A Universe from Nothing – Lawrence M. Krauss

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Astrophysics is a scary, scary science. Forget the ticker-tape-parade-inducing thrill of moon landings and the popular resonance of string theory. Lawrence Krauss turns his cosmologist’s gaze heavenward and sees…nothing, a future that has returned to nothing. A Universe from Nothing isn’t an apocalyptic escape into science fiction. It is science, cutting edge cosmology if Krauss states his case accurately. And the odds for our uninterrupted existence, in his estimation, are not good.

Krauss is a much published and highly regarded cosmologist with advanced degrees from MIT and Harvard and a lifetime spent teaching theoretical physics at top level universities. He carries around an undecipherable (to the average citizen—he can explain it readily) card with a graph that proves the validity of the Big Bang, and launches into a mini-lecture to convert the unbeliever at any possible opportunity. He concedes that this doesn’t often result in any new insights for those who place religion over science but he is undaunted. And he is awash in mathematical proofs—his and others’—to demonstrate the inevitability of Einstein’s theories, and Newton’s and Bohr’s and Hawking’s and Feynman’s and others who have pushed the frontiers of astrophysics to the farthest reaches of space. Beyond, actually.

We are living in an astonishingly unusual time, according to Krauss and his fellow researchers and theorists. There is still evidence all around us of the Big Bang. We can see billions of stars and multiple galaxies with our own eyes and our super-sophisticated telescopes. We can calculate the speed at which the universe is expanding—we can even prove mathematically that it is expanding—but that very knowledge holds within it the kernel of doom. Because one day, maybe three trillennia from now, the expansion will mean we—or another intelligent life form–cannot see the light from distant stars, measure it, and know something of our place in this universe, and in the multiverse that most probably exists outside our limited view. Remnants of the Big Bang will be gone.  All will be empty space. Our own sun will, of course, long have burned out and earth will be uninhabitable, if it still spins around a dark star. There will be no trace of this moment—maybe there will be nothing at all.

Nothing is what Krauss theorizes the something we know comes from. He presents the mathematical arguments for his ideas—many are by now undisputed proofs. Some are still works-in-progress with as many open questions as solutions. He is fascinated by conjectures about dark energy and the beauty of the science he explores. Krauss is equally certain that the concepts of God, embraced by the faithful of every religion that exists now or ever existed, are willful dealings in fantasy. God makes no empirical sense in the face of the scientific proof about the way things work in this tangible and unseen world we inhabit. “God” cannot explain, logically or metaphorically, the whole of creation, the proven age of the planet, the way biology unfolds and evolves, the revolutionary discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope or the Large Hadron Collider.

But there is much science cannot explain either. What does it mean that an exploding supernova briefly shines with the brilliance of 10 billion stars? And what is our own degree of luminosity, being made entirely of the dust of those exploded stars? How does all of this–a boulder, a butterfly, an ocean, Mars, moonlight–arise from nothing? These are questions for poets to answer, for storytellers to paste up against the night sky, for curious children to ponder past bedtime and for scientists to puzzle through, calculate, weigh against the evidence and imagine answers to. A Universe from Nothing is a book that grapples with magic and mystery. Not an easy read, and for me not always a comprehensible one, but food for an infinite amount of thought.

A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing   Lawrence M. Krauss | Free Press 2012


5 responses »

  1. Utterly fascinating, lolly. You had me hooked–ie, the possibility of a great read–until the last, when you said it wasn’t an easy read. I love to read complex fiction, but to read science, which by rights should be and is complex, and also by rights is dry reading? Not sure. I’ll see if the library has a copy.
    I do have a question though, one that, in my mind, argues for a creator of some sort. I buy the concept of the big bang. However, going back to the very beginning…where did the first subatomic particle come from? How did it get here?

    • Well, when you answer that, write a book. The world needs to know! Krauss’ book isn’t dry but it is the sort of stuff that stresses the brain cells. In an ideal life, I would read, contemplate, re-read the tricky parts and really get it before I moved on in the book. Not living in that magic bubble just now. No re-read time. But there is a lot of beauty in this work. He really bashes string theory and God so he’s honest about his own bias. I think it’s worth tackling but not light reading, for me anyway.

  2. Lolly–
    I understand completely! I had to watch PBS’ special on String Theory twice before it made any sense at all!

    • Brian Greene, right? Loved that series. Although there was one episode that qualified as abstruse–a real headshaker. After reading Krauss, who vigorously debunks string theory, I want to check in with Brian Greene to see what kind of rebuttal he offers. Haven’t had time. Maybe I’ll look for a book about it. LOL! Too many books, too little time. Sigh.

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