Universe From Nothing, A; Lawrence Krauss, Afterword by Richard Dawkins; 2012; Simon and Schuster; 191 pgs; index
I have known about this book for some time and finally got around to reading it.
Nothing is big topic. What is nothing? Just empty space? It still has time and volume, and the potential to have other stuff too, and the potential is something. Or: nothing is not nothing if it has the potential to be something.
One hundred years ago, the fastest form of commercial travel was the train and ship, and Einstein's special theory was still being debated . The General Theory of Relativity took longer to accept. One hundred years ago, we believed we lived in an island universe called The Milky Way. But now we know that the universe is far, far more vast. At this point, the author turns to Douglas Adams ("the universe is so big, you wouldn't believe it" etc).
To get a handle on the universe, we need to know how much stuff is in it. I.e.: what does it weigh?
Standard candles (Cepheid variable stars and Type 1A supernovae are the two biggies) have opened our eyes not just to the size of the universe, but its age and its destiny. The universe is expanding and will continue to do so forever. Here is an interesting idea: in 2 thousand billion years (2 trillion years), stars and galaxies will still exist. But future astronomers will literally have no way of knowing the deep history that gave rise to their universe. The rest of the universe would have disappeared beyond the horizon (or, if you prefer, they will be so far red-shifted that they will be moving away at over the speed of light and thus become physically undetectable). We are privileged and can see our history, but this will not be true forever.
The book gives a nice summary of what we know today and how we know it. The reasoning is fascinating. The bottom line is that dark energy is driving the universe to expand.
Another fun fact: if you are old enough to remember TV in the days of yore, you will remember that TV was broadcast and picked up with antennae. In the dead of night, the broadcasters stopped broadcasting and the channel in question would appear as "snow"… just a lot of static. About 1% of the snow you see is the after-glow of the big bang! This microwave background radiation can be used to calculate the age of the universe: 13.72 billion years.
The fundamental base of the book is one of book keeping. We got a universe from nothing. But how. Energy (i.e.: matter and other stuff) is a zero sum game and so, suggests Krauss is the universe. If there are equal amounts of positive energy and negative energy (yes, there is such a thing), then the books still balance and sum to zero! And we get a flat universe…. Which is nice because curvy universes are more complex.
Krauss quotes Chris Hitchens often when it comes to the implications of all this. One thing seems clear, for Krauss there is no need of a creator. And the universe cares not what you might think of it. Stephen Weinberg is known for saying that science does not make it impossible to believe in god, it makes it possible to not believe in god.
This is a quick read. But the contents are deep and I may come back and read it again in a few years.
One analogy I liked for how it came about is this:
Take a ball and throw it in the air. It will fall to Earth. Throw it harder, and it will still fall back to Earth. But throw it hard enough and it will never come down. This is a kind of symmetry breaking. One can imagine the potential for space doing this for eternities stacked on eternities, until one day, the ball did not come back down, and the universe was born.
One final quip from the book: One answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is "There won't be for long!"
Miracle at Midway; Prange, Gordon W.; 1982; Open Road Media; 414 pgs; notes, index, Order of Battle, bibliography, chronology;
Dec 7, 41: the US enters the war after Pearl Harbor
Jun 4, 42: Midway
Dec, 42: Stalingrad
Jun 6, 44: D-Day
May 8: The Germans surrender
Sep 2: After six years (and one day)… the war ends with VJ Day.
When it comes to battles during WWII, the two that stand out the most are the Battle of the Bulge and Midway. There are others, of course: the Battles of the Atlantic/Britain/Stalingrad/Kursk; D-Day, Alamein, Market Garden and many more… and that is just the EOT. But these two stand out.
The Battle of the Bulge was the most costly, especially for the Americans. But it lasted for a month, and its ultimate outcome was inevitable. The decisive action at Midway was over in under seven minutes; the final outcome was by no means clear; and ownership of the Pacific was at stake.
Prior to Midway was the Battle of the Coral Sea. This was the first carrier vs. carrier battle ever fought. No ships saw the enemy. The Japanese had two of its Pearl Harbor veteran carriers damaged. The US also had two carriers damaged. Due to a non-battle related incident, the Lexington was sunk (actually, scuttled). Both sides towed their wounded carriers back to their home bases. The Coral Sea was a draw. But it set the stage for what happened next.
The Japanese were already planning an attempt to take and occupy Midway, a small atoll north and west of Hawaii, consisting to two small islands, Sand and Eastern, where the US had an airbase and refueling port. The American code breakers lead by Rocheport had broken much of the Japanese JN25 code and knew that AF, as the Japanese code worded it, aka Midway, was the target.
The Japanese were told that their two damaged Pearl Harbor veteran carriers would take three months to repair. The Midway invasion fleet set sail with the other four carriers that hit Midway: Akagi, Horyu, Soryu and Kagi. The Japanese also wanted to hit the Aleutians as a feint. Following behind the two attack fleets was the rest of the Japanese navy, including the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato, which carried Yamamoto, the fleet admiral. Nagumo, who lead the Pearl Harbor attack, lead the Midway attack force.
The Yorktown was towed back to Pearl and there, the shore crews also said three months were required to fix her up. Nimitz gave them two days. In a minor miracle, Yorktown sailed two days later to join her sister carriers Enterprise and Hornet. Fletcher and Spruance were to lead the American side.
As history records, the two fleets met north and west of Midway. A couple of squadrons of bombers found the Japanese carriers without fighter cover and hurriedly attempting to re-arm their planes to fight the American fleet (rather than to attack Midway itself). To this point, the US had had zero luck. But this time, in under seven minutes, three Japanese carriers were burning and subsequent action sunk the fourth. The cream of Japan's naval fliers and ground crews were wiped out.
Later, the Yorktown survived two airborne attacks, only to be sunk by a submarine's torpedo.
One difference between the Americans and the Japanese: When the Yorktown was sinking, the captain confirmed that all crew were off the ship, and then grabbed his kit and left. When Akagi went down, they Japanese spent most of the time trying to figure out who should or should not commit Hara Kiri.
I knew a lot about Midway, but this was still a stimulating read. The main reason the Japanese lost the battle was arrogance… what they called "victory disease". On paper, they were way ahead. There were other reasons too: Failure to deploy their battle ships; Inferior damage control technology (a consequence of the Bushido code); Poor use of scouts; Biting off more than you can chew; etc.
War is hell. The US launched around 30 torpedo bombers… old slow and carrying shitty US torpedoes. Not one hit its target, or if it did, it failed to explode. The crews knew their likely fate and only one or two of them escaped it.
If the Japanese had succeeded, the Pacific would have been theirs for some time. As it was, from June 6, 1942 (two years before D-Day), every subsequent move of the Japanese took them closer to home.
If the Japanese had been succeeded, I suspect that Tokyo would have been nuked. In any case, many more people, mostly Japanese, would have died.
The book is well researched with loads of detail.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.