origin_universe_txt_Quantum Cosmology and the Origin of the Universe
Quantum cosmology and the origin of the universe. Physics and creation
Author: Mariano Artigas
Published in: Aceprensa, 54/92
date of on-line publication: 15 April 1992
Scientific cosmology studies the history of the universe and goes back to its origins. It seems inevitable that the question of creation should arise, and indeed it does: physicists are now talking about the creation of the universe. But what can physics have to say about this question?
The ancients said that nothing comes out of nothing. In modern times it was said that subject is neither created nor destroyed, but transformed. Today the same is said, but speaking of the whole subject-energy. All this is valid if we look at the world from the tiles down, i.e. from agreement with the laws of nature. Creation out of nothing cannot be the work of natural forces, because it requires a creative power that belongs to God alone. It is therefore surprising that some scientists today claim to study the creation of the universe by means of the laws of physics.
Clarifying the words
A recent example is article "Quantum Cosmology and the Creation of the Universe", published by Jonathan J. Halliwell in Research and Science (no. 185, February 1992, pp. 12-20). What is really going on, are scientists encroaching on their own territory, or has status changed?
The above-mentioned article has a surprising subtitle, which reads: "By applying quantum mechanics to the universe as a whole, cosmologists hope to see beyond the very instant of creation". This is not an error of the translator, whose skill is beyond doubt. The original English says exactly the same thing. Please read again the degree scroll and the subtitle: it is a physics article that not only talks about the creation of the universe, but also about seeing beyond the very instant of creation. Have the scientists gone mad?
If you read the article, you will see that almost everything it says is physics stuff. You may not understand some of it, because it deals with difficult questions. However, it is well written and neatly summarises the current state of the art of programs of study on the origin of the universe. The most surprising thing is the degree scroll and, above all, the subtitle. It seems that we will have to get used to the fact that even the most serious journals attract our attention with headlines that do not correspond to the content of the articles. If the headline were Quantum Cosmology, it would only appeal to those in the know. On the other hand, the creation of the universe already interests us all, and if we are promised to see beyond the instant of creation itself, we become genuinely curious.
Part of what happens is that creation is talked about in a misleading way. Cosmology studies how the universe was formed from the Big Bang, or big explosion of an enormously dense concentration of primitive subject . If we call the Big Bang the creation of the universe, there are no more problems. That is what Halliwell does in his article. He says, for example, that Stephen Hawking has used quantum cosmology "to understand what happened before the big bang". It is clear that the creation being talked about is not creation in the absolute sense.
However, when we speak of creation, almost all of us think of the original creation, that is, the divine action that has given being to the universe. And Halliwell seems to allude, on several occasions, to the common idea of creation.
The ultimate origin of the universe
Indeed, Halliwell begins his article with these words: "Many of us, contemplating the formament on a clear night, have wondered about the origin of all that splendour. For centuries this question, debated by philosophers and theologians, was beyond the scope of scientific research , and only in this century have theories of sufficient vigour and subtlety been elaborated to provide a plausible picture of the very beginning of the universe. Therefore, he argues, the philosophical and theological problem of creation could now be studied by means of physical theories.
After outlining some theories of modern cosmology, Halliwell comments: "Conventional concepts are incomplete, however, and fail to explain, or even describe, the ultimate origin of the universe", and adds that this problem "requires recourse to that other essential approach of modern physics, quantum theory, with the problem of harmonising this theory with general relativity". It seems, therefore, that quantum gravity will finally allow us to scientifically study creation. In fact, in explaining quantum gravity, Halliwell speaks of "quantum creation", and states: "We arrive at a possible answer. According to the picture provided by quantum cosmology, the universe appeared from a quantum blur, came into existence by tunneling and has since evolved in a classical way.
Halliwell's final conclusion is the following: "Given the great difficulty of testing quantum cosmology, we cannot conclusively determine whether the no-contour or the tunneling proposals are correct for the wave function of the universe. It may be a long time before we can say whether either one answers the question 'where did it all come from?' Nevertheless, through quantum cosmology we have at least been able to formulate and address such a question in the most interesting and meaningful way, plenary session of the Executive Council ".
At final, it seems clear that Halliwell thinks that the creation of the universe, understood in an absolute sense, could be explained by physical laws. One could speak of a creation without a creator.
Science, conspiracies and fads
In former times, someone might have said that this was a new manifestation of the Bolshevik conspiracy. You might even find data to support your idea by examining its origins. In a Study Week that took place between 28 September and 2 October 1981, physicist Yacov B. Zel'dovich, from the USSR's high school of research Space and member of the Moscow Academy of Sciences, presented a work which degree scroll alluded to the possibility of a spontaneous birth of the universe. Zel'dovich left unanswered the crucial question, which he put in these terms: was there a spontaneous birth of the universe by emergence from nothing? However, the USSR no longer exists and is still being discussed at topic.
It is difficult for conspiracies to exist in physics, and almost impossible for them to succeed. Nowadays, some anti-scientific currents take pleasure in showing the dirty laundry which, of course, also exists in the history of science. But this is insignificant in view of the public nature of scientific discussions. Even if there were conspiracies in science, they are unlikely to prosper in the long run.
However, there are fads in science that are often supported by the prestige of some scientists or by the success of a theory. One of the best known fads was the idea of absolute space and time in Newton's physics. It lasted for more than two centuries. Newton is the greatest genius that ever lived in science and his mechanics was enormously successful, as it was applied to a wide variety of problems. Newton's absolute space and time were within that theory, and its reality was accepted, with some exceptions, until in the 20th century Einstein's relativity showed that these were not very correct ideas.
It has now become fashionable to talk about the implications that scientific cosmology might have for the creation of the universe. It is a fashion that has points in common with Newton's absolute space and time.
Space, time and emptiness
Indeed, those who affirm the spontaneous birth of the universe use ideas reminiscent of absolute space and time. Newton proposed a famous experiment that would prove the existence of a space and time separate from subject, which would have a reality of its own. It is now said that the primitive subject of the universe could have arisen from space-time Structures , and that these Structures could have arisen from fluctuations of the quantum vacuum.
A certain reality is therefore attributed to the Structures space-time. This would seem to be supported by Einstein's general relativity, which implies a certain geometrisation of physics. But physical realities cannot be reduced to mathematics. Einstein replaced forces by the curvature of space-time; this is an effective and legitimate stratagem, which has nothing to do with the reduction of Physics to Geometry or with the existence of space-time without subject.
On the other hand, the vacuum studied by physics has nothing to do with the vacuum. It designates the state in which an area of space is found after the extraction of subject in solid, liquid or gaseous state, and the radiations. Although technical progress makes it possible to obtain more and more perfect vacuums, what is achieved is not nothingness in the absolute sense. How could it be achieved? Nothingness does not exist. It is a pseudo-concept which, moreover, has no place in physics, since it cannot be related in any way to experiments. In fact, there are different types of vacuum, depending on the theories and methods used; there is, for example, talk of the classical vacuum and the quantum vacuum. How would a physicist produce nothingness, or produce something from nothingness? To achieve this, you don't need physicists, you need magicians.
The alleged spontaneous birth of the universe would be explained by quantum gravity. This is one of the most difficult theories in physics today. It attempts to combine Einstein's general relativity, which is centred around the force of gravity, with quantum physics. There are interesting proposals that allow us to see where research can be directed, but little more. It has not yet reached a rigorous formulation.
In any case, even if quantum gravity is ever satisfactorily formulated, it will be a physical theory which, like any other theory of experimental science, will only deal with transformations of something into something. Creation from nothing will remain a metaphysical problem.
When discussing these topics, John Archibald Wheeler is always quoted. At the end of May 1987, I met Wheeler in Vico Equense, near Naples, at the annual Symposium of the International Academy of Sciences Philosophy . On the 29th we chatted at length. Wheeler is Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, and many leading physicists regard him as their teacher. We walked for more than an hour, and I told him of my perplexity at the proposal of the self-creation of the universe, which his work usually takes as its starting point. Professor Wheeler unequivocally agreed with me at agreement and strongly disagreed with the idea of the self-creation of the universe.
Cosmology: Physics and Metaphysics
At final, the alleged scientific explanation of the creation of the universe is based on two illegitimate extrapolations.
In the first place, the aim is to extract from Physics something that this science, by its own method, is incapable of supplying, since its ideas can only have empirical significance if there is some procedure to relate them to real or possible experiments, and this is not the case when considering the problem of the absolute origin of the universe from nothing.
Secondly, the method followed to obtain these impossible conclusions consists in attributing to physical theories about space, time, subject, energy and vacuum a metaphysical sense that they do not possess, since such ideas have to be defined in Physics from agreement with mathematical theories and experimental data , so they necessarily refer to physical entities or properties or processes, and in no way can they be applied to an event such as creation from nothing which, by its very nature, is not a process that relates one physical state to another physical state.
It is not surprising that such illegitimate extrapolations lead to difficulties and seemingly profound technicalities, which allow conceptual contradictions to be disguised. This is the case of Zel'dovich's work already mentioned. This physicist stated, at the end of his exhibition: "I also have the feeling that there is a certain arbitrariness and nebulosity in the very concept of spontaneous birth. Does the spontaneous birth emerge from nothing, or in a space of more dimensions, or as a topological separation from an initially given empty Minkowski space? Can the probability of the spontaneous birth of different universes be compared? These unresolved questions and perhaps others that are not yet understood should stimulate further work in this maturing area of the research ". But the first thing that must be done to bring the problem to maturity is to rid it of the metaphysical confusions contained in the above questions, for only then will a rigorous scientific approach be achieved.
Something similar can be said of the ideas on this topic put forward by Stephen Hawking in his July 1987 lecture The Origin of the Universe at a Cambridge Symposium; the same text was used by Hawking as lecture addressed, in September 1987, to the meeting of the Spanish Royal Society of Physics, at the University of Salamanca.
On that occasion, Hawking asked whether the universe has been created, whether its possible creator has itself been created, or whether the universe or its creator have always existed and have not needed to be created, and went on to say: "Until recently, scientists have tended to avoid such questions, thinking that they belonged to metaphysics or religion rather than science. In recent years, however, the idea has emerged that the Laws of Science may even apply to the origin of the universe. In that case, the universe could be self-contained and completely determined by the Laws of Science". Evidently, here again we encounter a confusion of the metaphysical plane with that of mathematical physics.
When a physicist of Hawking's prestige says such things, it may seem that there is no longer any difficulty in speaking of a creatorless creation and a self-contained universe, as if physics could lend support to these wild ideas. Back to topic of fads. It may seem absurd to go out in the street with a green sock on your head, but if it becomes fashionable, the matter is accepted without much difficulty. In this case, the problem is much more serious. Not only does it defy the most elementary common sense, but it also means taking physics completely out of its field while pretending to continue speaking in the name of physics.