In “Existence: Why is there a universe?” (New Scientist, 26 July 2011), Amanda Gefter asks,
Might something similar account for the origin of the universe itself? Quite plausibly, says Wilczek. “There is no barrier between nothing and a rich universe full of matter,” he says. Perhaps the big bang was just nothingness doing what comes naturally.
This, of course, raises the question of what came before the big bang, and how long it lasted. Unfortunately at this point basic ideas begin to fail us; the concept “before” becomes meaningless. In the words of Stephen Hawking, it’s like asking what is north of the north pole.
Even so, there is an even more mind-blowing consequence of the idea that something can come from nothing: perhaps nothingness itself cannot exist.
Indeed, she quotes cosmologist Alan Guth, “Maybe a better way of saying it is that something is nothing.” And yet, Gefter asks,
None of this really gets us off the hook, however. Our understanding of creation relies on the validity of the laws of physics, particularly quantum uncertainty. But that implies that the laws of physics were somehow encoded into the fabric of our universe before it existed. How can physical laws exist outside of space and time and without a cause of their own?
At this point, a waiter discreetly approaches with a narrow, classy black folder with a single piece of paper inside, bypasses Gefter and offers it to Guth …
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