Friday, April 20, 2012

Lawrence Krauss' book of nothing

Physicist-philosopher David Albert reviews atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss' new book A Universe From Nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing.

Krauss, as you might have guessed, asserts that the universe arose from nothing, thereby obviating the need for God.

Albert, a physicist who is also a professor of philosophy at Columbia, takes Krauss apart. It's one of the more devastating book reviews I've read.

Excerpt from Albert's review:

The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

Krauss, mind you, has heard this kind of talk before, and it makes him crazy. A century ago, it seems to him, nobody would have made so much as a peep about referring to a stretch of space without any material particles in it as “nothing.” And now that he and his colleagues think they have a way of showing how everything there is could imaginably have emerged from a stretch of space like that, the nut cases are moving the goal posts. He complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise. 

Actually, "nothing" has been a topic that has been subjected to profound philosophical investigation, most notably by the scholastic philosophers. The philosophical discipline of ontology-- the study of what it means to exist and to not exist-- is devoted to the exhaustive analysis of what is meant by "nothing".  Krauss' idiotic concept of "nothing"-- he means transient absence of solid stuff--  hasn't been taken seriously by serious thinkers for a couple of thousand years.

Albert finishes Krauss off with an eloquent synopsis of what is wrong at the core of atheistic scientism:

And I guess it ought to be mentioned, quite apart from the question of whether anything Krauss says turns out to be true or false, that the whole business of approaching the struggle with religion as if it were a card game, or a horse race, or some kind of battle of wits, just feels all wrong — or it does, at any rate, to me. When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for every­thing essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.

One of the scandals in modern public academic discourse is that philosophical sub-literates like Krauss are taken seriously. Hopefully Albert's review evisceration of Krauss' book in the Times' Book Review is evidence that even the godless snobs at the New York Times are beginning to notice that the arguments of the New Atheists are the clearest examples yet discovered of... nothing.

22 comments:

  1. Egnor: Actually, "nothing" has been a topic that has been subjected to profound philosophical investigation, most notably by the scholastic philosophers.

    That about sums up the importance of philosophy.

    ReplyDelete
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  2. Albert: Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise.

    This goes to show that philosophical musings about nothing have been om the past, and will remain so in the future, pure mental masturbation. A harmless that provides gratification and is entirely fruitless. :)

    Seriously, Albert concedes that philosophers were wrong about it all along. What they thought was nothing turned out to be something! Poor chaps! They worked hard trying to focus on nothing and in the end they failed! Nothing is more elusive than the Higgs boson and probably even dark matter. As scientists keep discovering something, philosophers dig ever deeper into their hole of a quest for nothing. :)

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  3. "Krauss' idiotic concept of "nothing"-- he means transient absence of solid stuff--"

    Umm, no he doesn't mean "transient absence of solid stuff". But since you clearly haven't read his book, you wouldn't know that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ah, I love it when poor old oleg tries to talk above his IQ level. oleg old chap, it is not very smart to trash philosophy when you make philosophical statements all the time and have beliefs that are not empirical but metaphysical or is based on some kind of metaphysics.

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  5. An absolute nothing is impossible to imagine. Considering we are here, and absolute nothing doesn’t exist “now“, and probably never existed because a state that can be defined in relation to our existing reality has properties and is therefore something.

    We don’t know what time is, and we don’t know what makes up the bulk of the universe. What we do have are theories consistent with observation that imply a mass energy precisely cancelled by negative gravitational energy and a zero net energy universe. We have observational evidence that supports the notion of a multivese spawning inflation field of zero net energy. This is astonishing. Nobody guessed this. This wasn’t the outcome of blind philosophical musings or (like Aquinas) rationalizations to support the status quo. It was the outcome of taking the physical theories that best describe our observed universe to their logical extremes.

    “Nothing” is clearly unstable, and because “nothing” can’t be something that sits around immersed in the flow of time waiting to decay, it clearly never existed.

    Luckily for use, working physicists and cosmologists don’t give a rat’s ass what some philosopher of science professor thinks and just get on with the work of discovering ever better explanations for the natural world.

    -KW

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  6. An absolute nothing is impossible...
    So scientists have now proven by observation that 0 equals 1. Wow, these scientists really know things!

    We have observational evidence that supports the notion of a multivese...
    I have observational evidence that you're an idiot accompli!

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  7. Have you read Krauss's book?

    I'm sorry, but from the above it does not seem like you have, or at least not very carefully. Or perhaps you just did not understand it.

    Krauss explicitly addresses this kind of thinking quite early in the book - in the preface to be exact.

    He makes it clear that he does NOT take the fields or the elemental rules of the universe for granted, but claims that in a state of true nothing there would be nothing stopping laws arising spontaneously. As he point out this does not stop the critics, who argue that the POTENTIAL for a universe to arise is not "nothing". As he also points out, this is like arguing for "turtles all the way down". It is obsurism, and ultimately meaningless.

    This is also taken up by Victor J Stenger, who is both a particle physicist, Emeritus Professor of physics at the University of Hawaii, and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado. With a foot in both the physics and philosphy camps, it would be hard to find anyone better qualified to comment. He says it better than me, so have a look.

    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=4754

    He also points out that Krauss's position is in fact not new, and typical among theoretical particle physicists and cosmologists.

    This is an interesting debate, and I have not fully made up my mind. But it is not nearly as simplistic as you suggest.

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  8. Krauss is a hellbound moron and so is anyone dumb enough to follow him.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Philosophers... one of the endangered species trying so hard to remain relevant in our times! What a bunch of useless retards, if I had the power I would close down theology, philosophy, liberal arts, history, gender studies, racial studies, and similar schools/departments at least in our state universities and allocate the funds to something that can actually benefit people... how about cancer research? or MS research?
    Cry all you want, you are becoming more irrelevant every day and someday benefit/cost ratio becomes so low that will force you all out of the academia ! Looking forward to that day !

    ReplyDelete
  10. Alan:

    You're serious? You do realize theology and philosophy BOTH play a role in the making of the medication you so clearly point out that we need to find cures for diseases?

    ReplyDelete


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