I wrote this in reply to the reader’s question below, but the Daily Telegraph has not published it. The Telegraph Editor is regrettably a god-believer.


SIR—Glenys Roberts (Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2008) asks, “Surely the really interesting thing is what happened BEFORE the Big Bang?”

The answer derives from a merging of quantum physics and high-energy particle physics with cosmology and astrophysics. Knowledge of advanced theoretical and experimental research is required for a full understanding of the necessary principles. I summarise what follows from a book that I have been writing and is nearly complete.

In the beginning was the void. Time and space were nothingness.

Vic Stenger, physicist, explains how quantum mechanics provides a purely natural mechanism for the transition empty Universe to non-empty Universe.
Physics, in all its powers, resolves that the Universe was instantly self-created, uncaused, from an unstable void or false vacuum—a timeless quantum void—with the property that incipient, virtual particles were omnipresent. It was timeless chaotic emptiness.
For quantum uncertainty is all pervasive, throughout the world and the Universe, even unto the void. In short an unstable void or its alter ego the Universe is all there is to contemplate.

Yet in REAL TIME universes are all there can be.
They are eternally present, forever existing, because their absence would imply an unstable state of the void that cannot exist in time.

Thus, our Universe simply is . . .
. . . . because at least one universe is always necessarily present.
For if not, there would be a void instead—but a void being truly unstable, a universe would instantly replace it. Therefore, a universe–or universes—must be. THEY ALWAYS WERE; AND ALWAYS SHALL BE.

Therefore too, because time cannot exist prior to universes, universes cannot have a first cause. With no first cause, there is no primary origin, no creation. Therefore postulations of the supernatural are superfluous, dispensable and worthless. Theism results from inadequate knowledge of science, and people’s gods exist only in their heads. Atheism is the natural condition of the Universe into which we are all born, and innocently persists until indoctrination into some ‘faith’ is pressured upon, most usually, children.

“The nothingness ‘before’ the creation of the Universe is the most complete void we can imagine. No space, time or matter existed. It is a world without place, without duration or eternity . . .” Heinz Pagels, physicist.

Although, like the stars, the void may not be humanly approachable, its physics is within human reach, because it is entrenched in the theory of cosmological inflation which has abundant empirical evidence supporting it.

Charles Darwin said: ““Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science”. The Descent of Man.

Terence Meaden
Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and Kellogg College

Views: 401

Replies to This Discussion

There *is* no 'law of causality'. That was an old view (ultimately from Aristotle) that is known to be wrong. For example, there is nothing that 'causes' a single radioactive nucleus to decay. There is nothing that 'sets it off' to decay at one time instead of another. It is an inherently random event. HOWEVER, if you have billions of such nuclei, the overall effect is predictable sinply because each individual decay is random.
Causality isn't known to be wrong. There is an understanding that we are subject to cause and effect. Nobody rejects that. If we didn't live in a causal environment how would we be able to make any consistant accurate predictions at all? What some people DO reject is that we are ONLY subject to causality. Some people propose that we are also subject to randomness. But in many cases, this randomness they claim is simply attributed to things in which they don't know what the causes are. These things could very well not be random. Just because we don't know what the cause of something is, doesn't mean it must be random. But that is how easly people apply the term. The roll of dice may seem to be random because we are unable to predict what the outcome will be. But it is not random. We are just unable to know all the variables that ultimately cause and determine the numbers to be rolled. But those causes are there, and our lack of ability to analyze those conditions do not render causality null.

Yes, there are "causes" for a single radioactive nucleus to decay. Just because one cannot predict "when" an atom will decay does not mean there isn't a cause to the decay. Also, the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus is only "random" in the sense that we are unable to "predict" when it will decay. But just because we are unable able to "predict" when it will decay does not neccitate that the decay is uncaused. Again, It just means we are unable to gather and calculate all the variables that "cause" the decay.

Radioactive Decay Explanation (Causes)

The neutrons and protons that constitute nuclei, as well as other particles that may approach them, are governed by several interactions. The strong nuclear force, not observed at the familiar macroscopic scale, is the most powerful force over subatomic distances. The electrostatic force is almost always significant, and in the case of beta decay, the weak nuclear force is also involved.

The interplay of these forces is simple. Some configurations of the particles in a nucleus have the property that, should they shift ever so slightly, the particles could fall into a lower-energy arrangement and release some energy. One might draw an analogy with a snowfield on a mountain: while friction between the snow crystals may be supporting the snow's weight, the system is inherently unstable with regard to a state of lower potential energy. A disturbance would thus facilitate the path to a state of greater entropy: the system will move towards the ground state, producing heat, and the total energy will be distributable over a larger number of quantum states. Thus, an avalanche results. The total energy does not change in this process, but because of the law of entropy, avalanches only happen in one direction and that is towards the "ground state" – the state with the largest number of ways in which the available energy could be distributed.

Such a collapse (a decay event) requires a specific activation energy. For a snow avalanche, this energy comes as a disturbance from outside the system, although such disturbances can be arbitrarily small. In the case of an excited atomic nucleus, the arbitrarily small disturbance comes from quantum vacuum fluctuations. A nucleus (or any excited system in quantum mechanics) is unstable, and can thus spontaneously stabilize to a less-excited system. The resulting transformation alters the structure of the nucleus.

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_decay
The problem with your reasoning is that we *know* that hidden variable theories do not correspond with the real world. We cannot predict the time of decay of a nucleus, not because we are ignorant of some underlying variables, but because it is the very nature of such decays to be random. So, in the wiki explanation, there does have to be a lower energy state to decay to, but the actual decay is not caused.

What happens is that random events, when there are enough of them, are predictable in the average. SO, for macroscopic things, there is a sense in which determinism holds. But at the very basic level of quantum mechanics, this is no longer the case. So, yes, there are people who reject 'cause and effect' at that level. In fact, it is the standard conception.

The quantum level randomness is very different than the macroscopic randomness of dice. You are right. If we could compute fast enough, we could tell what dice would read after they are thrown. This is not randomness in the quantum sense, but simply sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Radioactive decay is a quite different type of phenomenon.
It seems we agree that the definition of "randomness" as used by quantum mechanics is not the same definition of "randomness" we are accustomed to.
Right. The randomness at the every day level is more appropriately called 'chaos', which is sensitive dependence on initial conditions. This is a very different thing than what happens at the level of quantum mechanics. But, it is the quantum mechanical type that is relevant for the question of a cause for the universe. As such, it is quite possible that there simply is no cause. In other words, it is random.
eh? "sensitive dependencies on initial conditions" is the "chaos theory" which is moved by causality. This "chaos" does not equate to "randomness." The behavior of these chaotic systems only APPEARS to be random, but are in fact deterministic. Meaning that their future dynamics are fully defined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved.
Radioactive decay and photon emissions occur at quantum scales, so we expect them to be random. The classical realm and the quantum realm appear to be distinctly different despite the fact that the quantum realm permeates the universe (classical realm) and everything in it. Chaos rules the quantum realm and causality rules the classical realm. It's a paradox that the chaos of the quantum realm gives rise to the predictable nature (causality) of the classical realm. Can anybody cite an example of an uncaused effect, in the classical realm? And don't say "The Big Bang", because that began in the quantum realm.

The scale of the quantum realm is so small I wonder if the transition from quantum to classical realms is gradual or abrupt. Is there a scientific consensus on where the quantum realm ends and the classical realm begins? What is the scale of the boundary?

Given how small the quantum scale is, doesn't that make the term, "quantum leap", an oxymoron?
Good question, their is an effort to figure this out.

Hopefully you find this article interesting.
P.S. - The only way to avoid the law of causality is to assume nothing has, does or will exist, if so, there's nothing to cause one equally valid form of nothingness (ex. 0) to be selected over another (ex. 0 = 1 + -1); therefore, they must all exist, but only if they can't be distinguished from a perspective outside reality lookin in. In other words, the law of causality is broken if (1) something causes one equally valid form of nothing to be expressed over another (or 2) if the components constituting nothingness (ex 1 and -1) are detectable, therefore, must be caused to exist. Consequently, our universe, assuming it always equates to zero (all changes instantly negated), or does so by interacting with alien universes, can exist without breaking the law of causality.
Actually, to avoid causality, one only needs to say that time wasn't moving as cause and effect assume sequential events. As time is a dimension in 'our' universe, it is not a big stretch to say that time did not exist when this universe was not in existence (not my avoidance of the term 'before').

This is fun stuff. Regards,
Time is a "dimension" in our universe?

Time is a measurement of change. Without events to measure, whether they be caused or not, there would be no change to measure. Time as a measurement of change is dependant on events. Of course when there wasn't anything, there were no events, no change, no causality, and therefore nothing to measure, rendering the time measurement non-existant as well. You cannot "avoid" causality by "saying" anything. Ironically, it is causality that moved you to "say" that you can avoid causality.

The question "WHAT HAPPENED 'BEFORE' THE BIG BANG?" is tricky because we do not have evidence of what happened before the big bang and using the term "before" refrences time as though there were time before the big-bang. It is hard to acknowledge this question because it forces us to implement time where there may have been none. Our language and knowledge is dependant upon time, which we use to measure, make predictions, learn...ect... and has a strong relationship with causality. So when presented with "WHAT HAPPENED 'BEFORE' THE BIG BANG?" where we must consider there was no time, our brains have a difficult time calculating because we must put down our "time ruler" and look at it from a different perspective. It may be better to ask the question without the refrence to time, but how can we do that?
Ok, let's not get too uptight on the semantics of "dimension" vs. "measurement of change".

Additionally, my use of "avoid causality" is simply our shorthand for the same ideas you're talking about, i.e. no time, no sequence, no...cause or effect. It is not particularly difficult to conceive of a state lacking time. And one way to ask the question is "what are the conditions not of this universe".



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