Breaking News! Explicitly Non-Existent Gravity is All That Is Needed To Make Something From Nothing

Well, that settles that then, hm?

I've seen this sort of thing before from other, more 'maverick' physicists. Not sure yet why Stephen Hawking is going this route. Maybe he doesn't really mean "nothing" by "nothing", and is actually positing an eternally existent universe with gravitational laws? That would be more consonant with philosophical naturalism (whether atheistic or otherwise), and I've been expecting physicists to go that route again eventually.

I could respect that a lot more than invoking non-existent properties to explain the creation of systems which, once the system exists, exhibit those properties as a function of their existence. That just sounds desperate.

(His grasp of fine-tuning arguments, as reported in the article, seems vastly weak as well. But maybe he was mis-reported.)

Anyone wanting to post a link to a far more substantial statement from Dr. Hawking on this, is welcome to do so.


Jason Pratt said…
Comment tracking registration.
mattghg said…
My intial reactions were much the same as yours. All I've been able to establish since is that he believes in a multiverse, so I suppose by "from nothing" he really doesn't mean nothing but rather from out of another universe or something.
Crude said…
A multiverse and a universe coming into existence "from nothing" are not mutually exclusive options. So I'm going to go against the grain here - Hawking really does mean the universe came into existence from nothing. Not some pre-existing universe. He's said as much explicitly in the past.

Vilenkin took a similar tack to Hawking in his book, though he noted that what he was saying - that the laws of nature somehow pre-existed the physical universe - didn't seem to make any sense. He briefly touched on conceptualism, or toyed with the idea that natural laws are something more than we think of them as.

That said, I suspect that Hawking is doing something he's always done, but which people rarely comment on - he's engaging in some shameless self-promotion and little more. This is coming right on the tails of him talking about how we should be worried aliens may find earth and enslave us or such.
Metacrock said…
I used to have a quote from a NASA physicist named Sten Odenwald, (now does Astronomy Cafe--a site on then net) to the effect that when physicists say "nothing" they really vacuum flux. So that may be what they mean. That QM particles were the "nothing" and produced a universe by generating more of themselves.

I've seen other theories where they describe the process of as "nothing breaking down and becoming something." Odenwald himself says this in describing his own theory. I think what they mean by that is that somehow these pre existing particles began producing more of them selves and grouping up into atoms and then molecules.
Jason Pratt said…

I know what you mean by physicists talking about vacuum flux yet calling it 'nothing' even though they don't really mean nothing.

I have also, however, seen proponents of the vacuum flux theory (which only obtains where there is a vacuum between objects, whether between subatomic particles or whatever) explicitly say elsewhere that by 'nothing' they mean 'not even a vacuum'.

It's when they do things like that, that I have to call it convenient (or maybe desperate) double-talk. An eternal universe or the generation of the universe from a substantially different and more fundamental reality (which would be naturalism or supernaturalism respectively!) wouldn't bother me either way--so far as those propositions go.

I wouldn't agree with philosophical naturalism (whether theistic or atheistic) when pressed on various details; nor with supernaturalistic atheism on some similar grounds. But I can respect either one a lot more than the sort of thing that Dr. Hawkins seems to be saying currently.

(I'll hold out hope that he really means something else, though, until and unless I see more clarification otherwise.)

Joel said…
It seems to me that he's just proposing a variation on the multiverse hypothesis. Which is nothing new or particularly radical.
Crude said…
I also wonder if Hawking is saying that "God is not needed to explain our universe" in part because he subscribes to a multiverse theory - so the "multiverse" would explain our particular "universe" as being part of one of many others - while at the same time admitting that the universe literally came out of nothing.

Again, Vilenkin spoke of this, and even had admits there's a problem with that. I'd suggest William Lane Craig's review of Vilenkin's book over at Reasonablefaith to get a better grip on that.

Regardless, Hawking is full of hot air. Masterful at promoting himself, though.
mattghg said…
Paul Davies'
in the Guardian is quite informative. It seems that "nothing" doesnt' really mean "nothing".
Layman said…


I have learned one thing from all this. Davies is a better writer than Hawking.
mattghg said…
Definitely. And you're welcome.

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