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!"
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.