On the existence of the universe and the human impossibility of determining its cause
– 5 February 2011
This note first posted to my personal Facebook account does not directly concern astrology, but I believe the question of the existence of the universe should be considered important by astrologers, and for that reason I have taken the liberty of reposting it here.
Last night (Feb 4-5 2011), a friend of mine posted a quotation that turned out to be from Professor Stephen Hawking, attempting to account for the existence of the universe. To Hawking is attributed the words:
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”
With all due respect to Professor Hawking and his credentials in the world of physics, I was none too impressed by his attempt at a foray into philosophy. Before I knew he was responsible for the words, I had queried them thus:
“I’m not sure that the existence of gravity can explain it, in that gravity must act on something that already exists to draw it towards something else that already exists”
When my friend identified the source of the words, I decided to expand on my objections, putting forth the following points:
“1) How does the universe “create itself from nothing” if it doesn’t already exist in some prototypical form? To me, the absence of a universe implies that there are no dimensions, there are no electrons, no positrons, no quarks, no antimatter, and so on – that there is total nothingness. For total nothingness to become something seems miraculous to me. Would it not be more logical to suppose a transformation from a more primitive state of somethingness into a more complex one?
2) Hawking talks of gravity in the citation above as though it is a law that can exist even without a universe. Since gravity is a force that causes three-dimensional physical objects to be drawn towards each other over the course of the fourth dimension (time), how does he conceptualise gravity in a situation when a universe does not exist and therefore time and space do not exist and no objects exist either? And how would gravity be responsible for the forging of dimensions that did not previously exist, in addition to particles?
3) A lot of particle physics theories conceptualise a gravitron as a fundamental subatomic particle responsible for gravitational attraction. If gravity depends on the exchange of gravitrons between two mutually remote objects, then must it not also depend on the existence of dimensions?”
To return now to the present, it is all very easy to call out the flaws in someone else’s attempt to philosophise, but it is arguably incumbent on those that challenge others’ views to present their own instead, and this is what I now intend to do.
But before I come on to that, let me also add my observation that when addressing questions of the reason for the existence of the universe, people have often tended to offer simplistic responses that do not fully answer the question. For example:
A) The universe started with the big bang and spread outwards from there.
This does not explain the existence of the universe at all. It only seeks to explain the history of the part of the universe that we can see through telescopes, as far back as when all the matter was closely compressed together. It does not explain where this closely compressed matter came from in the first place, or why it existed thus. Nor does it explain why there are dimensions of time and space.
B) The universe exists because it was created by God.
This essentially projects a human idea of a creator onto the existence of the universe, an idea that has been popular among the world’s major religions, but one that requires faith rather than reason if it is to be believed: faith in an entity called God that is said by people to have created the universe. This explanation has never been at all satisfactory to me. It cannot be proven, it relies on the conceptualisation of an unseen, intelligent creator entity, and I do not see any rational reason to favour it over any other explanation or indeed the admission that we simply don’t and cannot know.
It also pushes back the burden of explanation from the universe to its supposed creator, and ultimately the argument therefore becomes a circular one. If a God created the universe, then to what does that God owe its existence? Why is there a God, rather than nothing at all?
So now I must take up the baton and attempt my own analysis of this problem, a problem that has bothered me since it first struck my own consciousness deeply when I was about thirteen years of age.
Why is there matter at all? Why are there subatomic particles, both matter and antimatter, instead of no particles? Why are there dimensions of space and time, instead of no dimensions?
Gravity (a force dependent on the existence of dimensions of space and time, and of particles within it) cannot explain the existence of those dimensions and particles themselves, no matter what Hawking might like to conveniently believe in his rush to explain the “spontaneous creation” of the universe.
Perhaps, in fairness to Hawking, I should note at this juncture that he in fact said “a force such as gravity” and not “gravity”. If he did not in fact mean gravity, but rather some other force that in his own mind he likens to it, then really he should have said so. All the same, I think it would have been a very clumsy comparison to make.
The crux of the problem is why there is anything at all in the first place, any variability from nothingness, from the non-existence of particles, dimensions, and forces.
I do not believe that from our human perspective we shall ever be capable of fully answering this. We can only speculate, and acknowledge that there are dimensions and particles, that there is not total nothingness; for if there was, then consciousness, and life, never would have been possible, and we would not have been able to think about such matters for we would not have existed any more than the universe.
On the theme of variability from nothingness, I had a vivid dream early in 1997 or late in 1996 offering me an attempt at instruction on the cause of the existence of the universe. The dream portrayed absolute nothingness being the norm, but an imperfect nothingness possessed of certain mathematical properties having an inherent random variability, this variability occasionally leading to aberrations in that nothingness, giving rise to some kind of a universe, to the outward projection of dimensions where previously there had been unity in nothingness. That universe might not be stable, and it might be of very limited duration within the spectrum of the overall field where nothingness was the norm, before normal order returned and the universe and all its dimensions were therefore annihilated again.
Even in this picture suggested by my own dream, however, there is a problem of accounting for what came in the first place. Why should there be this variability, this imperfect nothingness, and not a perfect nothingness?
This unfortunately is impossible for us to know. It would appear that, for reasons unknown and unknowable, variability is a fundamental metaphysical property, that was ultimately sufficiently powerful in at least one instance to break the monopoly of nothingness; for from that variability, no matter how seldom or frequently, dimensions arose and potentials were built up across those dimensions, these potentials taking the form of particles of opposite charges and their movements relative to each other across those dimensions.
From this starting point, the ‘many universes’ hypothesis is also an attractive one: the same variability could create different versions of aberration from nothingness with different mathematical properties, and only occasionally would a stable physical universe result.