Something or Something else
“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” Steven Weinberg.
Science seems to have the unspoken goal of finding explanations that have no arbitrary element. Nothing can be a certain way, when it could as well be another way. Why it isn’t always has to be explained. The result is that scientific explanations require that purely random elements somehow build the non-random world we know.
This is proving difficult. The great mathematician, Kurt Gødel, proved that all logical systems require a ‘given’, an assumption that is unprovable by the logical system itself. Reality seems so far to be the same.
Sean Carroll, in “From eternity to here“, 2010, tells us that the most important and baffling ‘given’ in our Universe is the unidirectional nature of time. He traces the irreversibility of time to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that entropy can only stay the same or increase. Entropy is the measure of disorder of a system. All of the other fundamental laws of physics seem to be time reversible. Somehow, time reversible processes create time that is irreversible. Carroll ventures to explain this.
Changing low entropy into higher entropy is the dynamic that creates our knowable world, the evolution of life, the existence of stars and planets, and galaxies, the unidirection of time. And so entropy must have started low, but this is very improbable and therefore it must be explained, why didn’t it start high?
“From eternity to here” gives us a wonderful tour of the advanced science that is grappling with this question. We are presented the concepts behind mathematical equations that have been found to predict the behavior of the universe. In something like a parlor trick, science theory tells that what exists is what is probable. Anything can exist, however, no matter how improbable, given the immense time and space of the universe. Infinity solves equations, Infinity has happened, yet the universe is only 14 billion years old. Empty space can have virtual particles that improbably, but actually, pop in and out of existence, and nothing can escape a black hole, except, improbably, something does. Probability helps explain reality, except when it doesn’t. Cause and effect exists, except when it doesn’t.
Mr. Carroll is left engagingly unable to explain how entropy started low, and time is irreversible. We seem to be left with a given.
Most people can accept many if not most scientific explanations, but most people, unlike Steven Weinberg, can’t really feel that it is all pointless. There just seems like there is something when there could have been something else.