Is Lawrence Krauss’ Nothing Really Nothing? – Does it Matter

Sveiki Skeptics,

Not to long ago, Lawrence Krauss published a book entitled “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”, and there was a lot of hype over it, he made all the rounds on the scientific, atheistic and religious podcasts, and was often criticized for many reasons. One of the most commonly argued points by the religious was that the nothing that Lawrence Krauss describes is not ‘strictly’ nothing. Today, I will not try to argue that it is nothing, or that we know how to get something from ‘strictly’ nothing, I am going to argue that it doesn’t really matter, and try to and explain why it is an important part of the progress of science.

First of all, an explanation of Lawrence Krauss’ ‘nothing’. When he talks about something coming from ‘nothing’ which has been proven by science, he is talking about  the vacuum of space, as well as a TOE and electromagnetic fields and gravity. In the vacuum of space, matter and antimatter are created fleetingly, and then come back together and collide back into nothingness. This has been proven by science, and is the reason Hawking radiation exists, causing the shrinking of black holes. One particle of antimatter goes into the black hole, and the other particle of matter goes off into other places, taking down the net weight of the black hole. This happens all the time, everywhere.

When he suggests that the universe can be created from nothing, he is talking about absolute nothingness + a TOE. He gets a lot of flack from the religious about that. They argue that it is really not nothing, and I agree. However, it is unscientific to just say, “Well, its not nothing, ergo God.”

The process of science is to continually discover more and more about the universe, and at no time saying that there is no more that can be found. Science works by looking and looking. But for the religious to just dismiss it because it isn’t quite nothing yet, is just terrible.

Another argument is that you cannot get something from purely nothing, and therefore it is pointless to even bother. But for the religious to just say that something can never come from nothing is hypocritical. The whole concept of religion is that god just IS, ad will always BE. Yet they say that everything has to have a cause.
“Everything has to have a cause… except God.”

The point that Lawrence Krauss’ makes, that something can come from almost nothing, is a valuable scientific contribution, and is important for the progress of science. And religious criticism of this is completely hypocritical, as is almost all cosmological arguments for god, or against natural arguments against god.

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String Theory – Science or Sermon?

Hello skeptics and others,

I recently came across a question on twitter which went as phrased “String Theory, Science of Philosophy?” and I thought, as I had not done much with string theory, that now would be as good a time as ever to tackle this question which comes up with string theory often. But first, a bit of background on string theory.

String theory is the name given to a set of sums which attempt to explain things about the things we observe in particle physics. It is basically the claim that the 3 spacial dimensions and 1 time dimension we observe in our universe, are the left overs and that there are possibly up to 8 other dimensions which are all just packed in very tight so that we cannot see them. To explain this to you, I will use the same method Stephen Hawking has done.
Imagine a plastic drinking straw. From up close, you can easily see that it is a three-dimensional object, with height, width, and breadth. If you back it up to a distance of a few metres, the drinking straw starts to appear as two-dimensional, with only length and breadth, you can no longer make out the depth of the straw. As you back out further to a distance of about 20 metres, you can only observe one dimension, it only has length, and you can no longer observe the width of the straw.

Now, the other 2 dimensions still exist, but you can only make out one from this resolution, so for all intents and purposes, the straw is 1 dimensional. The same is true with the hypothesized extra 8 dimensions of string theory. They still exist, but we cannot observe them because they have been compressed in so small. It is physicists belief that these extra dimensions, ‘strings’, carry along them the elementary particles which create the four fundamental forces, gravitons, photons etc. in the world of particle physics. String theory is also said to be the most favoured path for the elusive Theory Of Everything (TOE).

String theory often comes under attack for a few reasons, being that it makes no specific predictions about the universe, it is no different from other theories about observed phenomena and there is so far no test of the ‘theory’. These criticisms all have legitimate reasons behind them.

It is true that string theory makes no predictions and it is indifferent about what we are already observing in the universe. String theory has not been of any real use to us yet other than jobs for people to do the maths behind string theory. In that way (except the maths), string theory is just like creationism… it makes no predictions or offer a hypothesis to test.

However, I think that just because string theory has not provided any scientific worth so far, it is in no way something we should give up on. It is a theory which has held up to all that maths has to throw at it, so there are no real internal problems with it, but the real question is “Is this how reality really is?” and that question is a long way off. String Theory is a path worth following, as it could be of value to future scientists. At best it is still only a hypothesis… not a theory, and should be treated as such. But it is worth the time and effort to work with and who knows, it may cough up a test for us, and it is worth waiting around for.

New Health Problems Found for Astronauts

Hello there, skeptical Bros.,

I was logged onto the computer at school yesterday (we had a computer lesson), and because there was nothing else to be done in class, I was reading through the abc.net.au news section, and I came across a new study in Astronauts. Because my immediate reaction to anything with space or astronauts is “READ READ READ!”, I read it, and it turns out that there could be new health risks for astronauts who spend long amounts of time in micro-gravity. The title here –>http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-13/study-finds-eye-problems-common-for-astronauts/3886698, Reads ‘Study finds eye problems common for astronauts’ and my heart sunk.

It turns out that this latest study have found yet another thing which astronauts have to worry about. It has been known for a long time that there would be long-term health effects for people who live in micro-gravity, but these were thought to be things like hearts and muscles loosing their strength. This study has shown that the brain and eyes have been effected, because of an unexplained pressure in the head, which causes excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic-nerve, and a flattening of the eyeball and bulging of the optic nerve, in roughly one-fifth of astronauts who spent more than a month on space-shuttle or ISS flights. But I’m not going to talk about the physiology, that’s not my niche, read that in the link above, I’m going to talk about what it means for longer term flights to Mars.

The solution for things like weak hearts and muscles was simple, exercise the heart and muscles by jogging for a while every day. But the solution to this problem is not so apparent, we can’t exercise our optical nerve.
We can’t fight the effect of micro-gravity, so we have to fight the cause. NASA scientists need to find a way to stop this unknown pressure, and the first thing we need to do is find out what this pressure is. A bit of study on the ISS should definitely be done.

I’m really disappointed because of what this means for Mars trips in the future. This is just one more item on NASA’s list of “Things we have to figure out before we fly to Mars”, along with radiation, water, food, power, shelter etc., all major problems to humans. Space Shuttle flights went for about a month or so, ISS shifts go for about 6 months, but a trip to Mars would take in excess of two years, so the effects we see here, could be greatly magnified. But you know what, I’m confident that science will find a solution to this problem, and then we will go to Mars, but this problem should be one of the first things worried about, because humans health are of the top priority.

That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen Hawking, “Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”, Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, author, lecturer and Science Popularizer of some note.

Legacy – the only immortality for a skeptic

Hello there fellow bloggers, readers and browsers,

I was recently reading through my issue of Scientific American (which I subscribe to), and I came to the columns in the back of the magazine, and the one written by Michael Shermer really appealed to me. It is entitled ‘Climbing Mount Immortality’. The whole topic of the column was to discuss mortality and how it shaped our civilizations., but what really appealed to me was the topic of immortality itself. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all spiritual-after-life crazy on you, I want to discuss the concept of Legacy.

Legacy is the only immortality a skeptic can subscribe to. Albeit a very partial immortality, it is the only one there is. If one believes that there is no afterlife, then the only way in which that person can survive in the minds of those around him, is by doing something to remember him for.

This concept is very readily visible for Alfred Nobel. You will be aware of the Nobel prize. If you are, (you should, or you should stop looking at my blog right now) then you will know that it is an award given to scientists, essayists and peace activists for showing exemplary skills in their area, and making great discoveries.
Seeing that 99% of people know about the Nobel prize, Alfred Nobel could say that he is a success.

What most people don’t know about Alfred Nobel is that he was actually the inventor of dynamite. He created this lethal weapon off war in the hope that ‘war would become so bad, that it would be done by nobody’. But this did not happen, wars just became bloodier and more violent, and you must feel for Nobel for having his invention turn into such a disaster in his mind. This is what inspired him to set up the Nobel prize.

He was worried that all of the world would see him as an evil man for thousands of years to come. So what he did was posthumously donate all his money to set up the Nobel prize. this has worked because now, instead of everybody seeing Alfred Nobel as a villainous person with sinister intentions, we see him as the most famous and prestigious prizes handed out to scientists.

The idea of legacy has an impact on me, I want people to remember me after I die, not just by my family for being a brother or a son or a husband or a father, but by the world as a person who changed a field for ever, like Einstein, Hawking or Nobel. This is the only way for me to stick around after my death, I wont be able to experience it, but my family will be proud, and so will I on my deathbed, knowing that I can be content with what I have done with my life.

I will leave you with a quote from Amanda from Saw II, “The answer is immortality. By creating a legacy, by living a life worth remembering, you become immortal.”