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Stephen Hawking Says Universe Created from Nothing 1060

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 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.
  • by geoffrobinson ( 109879 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:33PM (#18351197) Homepage
    Nothing is the only thing that can flow from nothing. Because it is no-thing. It is what rocks dream about.

    If there was nothing there in the beginning, there would be nothing now.
  • 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 Seumas ( 6865 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:40PM (#18351383)
    No kidding. This is the first time in nine years that I've read a Slashdot submission and literally thought that shit just blew my mind.

    The problem is that whether you are a physicist or philosopher or theologist or anything else, it is equally as valid and confusing to the human mind to conceive of the requirement of something prior to the universe as well as nothing. The concept is so abstract and impossible that neither seems right nor wrong.

    Now, I'm not a physicist. I'm not even particularly smart, for that matter. However, from what I have heard, Hawking is somewhat less than seriously regarded among scientists as he is among layman. To us, he's the poster boy for absolute genius. Among scientists, I don't think he even made the list of top twenty scientists of the 20th century. And I seem to recall that his announcement over the whole bet he had on the theory of black holes was snickered at in all corners.

    Don't get me wrong. I am a big Hawking fan. I think the guy is stunningly brilliant and has done amazing things despite his progressively debilitating affliction. I just take any claims or discoveries announced by him with a glacial grain of salt.
  • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:51PM (#18351607)

    Which is more likely?

    Do you really think anyone has the intelligence to evaluate the relative plausibility of those two propositions? I know #2 has some evidence, regardless of whether or not you just it to be valid. I don't know about #1.

  • Comment removed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by account_deleted ( 4530225 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @02:59PM (#18351789)
    Comment removed based on user account deletion
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:04PM (#18351865) Homepage Journal
    There is nothing now. It is everywhere, it is nowhere. It permeates the whole universe. The thing is, nothing is *nothing*. It doesn't look like anything, it doesn't have any gravitational pull, it doesn't radiate, it doesn't reflect light, it doesn't affect the universe in any way. It doesn't interfere with us *at all*. It has no effects or consequences whatsoever. It has no physical existence, no thing can come from it, therefore it cannot produce anything. It's just nothing -- timeless, spaceless, pure nothingness. The universe and nothing are not opposites; they do not cancel each other out or annihilate each other. They have no effect on each other. There is no difference between nothing 'being' here or not 'being' here. It's exactly the same.

    It's confusing to say that the universe 'came from' nothing. The universe wasn't produced by nothing. Currently, the universe exists, and also there is nothing. At some point in the past, the past didn't exist. When the universe didn't exist, there was only nothing.
  • Re:Why Do We Care? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:04PM (#18351869) Journal
    But that is what makes Hawking who he is. For a guy in a wheelchair who can not talk on his own, this guy has mastered the art of communication. You got to admit, the guy is charming. A Brief History of Time was by no means a physics textbook, but a dumbed down version of "Discovery Channel science". It was pure entertainment meant to make the reader feel smart.

    Still, that doesn't mean to knock Hawking at all. What he has done is become the spokesperson for scientists. He has sparked a public interest in science that no one else has been able to do since Einstein.

  • Re:God to Hawking: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stone Rhino ( 532581 ) <mparke@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:06PM (#18351907) Homepage Journal
    Anthropic Principle. It doesn't matter how many untold near-infinities of other permutations existed, because this happens to be the one where we survived. This could have been the first random set of physical laws to come up or the quintillionth, and it'd make no perceptible difference to us.
  • by 7Prime ( 871679 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:07PM (#18351919) Homepage Journal

    If there is absolutely nothing, then that means you're certain of both how much energy is present (zero), and the rate of change of energy (also zero). That violates the uncertainty principle. So absolute nothing is unstable, because if you're totally certain there's nothing there then you have absolutely no idea of how rapidly that state of affairs is changing.

    Well put. The end result is that the "beginning of something" is a paradox unto itself. It is theoretically impossible to argue that there was no beginning to the universe, yet since no change can come of nothing, it is impossible to argue that our universe began from nothing. Our very presense, itself, defies all logic.

    It would have been much simpler to interpret, had nothing ever existed. However, there would be noone to interpret it, anyway, so what's the point?

    Arggg, my head is spinning!

  • by Denney ( 947351 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:13PM (#18352055)

    Creationists believe their God is perfect and unchanging. If he never changed and always existed, how did he at some point decide to make a universe? That's not such an easy thing to answer.
    That is not what is meant by "unchanging". The characteristic of "unchanging" is describing the character of God. God's character does not change depending on whether he creates the universe or not. Perhaps he always intended to create the Universe, and finally did it when it pleased Him. We will never know, and it is not really practical to speculate on "how did he at some point decide to make a universe" since "some point" indicates a 'point in time', but 'time' was created by God along with the universe. So, we who live in the time and universe created by God are trying to understand matters that exist outside of our time and this universe; something that is arguably beyond the scope of our understanding.
  • by thousandinone ( 918319 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:16PM (#18352123) Journal
    "I frequently see comments that people assume are antagonistic and feel that the antagonism is in the ears of the, um, belistener." This could be argued, but at the same time, in many things, perception may as well be reality. If you make a statement that unintentionally offends someone, the end result is that they are offended, and in most cases will lash back. So it boils down to a question of political correctness vs. free speech, really. Care needs to be taken with ones words in some situations, but on the other hand: Why should one be required to censor oneself to prevent angering someone who is out looking for a fight to begin with? Lose-lose...
  • Re:God to Hawking: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:24PM (#18352331) Homepage
    Apparently you're not familiar with the Anthropic Principle []. Basically, you experience this universe because this is a universe suitable for life. In any universe not suitable for life, you would not be around to observe it. Therefore, no matter what universe you were born in, if you observe your universe, you will find that it is one that is nicely balanced for the creation of life.

    A criticism I've heard levied against this principle goes along these lines:

    Picture that you're abducted by a madman. He straps you to a chair covered with explosives. He tells you that it's hooked up to a random number generator, and that when he presses the button, if that unless the random number generator picks an option that has a near-zero chance of occurring, the chair will explode and kill you. He backs away and pushes the button. Nothing happens. You insist that it must be broken, since the odds of it not exploding were supposedly near zero. He tells you that a victim can only make that observation, since if it exploded, they wouldn't be around to observe otherwise. That makes sense, yet the fact that it didn't explode still demands explanation.

    In short, the Anthropic Principle only makes sense when there are a large number of test cases. If the above madman could prove that he had conducted this experiment a near infinite number of times, then the result would indeed be plausible. In our case, a perfectly plausible possibility exists: that this isn't the only universe that ever came into existence. We only experience this one because it happened to work.

    I read a book by a budding novelist recently that, while painfully slow at times, covered some rather interesting subject matter. At one point, a group of people discovered that their universe was run on a sort of multiverse computer, and gain access to the source code for this universe. And it's an utter mess. It looks like garbage -- almost random instructions, many which seem to do nothing or undo what previous instructions do. The reason for this is eventually discovered: when the universe was last rebooted by the curators to incorporate the latest changes, there was a "backup system" in case the code that they wrote broke (which it did). The universe's code would be set to a block of all zeros and allowed to run for a certain length of time. A piece of multiverse code would monitor the universe, and if it didn't detect any signs of life emerging, it would stop the run, increment the code block by 1, and then start over. If all possibilities were exhausted, it would expand the code block, then continue on. Eventually, the Anthropic Principle essentially guaranteed that a universe suitable for life would come into existence.
  • by oGMo ( 379 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:39PM (#18352637)

    Did you ever notice that the Creation story in Genesis gets the order wrong? God creates light and dark, day and night, and then waits until the next day to create the sun, moon, and stars. Oops.

    Eh only if you're looking at it from a literalist's perspective. Which is silly. Think of it as a story for those who aren't astrophysicists; it's not a textbook, but it's not meant to be. From this perspective, it's actually suprisingly what you'd expect: we get basic physics (space, time, light) in the first eon of the universe ("day-night" sequence). Plus, I believe that physicists currently theorize that there was quite a bit of light (and radiation) and quite a lack of stars and planetary bodies for quite awhile after "the beginning".

    I think the story would actually be more suspect if God first created the sun, moon, stars, and earth. Compare this to other mythologies where that is what happened.

  • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:40PM (#18352645)
    religion, to my understanding, means literally to gather together. Therefore it implies involvement in an organised religion.

    I toyed with organised religion in my youth, but encountered too many people who wished me to accept their world view 'on faith' and be happy as a result and, most importantly, to stop asking awkward questions. This didn't suit me one bit.

    I wasn't a scientist then, and didn't become one till this dislike of organised religion was well in place, and yet I encounter people now who take my dislike of religion to be because I am a scientist. This I take as being a result of their acceptance of the 'don't ask questions' method of learning.
  • Re:what the.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wurp ( 51446 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:44PM (#18352727) Homepage
    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 energy of a thing exactly counters the mass energy of the thing, so the total energy content of the universe is 0. If so, the entire universe could appear from nothing and vanish at any time.

    I have no idea if this is exactly what he's arguing, but I've heard it argued seriously before.

    I am not a physicist but I have a BS in physics.
  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:44PM (#18352731) Homepage

    And how I wish some of the anti-religion slashdot types would take some time to actually understand some theology and philosophy, and the history of both. Augustine set the stage for many disciples- in the 4th century no less.

    The East disagrees. Augustine really set the stage for the Great Schism with his views on the atonement and his proto-scholasticism, while the Orthodox Church--and arguably the undivided Church East and West before Augustine--have always preferred semi-Pelagianism and apophatic theology. Still, Augustine is venerated as a saint by the East as well, but because of his fine apologetics and moral example, not because of his problematic theology.

  • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:48PM (#18352801)
    Richard Swinburne, the foremost living philosopher of religion and an orthodox Christian, is one of a number of theist philosophers who hold that God is everlasting, that is, existing yesterday, today, and tomorrow, as opposed to timeless, that is, existing outside of time and being knowing for sure the future deeds of agents with free will.

    That seems... tricky. If God exists in time like the rest of us, and cannot for instance accurately see the future, then we have a God subject to physics, subject to general relativity and the lightspeed limit. A God who sits within the universe in an inertial reference frame and who is just one more observer within the relativistic framework.

    I'm far more comfortable with the idea of God as an entity wholly outside spacetime, subject to totally different laws if indeed subject to any at all, and free to inspect and perhaps to amend the whole four (or more) dimensional extent of the Universe at will. Put him in time and either you elevate time beyond the Universe of relativistic spacetime into God's domain, or you confine God within the Universe with the rest of us.

  • by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:54PM (#18352933) Homepage Journal

    It seems to me that accepting anything on blind faith is pretty much the antithesis of science.

    There needs to be a recognition that many aspects of the human condition are not amenable to any scientific approach. To deny that is to deny music and the arts, and the whole realm of imagination from which such things as hypotheses arise.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @03:59PM (#18353021)
    It's a nice way to identify the ones in psychological need at least. It's also quite funny to see people rehash tired old canards. I mean, "science is just like religion, look at all the people worshipping their high-priest". Come on. At least get some new fallacies to parrot every few years. And all that because someone thought it was a good idea to start whining about how hawking was supposedly not respecting and understanding religion. All this, while Hawking was essentially quoting St. Augustine mind you. I thought I'd just mention that you're not winning any credibility here.
  • by Guuge ( 719028 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:03PM (#18353117)

    You don't seem to have understood my post, so I'll try to explain what I mean a little more carefully.

    You claim hypocrisy on the part of atheists for not accepting religious beliefs but accepting Hawking's unsupported word. But Hawking coming up with some wild-sounding speculation is not the same as a religious figure preaching centuries-old articles of faith.

    First, consider a hypothetical Church of Science (or whatever) where Hawking is a priest. How could Hawking come up with his far-out models of universal origins without deviating from the accepted doctrine of his church? I claim that he couldn't, and that he would become a heretic. Hawking is taking a position against the establishment, whereas the normal role of priests is to be in support of the establishment. When atheists criticize the church, they often refer to its authoritarian nature which, in the extreme, is manifested by theocracy. It just wouldn't make sense to weigh the same criticism against Hawking, who would be the first victim of such a system.

    Second, compare Hawking's message to those that are most despised by atheists. He's just telling a crowd of people (his fans) about some of his latest thoughts. He's not trying to "preach" in any sense of the word. He has no political or social agenda. He's not even asking that anyone accept his words on faith alone. It's not as if people are going to insist that textbooks be rewritten as a result of this. There's really nothing to get upset about. Contrast that with the agenda-driven religious right.

    I hope I've clarified my position. I didn't claim that the US is a theocracy. In fact, I intended to claim the opposite. I also didn't claim that religion has a monopoly on oppression and cruelty, just as (I presume) you're not claiming that Hawking supports religious intolerance.

  • by i_should_be_working ( 720372 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:32PM (#18353667)
    Wasn't talking about normal pair-production, but rather zero-point energy of the vacuum [] and it's production of virtual particles [], which are seen through the Casimir force []. Whether or not this is a wild theory depends on how conservative you are when it comes to theoretical physics, I guess.
  • by kayakun ( 986097 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:55PM (#18353947)

    Also, keep in mind that a lot of them don't like to rock the boat of their personal lives. Saying you don't believe in god is a good way to distance yourself from your family and or spouse -- so many either lie, or, more likely, just avoid thinking down that path a lot because it has no positive benefit.

    I strongly agree with your statement. Many of my classmates don't like to speak with me, or even "look down" on me for my un-Christian views. In addition, I've had multiple girls refuse to date me simply because I'm not Christian. Although one could argue that the girls are using that as an excuse to just not date me, I'm talking about the cases when I've become very close to the girl, and the next logical step would be to date.

    Whatever the case may be, I certainly have heard people at least claim that they don't want to spend time/go out/talk with me because I'm not Christian. People think it's wrong to discriminate based on race, but when discrimination occurs based on religion (on a small scale, I'm not talking about the holocaust), it's suddenly justified because that's part of the religious doctrine?

    I used to be Christian, and at my church, we were told as kids to only have close friends with people within the church. Having friends with anyone else would supposedly cause us to turn away from the "truth" and fall into temptation.

  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @04:58PM (#18354013) Homepage
    A few people beat him to it []
  • 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.

  • by jstomel ( 985001 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @06:35PM (#18355319)
    Hmmm...well, not to be pedantic, but doesn't athiest just mean "not a theist"? Conceded that one does not have to believe in a god to have a religion (though both buddhists and hindus believe in gods), it seems to me that there exist forms of thought that are both not theistic and not religious. Atheism certainly can be a religion (and religions can be atheistic), but they don't have to be.
  • Re:Much Ado... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Progman3K ( 515744 ) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @10:31PM (#18357511)
    What if time, like space, was curved?

    Curved so much that even if you went in a "straight" line in it, you eventually wound up where you started, would you need a first-cause then?

    You wouldn't, because the initial concept of a beginning (or an end for that matter) is flawed.

    Human intellects just can't "see" it that way because (I guess) our sensory organs are made in such a way that we perceive time in only one direction.
  • Re:REAL AUDIO? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @05:15AM (#18359473)
    One of my Dad's physicist friends said of him something like "he only popularises other peoples work, he's done almost nothing profound, the only reason he's so famous is because he looks and sounds like Davros".

    Physicists are not very nice people. Funny though.
  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @01:23PM (#18364675)
    > If you have experienced these yourself, how do you know that a near-death experience or out-of-body experience wasn't a neurobiologically-based phenomenon, and that what you saw as a past life wasn't an construct of your imagination?

    If you never woke up how would you know you were dreaming? The goal of life is "wake up" -- as conscious as we think we are, we're really asleep.

    In the somnambulistic state you are NOT conscious so its a little hard for it to be imagination. :-)

    Also, there are many reasons why I _know_ it is MORE then just a biological effect.

    - I didn't believe in OBEs/NDEs either, until I had my first one. After experiencing the infinite joy/love of the soul -- it is ineffable experience and impossible to describe -- I was motivated to learn more... and was fortunate enough to experience many more 'pieces to the puzzle.'

    - When I first met my wife, we were both regressed to by two different people. How does your wife "remember" the _exact_ same details of a common past life even though you have never talked about it before?? For me, this was 'my smoking gun.' The odds of coming up with exact same "mundane" details is next to impossible.

    - I've talked with a stranger who has the ability to channel. The entity started to give personal details that even I was shocked at. This was my first experience of communication with a non-physical entity.

    - I've met a man, Dannion, who was dead for 28 minutes, at a private group meeting. (His favorite story was how some doctor was giving him a hard time about "the NDE is just a figment of your imagination" and belittling him with "_I'm_ a M.D. What are you credentials?", to which he replied "D.O.A.") He has the gift/ability to read what people are thinking. People would start to describe their problem they were having in this life; he would politely cut them off, explain their problem in detail, have them break down in tears at the awe and amazement of being able to do so, and then explain a solution. This happened for a few people.

    - After hearing meta-physical music in another OBE, music on this realm is so 2-dimensional and "flat."

    - With these tools you can learn information that is not possible as a human (i.e. see someone do something even though you weren't there physically or conscious of it, and then have them confirm later that is what happened. People who have surgery are commonly able to report what happened even though they were supposed to be "unconscious.")

    - You can communicate with intelligent meta-physical beings; the knowledge they give you is proof enough, that the experience "is real." I found out my wife has the ability to channel, and the first time it happened, I 'demanded proof' that was I communicating with someone other then my wife. Tell me something about myself that I have never shared with my wife. You don't need too many answers to go "OK. We're not in Kansas anymore -- we're off the f-n map here!"

    - I believe Monroe called this meta-physical communication "Non-Verbal Communication." You can communicate with your consciousness, and your higher self in a more direct manner. When they tell you how things will play out in your near future, and they come to pass, you start to pay attention.

    There other examples, but the main point is that EVERYONE has the ability to prove these things for themselves. The great Truths that Science remains so clueless about is:

    - Time is just a dimension of the mind.
    - You are a spiritual being in a physical body having a human experience.

    As Robert Monroe so eloquently stated, "The question isn't so much 'Are you more then your physical body?'; The real interesting question is 'How _much_ more are you then your physical body?'"

    The funny thing is OBE's have been documented for ages. Even the Bible mentions one in 2 Cor 12:2. But its always the arm-charm skeptics claiming knowledge over a subject they have NO experience in, making the most noise. It's great
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 15, 2007 @05:18PM (#18367947)

    The Christian has experienced Christ in a way where He is closer to that person than anyone else ever could be. It's like trying to describe the color red, without using a red object as proof that red exists.

    You are describing subjective evidence, not empirical evidence. The personal relationship you describe is different for each individual who knows Christ, and is not something that can be stuck in a laboratory and reproduced outside of personal experiences. The Christian has subjective evidence, which is a very different thing from empirical evidence.

    Funny thing. Our pastor was just speaking about the Bible verses that address how God hides his glory. :-)

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein