randomly fluctuating quantum fields pervade space, and they have a net energy (which the animation I played tries to illustrate).
You seem to express a scepticism that nothing could even exist, and I think that that is a reasonable skepticism. But as I tried to explain, many people start with the presumption that Nothing would be the default condition of the universe and it takes an active agent to depart from Nothing and produce Something. People of that mind set feel the question Why is there something rather than nothing? is a real question. They are in effect saying Nothing is the most "natural" or probable state, and the burden is on other people to show why there is Something instead. But they are starting from an unsupported assumption about what the most "natural" condition is.
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