Monday, October 15, 2007

Essay Question: The Origin of the Universe

There are, I believe, three exhaustive and mutually exclusive explanations for the origin of the universe:

1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
2. The universe popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
3. The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.

Choose the one you think is true and write a brief (or long, I don't care) summary of why you hold that opinion. There will be no judging and no rebutting of any of the opinions offered. I may ask a followup question if I don't understand some point. If you think these three are not exhaustive and mutually exclusive, propose another option then summarize your case for holding that opinion.

15 comments:

Juggling Mother said...

I have no knowledge and tbh little interest as to how the universe came into being. I'm glad that there are clever people looking at the question, but ultimately it makes zero difference to my life.

I can't comprehend no 1 - I'm no good at infinity - in my world there is always something before and after, so no.2 or 3 are possible. Of course, it depends on your opinion of what you mean by "caused to exist". I would expect there was something that caused it, in the way that there is something that causes rain to fall or the sun to be hot. That cause is unlikely to be deliberate, reasoned or intelligent imo. Little in the world/universe seems to be:-)

CyberKitten said...

As far as I am aware we simply don't know what, if anything, caused the Universe to come into existence some 15 Billion Years ago.

Laughing Boy said...

I sympathize with you, Juggling Mother. I'm no good with infinity, either. I recall contemplating infinity (eternity) at night as a child. Those were my first experiences with anxiety.

So both of you share the opinion that the universe was caused but are unsure what that cause could have been. I, too, would expect there was something that caused it on purely logical and philosophical grounds, regardless of my religious convictions.

Here's follow up for you both. What kind of thing could possibly have caused the universe? Pure speculation is acceptable, I won't hold you to it. What are the theoretical possibilities?

Juggling Mother said...

hah, clever question, but physics isn't really my strong point either:-) I really couldn't hazard a guess as to what might cause aomething i don't understand to come into being. Sorry. As I said, I've never put an awful lot of thought into as I don't care much and don't understand when people try to explain the issues!

I suppose my "gut feeling" would be that something happened "elsewhere" that had a knock on effect of strating off our universe. That something is beyond my imagination, but in my limited understanding I reckon a massive event on the "edge" of our universe could cause something to happen next door, as it were, so that is equally possible about the universe next door starting up ours.....

I think I need a lie down now!

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: Here's follow up for you both. What kind of thing could possibly have caused the universe? Pure speculation is acceptable, I won't hold you to it. What are the theoretical possibilities?

I have no idea what *if anything* 'caused' the Universe to come into existence.

Our ideas of Cause & Effect are generally based on human experience. Very large things like the 'cause' of the Universe are *so* outside of our experience that it's very difficult to get our heads around the idea.

We *assume* that the Universe *must* have been caused by something... That assumption might be wrong.

But as my knowledge of the subject is somewhat limited I don't have enough information to speculate with - even I need straw to make bricks....... [grin].

wunelle said...

I think it's an unanswerable question. Our collective experience gives us no foothold here. There's just too little data (though I appreciate that people are working on that).

What we THINK is the explanation is, well, immaterial.

I agree with JM that its not a question which has a practical bearing on our lives (but I appreciate the asking of the question!).

ehard said...

If we say that the universe was caused by something, aren't we excluding that thing from our definition of the universe. Why? If the universe means everything, it either arises from nothing, creates itself, or has always been, no? Of these three choices, the third seems least unlikely.

Laughing Boy said...

Welcome ehard.

If we say that the universe was caused by something, aren't we excluding that thing from our definition of the universe.

Not a priori. We ask ourselves about self-created things and about the concept of infinite pasts. Then we see where we are. Then we move forward.

If the universe means everything, it either arises from nothing, creates itself, or has always been, no? Of these three choices, the third seems least unlikely.

I presume that the universe is all material things. So to me the idea that material things created themselves or that they have existed eternally is unlikely, if not logically impossible. So the third option becomes a consideration (unless I've already decided not to consider it.)

ehard said...

As soon as you "presume" that the universe is anything less than everything, you carve out an exception for a creator. If such a creator exists, why wouldn't that creator be part of the universe? To say that the universe is just the "material" stuff is to exclude whatever else there is from your definition a priori. It seems to me that, in any discussion of origins, carving out exceptions a priori may be intuition, but it is not logic. The evidence is profound that, albeit more sophisticated, our means of knowing is calibrated to our milieu just like that of other creatures, so that our capacity to know things outside our milieu is likely unequal to the task the farther we stray. Concepts like spontaneous generation, self-creation and eternal being baffle us. They simply are not part of our milieu. Accordingly, our conclusions on a question of this magnitude are at best provisional. If there are clues to the larger situation in our corner of the universe, however, our best evidence to date is that creation begins with replication, then progresses to sophistication, despite all appearances, and despite our intuition. Accordingly, our very best guide in matters such as this may be to keep an open mind, regardless of which way we are inclined.

Laughing Boy said...

As soon as you "presume" that the universe is anything less than everything, you carve out an exception for a creator....To say that the universe is just the "material" stuff is to exclude whatever else there is from your definition a priori.

If you want to say "universe" means all matter as well as all non-material and possibly spiritual things that's fine, though I don't think that's the usual definition in this context. For example, it's often stated that the universe began 4 billion years ago according to much scientific evidence. It's that universe I'm talking about. Did anything exist before that? If so, what was it? If not, how did what came into being come into being?

If such a creator exists, why wouldn't that creator be part of the universe?

Whether the creator, source, ultimate cause, or whatever you want to call it is part of the universe or not is one of the questions we are trying to answer. Deciding before we begin that it must be one or the other is not allowing us to keep all our options open.

It seems to me that, in any discussion of origins, carving out exceptions a priori may be intuition, but it is not logic.

I don't see where I'm carving out exceptions. I'm saying there may be material things and non-material things and we need to be open to whatever explanation of origins makes the most sense given what we know.

...our capacity to know things outside our milieu is likely unequal to the task the farther we stray.

Sure enough. But are you assuming that, if a creator exists, that He could not give us some small insights into matters outside our milieu but well within His?

Concepts like spontaneous generation, self-creation and eternal being baffle us....however, our best evidence to date is that creation begins with replication, then progresses to sophistication, despite all appearances, and despite our intuition.

The idea that creation begins with replication certainly is contrary to intuition, since replication is the copying of existing material. It's also contrary to evidence I'm aware of. I think my intuition has some value and I'm willing to trust it, given that our observations and conclusions are provisional.

Accordingly, our very best guide in matters such as this may be to keep an open mind, regardless of which way we are inclined.

I agree completely.

ehard said...

I agree it may not be the usual definition. My point is that when we use the word "universe" to describe anything less than everything, we import junk into our thinking. Our intuitions may serve us well in day-to-day living, and perhaps not so well in addressing questions like this one. If the "universe" means "everything", then our reasoning may proceed with some coherence whether or not there is such a thing as, e.g., consciousness without matter. If there is such a thing, then "universe" can be taken to mean the material universe plus consciousness without matter. If there is not, then the universe may simply mean all matter, which, under such circumstances, would still be fairly described as "everything". It seems to me that when we tease out any concept from everything and say such a concept may be separate from the universe that we are failing to "keep all our options open". As for the evidence that creation begins with replication, I'm not referring to "creation" with a capital "C". I'm hearkening to the examples we have through the best available evidence, which indicates that a long time ago some very simple structures divided in two, with mutations, more complex structures arose over time, while retaining the ability to divide in two, and so on. This evidence we should all be aware of, because it saves many lives every day in the form of modern medical science. I, too, think your intuition has value, (I like my own as well), but there is a great deal of evidence that our brains are not ideal truth-seeking devices, and that our beliefs may as easily arise from some advantage (or solace) we derive from holding them as from their veracity. I freely admit an outside agent could be responsible for installing this gray matter with aspirations beyond its competence, sprinkled with intended hints about larger truths. Given the magnitude and multeity of what we can perceive, however, this strikes me as a bit human-centric.

Laughing Boy said...

If the "universe" means "everything", then our reasoning may proceed with some coherence...

I don't see how broadening the meaning of a word enhances coherence. In fact, it often opens the door to equivocation and proceeds to confusion. What's important is that we account for all relevant concepts. But let's not quibble over terminology as long as we understand each other.

Given the magnitude and multeity of what we can perceive, however, this strikes me as a bit human-centric.

How so? I've found that awareness of the Creator-creature schema moves humanity to a peripheral, not central, position. Of course, that schema puts us at the top of the food-chain, so to speak, but I think we have many reasons to think that's true.

BTW: I appreciate your comments, ehard. Good thinking, good writing, good attitude. Thanks.

ehard said...

I appreciate your comments on the tone of the exchange, and share your view. I will take issue with your assertion that I have expanded the meaning of the term "universe" however. The dictionary most handy to me at present defines it as: "all existing things". For "exist", the entry reads: "to have place as part of what is real".

Laughing Boy said...

Point taken.

My only rebuttal is that I am using 'universe' in the context of cosmology, i.e., everything confined within the cosmos, which would exclude the in-confinable God. Perhaps that's arbitrary and unhelpful, I'm not sure. I'd be interested to see where universe=everything reasoning would lead.

My position is that God transcends time and space. He existed when there was nothing (else) and He is caused everything that began to come into being. Everything had a beginning except the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I wouldn't want that position closed off to me by accepting the broad definition. Otherwise, I'm fine with it.

In Search of The Nexus said...

None of the three proposed answers suffice completely; and they are all candidates.

1. The universe has always existed. It has an infinite past.
We have proven ‘time and again’ (pun intended) that energy and matter are two forms of the same ‘thing’, but no scientist has, to my knowledge, quantified the ‘thing’. We do know that distance does not exist in the energy world: ‘spooky action-at-a-distance’ (and that’s a scientific term) links every particle with every other particle in the universe in ‘real time’.

Electromagnetic energy is emitted from every particle. This energy decreases in strength from its point of origin according to the inverse square law. Always having a remainder in division is a pretty good definition of infinity; no matter where you decide that the remaining potential is insignificant, it is still information and you’re still holding it in your hand.

Time is distance. If that’s the case time is, as Einstein said, an ever persistent illusion. Since energy and matter are but two forms of the same thing, Einstein might just be right, but the statement should be qualified; time is an ever persistent illusion ‘of the material world.’

2. The universe popped into existence from nothing with absolutely no cause.
In order for change to occur, information must be exchanged. Information arises and change takes place out of ‘nothingness’ twice for every photon (mass less particle – is this science?) as it travels ‘through’ its energy cycle. The inverse square law appears as Zeno’s Paradox here, but the result is the same. We cannot get from X to nothing mathematically. We can’t even get from X to zero, and zero is a digit in our numbering system. Our mathematical zero is a place holder for something expected; it is not ‘nothing’. The transition from positive to negative, or up to down, however you label it, in the life of a photon packet of energy has to pass through this ‘nexus’ twice for each complete wave of energy. Since this is an obvious ongoing event in the realm of light and all energy, something arising from nothing should not be a big issue. However, with ‘no cause’ is an issue.

3. The universe was caused to exist by something outside it.
In order for change to occur, information must be exchanged. This is a law of both the material and the energy worlds. If they are, after all, two forms of the same ‘thing’, must they not then obey the same laws?

I am writing this in response to the information that is being process in my brain. That information is being supplied by my life experience through my paradigm, but only after a brief passage through my reptilian cortex. When I experience emotion regarding any subject, I can rest assured that it is a byproduct of the biological process. My question is, am I a byproduct of the biological process? And my answer is a decided no! Since the whole can never be greater or lesser than the sum of its parts, the observer cannot be the observed. I get a shot at that ‘brain data’ after it has been processed by my brain and presented to my conscious view screen of ongoing ‘reality’. But even more striking is the fact that in order to understand the relationship between energy and matter, I can be neither. Were I either energy or matter, that relationship could not exist.

We are all able to receive, process and respond to information. What gives us an outside view is the fact that we are also able to question the information and the process. If I am able to question the process, I cannot be the process.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that the universe is ‘by design’. Design requires an exchange of information. Since I cannot quantify the source of that information and I cannot quantify I or self, it would be a breach of scientific protocol to remove I as a potential candidate for designer.

Mr. Bill