martes, abril 17, 2012

The Quantum of Nothing


According to new theories in Quantum Mechanics, in the presence of gravity nothing (meaning empty space, an eternal empty void) becomes something[1]. Now, understanding the physics of quantum mechanics, explaining the details of this phenomenon in the language of mathematics is impossible for most of us, but its philosophical implications should not be overlooked.  The fact that philosophers have somehow stopped proposing interesting answers for vital questions like: Where do we come from? Is alarming and suggests that Stephen Hawking is right when he writes that Philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with developments in modern science, particularly physics[2].

Accepting that the answers to the most vital questions in life can only be rendered in mathematic language scares me to hell. It seems to me that philosophers still have a lot of work to do in order to keep up, but I would defend the idea that philosophy is still alive as the vital impulse that makes some people listen carefully when science speaks. Daniel Dennet and some other philosophers were in the same room when Lawrence Krauss, one of the leading academics in the field of quantum mechanics, gave his now famous "A Universe From Nothing" lecture, and their work alltogether is probably one of the most interesting philosophical enterprises of our time.  Philosophy, after all, is most importantly the vital impulse of looking for answers and asking the right questions.

The idea of nothing is just one of those realms where philosophy and science may be operating together, overlapping almost indifferently. Quantum Mechanics seems to suggest that something can come out of –nothing-. It seems to suggest that –nothing- has -never- existed because we can be certain that once upon a time there was nothing. And the fact that this discovery sounds so mind-boggling and counterintuitive may suggest a poor understanding of the idea of nothing both scientifically and philosophically.

We may have the same problem grasping the idea of nothing, for example, as we have grasping the idea of the infinite. It may well be like in the cheesy songs: that nothing is actually something, and we just haven’t gotten it. Or perhaps the notion of nothing is something that we have imagined, a figment of our imagination, and there has always been something. The universe, in this sense, would need no beginning, no creator, just an eternal empty void. If we assume that there was –nothing- at any moment in the past, Krauss seems to suggest, we can be sure that there was also something.

[1] LKrauss, et al., A universe from nothing: why there is something rather than nothing   (Free Pr. 2012).
[2] SHawking & LMlodinow, The grand design   (Transworld Digital. 2010). A brief article regarding this last work by Hawking can be found here:

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