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Stenger says yes. Contrary to our most basic assumptions about the inevitable flow of time from past to future, the underlying reality of all phenomena may have no beginning and no end, and not be governed by an arrow of time. Though aware of the possibility, physicists have generally been reluctant to accept the reversibility of time as reality because of the implied causal paradoxes: If time travel to the past were possible, then you could go back and kill your grandfather before he met your grandmother!

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However, Stenger shows that this paradox does not apply for quantum phenomena. Many people believe that the laws of nature represent a deep, Platonic reality that goes beyond the material objects that are observed by eye and by advanced scientific instruments.


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Stenger maintains that reality may be simpler and less mysterious than most think. While we can never produce this physical nothing in practice, we have the theoretical tools to describe a system with no particles. The methods of quantum field theory provide the means to move mathematically from a state with n particles to a state of more or fewer particles, including zero particles. Let us start with a monochromatic electromagnetic field, which is described quantum mechanically as system of n photons of equal energy E.


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  • The mathematical description of the field is equivalent to a harmonic oscillator whose quantum solution is a series of energy levels equally spaced like the rungs of a ladder by an amount E, each rung representing a field with one more photon than the field represented by the rung below. This is called the zero-point energy. This result is true for all bosons, particles that have zero or integral spin.

    In the current universe, bosons outnumber fermions by a factor of a billion. This has led people to conclude that the vacuum energy of the universe, identified with the zero point energy remaining after all matter is removed, is very large.

    Timeless Reality: Symetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes

    A simple calculation indicates that the energy density of the vacuum is orders of magnitude greater than its experimental upper limit. Clearly this estimate is wrong.

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    This calculation must be one of the worst in scientific history! Instead of using numbers from the current universe, we can visualize a vacuum with equal numbers of bosons and fermions.

    Such a vacuum might have existed at the very beginning of the big bang. Indeed this is exactly what is to be expected if the vacuum out of which the universe emerged was supersymmetric-that is made no distinction between bosons and fermions. This suggests a more precise definition of nothing. Nothing is a state that is the simplest of all conceivable states.

    The book is written in a rather unusual style, with the first two thirds or so by Unger, the rest a shorter contribution from Smolin, together with a section discussing where they disagree. I found the long section by Unger rather hard going and not very rewarding, and realized that I have a fundamental problem with this sort of writing. Arguments about physics and mathematics made in natural language leave me often unable to figure out exactly what is being claimed. While relativity treats them on an equal footing, in quantum theory this is not so clear.

    On the third hypothesis, about the nature of mathematics and its relationship to physics, I just fundamentally and radically disagree. The argument essentially is that mathematics is nothing more than a calculational tool that just happens to be useful sometimes in physics. A big application of mathematics to physics is the use of the rotation group SO 3. A concise way of stating this postulate is that quantization is based on a specific unitary representation of a Lie algebra the Heisenberg Lie algebra.

    This is not approximate, but the fundamental definition of what we mean by quantum theory.

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    Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? | Skeptical Inquirer

    The structure here is very deep mathematics appearing for instance in number theory, the theory of theta functions and of Abelian varieties , and is far removed from the kinds of mathematics that one runs into as typical approximate calculational tools when studying physical problems.

    This is just an example, but there are many others. Last Updated on October 14, A verbal description might look as if it is complete without being so, e. Tautology is wonderful: insofar as it continues to be useful, we will continue using it.

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    Hi Peter, the first Appleyard piece you cited is protected by a paywall. The second will probably sound very impressive to ST readers but is actually quite poor — the argument is terribly muddled by the fact that the author repeatedly conflates theories that are backed by strong empirical evidence with ones that are not.

    Indeed, the author seems something of cosmology skeptic, which is a different sort of argument. Time comes from Von Neumann algebras, something that Alain Connes has been preaching for quite a while, but which has been little recognized, I guess. But where does space come from? Everyone who pretends to know and claims that space is not so mysterious has to answer the question why it comes with three dimensions.

    Apologies Peter, I misread the sentence. For instance, in the review he writes. This might be one of the most important books of our time. Or not.

    I disagree with Appleyard and Woit both, especially Appleyard.