Something from Nothing
Editor's note: Will begins a new series of posts today collectively called "Squint." The name refers to the technique sometimes used to observe that which cannot be clearly observed at first. For example, if one is sitting barefooted in a dimly lit room and can't determine what mysterious soft, dark object has attached itself to the bottom of one's foot, one will likely squint at the object closely to make sure it is in fact an innocuous raisin and not something much more sinister.
Readers, when you look around you right now, do you see something? Anything? If you were to leave this room and go to another room, do you think you would see something in the new room? Maybe not the same thing, but something? What if you jumped into a spaceship and traveled across space-time at nearly the speed of light, thus slowing down your personal aging process, and didn't return to Earth for many years? Do you think you would still see something when you returned, or would everything have turned into nothing?
What is the difference between something and nothing? And frankly, what are things anyway? And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? And don't forget the chicken-egg paradox. After all, which came first?
It's all quite complicated and metaphysical, isn't it? How can we poor, weak-minded lay people possibly hope to understand the true nature of reality? We should be grateful to the exalted scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers who have used their massive intellects to determine for us what is really real.
For example, silly dim-witted me—when I look around I see something. In my ignorance, I think to myself, "That thing over there is certainly something! A long time ago, that thing was not there. Maybe something else was there, or maybe nothing was there. But now something is there."
The scientists tell us that long ago there was nothing anywhere.
The scientists say, "That's okay. We can explain."
After that, the mathematicians inform us, there was a singularity, which was sort of an infinitely dense and hot nothing.
"Don't worry," the mathematicians proclaim. "It will be all right. We can explain."
Then the singularity rapidly expanded and cooled into something that ultimately became the physical universe. Wow! How did that happen?
"Don't draw conclusions!" the philosophers warn. "There is no such thing as God! We can explain."