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Stephen Hawking Says Universe Created from Nothing 1060

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the preparing-hell-for-people-who-ask-questions dept.
mr_3ntropy writes "Speaking to a sold out crowd at the Berkeley Physics Oppenheimer Lecture, Hawking said yesterday that he now believes the universe spontaneously popped into existence from nothing. He said more work is needed to prove this but we have time because 'Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.' There is also a Webcast available (Realplayer or Real Alternative required)."
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Stephen Hawking Says Universe Created from Nothing

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  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:26PM (#18351049) Journal
    Sounds like his speech was Much Ado About Nothing
  • by charlesbakerharris (623282) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:28PM (#18351083)
    If that were true, how did the earth end up sitting on the back of a giant turtle? And where did all the other turtles that *they're* sitting on come from?

    Hawking is such a hack.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:42PM (#18351421)
      It's turtles all the way down my friend!
      • by rayde (738949) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:11PM (#18353265) Homepage
        for those of you out there who are missing the funny [wikipedia.org]..

        A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

        At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

        The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

        "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
    • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:09PM (#18351985)
      The turtle isn't sitting on anything else. It's swimming through space. And don't forget the four elephants on its back whose backs the world is sitting on.
      • by rubycodez (864176) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:22PM (#18352265)
        slight correction, after all these years and years of eternity, no doubt the turtle is swimming through elephant poop
      • by kalirion (728907) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:37PM (#18352595)
        "There was, for example, the theory that A'Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, into nowhere, for all time. This theory was popular among academics. An alternative, favoured by those of a religious persuasion, was that A'Tuin was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. When they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis."

        - Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic
  • by swschrad (312009) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:28PM (#18351091) Homepage Journal
    the interesting thing about theories is that they all attempt to explain something. why there are bumfights between bible thumpers and scientists three times a day over these things has always mystified me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MindStalker (22827)
      Because when it gets down to the highly theoretical stuff like this that no one will ever truly be able to prove, its not much different than religion. And religions being what they are.. like to fight amongst themselves.
      • Not at all. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadinNO@SPAMxoxy.net> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:14PM (#18352085) Homepage Journal
        Because when it gets down to the highly theoretical stuff like this that no one will ever truly be able to prove, its not much different than religion.

        You would be right, if and only if Hawking was talking about things that couldn't ever be proven one way or another. At that point, he wouldn't be doing any sort of physics anymore, he'd be somewhere off in that grey area where it borders philosophy and religion. (I call this area "Wankersville", but that's just me.)

        However, there's a difference between something that cannot ever be proved, full stop, and something that can't be proved or disproved right now, due to the limitations of our understanding and our equipment.

        There was a time, as recently as a hundred years ago, when debates about whether light was a particle or a wave would have seemed like wanking. However, they were not -- because we now have an (well, at least a partial) answer to that question, it's just that the theoreticians exceeded the reach of the experimentalists for a few centuries. Debates such as those, which get answered eventually by experimental evidence, are wholly different from debates which can never be settled (and, IMO, are a pointless waste of time that humanity should just move the hell along from).

        It's pretty clear that Hawking realizes that what he's postulating can't be proven or disproven right now, but he's not putting it out there as an article of faith, either; he's saying that at some point in the future, between now and the heat death of the Universe, we'll probably be able to test it experimentally. That's a lot different than religion.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kalirion (728907)
          You would be right, if and only if Hawking was talking about things that couldn't ever be proven one way or another.

          That's right. All we need is the technology that would allow us to go back in time to just before the Universe was created, and observe what happens.

          What? You say there was no "time" before the Universe, so no "before"? That could cause problems....
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jotok (728554)
          Please, use the correct language.

          This guy "Science" does not attempt to prove anything. However, observations can be used to support theories against being disproved.

          The issue here is that we cannot yet conceive of a way to test these ideas...so there are no empirically valid observations (as is the case with religion), nor does the history of science in any way guarantee that we'll ever see them. I have faith that we will, and it is that optimistic hope that keeps me interested in science.

          Disputing that
      • by east coast (590680) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:33PM (#18352529)
        And religions being what they are.. like to fight amongst themselves.

        Considering that the atheist crowd likes to throw their hat in the ring too, my guess is that people like to fight in general. Religion is big just because there is so much on the line, not unlike politics.

        Debate and struggle is human nature. Without some new lands to conquest over humanity will likely die out. Boredom will be the cause.
      • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:41PM (#18352665)
        I have to strongly disagree. The difference between science and religion is that science is based on falsifiable theories. If a theory makes predictions that don't fit experiment/facts, then it is rejected. Religion is instead based on faith, not proof, and faith that is usually maintained even in the face of direct disproof!(e.g. young earth fundamentalists).

        As a well known example of a highly theoretical theory in this general area, there's the Big Bang theory which correctly predicted the cosmic background radiation (as later measured by the COBE satellite).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by quasius (1075773)
      To be fair, a lot of the fighting comes from stuff like this:

      "If one believed that the universe had a beginning, the obvious question was, what happened before the beginning," Hawking said. "What was God doing before He made the world? Was He preparing hell for people who asked such questions?"

      Now, rediculous stuff comes from the other side as well; but when incredibly smart and esteemed scientists like Hawking make such statements that show an animosity toward and lack of understanding of religion, it migh
      • by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhocking.yahoo@com> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:49PM (#18351573) Homepage Journal

        To be fair, this cuts both ways (liberal and conservative). I frequently see comments that people assume are antagonistic and feel that the antagonism is in the ears of the, um, belistener.

        As someone with a fairly good training in physics, I read this statement to be a commentary on Hawking's annoyance with the question of what came before "time" began. Many religious people have attempted to reconcile the Big Bang with Judeo-Christian beliefs by having God be responsible for the Big Bang. I think that such an allusion should not be taken as necessarily antagonistic.

      • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:00PM (#18351807)
        "What was God doing before He made the world? Was He preparing hell for people who asked such questions?" Now, rediculous stuff comes from the other side as well; but when incredibly smart and esteemed scientists like Hawking make such statements that show an animosity toward and lack of understanding of religion, it might antagonize people.

        Lack of understanding? He was quoting St. Augustine [jsrsys.com].

        It's a quote he uses a lot. Read a lot of Hawking's speeches and you'll see that he rehashes old material endlessly; it's a hell of a job for him to actually go through the labour of typing out anything new, what with his condition, so he copies and pastes wherever possible from previous works and speeches. Whole paragraphs tend to get copied from Brief History to this day.

        The full quote from the book was:

        "As we shall see, the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: What did God do before he created the universe? Augustine didn't reply: He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions. Instead, he said that time was a property of the universe that God created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe. [Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), p. 8]"

        Thus Augustine's idea of time is in full agreement with Hawking's: that time is a function of the universe, so 'before creation' is a meaningless phrase.

        • by cowscows (103644) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:21PM (#18352237) Journal
          Along similar lines to this, for anyone who thinks that the idea of some eternal life beyond this one sounds boring or silly, as it's generally used to relate to God and religion, Eternity does not mean infinite time, it's more like an existing outside of time. It's pretty hard to say for any of us to say what that experience might be like, but in the sense often used in religious discussions, it's not helpful to imagine eternity as a really really long time.
  • Pfft (Score:4, Funny)

    by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:28PM (#18351101)
    That's not how it really happened... But when they were come into the Void, Ilúvatarr said to them: 'Behold your Music!' And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, and it was sustained therein, but was not of it.
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:29PM (#18351113)
    It would add some credibility when I tell my girlfriend that the porn in my browser history came ex nihilo.
  • by guruevi (827432) <evi@smoking c u be.be> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:31PM (#18351149) Homepage
    In this house we obey the law of thermodynamics.
  • by Eradicator2k3 (670371) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:31PM (#18351151)
    What is eternity? You're on the checkout line at a supermarket. There are seven people in front of you. They are all old. They all have two carts and coupons for every item. They are all paying by check. None of them have ID. It's the checkout girl's first day on the job. She doesn't speak any English. Take away fifteen minutes from that, and you begin to get an idea of what eternity is.

    Thank you, Emo Philips.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tempestdata (457317)
      To which you could add, "and you have to pee real bad"
    • by gosand (234100) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:14PM (#18353357)
      The extremely attractive girl in line behind you strikes up a conversation with you. You notice that she is buying a 12 pack of really good micro-brew, has some motorcycle and tattoo magazines, and Computer Shopper. She tells you that she is in for a long night, because her computer has been acting up, and she really needs to make updates to her website where she is a tattoo/motorcycle model. She was planning on sitting at home all alone with some good beer and a computer shopper to try to find a new computer. Just as she asks if you could help her out, the checkout girl says "SIR!" and you realize it is your turn to check out. Where did the time go?


      That is the theory of relativity in action. :)

  • Worthless link (Score:3, Informative)

    by JesseL (107722) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:32PM (#18351173) Homepage Journal
    The linked article at The Daily Californian barely touches on any of the stuff mentioned in the /. summary. Do we have to listen to the webcast to get any of the good stuff?
  • what the.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lxy (80823) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:35PM (#18351267) Journal
    The article points to his overall speech to be filled with satire. It's hard to say what he was trying to get at, and is he serious? "The universe was built from nothing, but we can't prove it because that would take too long".

    Is he joking or is he serious? I have a bolder conclusion:

    "The universe was built from SOMETHING. Since time is seemingly infinite in both directions, I'll never be able to prove it, but I know I'm right".
    • by Original Replica (908688) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:44PM (#18351459) Journal

      " I'll never be able to prove it, but I know I'm right".

      There is no reasonable defense against an idiot with an agenda


      It would seem you have backed yourself into a corner here.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Is he joking or is he serious?
      Good question. It's quite difficult to tell when Hawking is being sarcastic. Maybe he should start using <sarcasm> tags during speeches like this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wurp (51446)
      I didn't RTFM, but I'm sure he was seriously suggesting that the universe came from nothing. There has been semi-serious argument for some time that the universe is a 'vacuum bubble'.

      Per quantum mechanics, things can appear from nothing as long as they vanish within a maximum time dictated by the total energy content (including mass) of the thing. (E*T = h, where E is the energy and T is the time the thing hangs around, and h is Planck's constant).

      There has been argument that the negative gravitational en
  • so (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:35PM (#18351279) Homepage
    universe spontaneously popped into existence from nothing.
     
    So how long till it pops out of existence?
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:37PM (#18351297) Homepage
    He used the analogy that they were like bubbles in the water. Ok, where did the water come from?

    This sounds a lot like... *drumroll* blind faith to me.

    This is the same sort of blind faith that most atheists pompously deride the religious for. In fact, based on this summary, it would be called something to the effect of a "load of religious bullshit" if it came from a preacher. Oooh, theoretical physicist says it, so we'll hear him out!

    Please, you're acting like a bunch of laymen waiting for the latest ruling or revelation from the priest.

    *Sigh* Go ahead, mod me down because I actually pointed out the obvious.
    • by Guuge (719028) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:49PM (#18351557)
      So it's a bunch of bullshit. Who cares? In a theocracy, Stephen Hawking would be hauled off to jail for suggesting such blasphemy. Shouldn't we be celebrating the fact that he can openly speculate about origins? Hawking isn't telling you how to live your life, or what to think, or who to vote for, or what to teach your kids, or which supreme court justices deserve to die. He's just sharing his little vision.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chrisbro (207935)
      Important difference: He said more work is needed to prove this...

      Though it boggles my mind to think of the research he could be proposing...science with facts to back it up is automatically more trustworthy then religion with no testable hypotheses.
    • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:56PM (#18351727) Homepage
      He's making an analogy. A rigorous explanation is beyond the generalized audience he had there. Even those with proper background to understand it would probably have been bored -- they came there to see a scientist celebrity, and Hawkings did not disappoint.

      For your enlightenment, the 'water' in question is a series of multidimensional branes [wikipedia.org], according to one cosmological theory. The universe may have been created when two branes collided, creating turbulence that manifested as a big bang in our dimensional space. These collisions go on all the time, but like the 'bubbles in boiling water' analogy not all the turbulence creates new universes.

      Your next question is 'where did the branes come from'? Branes are mathematical concepts. If someone tells you 1+1=2, you can't really ask where '1' came from. If there is a multiverse it has to have some sort of brane structure, in much the same way as if humans exist they have to have skin.

      So the universe was 'created by nothing' in a pretty accurate sense, as a mathematical concept is as close to 'nothing' as anyone is likely to conceive. But in the end, Hawkings' words were chosen for showmanship, not precision.
  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:38PM (#18351341) Homepage
    Which is more likely?
    1. The universe popped into existence from nothing, or
    2. A complex, intelligent, powerful creature (presumably with a beard) popped into existence from nothing, then one day decided to create the universe from nothing.

    If you chose #2, it's turtles all the way down... ... ...
    • by Alaren (682568) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:59PM (#18351789)

      Asimov [multivax.com] had something to say about this.

      If, at any point it what can rationally be described as "time," any being or beings ever developed the capacity to create new universes, how many universes would said beings create?

      What are the odds that no being would ever create universes?

      If universes really do create themselves ex nihilo, what are the odds that we are the first beings in the first universe?

      Proving "God," as in, some force that set the Universe in motion, is in some sense quite easy. It's God's attributes that are up for grabs. Is that force rational? Is that force "Good?" Perhaps most importantly, does that force have a beard?

      This may be an inherent problem with our language, but when you're discussing "ultimate" causes you are always dealing with the turtles problem. This is because rational experience is inherently ordered (see Kant). There is no reason to insist, however, that something as big as the universe is within rational experience.

      The ancient Greeks talked about the universe as infinite in this way: throw a dart. If the dart hits something, then there is "something" there, so that's not the edge of the universe. If the dart keeps going then there is space there so that's not the edge of the universe, either. Those are the only rational options, so the universe must be infinite.

      New models of physics suggest that the dart might come back at you or turn up "somewhere else." As our capacity to discuss events grows, what constitutes "rational" also grows. As that grows, the line of turtles grows ever longer. The choices seem to be that the stack ends at "nothing," that the stack never ends at all, or that the stack loops back on itself...

      If there are other options we haven't figured them out yet. As it turns out, we aren't making great sense out of the options we have.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by burndive (855848)

      Which is more likely?

      1. The universe popped into existence from nothing, or
      2. A complex, intelligent, powerful creature (presumably with a beard) popped into existence from nothing, then one day decided to create the universe from nothing.

      If you chose #2, it's turtles all the way down... ... ...

      I don't know of anyone who believes in a God who "popped into existence." That would imply that he exists in some sort of time continuum. I agree that your definition of #2 dictates turtles all the

    • by JeanPaulBob (585149) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:25PM (#18352355)
      What on earth? Sorry, Lord Ender, but you not only don't quite understand what theists claim, you don't even accurately list the other possibilities. You left out the other two major possibilities, and your #2 isn't claimed by anyone I've ever read.

      1. The universe popped into existence from nothing, or
      2. A complex, intelligent, powerful creature (presumably with a beard) popped into existence from nothing, then one day decided to create the universe from nothing, or
      3. The universe has always existed, or
      4. God has always existed, and created the universe from nothing.


      Now, maybe you left out 3 because you're assuming the Big Bang. If so, that's fair enough.

      But the claim of every major theistic group I know is #4, not #2. You seem to be aping Dawkins' arguments, with a similar ignorance of the actual set of alternatives. No one claims that the order/complexity/whatever of God just popped into existence. People (Hawking, Dawkins, apparently you) do claim that the order of the physical universe & natural law just popped into existence. If you're going to compare your views to other people's, and if you care about honesty and intellectual integrity, please accurately represent them.

      And if you think the distinction I'm making between 2 and 4 is irrelevant or meaningless, keep this in mind: The Big Bang was resisted because people wanted to have a universe that always existed. They could accept an eternal universe; they did not want to have to explain a universe that started to exist. (Of course, we can also suppose an eternal chain of Big Bangs, universes spawning other universes, etc., so the Big Bang doesn't actually settle this question of eternality.) So, those philosophical naturalists thought 3 was more reasonable than 1 for precisely the reason that theists claim 4 is more reasonable than 2.
  • Not in TFA (Score:4, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:39PM (#18351375) Homepage Journal
    I guess you have to watch the webcast because TFA doesn't say that. If anybody wants to summarize here that would be great.

    IIRC from A Brief History of Time, Hawking theorized that time, a dimension, didn't exist 'before the universe' because it doesn't make sense to ask about time any more than the other three dimensions of spacetime before TFU existed. He had some maths explanation about how the time dimension approached 0 and curved back on itself (somebody more fresh elaborate...), and I think he got the Pope to concede time after time-0 to nature.

    Maybe he's proposing a new theory here, reflected in the webcast?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:40PM (#18351399)
    Maybe we could ask Paris Hilton, too.
    Among celebrity experts she is most definitely the biggest authority on the science of creating something from nothing.
  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:42PM (#18351415)
    ...there was nothing. Then, God said, "Let there be light".

    And there was still nothing, but at least you could see it.

  • by nsayer (86181) * <nsayer@NosPaM.kfu.com> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:58PM (#18351749) Homepage
    Some years ago there was a documentary series called "The Creation of the Universe," with Timothy Ferris. They talked about this theory that the universe could have sprung into existence from out of nowhere. He said of the idea, "It sounds incredibly unlikely, but then it only ever had to happen once."
  • One line proof (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lord Bitman (95493) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:23PM (#18352315) Homepage
    "Causality is an aspect of the universe" therefore: "The universe itself (or whatever caused it, ad infiniwhatever) requires no cause"
    gee, that was tough. And only figured out several thousand years ago...

    Interestingly: even if causality exists within our universe, it does not exist in any universe which does not exist. Draw your own conclusion, so long as it's the same as mine. ;)
  • by Eccles (932) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:29PM (#18352437) Journal
    the universe spontaneously popped into existence from nothing

    This made a lot of people very angry, and has been widely regarded as a bad idea.--Douglas Adams
  • by mcwop (31034) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:15PM (#18353365) Homepage
    HAWKING: Well, they want me to come up with an idea. On the creation of the Universe, I don't have any ideas.

    GEORGE: Come on, how hard is that? Look at all the junk science these days. You want an idea? Here's an idea. A higher being, of incomprehensible power created it.

    Hawking: Scientists don't like the idea of higher beings.

    GEORGE: But it is a being of incomprehensible power.

    HAWKING: That is not for everybody.

    GEORGE: I know, but it's incomprehensible

    HAWKING: That would make me look like such a schmuck.

    GEORGE: All right, forget that idea, it's not for you....Okay, okay, I got it. How about the Universe is created from nothing? Every scientist tries to make it about something, how about making this about nothing?

    HAWKING: Yeah and...?

    GEORGE: And people say hey it's about nothing, they look at their meaningless lives, and sort of just agree.

  • by athloi (1075845) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:29PM (#18353599) Homepage Journal
    About the universe waking up from nothingness, and creating itself. This means we could have skipped 2,000 years of religious wars, standardized on Hinduism, made it Open Source and still had the New Age movement with its interesting drugs.
  • by 7Prime (871679) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @05:29PM (#18354449) Homepage Journal

    Many are assuming that Hawking is proposing that the universe came into existance from complete nothingness. This isn't what he was saying at all:

    From the article:

    According to Hawking, the origin of the universe can be depicted as bubbles in a steam in boiling water. Small bubbles that appear and then collapse represent mini universes that expand only to disintegrate.

    All this is is a simple analogy to represent the way in which the universe came into existance, it says nothing about what caused it to do so. In fact, even in his analogy, the bubbles are caused by extreme heat through a medium in a transitional state. This most definitely is "something".

    In a discussion with one of the more thoughtful news anchors at my work, I was caught making the following statement, "everything must have an origin", but in actuality, we have no proof of that. Traditionally, when we talk of creation, we are really refering to a transformation of something into something else. We've never actually seen creation, in the purist sense of the word, so we have no way of proving that anything ever was created.

    I have come to believe that there never has been nothing. Some form of SOMETHING (be it matter, energy, time, or what-have-you, since we're talking multi-dimensional proporties outside of our existing concept of reality) has always existed. Time could very well simply be a property unique to our universe, so "eternity" may have no real meaning whatsoever. But in any case, something has always existed in some form or another. It is impossible to come to any conclusion otherwise. Even if you take into account that physics, reality, space, and time, as we know it, may very-well only exist inside our universe, there must be some form of physical properties, be they very different, outside our universe, and changes in those properties were the cause of our universe.

    Simply because one is busy concentrating on the creation of a bubble in boiling water doesn't mean that you can completely disregard the existance of the boiling water, or the energy coming off the stove, as part of what went into creating the bubble.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead

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