2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: The Existence of Nothing

(Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Welcome back to most of you. How many first-timers here, if you can raise your hand? We’ve
been doing this for 14 years, and this is your first time. You’ve figured this out.
Welcome, one and all. This is the first time that we actually have a triple sellout. You’re
apparently the lucky ones to get the main venue. There was spillover into our next largest
room, and then spillover into the next one. And not only that, we are live streaming on
the Internet. So, a lot of people will participate in this 14th Annual Isaac Asimov Memorial
Debate. I want to publicly thank Janet Asimov, Isaac Asimov’s widow. Those of you who might
not know, Isaac Asimov did—he wrote more than 300 books. And much of the research that
went into his non-fiction books, and perhaps some of his fiction books, was conducted in
the research library of this institution. And so there is a connection that we have
with him that few other institutions had. And his family decided that we would conduct
this annually in his honor. Isaac Asimov, perhaps the last poly-math of our civilization.
So, I want to publicly thank and acknowledge Janet Asimov on that. Tonight’s subject,
as you have surely gleaned by now, is nothing and the existence of nothing. And the program,
just so you know, we weren’t running out of toner. We were trying to figure out a way
to have the title become nothing. So, this is our attempt to capture that fact. There’s
nothing wrong with your program. Since we last met, an asteroid struck Russia, the Curiosity
rover plunked down on Mars, the Higgs boson was discovered. The Universe has been a busy
place. A lot does happen in a year, and it’s just great to have all of you back each year.
The subject of nothing—I don’t know if George Gershwin wrote the first song ever
on the subject of nothing, but in Porgy and Bess the title of the song was “I’ve Got
Plenty of Nothing and Nothing’s Got Plenty of Me.” And so nothing, of course, has been
on people’s minds a long time. Actually, back then the words of that song would have
been uttered, “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin.” That’s how they were written. Times have
changed, haven’t they? My parents are here this evening. They’re 85 and 84 years old.
I just want to publically recognize them. They brought me here as a child at age nine;
my first visit to the Hayden Planetarium here as a native of the city. And today I am the
Frederick P. Rose director of the same place that launched me on this epic voyage of discovery.
Those are institutions operating at their best. They brought a friend with them. Heidi
Sweets is her name, and they forwarded me a poem she wrote on nothing. I felt compelled
to read this before we begin to set some of the mood of the evening. “Nothing speaks
volumes. Imprisoned dreams jailed forever. Forgiveness weeps. No tears are released.
Silence begs for ease. Anger has no hope. Indifference rejoices while nothing holds
court with jesters of time. Nothing waits and waits.” Thank you, Heidi, for that contribution.
Written before she even knew of this panel. Let’s bring out our guests and get the party
started. My first guest is a professor of physics at Stanford University; professor
of theoretical physics that is. Don’t know if she’s ever even visited a particle accelerator,
but she tells them perhaps what to look for. Professor Eve Silverstein. Next, we have our
first-time-ever three-peat. We have the physicist and professor of earth and space exploration,
Lawrence Krauss. Lawrence, come on out. Lawrence was in the first-ever Asimov debate. The fact
that he’s been here three times means he just always works on controversial topics.
Hence, we always reach for him. My next guest, a long-time colleague of mine during my days
at Princeton, is J. Richard Gott III. He’s professor of astrophysics there. Rich Gott,
come on out. Rich, brought a shopping bag. I don’t know what you got going there. Maybe
we’ll find out later. I’m almost afraid to ask. Reminding you that this is a debate
about nothing. Next, we have a long-time writer, contributor to major publications and his
specialty on the topics on which he writes is the intersection between physics and philosophy,
Jim Holt. Jim Holt, come on out. And last, and I was going to say not least, but it kind
of is least because this guy is the world’s expert on zero. Charles Seife, come on out.
He’s professor of journalism, New York University. So, the way this works is you are eavesdropping
on a conversation the five of them will be having that I will be steering. These aren’t
lectures. These are not—it’s kind of just see what we would talk about if we were at
a bar. That’s really how this works. We’ve done this 14 years in a row, and we have a
fun time doing it. And I’m glad you’re here to join us. So, each of the five panelists
will start out with a one or two-minute remarks just so you can hear their voice and get a
feeling for how they speak. And then we’ll jump right in. So, Eve, please let’s begin
with you. (Eve Silverstein) So, let me just say that one of the greatest results in all
of physics, I think, is our understanding of how a structure in the Universe formed,
starting from quantum fields that for all practical purposes were in their ground state—in
their vacuum state. And that, combined with the inflationary expansion if the early Universe
and quantum mechanics, leads to the origin of structure we see today. And just last point
about this for now is that one of the most interesting features that we’ve learned
about this more recently is its sensitivity to very high energy physics questions that
bring in problems of quantum gravity on the one hand, which on the other hand are accessible
through some observations of the microwave background radiation. So, to me that’s the
most interesting version of nothing that I know. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, when you say
it’s sensitive, too, you mean possibly experiments can come and have a bearing on your theoretical
meanderings. (Eve Silverstein) Indeed. The inflationary theory is subject to probes.
In fact, there’s one coming out tomorrow that’s very relevant. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Tomorrow? So, one day too early. But we did get to hold today on the vernal equinox, just
so you know. Happy spring to everyone. And those of you on the Internet, if you are the
15 percent of the world’s population who live south of the equator, happy autumn. And
that would include 100 percent of the world’s penguins. Happy autumn to—free penguins
that would be. Lawrence, reintroduce yourself to everybody here. Thanks for coming. Just
off the plane from Sweden, by the way. Lawrence, thanks for coming in a third time.(Lawrence
Krauss) It’s always a pleasure to be back and to have fun here. Well, obviously, I thought
a lot about nothing. I’ve written a book about it recently, but I think the most exciting
thing—there are two things. First of all, that we’ve learned that most of the Universe
is nothing. Nothing is the most important part of the Universe, so you’re all more
insignificant than you thought. And the second thing is that if you asked—and one of the
things I find most amazing is if you ask what would be the characteristics of a Universe
that was created from nothing by just natural laws, without any supernatural shenanigans.
It would be the characteristics of the Universe we live in. And that I find amazing and worth
celebrating because it makes God more redundant than God was before. And the other thing I
guess I want to say before I leave is—before I end is I think Jim, who I have greatly admired,
I expect will disagree with some of the things I want to say. So, I want to say right off
at the beginning—for those people who are old enough and understand the spirit of what
I’m about to say is— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, you want to start a fight already? These
are just opening remarks. (Lawrence Krauss) Hold on. Neil, just let me finish what I’m
going to say before you interrupt. You’ll interrupt later. So, I just want to say, Jim,
you’re an ignorant slut. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) For those born before 1960, that’s
an expression on Saturday Night Live [unintelligible 10:52] 1975. (Lawrence Krauss) Exactly. I
didn’t mean anything by it. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yes. Next, Rich Gott. (Richard Gott)
That’s how it’s going to go. I’m Rich Gott. I work on general relativity and cosmology.
And I discovered an exact solution to Einstein’s field equations for cosmic string and for
then two moving cosmic strings. And that was interesting because it allowed time travel
to the past, like several solutions that are known. Kurt Gödel found on in 1949, and then
there’s the wormhole solution. I’m wearing a coat tonight that Bob Kirshner called the
coat of the future. He said, “Richard, you must have gotten this coat in the future and
brought it back in your time machine because this color hasn’t been invented yet.”
So, whenever I’m talking about time travel, which I will a little bit tonight, I wear
this coat. So, relevant to tonight, Li-Xin Lin and I worked on a quantum vacuum state
that we thought might be relevant for the creation of the Universe. We’ll say more
about that. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, excellent. Thank you. Jim Holt, what have you got for
us? (Jim Holt) Well, in the light of Lawrence’s—or may I call you Larry—your ungallant illusion
to me, I am not ignorant. I’m going to spend most of my breath attacking you, and I’m
going to attack you from the left. You are an avowed, militant, tub-thumping atheist,
and you—the old equation that we have that we inherited from Christian metaphysics is
that God created the world out of nothing. So, it’s God, plus nothing, equals the world.
And you take God out of the equation—and I’m all for that—but you—so, now we
have blank, plus nothing, equals the world. And what you put in the blank is the laws
of nature, the laws of quantum field theory. And I think that actually in worrying too
much about the problem of why there’s something rather than nothing and trying to find something
to put in the blank where God used to be, you’re actually still enthrall to Christian
metaphysics. And I think you see the laws of nature, particularly the laws of quantum
field theory, very much as divine commands. So, I think you’re—shall we say—insufficiently
enlightened. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Oh, snap. (Lawrence Krauss) How dare you be so rude.
Why no one’s ever said that. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) We’ll revisit this. So, Charles—Mr.
Zero? (Charles Seife) I don’t know how I’m going to follow this. I think— (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Wait, we got his mic? Microphone working over there? (Charles Seife) Hello? Testing.
(Lawrence Krauss) They turned it to zero, I think. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) You are so
full of zero. Why don’t you borrow this until we get that resolved? (Charles Seife)
I’m Charles Seife, and I think I’m just here to fulfill my father’s prophecy that
I’m good for nothing. I was born to be a mathematician, and didn’t wind up that way
after studying mathematics for a while. I wound up in the Economist building in London,
and realizing that, hey, journalism is a lot more fun than sitting in your office doing
[unintelligible 14:22] variance. So, I joined the circus, became a journalist. But, of course,
my mathematics core was still there. And my first book was about math that I loved. And
perhaps the most fascinating thing I encountered during my studies was zero. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Cool. So, I’d like to start with you. Test your mic one more time. (Charles
Seife) Testing one, two, three. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah, he works now. Good, thank you.
So, I just want to start out with you. Zero—it seems to me that was—was that people’s
first attempt to quantify nothing, to turn nothing into something? Because, of course,
in case you never noticed, Roman numerals cannot represent zero. Ever thought about
that? There is no zero in Roman numerals. So, ancient Rome and their huge and great
civilization precedes the invention of zero. Is that right? (Charles Seife) That’s absolutely
correct. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s right. So, what took so long? (Charles Seife) Well,
we humans had a real revulsion for nothing, for void, for emptiness. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Don’t we still? Was it then and not now? (Charles Seife) Oh, it’s still here. It’s
still here. Although, it’s diminished somewhat. I think it’s because—in part—we humans
have— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) [Unintelligible] said we humans. (Charles Seife) We humans.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. (Charles Seife) Am I including people that I shouldn’t?
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) No, we’re good. We humans. Go. I just like the phrase. (Charles
Seife) For us, nothing represents something that we’re afraid of. That disorder, a breaking
of the rules. One of the things that we humans do is we control our environment. And the
way we control our environment is through imposing order on things by figuring out the
way things work. And zero represents in some ways—and nothingness represents—a return
to the lawlessness, the primordial ooze, without rules. For example, if you look in the Bible—the
Hebrew Bible, the creation myth— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Sorry, the Old Testament to Christians,
just so you get the—go. (Charles Seife) The creation was out of nothing. If you read
the Hebrew, it says the world—the Earth was formless, chaotic and void. And it’s
not a coincidence that chaos and void were twins because the void represented a lawlessness,
a breaking of the rules. That how could something, which was nothing, have any rules that defines
what it is, how it works, how it behaves? And by breaking the rules, it became scary.
(Jim Holt) But the primordial chaos was not nothing. It was a disordered something. I
mean, the Hebrews— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I got to go with Jim on this. Yeah. (Jim Holt)
The ancient Greeks didn’t really have a concept of absolute nothingness. They thought
that things began in chaos and order was imposed in chaos and chaos became cosmos. But it wasn’t—it
was only with Christianity, I think, that the idea of creation ex nihilo came to be
formulated. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Out of nothing. (Jim Holt) Yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah,
okay. Translating. (Jim Holt) Because, see, the idea was that God was so powerful—was
all powerful—he didn’t need any preexisting material to create the world. (Lawrence Krauss)
In fact, it actually comes from way before the Greeks; the Rigveda. All of it didn’t
have creation. Nothing was creation from some primordial stuff, often water in a lot of
the creation myths. But primordial stuff, as opposed to the real nothing, which is what
I’m going to talk about. (Jim Holt) Yeah. But the real Hebrew term for that in the Bible
is wonderful. It’s tohu bohu, which— (Charles Seife) Actually, the tohu is the chaos. (Jim
Holt) What’s the bohu? (Charles Seife) The bohu is actually a very difficult word in
Hebrew because it was used, I believe, three times in the Bible. And it is believed to
mean void. (Jim Holt) Okay. (Charles Seife) In the true sense. I mean, it may not have
been exactly what we— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Well, that’s why—because today when anyone
uses the word chaos, we’re not referring to a place where nothing is happening. We’re
referring to a place where everything is going on, but just in a disordered state. So, the
modern use of the word chaos is not consistent with nothing, I would say. (Lawrence Krauss)
But that’s the whole point, I think, is that the idea of nothing has changed since
these vague, ill-defined notions. And that’s good. It’s not a bad thing that—it’s
called learning. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Well, however, but in the Hebrew Bible we presume,
regardless of whether there was a—are we saying the void and the chaos preceded the
formation of the Universe? Or was that just the early Universe as described in the Book?
(Charles Seife) Well, that’s actually ambiguous because if you looked at, say, the Septuagint—one
of the versions of the Bible—that in fact there’s an implication that there was a
previous creation and that there was creation out of nothing. The chaos of the previous
creation. But in the Bible that we use, the Pentateuch, it is the use of the past implies
this is the first creation out of nothing. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, Jim, when did philosophers
start weighing in on this? (Jim Holt) Really with Leibniz in the 17th century. He was the
first figure to pose the question: Why is there something rather than nothing? And by
nothing, he meant a state in which there are no existence at all. There are not entities.
There’s no chaos. There’s no space, no time, absolute nothingness. It’s very difficult
to grasp in the imagination. If you try to obliterate all the contents of your consciousness
or you try to imagine all of the contents of the Universe slowly being extinguished,
the stars going out, the atoms disappearing, life disappearing, time and space disappearing.
It’s interesting, the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hartley Coleridge, as a child had
precisely this intellectual struggle. And he said I imagined all of this disappearing;
all the grass and the stars and the people, and there was nothing but dark and cold and
nothing to be dark and cold. So, that’s the best you can do. And even when you try
to reach nothingness in your imagination, there’s still the little light of your consciousness
creeping under the door. Actually, the only times I’ve succeeded in imagining absolutely
nothingness is two times. Once— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) But you succeeded? (Jim Holt) Yes.
Once during— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Under what influence? (Jim Holt) Actually, every
night during dreamless sleep, and once when I was watching professional bowling on television.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. Not a bowler, I would guess. Okay. So, Leibniz— (Jim Holt)
Leibniz. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Excuse me, Leibniz. I’ll give you space to hypothesize
here. Would you say that his thoughts of nothing contributed to his invention of the calculus?
Or put him in a place where—because Leibniz, as well as Newton, co separate inventors of
calculus almost contemporaneous. Do you think one of those had to do with the other? (Jim
Holt) Yeah. Well, the crucial notion of the calculus is the notion of the infinitesimal—the
infinitely small. And what is the infinitesimal? It’s not nothing, but it’s not quite something
either. It somehow mediates between finitude and nothingness. So, yeah, I mean, I think
you have to have a temperamental attraction to dangerous ideas. And the infinitesimal
is considered to be an extremely dangerous idea. And there was great resistance to the
calculus because of it. And I think— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) No, why is it dangerous? You
keep putting these terms in it. (Jim Holt) It’s dangerous because it sometimes acts
like a zero and sometimes it acts like a finite number. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Why does that
make it—it’s just weird. It’s not dangerous. (Jim Holt) Well, you can divide by it, which
is always—if I’m dividing by zero, then you get mathematical chaos. (Lawrence Krauss)
I think what Jim has pointed out is exactly it. It’s one of the limitations of philosophy
really is that—if you’ll forgive me— (Jim Holt) I’m a journalist. Not a philosopher.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) He won’t forgive you, but just keep talking. (Lawrence Krauss) Okay.
It’s that you’re absolutely right. There are some things that are essentially impossible
to get an intuitive conception of. And that’s just a limitation of the fact that we’re
classical human beings who didn’t evolve to understand—intuitively understand quantum
mechanics. So, there’s lots of things in science that are impossible to get any intuitive
handle on, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. (Jim Holt) I completely agree with
you. And I think that a state of absolute nothingness—even though we can’t envisage
it in our minds—it’s logically consistent. It’s a real possibility. And there is a
genuine question why is there a Universe rather than absolute nothingness. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Well, let me take that to Rich Gott here. Rich, you’ve done a lot of thinking
about the early Universe, about the expansion of the Universe. You’re our Universe guy.
You’re cosmos guy. And at some point, you had to wonder what was outside of the cosmos
itself, or what birthed the cosmos. If not from nothing, then what? (Richard Gott) Well,
okay, let me go talk about what he just said. Let me try to give you an idea of two different
kind of nothings that we’re going to talk about. And since I’m a visual guy, I try
to visualize— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. So, there’re two kinds of nothing?
(Richard Gott) Two kinds of nothing we’re going to be talking about. (Lawrence Krauss)
I’m going to talk about three. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Three? You got a fourth over here?
Sorry. All right. I didn’t know this. All right. We have more than on nothing. All right,
Rich, put up your two nothings. We’ll look at them. (Richard Gott) Okay. Well, you take
space, you get rid of the atoms, you get rid of the people in the room, you get rid of
the air, you get rid of the photons that are flying around, and you get empty space, which
is the vacuum. And this is what a lot of people think about when they think about nothing:
big, empty, dark space. That’s a quantum vacuum state. And if you want to visualize
that, just close your eyes. That’s what it looks like. It’s black, okay. It has
a color. It’s black. Now, that’s what empty space looks like. It’s alive with
virtual particles and things. It has fields and it—Larry will tell you about that. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. Rich, I have to interrupt for a moment. Before quantum physics
was discovered and developed in the 1920s, your concept of no matter, no energy, no particles,
no people, there was no place else to go after that. (Richard Gott) Well, Einstein thought
empty space was empty, and you had geometry. So, you had Einstein’s field equations where
you say here’s how stuff, that you’re talking about, curve space and time. And over
here you could put a zero, and then you get equations that would tell you how space and
time was curved. So, space and time were still there, but there was zero energy density in
there. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. So, quantum physics stuck energy into that that classical
physics could not, or it didn’t know to do. (Richard Gott) Well, it stuck the possibility
of it there. I mean, it could be zero, and still you have interesting virtual particles
and things. Physics, we’re quite used to thinking a vacuum as zero energy density,
but quantum mechanics also allows you to have a non-zero energy density. And if you have
a non-zero energy density—that means some energy per cubic centimeter—you have also
accompanied with that a negative pressure because the laws of special relativity tell
you that if everybody flies through this in a spaceship is going to see the same energy
density no matter what velocity they’re traveling at. Then you have to have a negative
pressure. That’s just how pressure and energy transform in special relativity. Now, positive
pressure, you got that in the tires of your car. It pushes out. Negative pressure is like
a suction. But we have a positive pressure in this room of 15 pounds per square inch.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) The weight of the atmosphere. (Richard Gott) Air pressure. But we don’t
feel it because it’s constant. It’s not blowing us one way or the other because the
pressure is the same all over. So, in the Universe if you have this quantum vacuum state
that has a positive energy and a negative pressure, it’s the same all over. So, you
don’t notice it. Except that Einstein’s field equations told you that pressure gravitates
as well as energy, and so that negative pressure operating in three directions: X, Y and Z—three
spatial dimensions—produces more gravitational repulsion than the energy does gravitational
attraction. So, there’s an overall repulsion. So, this causes space and time to expand.
We’ve actually seen this. This got the Nobel Prize recently for the discovery of the accelerated
expansion of the Universe because of this quantum vacuum state because the repulsion
of this nothing, as you might say—this quantum vacuum state—the Universe is expanding faster
and faster. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, that’s evidence that in fact empty space is not nothing.
(Richard Gott) That’s right. (Lawrence Krauss) No. It’s evidence that empty space is energy.
Not that it’s not nothing. You try and find out what’s there. Try and measure particles
or radiation— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) But if it’s energy, doesn’t not nothing include
something? (Lawrence Krauss) There’s nothing—there’s no stuff there. Well, and I think you have
to be a little careful. Rich is right. The first definition of nothing, which I think
is the Biblical definition, is infinite, dark, empty void. That empty void has energy, but
it’s still empty. There’s no particles. You try and look in regions of space, take
away all the particles, all the radiation, there’s no stuff there. And that’s nothing
weigh something. (Jim Holt) Larry, what about fields? Are fields not stuff? (Lawrence Krauss)
There are no fields. You can’t measure them. There’s nothing there. (Jim Holt) I’m
sorry, it has a topology. It has a shape. It has—it’s a physical object. Empty space
is a physical object. It’s not [unintelligible]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. I want to
get back to that. Wait, wait. Rich, you said that you take everything out of space. Yet,
Einstein said there is still the geometry of the fabric of space time. (Richard Gott)
Yes. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Do we have the right to say because there is the fabric of
space time, even though it’s not curved, it’s just not bent by any actual matter.
Does that prevent us now from calling that nothing? Because we have a description for
what it is as fabric of space time. (Richard Gott) Well, Einstein— (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
That’s kind of what Jim’s getting at. Right, Jim? (Jim Holt) Yeah. But that’s
the first kind of nothing. At that point, for a lot of people before physicists starting
talking about that kind of nothing having energy, they would have said that’s a good
enough definition of nothing for them: empty space. Now, we know empty space is more complicated.
So, you might say that’s not nothing. But then there’s a next kind of nothing, which
is no space at all. No space. No time. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, so let’s get back
to Rich on that. (Jim Holt) Yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, I think we agree that this classical
understanding of nothing has been violated by our emergent understanding of Einstein’s
relativity and quantum physics. (Richard Gott) And the first person to really say this was
that this was Lemaitre said that Einstein’s cosmological constant was really a vacuum
energy state. He said this in 1934. So, he’s the first one to really identify with that.
And another reason we identify that— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Lemaitre, he’s the Belgium
priest. (Richard Gott) Yeah. And physicist. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) And physicist, yeah.
(Richard Gott) He proposed a model with the Big Bang at the beginning and a coasting phase,
which we don’t see, and an accelerating Universe at the end. So, of the early people,
he got a lot right. So, we also know there’s an early stage of the Universe where we had
an accelerated expansion called inflation. And what we got today is a low energy version
of inflation. This is a version where the energy density in the vacuum was very high.
We’re talking like 10 to 77 grams per cubic centimeter. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s
high. (Richard Gott) That is high. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yes, okay. (Richard Gott) That makes
a neutron star look ethereal. That is a high density. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Just to put
everyone on the same page—okay, if you take neutron star density and make a volume the
size of Thor’s hammer out of it, it’ll cram a herd of 300 billion elephants into
that volume of Thor’s hammer. So, sure, proceed. (Richard Gott) So, this is very dense.
It’s expanding very fast. It’s doubling in size every 10 to the minus 35 seconds.
And as it expands, the energy density stays the same in this vacuum state. So, it makes
more of itself. And another interesting thing happens. Two observers in this are separated
so fast by the stretching space in between them that light beams can’t make it from
here to here anymore. So, event horizons occur. This is—there are parts of the Universe
that you cannot see. This causes Hawking radiation. Gibbons and Hawking predicted this for this
inflationary state. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) The Stephen Hawking. (Richard Gott) The Stephen
Hawking. He did this right after he did the black-hole radiation. He said in the Universe,
if you have an inflating state, you’re going to have this Hawking radiation also. And so
if you live back there in that nothing, you’re going to see hot thermal radiation—hot Hawking
radiation. It’s very hot. It’s 10 to the 22 kelvin. This is very hot. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Yes, very hot. (Richard Gott) So, the tidal forces are very large. They’ll tear
you apart in 10 to minus 35 seconds. The gamma rays— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Have a nice
day. Rich, is there any good news in this? (Richard Gott) The gamma rays will burn you
up. But the gamma rays will burn you up, and you will—I’ll tell you what it looks like
for a brief instant. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) How? (Richard Gott) Well, it looks blindingly
bright blue because thermal radiation would look bright blue. So, we could say it’s
a quantum vacuum state. It’s nothing. But it looks violently not nothing. Now, the third—well,
the second nothing that I’ll talk about— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. Can I just
jump in on that? Eve, you’ve worked a lot on—excuse me, Eve. You’ve worked a lot
on this early inflation epic. (Eve Silverstein) Sure. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Very early in
the Universe. (Eve Silverstein) Right. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) And when I think of that inflation
era, doesn’t that come from a time where there is no structure? But then we have structure
now. Is that kind of something out of a nothing scenario? (Eve Silverstein) I think so. I
think that’s what Richard was about to get to. You start with these fields in the lowest
energy state that they have, and the system is expanding rapidly, exponentially in the
way he was just describing. And that time dependence of the energy function is enough
to take a system, which starts in its ground state, and excite it. It’s not really any
more complicated than that, but it’s a beautiful theory of the origin of structure and [testable].
(Lawrence Krauss) And one of the neatest parts, which we don’t celebrate enough because
we talk a lot and probably you’ve had—I don’t know—in any other sessions, but
macroscopic quantum mechanics, which is the big thing—quantum computing—wouldn’t
it be great to have quantum mechanics on macroscopic [skills 34:22]? The really neat thing—the
most amazing miracle of inflation—is it takes quantum mechanics and turns into us.
It’s quantum fluctuations that become galaxies and us. It’s the most macroscopic quantum
mechanics you can imagine. It is amazing. And it does it in a very simple way. It turns
quantum mechanic fluctuations into density fluctuations in a simple and beautiful way.
It’s amazing, and we should celebrate it. (Eve Silverstein) I wanted to make— (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) So, we are— (Eve Silverstein) Sorry. I wanted to make one more comment about
this discussion of the definition. So, it’s possible as a theorist to separate issues
a little bit and think about turning off gravity, but keeping quantum mechanics. And then you
can make a very precise statement about what the ground state of a system is. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) You do this in your office? You turn off gravity? (Eve Silverstein) You do this
on— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) And you turn on quantum mechanics. You just do this. (Eve
Silverstein) You do. (Lawrence Krauss) It’s California. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) It’s California.
These theorists, they’re lords of the cosmos. Go on. (Eve Silverstein) We don’t have the
budget for gravity. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Go on. Turn off gravity. We have a quantum
Universe. Go on. (Eve Silverstein) Right. I’m just trying to separate that. I’m
trying to say quantum mechanics—with just quantum mechanics, you can find what you mean
by the vacuum state—the zero energy state. You can even consider to me a little bit more
mathematically precise, what we call a gapped system; a system for which it takes a finite
energy to excite it. And I think that’s also a pretty good definition of nothing.
In fact, according to some of our modern theories, which relate non-gravitational physics to
a dual description in terms of gravity, the two are closely related. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
I’m betting that Jim Holt doesn’t agree with your definition of nothing. (Jim Holt)
Well, I was going to— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Oh, you have a third nothing. (Jim Holt) Well,
we have— (Lawrence Krauss) No, I have a third nothing. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Jim,
react to Eve. (Jim Holt) Listen, the only even remotely persuasive definition of nothing
I’ve heard from a physicist came from Alex Vilenkin who said imagine a closed, spherical
space time. Imagine the surface of a ball. It’s a finite space, but it doesn’t have
any boundaries. Now, imagine the ball shrinking down to a point. It’s radius goes from finite,
shrinks down to zero. So, now you have a closed space time of zero radius. This was Alex Vilenkin’s
definition of nothingness. And he did some quantum mechanical computations and showed
that given a closed space time of zero radius, there’s a finite probability that a little
nugget of false vacuum will spontaneously appear, will nucleate out of that. And that,
by the miracle of inflation, will evolve into the world we see around us. And I think that’s
a really nice story. There are two problems with it. One problem is is a closed finite—a
closed space time of zero radius, is that really nothing? Well, there’s no space and
there’s no space and there’s no time, so anything that exist in space time can’t
be a part of it. But what about physical laws? What about mathematical entities? What about
consciousness, value, all the things that are possibly non-spatial, non-temporal? Those
aren’t ruled out, so it seems to me the notion of nothing is a very parochial one.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) You raised a really important point that I want to get back to.
What you’re saying is you can have a Universe that’s got nothing in it, but if laws of
physics still apply in that Universe, the laws of physics are not nothing. (Jim Holt)
Yeah. (Lawrence Krauss) When we get there. (Jim Holt) Where are the laws of physics?
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, Eve? (Eve Silverstein) Okay, so this is a very interesting way to
approach the problem: take a space time and shrink it. The problem is that general relativity,
the description based on that, breaks down. (Jim Holt) Exactly. (Eve Silverstein) And
now you need a theory that goes beyond it. There are candidates for this. The leading
one is string theory. And let’s talk about this briefly in string theory. Zero radius
does not mean nothing in string theory. In some cases, in fact, it’s equivalent to
large radius for acute reason: having to do with light modes from strings widening around
the small radius. But more generally, you can go where you’re going instead by asking:
How many effective dimensions do you have? And you can ask that question by counting
the density of states of the system that are available. And shrinking a space to zero radius
does not necessarily reduce the number of effective dimensions in that sense. There
are processes which do do that. These are processes which appear in topology changing,
transitions and in some resolutions of singularities in string theory. But it’s a technical question
that you’re asking. And you can improve on that answer. (Jim Holt) But we’re all
whistling in the dark here. I mean, we don’t have a final theory. (Eve Silverstein) Of
course we don’t, but we still have some rules and we try to apply them. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Rich, let me get back to your third nothing. (Richard Gott) Well, that’s a second
nothing there: the zero Universe. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. (Richard Gott) And Li-Xin Lin
and I didn’t think that was exactly nothing. It’s a quantum state. It knows about the
quantum mechanics and so forth. So, we did not think that was exactly nothing. So, the
third one is what I would call really nothing: no quantum state, no nothing. And I want to
tell you want that looks like. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. You just said no nothing.
(Richard Gott) Well, okay. That’s better. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) No, I’m just trying
to—a vocabulator’s going to start battering— (Richard Gott) Oh, okay. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
—really badly, as we go forward. (Richard Gott) Grammarians will correct me. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) So, don’t tell me the nothing you’re about to describe is not nothing. (Richard
Gott) I surrender on that point. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, go. (Richard Gott) Okay. So,
what is really nothing look like? Well, what does it look like back here? Is there a big
black thing back here? A big black cape over here? No. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I’ll stand
over here. Now, repeat that. Go. (Richard Gott) It’s not black back there. You don’t
have any retinal cells looking in that direction. So, that’s really nothing. It’s not anything.
It’s not there. And so Li-Xin Lin and I thought that Vilenkin’s model, which we
thought was very interesting—but what they’re trying to do there is make—quantum tunneling
is weird. You can be in the room and tunnel out without—or going through the wall, that
kind of thing. It’s weird, and so we are looking for something weird to start the Universe.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. Just to get people on the same page with quantum tunneling,
so quantum tunneling—if it happened in the real world, you’d be on one side of a mountain
and rather than having to climb up the mountain, come down the other side, you would instantaneously
just appear on the other side. And quantum particles do this all the time. In fact, the
sun cannot produce energy without a form of quantum tunneling because there’s a barrier
in the way. And how do you get to the other side? And I think in the movie Buckaroo Banzai,
in the 10th dimension he would go through mountains for just this way. (Richard Gott)
Oh, yes. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah. Three of you saw that movie apparently. (Lawrence
Krauss) Great movie. It’s about a rock star physicist. I like it. (Richard Gott) He said—very
wise—everywhere you go, there you are. (Lawrence Krauss) Exactly. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s
right. The quote of the movie, yes. (Richard Gott) It’s a great philosophy. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) So, your nothing is not even anything, is what your point is. (Richard Gott) Yeah.
And so we thought we’d try something different. We thought that it might be hard to make a
Universe out of nothing, particularly relying on something that by definition didn’t exist.
So, we thought, well, maybe the Universe isn’t made out of nothing. It’s made out of something,
and that something could be itself. And so inflation allows you to do this. And— (Lawrence
Krauss) I knew there was something in there. (Richard Gott) You knew there was something
in there. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Rich, do you have the Universe in that Tupperware? (Lawrence
Krauss) He never comes without a visual aid. (Richard Gott) This is the model of [unintelligible
42:22]— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) The Universe in a Tupperware container, yes. (Richard Gott)
So, here’s a picture of our model. It looks like something Dr. Seuss invented. This glass
represents space time. We’re showing one dimension of time going up this funnel here.
This is an inflating Universe here. The circumference is getting bigger as time goes up here. We’re
showing this is an inflating Universe. And [unintelligible 42:53], who’s at Stanford,
showed that quantum fluctuations that we’ve heard about can cause a Universe to form,
give birth to another Universe here. And so this is a Universe—baby Universe born. This
is called chaotic inflation. This is a Universe born by quantum fluctuations off of this one.
It’s a branch that grows up to be as big as this trunk. And then it can sprout branches
on its own [unintelligible]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) And so, Rich, you’re holding in your
hand four universes. Is that correct? (Richard Gott) Just four. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Fine,
okay. (Richard Gott) It’s not heavy. They’re my Universe. So, these are four universes.
Now, what intrigued Neil about this is he’d say what’s outside here? What’s this expanding
into? Nothing. The only thing that’s real here is the glass model itself. It’s curved.
It has a shape. But to visualize it, we put it in this background space. But the background
space doesn’t exist. Just the glass itself. So, here’s a Universe coming off here. So,
Li-Xin Lin and I said, well, what about if one of the branches simple branched off here,
circled back in time and grew up to become the trunk? This is possible if you have a
time travel solution to general relativity of which they exist. It makes a little closed
time loop here. And if you go—and the Universe is inflating, so this branch gets bigger and
bigger as it comes back here. And the trunk is bigger than the branch. And so if you’re
here and you went around this, you would be able to come back in time and visit the event
where you were. This is a time travel to the past in general relativity. So, this is what
this looks like. Every event here has events that precede it and cause it in the usual
way. So, if you’re here, there’s an earlier event here. There’s an earlier event here.
There’s an earlier event here. And so if you go back in time, you go back further and
further, and then you start going around. It’s like the Earth has no eastern most
point. Although, it has—it’s finite toward the east. And so we thought this might be
useful for addressing the famous first cause problem. This Universe is finite to the past,
but it has no earliest event. And the interesting thing about this was that this geometry here
explained the usual causal set of events we have where photons go only toward the future.
If you shake a photon here, it goes out and intersects Alpha Centauri four years from
now because it’s four light years away. Maxwell’s equations allow what’s called
advanced waves that go to the past and would be shown intersecting Alpha Centauri four
years ago. But we don’t see them in nature, so it must—it doesn’t have anything to
do with electrodynamics. It must have something to do with the beginning of the Universe.
So, in this case, if you—the only self-consistent solution for this is one where photons go
toward the future. Because if you had one that came back here, it would come back here,
go around an infinite amount of time, gain energy all the time and blow up and cause
a singularity and not be the geometry you started with. That’d be like killing your
grandmother. So, you’re not allowed to do that because you have to have a self-consistent
solution. So, it also explained the entropy area of time because this was cold. This was
hot. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, so you’re creating the Universe out of itself rather
than out of nothing. (Richard Gott) Yeah. We were asking the question: Can the laws
of physics allow the Universe to create itself? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Are there laws of physics
out here? (Richard Gott) No. (Lawrence Krauss) There’s nothing out there. (Richard Gott)
That’s real. (Jim Holt) No, [unintelligible 46:49]. What tells the abyss that it’s pregnant
with this thing? (Richard Gott) That’s— (Jim Holt) I mean, it’s finite in time.
Every event has a cause. There’s no first moment. Why does it exist [unintelligible]
exist eternally. (Richard Gott) That’s what Mr. Liebniz would say. And, listen, Liebniz’s
answer was God. Liebniz, as they say, a smart guy. Invented calculus. Liebniz’s question
was: Why is there something rather than nothing? We were just trying to answer the question:
How did the Universe get here? So, if we say given that the Universe is here, how did it
get here? This was a possible way to do it. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, Rich, your Universe
always was. That’s your answer. (Richard Gott) Well, if I think four dimensionally
like Einstein, I’d say I got this four-dimensional sculpture here that doesn’t change. It’s
a four-dimensional thing. It exist. And so Mr. Leibniz would rightly ask: So, why is
it there instead of not there? (Jim Holt) Or it’s out of something else. (Richard
Gott) Or out of something else. (Jim Holt) [Unintelligible 47:57]. (Richard Gott) That’s
what he would say if he were here. We didn’t claim to answer that. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Charles, in your study of zero you studying Eastern philosophy. And we have some people
arguing over here about basically first causes. And I’m just curious—I don’t study Eastern
philosophy. Around the world, are people as disturbed at the need to have to have a first
cause? Because that’s what driving all this. It’s like, well, how did it get here? I
have to know. It is a problem to be solved. Is there anyone in the world who’s just
cool with that? (Charles Seife) I can’t say I’ve studied philosophy as extensively
as to answer that universally, but almost all mythologies— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Universally
meaning Earth-wide. (Charles Seife) Earth-wide, yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) In this house,
Universe means the Universe. Okay, so, like Ms. Universe, no, she’s Ms. Earth. Let’s
just establish that fact now. Continue. (Jim Holt) Well, this Earth has the home planet
advantage, so that’s not fair. [Unintelligible 48:54]. (Charles Seife) But basically every
mythology, more or less, needs a creation mythos of some sort. Basically, two functions
of a mythology are explaining where we came from and where we’re going. And— (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) So, the urge was there. (Charles Seife) The urge was there. The urge was there.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Pre-scientific era. (Lawrence Krauss) But, look, we don’t need—the
point is science doesn’t worry about a first cause. I mean, you’re pretending it does,
but it doesn’t. Religion does. (Charles Seife) First of all, there are lots of good
physical definitions of nothing. And I still think the best physical definition of nothing
is the absence of something. So, to understand nothing, you have to understand— (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) So, we’re done. (Lawrence Krauss) Yeah, you have to understand what something
is. That’s why it’s a physical question, and not a philosophical one. First, you have
to understand what something is, and you have to understand what the absence of that is.
All those are physical questions. And physicists try to answer them. Now, there are a number
of different answers, which we can get to. And Rich has talked about some of them. The
simplest thing is not to take it to zero radius, which is—as Eve pointed out—not physical.
At least most of us think it’s not physical. Quantum—when you apply quantum mechanics
to gravity—and we don’t have a quantum gravity theory yet. Some people think we might
be getting close, but we don’t know if it is. But one of the things is quantum mechanics
says things fluctuates. And if gravity’s a theory of space and time, if you make space
and time quantum mechanical variables, then it’s perfectly possible for universes to
pop into existence. Space and time to pop into existence where there was no space and
time before. (Jim Holt) Hold on. Hold on. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. (Lawrence
Krauss) I haven’t had a chance to talk yet, so let me— (Jim Holt) I must ask a question
here. (Lawrence Krauss) What? (Jim Holt) Space and time pop into existence; you make that
sound like a temporal process, a process in time. (Lawrence Krauss) Well, because I said
it so you could understand it. (Jim Holt) It’s not a process in time. Huh? (Lawrence
Krauss) No, no. I mean, I used words. And the problem with words are, as T. S. Eliot
says, they’re slippery. (Jim Holt) But becoming implies time. You can’t have time coming
into existence as itself as a temporal process. That makes no sense. That’s why it’s good
to have philosophers around. (Lawrence Krauss) Well, you pop— (Jim Holt) Which I’m not
one—to help you use language precisely. (Lawrence Krauss) And so let me just pretend—let
me just say there’s a global time. And at some time, a space pops into existence. Okay?
Will that make you happier? (Jim Holt) Okay, there’s a global time, and then there’s
[unintelligible 51:09]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Just to clarify—wait, wait. Just so I understand
what’s going on— (Jim Holt) We have how many nothings? We have global time and—
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Hold on. Yeah. Just so we understand what’s going on, Lawrence,
you are saying that because we are illuminated by the actions of quantum physics mentally,
we can think about whatever is our best understanding of nothing. And quantum physics then pops
into existence in that nothing an entire Universe. And if that’s the case, I would then pick
up Jim’s point and ask you— (Lawrence Krauss) I was going to try and ask: Where
do the quantum physics come from? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) No, no. That’s not what I’m going
to ask you. I’m going to ask you—that had to happen at some point. (Lawrence Krauss)
Why? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Why isn’t it happening all the time, everywhere, at all
times? (Lawrence Krauss) It can be. First of all, it can be. And it wouldn’t be noticeable
at all. Okay, it could be happening in our Universe. You’d be popping off—they’d
be universes, but they would disappear from our Universe. You wouldn’t see them. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Okay, why didn’t you like his nothing that he [puts] his Universe in?
(Lawrence Krauss) But that’s—okay. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Why don’t you like his nothing?
That sounded like a good nothing. (Jim Holt) Well, first of all, as he himself admits,
his nothing is a something. When you start with a contradiction, you can derive anything.
(Lawrence Krauss) But you didn’t let me get to the point. The key point is to this
question—first of all— (Jim Holt) It’s a physical object. It has structure. It obeys
laws—complex laws. There’s a lot of stuff going in it. I mean, my bank account, whether
there’s no money in it is still something. And a vacuum is a hell of a lot more something
than my bank account. (Lawrence Krauss) Okay. Well, no, the point is that the key question
is really—the why question is stupid. Everyone who has kids knows that. (Jim Holt) No, it’s
not. [Unintelligible]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) What question are you talking about? (Lawrence
Krauss) [Unintelligible 52:46] keep saying why, why, why, why, why, why. The only answer
is go to bed. And so the point is that what we really mean is how. That’s what—when
we say why, what we really mean is how. We care how did it happen. Now, the question
isn’t was there something else that existed. The really amazing thing—the question that
really matters—and it may not be the question that matters to some classical philosophers,
but it’s a question that really matters. It’s how did the Universe, of 400 billion
galaxies, containing 100 billion stars, how did that come into existence if there weren’t
galaxies, if there weren’t stars, if there wasn’t energy? And that is the question
that physics is coming close to answering. And that may not be the ultimate question
of whether there was nothing before that. But there was nothing—our Universe didn’t
exist and our Universe coming into existence when it wasn’t there in the beginning with
enough—with zero energy, but still enough gravity to create everything we see, is the
amazing, remarkable miracle that science [creates 53:45]. (Jim Holt) It is amazing. (Lawrence
Krauss) And that’s the important question. (Jim Holt) Yeah, it’s a great story. There’s
lots of empirical evidence for it. You’ve told a miraculous story about how a Universe
like ours respond by a piece of rubber. But where did the piece of rubber come from? (Lawrence
Krauss) No. And the point is that even the laws don’t have to exist. There could be—
(Jim Holt) Oh, that’s okay. (Lawrence Krauss) In the— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait.
You said a quantum fluctuation brings the Universe into existence. (Lawrence Krauss)
That’s because I can talk in our Universe about quantum mechanics. But it could be—although,
this is wild— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Oh, nothing else we’ve been talking about until
now is wild. But this is wild. Okay, go. (Lawrence Krauss) This is even wilder. Okay, so it’s
quite plausible, in fact, if there are many universes, as current theories suggest—
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) The multiverse. (Lawrence Krauss) —that in each of them the laws of
physics essentially come into existence when the Universe comes into existence. There are
different laws of physics to each Universe— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Then you can’t invoke
a quantum fluctuation to give you the Universe that has quantum fluctuations. (Lawrence Krauss)
What is interesting to me—and I have no mathematical underlying theory of this, but
it’s perfectly possible—it seems to me—that some of those universes don’t have quantum
mechanics. I don’t know if quantum mechanics arose when our Universe arose. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Eve—I keep calling you Eva. Eve? (Lawrence Krauss) I mean, I can only describe
it mathematically by a theory right now, but I don’t know—string theory is quantum
field theory [unintelligible 54:56]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I met Eve on the campus of
Stanford a couple months ago when I happened to be in town. And first time I met her, and
she had already been invited to this. And we just chatted about nothing. And so she
went on—it was something, but it was nothing. All right, so we’re chatting on, and then
at one point she described a nothing to me that just blew my mind. Okay, so, Eve, could
you give—because the nothing you described to me just would send all of us home in three
minutes. Because we’re done after the nothing you described to me. I was like—I went out
saying, damn, I can’t even—so, could you please just— (Eve Silverstein) I’m not
sure I could live down to that, but I’ll try. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, just give
me that nothing. And you all just shut up and listen to this. Okay, go. (Eve Silverstein)
Well, so I already said— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I want to get a close listen on this.
Okay, go. (Eve Silverstein) I already said my conservative view of nothing, which is
inflationary density perturbations, but let me come to this more ambitious question that’s
being discussed. And there is a model, I think, for what you’re referring to. It happens
to be a model within string theory, but maybe there would be more general approaches to
that, which basically precedes as follows. So, space time is an emergent thing. Large,
radius space time is what we think is rather special. It’s the exception rather than
the rule. And it can evolve toward a singularity, or evolve out of a singularity. But let’s
consider the case where it’s evolving toward a singularity. And what can happen is time
can keep going forever, but in effect the mass of all the fields, including the graviton,
exponentially grow. So, there’s a pretty controlled model of this in string theory.
It’s a classical version of what is called the Hartle-Hawking wave function. And so we
can make sense of that. We can do computations of if we assume we’re in the vacuum in this
exponentially massive phase, we can ask: What does that state correspond to in the time
periods when there is a large space time? So, we get an answer for that. It’s a simple
thermal distribution of particles. So, these are questions that we can begin to try and
address, using technical tools that we’re developing. We’re far from answering the
ultimate questions no one would ever say otherwise. But I don’t think— (Lawrence Krauss) But
the fact that it’s an implausible is what [unintelligible 57:11]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
No, no. You described something about dimensions and it went away. (Eve Silverstein) Yes. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) You’re getting there, okay. (Eve Silverstein) Well, that’s—right.
So, as you approach this phase, you can make this count of the density of states that I
alluded to earlier. So, you can ask within string theory: What is dimensionality anyway?
Since large space is the exception, there we can just count dimensions by asking how
many directions we can move in. More generally, we can’t do that. So, one thing you can
do that’s a little more general is to ask: How many dimension in effect can a string
oscillate into? And that affects the density of states that the string carries. So, how
many different states of the system you can have? So, if you have a string, it oscillates.
And it has more states if it can oscillate in more dimensions. But you don’t have to
have a large space time in order to ask the question of: What is the density of states
of a string? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Just to clarify, if you have a string that’s just
in two dimensions, you can jiggle it and it’ll wiggle that way. If you have three dimensions,
you can wiggle in more ways. (Eve Silverstein) In more ways. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Four dimensions,
it goes out of what you’re awareness is. (Eve Silverstein) And so the number of states
actually grows like the exponential of a square root of the number of dimensions when there’s
a normal notion of dimensions. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I was going to tell you that. Yeah.
(Eve Silverstein) Yeah. So, what you do is you define an effective dimension where you
just ask this is growing like E to the something, like exponential of something, and you define
that something as the square root of the effective number of dimensions. And now that quantity
can change. And as you go toward a singularity, like what we’re talking about, it can decrease.
And I think that’s what we were talking about. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) And it decreases
until what happens? (Eve Silverstein) Well, the best way of describing it in words is
the masses of everything grow exponentially as you approach this point. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) That’s not what you told me in your office. No, you told me that there’s some
state where all the dimensions go away themselves. (Eve Silverstein) Well, that’s what I’m
saying. So, as you— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Oh, that was what you were saying? I’m sorry,
I missed that. (Eve Silverstein) No, no. Okay, let me try and close the gap. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Okay. (Eve Silverstein) Let me try and close the gap. So, I’ve said two things.
I guess, one is that in effect the masses are growing exponentially. And then I’ve
also said you can measure the effect of dimension by asking about the density of states. So,
let me just say as you go toward this phase where the masses are growing exponentially,
that number—the effects of dimensionality—is decreasing. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Until…
(Eve Silverstein) Until zero. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Until you don’t even have dimensions.
(Eve Silverstein) Right. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, so your flugelhorn theory here, that’s
in some dimensionality, isn’t it? It’s embedded in something that presumably has
a larger dimension than what it’s embedded in. (Richard Gott)No, it just has the number
of dimensions it has, which I’m saying is four. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah, but it exist
in a— (Richard Gott) No, that’s just to help you visualize it. Out there is nothing.
(Lawrence Krauss) In theory—I mean, string theory can predict many universes with all
sorts of dimensions. And four dimensional universes might pop into existence and six
dimensional universes and two dimensional universes. We don’t happen to live in those.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. Is there a highest number of dimensions that could possibly represent
reality? (Lawrence Krauss) Well, it depends on the theory, I suppose. One might say—
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s a cop-out answer, I just want you to know. (Eve Silverstein)
Let me very quickly address that. You were about to say 10. Ten is a special dimension
in string theory because it is the dimension in which you have what is called super symmetry—extra
symmetry. But it is in no way predicted by the theory in fact. You can start, as you
were just saying, in any number of dimensions. The difference between any other dimension
than 10 and dimension 10 is that in any other dimension there’s potential energy from
the start in your analysis. That’s the only difference. (Lawrence Krauss) But the point
about this is that to answer the question, it really has to—the instant question is
not: Why is there something rather than nothing? The amazing question would be: Why is there
nothing rather than something? But we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) I guess not. (Lawrence Krauss) But, I mean, the point is there should—it would
be amazing to have nothing. There’s always going to be something. It’s going to arise
sometime, somewhere. And you happen to live where it is. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Charles,
did people debate zero when it was first introduced? (Charles Seife) Yeah. It was a— (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Who didn’t like it? (Charles Seife) Well, zero was hated by the Greeks in particular
because it— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, they didn’t have bank accounts that went to zero
like Jim’s bank account? (Charles Seife) They only had zero for Jim’s bank account
when they borrowed from Babylonians. They actually did astronomical calculations in
Greek numbers. And then when they realized they needed a zero to make the calculations
easier, they would swap into base 60, use Babylonian zero. And the symbol for zero—
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) They did take from the Babylonians. (Charles Seife) They took it
from the Babylonians. But they didn’t— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Base 60, so we owe our
measurement of the clock time to them, which is essentially base 60. (Charles Seife) That’s
correct. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour. (Charles
Seife) That’s correct. And it was so repulsive to the Greeks that they refused to incorporate
it into their own system. That it was basically a calculational tool that was used by the
geeky astronomers, and we forget about it for the rest of the time. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
So, is there some modern counterpart? Because we’re still human just as they were. And
we have a philosophically-informed gentleman here who just can’t stand what’s going
on to his right. And they’re grappling over some physical representation of nothing. And
he’s saying whatever you’d done, you still haven’t given us nothing. So, is this just
the same argument moving forward? (Charles Seife) I think in terms of there’s an aesthetic,
underlying fight here. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Because Lawrence loves his zero—his Universe
from nothing. He’s aesthetically turned on by that. I can feel it when I walk near
him. (Lawrence Krauss) That’s just personal attraction. (Charles Seife) Yeah. I mean,
there’s all sorts of things that some of us it takes time to change your aesthetics
to accept. I mean, if you look at— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Well, you’re saying some
of the resistance was philosophically driven rather than practically driven. (Charles Seife)
Absolutely. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. (Charles Seife) Absolutely. If you look at the turn
of the century, I mean— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Now, we got to really specify which century
you’re talking about now. (Charles Seife) The turn of the—1900. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Okay, thank you. (Charles Seife) If you look at that time, atomic theory was relatively
new. And—modern atomic theory was relatively new. And there were physicists who were out
there— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Just to clarify, the atom was still a controversial topic even
in 1900, if I remember correctly. (Lawrence Krauss) Oh, yeah. It wasn’t accepted until
after 1905. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah. (Lawrence Krauss) There were big conferences on no atoms.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, Brownian motion, I guess. (Lawrence Krauss) Yeah. Really Einstein.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Einstein, okay. (Charles Seife) I think is was Ernst Mach who said
if atoms are true, I’m resigning and I’m giving up my position. Similarly— (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) And he was begging the street a few weeks later. (Charles Seife) Exactly.
(Lawrence Krauss) He didn’t believe in quantum mechanics either—Plank essentially, even
though he invented it. (Charles Seife) And Einstein—even though he was one of the founders
of quantum mechanics found it aesthetically repulsive. And some of his contributions—his
best contributions were trying to show that is was garbage. (Lawrence Krauss) But that’s
what great about science. It takes what aesthetically repulsive, it says the Universe doesn’t
exist to please you. You may like it, but it doesn’t matter. It may not be true. And
if it’s true, you got to learn to like it. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Jim Holt wants the Universe
to please him. (Jim Holt) No, it’s a crappy, mediocre Universe. It’s badly designed.
No, the most interesting—the father of chaotic inflation, Andrei Linde told me that it would
not be hard for a— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) This is a departmental colleague of Eve at
Stanford. (Jim Holt) Yes. To make a Universe in a lab—a hacker physicist from another
Universe could make a Universe like ours in a lab with just a 10 to the minus 9th grams
of matter. And, in fact, when you look at how imperfect and weird our Universe is, it
probably was made by a hacker. I mean, maybe there was a creator, but certainly not an
omniscient— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Stop. You’re saying— (Jim Holt) No, it’s a—why
are there 60-plus elementary particles? That is so inelegant. If I were designing a Universe,
it would be far more elegant than that. There’d be nothing in it probably. (Lawrence Krauss)
No, I mean, [unintelligible 65:34]— (Jim Holt) And so why four forces? Why all this
symmetry breaking? Why all these— (Lawrence Krauss) No, no. People say—one of the things
that I really hate and I debate recently in Sweden with theologians is they say, well,
they get this stuff that physicist talk about fine-tuning and they make it sound as if our
Universe is beautifully fine-tuned for life. It actually could be much more beautiful and
have life in it. And it turns out there are lots of constants we don’t understand, and
they look unnatural. And maybe they are, and maybe it’s fine-tuned, but it doesn’t
mean it’s the best Universe. But it’s—again, what’s surprising about that? Bees can see
the colors—it’s cosmic natural selection. Bees can see the colors of flowers because
if they couldn’t, they couldn’t reproduce. The constants in nature happen to allow us
to exist, but that’s not so surprising. What would be more surprising is if they didn’t
and we still did. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Rich, what’s the famous quote from Alfonso X?
(Richard Gott) I thought you were going to say is this the best of all possible worlds.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Nobody remembers this quote? Alfonso X? No. (Jim Holt) Why don’t
you tell us? (Richard Gott) No, that’s Leibniz. Leibniz again. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Leibniz,
okay. (Richard Gott) Is this the best of all possible worlds? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Alfonso
X—was it the 1300s? Something around there. He said had I been around at the time of creation,
I could have given some suggestions for God to have improved His work. (Richard Gott)
Okay. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Upon looking at the actual vagaries of nature. (Richard Gott)
There’s a lot of folks like that. Anyway— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Well, so, Rich, I remember—
(Richard Gott) Here’s something nice about the multiverse. I mean, what we know about
the Big Bang is the Big Bang seems to be started by inflation. That is gravitational repulsion
from the negative pressure that started the Big Bang explosion. And it seems to make a
multiple Universe. Well, you saw four of them here. And it just—there’s no stopping
it. And so it just keeps on making more and more universes. So, and I proposed to early
model this in 1982 a multiverse with all these different universes. And Linde has quite said
that the laws of physics in these different bubble universes or these different branch
universes can be quite different. So, now here’s the— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Different
in laws of physics. (Lawrence Krauss) Yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Different laws of physics.
(Lawrence Krauss) But not that different. (Richard Gott) Well, [unintelligible] would
say they’re different—there’s one laws of physics, which is string theory, let’s
say. And there’s different bylaws here and there’s bylaws here because the different
vacuum states and the different multi-universes evoke different laws of physics. And so here’s
the nice thing, if you have a multiverse with an infinite number of universes here, some
of them are nicer than others. Some of them are completely hostile and really hot and
no intelligent life could live over there. And so, luckily, you don’t live over there.
And the universes that are more habitable, more people will live in. This is the anthropic
principle. So, some universes are populated by more intelligent beings. Some universes
are populated by less intelligent beings. And so you’re likely to live in one of the
nice universes. Thank you. (Lawrence Krauss) Exactly. But our Universe is actually pretty
hostile. I always get amazed [unintelligible 68:52] life. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yes, completely
hostile. (Lawrence Krauss) Most of our Universe is damn hostile. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah,
the Universe wants to kill us at every opportunity it has. (Lawrence Krauss) It’s amazing we’ve
been here this long. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Remember that asteroid that just came? (Lawrence
Krauss) Yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s an example. (Lawrence Krauss) There will be
another one coming in the future. The Universe is out to kill us and has been since we evolved.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Jim— (Lawrence Krauss) And, in fact, it’s not so clear that, in
fact, there are dangers of using anthropic arguments, too, because it assumes typicality.
I often say if you use the anthropic argument for intelligent life, we should be having
this discussion under water. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Just to clarify— (Lawrence Krauss)
Three-quarters of the Earth is under water. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Of the surface of the
Earth. (Richard Gott) No, I would say— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. So, the anthropic
principle, just to put everyone on the same page, is the premise that you can marvel at
whatever Universe we’re in for whatever regions most of those occasions aren’t theological.
But the anthropic argument would—correct me if I mess this up. I think I have it right.
So, the Universe that allows you to make that argument is the Universe that allows you to
exist to make that argument. And so there are people who want to then say the Universe
was made for us. (Lawrence Krauss) The point is there are people that would say—and we
said it—physicists have said it for many different times over the last century. It’s
always been wrong, but maybe it’s right this time. There’s some quantities like
the energy of empty space that seems so inexplicable from a fundamental physics perspective that
people are saying, well, it is true that if it was much bigger than what it is there would
be no galaxies. If no galaxies, no stars. No stars, no planets, no astronomers. So,
the Universe is the way it is, so there are astronomers to measure it. And it sounds religious,
but it’s really—or tautological, but it’s not. It could be true that it’s a cosmic,
natural selection. As I say, you just find yourself living in universes in which you
can live. It’s perfectly plausible. Where I take umbrage at it is some people who then
make the claim that they can argue they can understand why the fundamental concepts are
what they are. But that makes some presumptions about typicality, about us being typical life
forms. And I don’t happen to think we’re typical life forms. We happen to exist pretty
early on in the history of the Universe. It looks like it’s going to exist a lot longer,
and I suspect— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Trillions of years. (Lawrence Krauss) I suspect there’ll
be lots of life forms that are quite different from us in the future. So, I don’t think
we’re necessarily typical. We just happen to be here. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Jim, every
time you’ve opened your mouth, it has been in part to pass judgement on other people’s
offering of a nothing. Do you actually have a nothing to put on the table other than arguments
against other nothings that come before you? (Jim Holt) No. I mean, first of all— (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Okay. (Jim Holt) I would say philosophers have talked a great deal of nonsense
about nothing. And if you look at the philosophers who’ve addressed nothing in the history
of philosophy, the earliest one was Parmenides, the Eleatics age. And he said that we cannot
speak of what is not. And in saying that, he violated his own precept. So, we got off
to a very shaky start. And then we have Hegel saying that pure being— (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
But the act of saying you can’t speak of what is not meant he was speaking of what
is not. (Jim Holt) Exactly. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. (Jim Holt) Yeah. We can speak
of what is not. I can speak [unintelligible]. So, moving on to Hegel. Hegel said what is
pure being? Pure, indeterminate being; it has no qualities. It’s the same thing as
nothing. So, Hegel said being equals nothingness, which is a great deal—is very close to what
you say. Also nonsense, but harmless nonsense. (Lawrence Krauss) Thank you. (Jim Holt) Heidegger
thought of nothing as an annihilating force that sucks thing into existence and keeps
them there kind of like the vacuum cleaner and yellow submarine that sucks up all the
scenery and sucks up the beetles and it sucks up itself and nothings itself, and then the
world pops back into existence. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) The ’60s was good to him. Yeah, okay.
(Jim Holt) And so, yeah, but analytic philosophers—serious philosophers in the tradition that I think
is the greatest today say that nothing is—it’s a noun, so it seems like a name for an entity,
but it’s not. It just means not anything. There’s nothing particularly mysterious
about it. And so nothingness is a state in which there’s not anything period, including
fields in a vacuum and so forth. (Lawrence Krauss) But there’s no vacuum. (Jim Holt)
But then we should ask why do we assume that the fact that there is a world rather than
nothing requires an explanation. What’s so special about nothing? And people say,
well, nothing is this— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Does everybody require that explanation that
you’ve seen around the world? Because you said it requires it, but that could be a western
mandate that we put upon ourselves. (Jim Holt) The creation myth is always about how the
world we live in came into existence. It may have evolved from an earlier chaotic state,
or it may have been created out of nothingness by a god or something like that. There’s
only one—by the way, there’s an Amazon tribe called the [unintelligible 73:45], who
I think are the only civilization known that doesn’t have any creation myth at all. They
ask about the world, they say it’s always been like this. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Like
Rich’s thing. So, Rich came from that tribe. (Lawrence Krauss) Physics would also always
say—I mean, we’re used to—in quantum mechanics—realizing that any possibility—anything
that’s possible can exist. (Jim Holt) Yeah. (Lawrence Krauss) And so the simplest answer
is if a Universe is possible, it has to exist. And it’s not too surprising to find ourselves
in it. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) We’re running low on time. (Jim Holt) But there are lots
of other possible universes that don’t exist. So, yes— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) How do you
know they don’t exist? You sound like you’ve been there and looked for them and couldn’t
find them. (Jim Holt) But that’s interesting. You’re positing a sort of principle—it’s
traditionally called the principle of plentitude or fecundity that every possibility is actual.
That there are universes that are ruled over by Greek gods and so forth. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying you’re saying—no. (Jim Holt) That’s
an interesting metaphysical idea. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) No, that’s not what I said. You said
that other kinds of universes don’t exist. I just don’t know how you have access to
that information. (Jim Holt) No, I don’t. It’s possible that every possible Universe
governed by every imaginable combination of laws and even completely lawless universes,
it may all exist out there. So, it’s conceivable that every possibility is realized. I mean,
this is an idea that goes back to Plato. And actually Steven Weinberg, who’s the father
of the standard model of particle physics, entertains this notion in his book Dreams
of a Final Theory, the principle of plentitude, it would explain why this world exist, this
world is just one world in an ensemble of all possible worlds. And one of these possible
worlds is the null world. It’s nothingness. So, in answer to the question: Why is there
something rather than nothing? Well, there’s not. There’s both. So, that’s one way—I
think that’s a theory [unintelligible 75:27]— (Lawrence Krauss) [Unintelligible] very rare.
I mean, the point is most of the worlds are not null. And that’s why it’s not too surprising
to find yourself in not a null Universe. (Jim Holt) So, why do we think that the null Universe
is the ontological default option? That’s what—it is the simplest. It seems to be
the least arbitrary. It’s the cheapest. It doesn’t cost anything. But actually our
Universe is pretty cheap, too. (Lawrence Krauss) But, again, that’s based on assumptions.
(Jim Holt) It has zero net energy. It’s like Donald Trump, lots of assets and lots
of debts and it’s not— (Lawrence Krauss) But we have zero—our Universe—my point
is our Universe has zero energy. It’s no different than our Universe—our total energy
of our Universe is probably zero. (Jim Holt) So, our Universe is a [unintelligible 76:02],
yeah. (Lawrence Krauss) That’s what makes it so special. (Jim Holt) It’s sort of the
free lunch [unintelligible]. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I want to go along the line here. Running
low on time, plus I want to make sure we have time for questions from the audience, from
our Twitter stream and from our overflow rooms. What’s the best, cleanest expression of
zero you know? (Charles Seife) I think the mathematical expression where you start at
zero and you move it and you get the null set. That’s my favorite. Nothing. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) When you start with zero and… (Charles Seife) You remove it and get the
null set. It’s almost a platonic nothing, which is— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait.
So, there’s a zero, which is nothing, but then you remove the zero and you have a set
of things that doesn’t even include nothing? (Charles Seife) That’s correct. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) That’s an awesome nothing. (Charles Seife) It is the emptiness of all. There’s
nothing— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) It’s so empty, it doesn’t even have zero. (Charles
Seife) That’s right. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s good. (Charles Seife) You can actually
create zero out of the null set if you try. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) You can create zero
out of a null set. (Charles Seife) There’s a mathematical formulas that allows you to
take the set of the null set and put it in a set, and that becomes zero. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Okay, I’m moving on right now. Okay. So, Jim, your best nothing is what? (Jim Holt)
Not anything. That’s the theory of nothingness. I’m sorry, it’s no more interesting—and
that’s why, by the way, philosophers spend very little time vexing over the concept of
nothingness. It’s not that complicated. Although, may be hard to imagine. Once again,
professional bullying on television. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. So, Jim, so you’re
saying all the philosophers are just—who are still arguing over nothing should just
listen to you? (Jim Holt) No. They don’t spend—it’s not a fruitful philosophical
notion unless you make heavy weather of it the way Heidegger did and say it’s this
annihilating force that should inspire angst within our breasts. I mean, that’s kind
of [finer] to imagine the world is a little sealed container of being, floating in a sea
of nothingness and a little bit of nothingness leaks in when we go into the café and we
expect to see [Pierre] there. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Did you use the word angst? (Jim Holt)
Yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah, okay. I just caught up with that sentence. (Jim Holt)
Yeah, it’s the Upper West Side. (Lawrence Krauss) It’s a philosophical term. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) So, nothingness induces angst in us. (Jim Holt) Yes. In me, it induces jollity.
We all have different temperamental reactions to it. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Rich, you seem
to be pretty cool with nothing. (Richard Gott) Well, I’d say not there. What does it look
like? What color is that? I mean— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. So, that’s not even
black. It’s not even— (Richard Gott) Not even black, no. It’s just not there. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) So, Rich, is it fair for me—I don’t want to stretch your analogy here
because that was a good one. So, people ask what happens to you when you die. You go to
Heaven or Hell or wherever. And for me the simplest explanation is your awareness is
such as what you knew of the world before you were born. (Lawrence Krauss)Exactly. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) And so that’s as nothing as you can possibly come up rather than Shirley
MacLaine, who’s been reborn many times. For the rest of us, that’s pretty—that’s
like what’s behind your head, right? Because you don’t even see it. You don’t even
know to think it’s there. So, your consciousness before you were born, that’s a pretty good
nothing, isn’t it? (Richard Gott) Who knows? (Jim Holt) Listen, we’re all going to hear
that [unintelligible 79:26] tonight, by the way, when we go to sleep. (Richard Gott) I
use this example because it’s like right here. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. What were
you saying, Jim? (Jim Holt) Dreamless sleep, we’ll all enter that state tonight for a
little while. We’ll have a little period of nothingness tonight during our dreamless
sleep. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, there’s no—yeah. (Jim Holt) You don’t have to
think what was going on before we were born. We dip into nothingness every night if we’re
lucky. The absence of consciousness if probably the least satisfying nothing. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Lawrence, what’s your best nothing? You have a whole book on this. (Lawrence Krauss)
Yeah. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) By the way, all four of these gentlemen have books this evening
offered for sale outside. They’ll be at a table for signing. Eve has to actually leave
for Europe tonight, so she won’t be able to join us at the table. So, Lawrence, what
is your best nothing? Is it the whole Universe itself? Because I wore a vest for you tonight.
Okay? I just want to say I’ve got the entire Universe on my vest. (Lawrence Krauss) I knew
it would come out some time. I knew it. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) You tell me all these stars,
moons, planets, [unintelligible 80:22] came from nothing? (Lawrence Krauss) Yep. Look,
there are a variety of forms of nothing. And they all have physical definitions, and you
might not like any of them, but one is empty space. The other is no space, and the other
is no space, no time, no particles, no laws. And that, to me, is as good—as close to
nothing as you can get. And, in fact, as I see I don’t see why people have any problems
with it. Each of these lights in this room emits a photon. The photon wasn’t there
before it was emitted. It wasn’t in the electron. It wasn’t in the atom. It was
created from nothing. And people don’t have a problem with that. (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
No, it’s created from energy. Created from energy. (Lawrence Krauss) The same thing could
happen— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Lawrence, it was created from energy. And energy is
not nothing. So, I won’t accept your photon [analogy]. (Lawrence Krauss) Well, a zero
energy— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Back up and say something— (Lawrence Krauss) Sorry.
A zero energy photon; our Universe could be like a zero energy photon. A zero energy total
Universe. And, again, as I say if you imagine that process and ask what the properties of
such a Universe would be, it would look like ours. But I will accede, as I’ve always
said and I say at the beginning of my book, that the philosophers, the theologians know
much more because they are experts at nothing. (Jim Holt) Not even humorous. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Wait, wait. Lawrence, just to close this out, so your Universe that’s created
out of nothing where there are no laws, no space, no time, anything, that nothing had
to know to create the Universe. (Lawrence Krauss) Well, there may have been something
else there, but our Universe was there. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Oh, now you confess. I’m
just trying to understand because— (Lawrence Krauss) Yeah, otherwise nothing. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) —if there’s no laws, then there’s nothing to know to create a Universe. (Lawrence
Krauss) What if there’s every law? Is that the same as no laws? (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
I bet— (Lawrence Krauss) Well, I think Jim was saying— (Jim Holt) I wasn’t listening.
What was it? (Lawrence Krauss) Jim was alluding that. To every possible law, every possible
Universe, there may be universes with no laws. There may be universes with laws. That’s
certainly a possibility. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) All I’m saying is if you have a place, whatever
that is— (Lawrence Krauss) There was no place. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) If you have a
no place with no laws, and then you birth a Universe, something in that place had to
know to birth that Universe. (Lawrence Krauss) Why? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. (Lawrence
Krauss) Why? If it’s possible, why—you’re assuming intentionality. You’re making this
something you don’t even agree with in theology. (Jim Holt) Larry, you’re reporting to offer
us an explanation and you’re offering us no explanation. All you’re saying is it
just is. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah, he’s kind of doing that. Eve? (Jim Holt) You’re
not talking about a process that’s governed by laws, by rules in which initial conditions
you’re saying— (Lawrence Krauss) We say what the rules are that caused our Universe,
but we don’t ask what happened before because— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Do we have control over
their microphones? Eve? Give me your best argument for nothing. (Eve Silverstein) I
would just describe it as the absence of degrees or freedom. If you think about quantum field
theory, again— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) We do that all the time, think about quantum
field theory. Yes. (Eve Silverstein) Yes. What you do with it is you think about it
on longer and longer distance scales. And there’s a precise sense in which as you
do that you lose degrees or freedom. And in a case of quantum field theories, which have
a gap between the ground state and the first excited energy level, as you course [grain]
over longer and longer scales, eventually you come to a place where you’ve lost all
the degrees or freedom. So, the ground state of a gapped quantum system would be my answer.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) The ground state of a gapped quantum system is your best nothing.
(Lawrence Krauss) Yeah, I like that. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay. I kind of—my favorite
nothing—not that anyone asked, but I will offer it because I’m host of the evening.
My favorite nothing, I think, is what’s outside of Rich’s four universes. I kind
of liked that because it’s—you have no access to it. It’s not even anything, and
it’s behind the head of each of those universes. And I’m kind of leaning towards that. (Lawrence
Krauss) It doesn’t even exist, which you may also like. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, let
me offer just a final reflection on this. It seems to me that there was surely a time
when nothing was just—I would say there’s nothing between me and you. And then we learned
there’s air, there’s actual substance there. There’s mass. There’s energy. And
so you couldn’t call that nothing anymore. And then we learned that space has no air,
and that’s a relatively recent understanding. As late as the early 1600s there were arguments
that maybe you could fly to the moon by learned scientists. And the only way you could do
that is if this air substance permeated the space between us and the moon.So, now that
we know there’s no air, so then space is the nothing. But then quantum physics, relativity,
tells us there’s stuff going on even in empty space. So, that removes that from our
nothingness. And now we have to actually exit the Universe either theoretically in the sense
that Eve is suggesting, or outside because you created a model that we can look outside
the Universe. Now, that’s a nothing. And I just wonder whether this nothing is an all-illusive,
moving target that one day we will learn that you do create those universes out of a law
of physics. It’s the Universe-birthing law, and then there’s a law in the place where
we previously thought there was nothing. And then that just simply pushes the definition
of nothing that much farther away that you have to chase it down because then the space
that has the law that we usually thought was nothing that birthed the Universe, you can
then ask: What birthed that? So, maybe nothing will never be resolved, and the only person
who’s content in his definition of nothing and be permanent forever is Charles right
here with his null set. Join me in thanking the panel for this. So, we have two microphones
up front. Feel free to line up. We’ll spend 10 minutes, 15 minutes, answering questions.
Then we call it a night. Okay, so we actually have questions from Twitter. If you don’t
know what Twitter is, it’s one of the—an extraordinary way to waste your time. Not
quite as bad as Facebook, but it’s up there. Okay, what are some of the practical—I want
to take this to Lawrence. What are some of the practical—oh, this is from [psychmes1
86:57] on Twitter. What are some of the practical applications that can come from the discovery
that nothing is unstable and creates particles? Is there any practical application for that?
(Lawrence Krauss) Well, in quantum mechanics there [isn’t]. The kind of—when one’s
talking about a Universe, I should say proudly there’s no practical application I can think
of to any of the work I do. And that’s fine with me. In fact, it always amazes me— (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Wait, who pays your salary? Is it fine with them? I think that’s the
question. (Lawrence Krauss) Well, no, but look—Neil, but the point is that people
never ask what’s the practical significance of a Mozart symphony or a Picasso painting.
It’s part of what makes being human worth being human. And the ideas of science are
among the most beautiful, intellectual discoveries humanity’s ever come up with. It doesn’t
need anything practical. But the idea that particles could spontaneously pop into existence
is a very important practical aspect of all quantum mechanics. And, in fact, in certain
high fields and even in certain transistors and semiconductors it’s an integral part
of modern technology. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, it does have practical applications? (Lawrence
Krauss) Yeah, of course. Absolutely. But it doesn’t need to to be interesting. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Excellent. Next question, [capitalgandit 88:04]—and this is from Twitter.
What is more conceptually problematic—I’ll take this to you, Charles—nothing or infinity?
(Charles Seife) They’re actually quite related that infinity and nothing are almost two sides
of the same coin. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, they have equal challenges to grasp. (Charles
Seife) That’s right. If you think about— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Except he has nothing
in his bank account. And if he had an infinite amount of money, he wouldn’t be complaining.
(Charles Seife) But the money would be worthless. A mathematical definition of the infinite
is a set of stuff which you can take away from and it’s still the same size. If you
think about nothingness, you take away from it and it’s still the same. So, there’s
a lot of properties in common with nothing and infinity. In fact, part of the reason
that nothing is so problematic is because when you’re staring at nothing, you’re
looking down the face of infinity. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait. I thought if you take away from
zero you get negative numbers. (Charles Seife) That’s true. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) But you
said you take away from zero, you still get zero. (Charles Seife) Well, if you remove
zero from the set, you get the null set. But if you take away from zero, you get negative
numbers unless you’re going in the opposite direction. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Right. But
you didn’t say that a moment ago. I’m just calling you out on that. (Charles Seife)
Yeah, you’re right. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Okay, good. Okay, thank you. Right here, first
question up. [Question] Yeah. I have to ask this because I’m a biologist, which means
essentially an experimentalist. Is there any evidence of nothing? (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Wait, wait. Eve, go. (Eve Silverstein) There’s evidence of this inflationary theory that
we keep talking about. The cosmic microwave background has a certain structure in it in
its fluctuations. The so-called acoustic peaks in the power spectrum come about because of
the initial conditions that inflation gives us. (Lawrence Krauss) But as a biologist you
wouldn’t be here. It turns out that the empty space that you may have learned in high
school that protons are—if you’re a good high school—made of three quarks. We lied.
They are made of three quarks, but in fact the quarks account for very little mass of
the proton. Most of the mass of the proton comes from the fluctuations in empty space
in the nothingness of the proton. We can actually calculate it. And, in fact, a Nobel Prize
was given recently for the theory that allows us to calculate that. So, we know that these
weird things are happening in empty space. [Question] [Unintelligible 90:36] that isn’t
a vacuum. It’s an empty space. Is there any evidence of that? Of course, there’s
vacuum, but is there nothing? (Lawrence Krauss)You mean no space? [Question] Yeah. (Eve Silverstein)
There’s no experimental evidence of that, no. (Lawrence Krauss) No, absolutely. Because
we happen to live in space. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, if you put the experiment in the
place where there’s nothing, then the nothing is no longer nothing. It’s got your experiment
in it to measure the nothing. And so then you can’t ever measure nothing. (Richard
Gott) It’s not there. (Lawrence Krauss) But that’s the point. That’s why it’s
not so surprising that there’s something because we couldn’t ask the question if
there was nothing. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) All right. We’ll get to this in a minute. Next
one over here. [Question] I’m a physicist and not a theologian, but since you guys and
the lady began with a philosophical, theological, would anyone care to comment on at least my
understand of the Hebrew Bible, which begins Bereshit, which is the indefinite article
in a beginning, not the beginning, as it’s translated into English. Anybody have any
comments on that philosophy? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) You started this, so let’s go back
over to you. So, the question is—I don’t read Hebrew, so I trust what he says that
in the Hebrew Bible it says—apparently it says in a beginning rather than the beginning.
[Question] [Unintelligible 92:01]. (Charles Seife) Well, I don’t speak Hebrew myself,
but in my studies I’ve looked at commentary. You’re absolutely correct that some versions—I
didn’t know that the Hebrew version said this as well—but it is indefinite as to
whether there was a prior beginning. That, in fact, it’s much more explicit in the
Greek version that, in fact, there might have been a prior existence and it had collapsed
and there was a void. So, I mean, that’s consistent. (Lawrence Krauss) But that’s
one of the reasons why it’s so ridiculous to talk about theology when you’re trying
to explain the Universe because could God speak Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic or Arabic?
I mean, it’s ridiculous. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Spoke English. (Lawrence Krauss) It
just doesn’t explain anything. I mean, they didn’t even know the Earth orbited the sun,
so why are we listening to them? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Next, right here. [Question] My definition—my
very basic definition of the Universe was always everything. So, the idea of a multiverse—and
you’re saying during a quantum fluctuation a new Universe is born. Why is that a new
Universe and not something that’s part of the pre-existing Universe? (Neil deGrasse
Tyson)Rich, why don’t you take that? Rich? (Richard Gott) Well, the reason we— (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Just to clarify the question, he’s saying if the Universe is everything,
why distinguish our Universe from others that pop up in such a thing as the multiverse?
Why even make that distinction? It’s all the Universe. Go. (Richard Gott) Well, we
use the word multiverse because these are expanding so fast that, as I said, event horizons
arise between them. If you’re in one of these funnels, light from the other funnel
can never get to you. So, we can never observe those other universes, so that’s why we
use that word for. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, the Universe is not everything. It’s everything
that you can interact with? (Lawrence Krauss) Or could have ever. The now definition of
the Universe is everything you could have once interacted with or you can ever interact
with. So, everything you can have physical contact with, even in the past or the future,
is a Universe. And everything that you can’t have is not part of our Universe. That’s
our modern definition. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Modern—how modern is that? (Lawrence Krauss)
It’s a good question. (Richard Gott) But they all— (Lawrence Krauss) Probably since
we just [unintelligible 94:15] multiverse. (Richard Gott) But these other universes are
connected to us through the trunk of the tree, if you imagine it’s a tree with many, many
branches around this branch over here. We can’t see what happens on these other branches,
but all of us have come from one trunk, which is the original inflating state itself. (Lawrence
Krauss) But that’s in that version. There could be other versions like string theory
where there are literally universes that were never in cosmic contact. (Richard Gott) Sure.
If that can happen one place, it could happen another. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Next, right
here. (Richard Gott) It can happen more than once. [Question] Number one, thank you all
for really making our minds expand with these things. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Or implode.
[Question] Or implode. Either way it’s action of the brain, which is good. Do you ever feel
that as long as we’re locked within the confines of our human consciousness that we’re
just fish trying to understand the land? And you up there remind me of flying fish that
get a better view for a little longer than most. But are we really futilely listening
to something about the Big Bang and the Universe that may never really get there at all? (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) What he’s saying is how stupid do we think we are? That’s the question.
Jim? (Lawrence Krauss) It’s a really profound— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) No, Jim, pick that up.
(Jim Holt) The— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Did I characterize your question accurately? [Question]
You did. The thing is it reminds me of a car without positraction with only one wheel spinning
in the snow. Are we ever going to get all four wheels and drive? (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
We all saw that movie. It was a good movie. Yes. Okay, go. (Jim Holt) State-of-the-art
physics does not give us any satisfying picture of how the world is. According to state-of-the-art
physics, there’s this one thing called—a system—call it U for the Universe, and it
has a very complicated state, which is a point in an infinite dimensionally Hilbert space
and the state that it’s in is determined by Hamiltonian. And this is what reality is.
It’s not tables and chairs and rocks. When I see a bowl of cherries on the table, all
I see is that the system U is in a certain region of the Hilbert space. That is the picture
that physics gives us of reality. It’s a terrible picture. I mean, quantum mechanics
makes no sense [unintelligible 96:29]— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) You’re agreeing we’re
all too stupid. (Jim Holt) And people say just shut up and calculate. It works beautifully.
So, it’s empirically adequate. It explains all the observational evidence, but it doesn’t
give us a satisfying picture of reality. So, I think we’re utterly—we talk very cavalierly
about why there’s something rather than nothing. We have the feeblest grasp of what
something is and what existence is. (Lawrence Krauss) But it’s worse than that. Empirical—
(Jim Holt) Oh, no. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Wait, wait. If it’s worse than that, I don’t
need to know about it. (Lawrence Krauss)No, empirically we’re limited by the fact that
we happen to evolved at 14 billion years roughly into the history of the Universe. There are
questions we will never be able to answer because of the accident of our birth. And
what’s amazing is we’re coming pretty close to some of them, and that’s amazing.
Twenty years ago, we weren’t even—30 years ago, we weren’t even thinking some of these
questions. We’re forever limited in our knowledge, and that’s just life. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Lawrence, you’re suggesting we’re limited in our knowledge because we’re born
at one time and not another time rather than just that we’re too stupid. (Lawrence Krauss)
Well, it’s a combination. We also may have limits in our brains, too. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Okay. Just want you to admit that. Okay. Sir? (Lawrence Krauss) I was going to
admit it for you, but— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Sir? [Question] I simply want to follow-up
on the question asked earlier. Multi-universes, you’re simply kicking the can down the road
because at the end of that, you’re going to ask it nothing, and then there is another
aspect of it [unintelligible 97:48] theological. Do you follow? (Jim Holt) I didn’t follow
it. Did you? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Let me reflect on it for a moment. I’ve thought
about this recently. The Universe, we have come to learn with hard-earned science research,
doesn’t make anything in ones. We imagined that Earth was unique among objects, and we
found we’re just one of a bunch of planets in orbit around a star that was pretty special
to us. And then we learned it’s just one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy. We thought
the galaxy was special up until 1920. Then we had this debate about whether the galaxy’s
all there is, or there’s something else outside of it. We learned there are island
galaxies out there; billions of them. And so then we have this Universe. Ah, that’s
the one Universe in which we’re all contained. So, maybe the Universe doesn’t even come
in ones. And if that’s the case, the multiverse picks this up, and then you have multiple
universes. But leaves me to ask the question, which we will not answer today, if nothing
ever comes in ones—not even a Universe—then would that possibly mean that the multiverse
doesn’t even come in ones? (Richard Gott) Yeah, sure. Sure. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) He
said we’re still kicking the can down the road. And I bet you Jim Holt would agree.
[Question] [Unintelligible] that there is nothing? Or the other alternative is theological.
It’s God. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Well, there can be alternatives that are not always religious.
That’s an interesting false dichotomy that’s often set up. If it’s not this, it must
be religious. No, if it’s not this, it could be other stuff you haven’t thought of yet.
You can’t assert an answer just because it’s not something else. And it’s a false
argument that’s been made throughout time. And the better scientists, as they move forward,
never assume anything just because one thing is wrong. Okay, right here, sir. We’ll go
another five minutes and we’ll call it a night. Thank you. Yes? Question] Good evening.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) Good evening. [Question] You guys mentioned quantum tunneling earlier,
which is— (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Isn’t that cool, quantum tunneling? [Question] Oh,
my God. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I so want to quantum tunnel. [Question] So, I’m really
glad you’re excited to talk about this. So, you mentioned you can pretty much go through
a mountain without going up or around it. And a mountain being something, I read a couple
years ago that scientists were able to teleport electrons through a vacuum like a nominal
distance of like nine meters or something like that through a vacuum, which is pretty
much nothing. Same thing that space is made out of. So, is there really anything that’s
holding us back with quantum tunneling and teleportation through vacuums, stopping us
from taking things that are actual tangible objects and being able to teleport them? Is
that something that’s achievable within our lifetime? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I think
you got to go to Lawrence on this because he wrote a book called The Physics of Star
Trek. (Lawrence Krauss) Yeah. Yeah, no, I was going to say so the answer I—the answer
is that it was really good public relations people call it quantum teleportation. And
the answer is we can do strange things with electrons and photons, specifically because
we can prepare them in very special quantum mechanical states. So, we can do remarkable
things with photons and electrons because we can prepare them in a very special quantum
mechanical state and creates these things called quantum correlations, which you don’t
need to go into, that allow you to do strange, miraculous and crazy things. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) At a distance. (Lawrence Krauss) But—yes. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Simultaneously. (Lawrence
Krauss) But we are not specially prepared quantum mechanical states. And, therefore,
we can teleport quantum mechanical states, but you and I have to take airplanes. I wish
it wasn’t the case. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Sir, right here. Go. [Question] I noticed
throughout the talk that nobody seemed to strongly object to the idea of the degenerate
state. Some people thought it might be a futile abstraction, and some thought it might be
the possible point zero of our creation. At the same time, I noticed that the real arguments
seem to be over the existence of spontaneity. Does anyone here have an aesthetic difficulty
with absolute spontaneity? Not spontaneity that just seems that way beyond our understanding
of the Universe. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Jim? (Jim Holt) Absolute spontaneity sounds like
something happening according to no law or no rule. Is that what you had in mind? [Question]
Yes. Not dictated by external factors. (Jim Holt) Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s very problematic
in what sense laws dictate events to begin with. I mean, if laws—this is my complaint
about Larry, is that he sees laws as through they’re divine commands. (Lawrence Krauss)
Who’s Larry? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) He doesn’t like being called Larry. (Jim Holt) Can I
call you—sorry. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) This is some needling going on here. (Jim Holt)
Professor Krauss. Laws somehow reach out to events from outside space time and control
the way events occur. They cause events to occur in a certain way, and that means, of
course, if laws are causing events to occur, you need another set of laws to explain how
the first set of laws caused events to occur. So, it gets very messy. And laws are sort
of like—either they’re like platonic, timeless entities that float above the space
time world, or they’re like divine commands that exact obedience and prevent things from
being spontaneous. I think that laws are simply high-level summaries of the patterns in the
world. And that’s why I don’t see how you can appeal to laws to explain the existence
of the world, to explain why there’s something rather than nothing. Because laws, in here
within a world, they don’t have any power to exact obedience from the world. The laws
of Newtonian physics are a summary of irregularities such as the planets rotating around the sun.
They don’t force the planets to revolve around the sun in certain orbits. But, I mean,
I feel I’m evading your question a bit. Absolute spontaneity; is there a world in
which there were no patterns and no regularities at all? Is that conceptually possible? I think
not because there results in the mathematics of combinatorics, which say that they’re
always going to be some regularities. You can’t have a completely random world. So,
yeah, I don’t think you can have complete spontaneity, but that sounds like I’m talking
through my hat. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) That’s why I picked on you. Yeah, next question here.
We’ll just take these last set of questions, and we’ll call it a night. Thank you. Sir,
yes? [Question] All right, so there is this theory that the Universe runs on cycle in
which it ends, and then everything shrinks back down to a really small size and the Big
Bang happens again. The Big Bang is a reaction to something. And something has to trigger
that reaction. And so does that mean that absolute nothingness can never exist? There
always has been something. (Eve Silverstein) Can I take that? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Yeah,
Eve. (Eve Silverstein) I mean, that’s an interesting thing that should have been brought
up. There’s certainly a logical possibility of maybe an oscillating Universe that never
quite goes away. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) It always was, if it’s oscillating. (Eve Silverstein)
If so. And there are models of this, which work up to a certain point. But it’s challenging.
I mean, it requires a certain source of stress energy to obtain the crunch bang that you’re
asking for repeatedly. And I don’t know of a realistic model of that, but it’s a
perfectly good question to ask. [Question] Thank you. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Your question
got complimented, and we have no answer for you. That’s what it sounded like. (Lawrence
Krauss) There are models, but not good models. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Typically, when a scientist
says, “Good question,” it means they don’t know the answer. That’s how that works. We’ll
go through these real quickly. Sir? [Question] So, this evening seems to have been focused
on defining nothing, definitions of nothing, but when it came to the relevance of nothing
it was quick to dismiss the question of why in favor of the question of how. And I guess
to me it seems that the question of how is at least directionally simpler than the question
of why insofar as we may not exactly know the answer to how, but we keep getting closer
as science advances us. And we really can sort of infer a first cause, at least. (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) Is there a question coming? [Question] Yeah. I think the point is how
as a process. And if you go from the very first something and just go one step back
to nothing, you no longer have the device of saying this caused this and this cause
this and this cause this because by definition there was nothing to cause something. So,
I guess my question is: Is the relevance—is our fascination with nothing, in your views,
really coming back to the question of why? Why does this all exist? (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Wait, so Lawrence’s book begins with the word why. Tell me the title of your book.
(Lawrence Krauss) Actually, the title is Our Universe from Nothing. The subtitle is Why
is There Something Rather Than Nothing? (Neil deGrasse Tyson) The subtitle begins… (Lawrence
Krauss) Why. And in the preface, I explain why that’s a bad question. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Okay, but let me ask—isn’t it true we had an argument about the difference between
how and why. And you were discarding the why. (Lawrence Krauss) Well, I don’t think why
has any meaning. Why assumes purpose. If you really—why always means how unless you assume
there’s some intentionality. That’s the assumption of why. And then you’re assuming
the answer before you ask the question. So, why may not just be a good question. There
may be no intentionality. There may be no reason for why the Universe exist. There’s
a process of how it exists. And then the first cause—if time doesn’t exist before the
Big Bang, what do you mean by cause? What do you mean by before? Those questions, which
have been so vital to the way people think, may just be bad questions. (Jim Holt) Now,
the question of why—asking the question why does not presume intentionality. And I’ll
give you an example. Why—suppose we have the final theory, which everyone thinks is
just over the horizon, once we have that—as Steven Weinberg will tell you, or any reflective
person will tell you—there still leaves open the question why that theory. But one
answer to that might be that it’s the only logically consistent theory. (Lawrence Krauss)
So, the question really is how did that theory [unintelligible 108:36]— (Jim Holt) That’s
probably not true because the theory of nothing is logically consistent. So, in a further
answer—and this was toyed with by John Archibald Wheeler, who coined the term black hole, among
many other achievements, he said that the laws of physics might be the only logically
consistent set that permit the emergence of conscious observers. That would be another—
(Lawrence Krauss) But I would say that’s a how question. (Jim Holt ) —interesting
why. Once you answer the how question—how the laws of physics ordained the Universe
coming out of a patch of false vacuum—then you can further ask the why question about
why the laws have this general form. And I think that’s not to be discarded lightly.
That’s an interesting [unintelligible] as well. (Lawrence Krauss) I would say that’s
a question of how did the laws of physics arrive [unintelligible] they do. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) See what you started here. We got to move on. Thank you. Yes? [Question] Well,
Descartes theory of I think, therefore I am kind of gives this idea of existence being
something that we have to qualify existence using some sort of description. And you were
talking about how reaching behind your head in that space that we can’t really see and
can’t really describe kind of gives a description to nothingness, but nothingness can’t really
be described. So, how can we talk about nothingness when we can’t really describe it? (Neil
deGrasse Tyson) You’re a professor where? Yeah, I like that question. (Richard Gott)
Well, that’s why I use the example because you can’t really describe what it looks
like back there. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) So, Professor Gott’s— (Richard Gott)Metaphor.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) —reference to nothing is the best answer to your question because
he didn’t even describe it. He just gestured to it. (Lawrence Krauss) No, but, look, the
whole point of science is we actually say this we can describe and we can discuss it.
And it may not be what you mean by nothing, but—so, we try and make things well-defined.
And inevitably they’re mathematically well-defined. And that’s the best we can do. And we can’t
do any better. And it may not satisfy you, but that’s it. (Richard Gott) Scientists
try and answer the how question just because that’s because that’s what the science
can answer. (Jim Holt) But you’re leading at the brute fact why the laws of physics
take the form they do. And I think that the principle of sufficient reason, always look
for an explanation for any truth. Try to find an explanation of why it’s true. For anything
that exist, try and find an explanation for its existence. This is a great principle that’s
always driven inquiry. And it’s been the motor of science. And I think to discard it
once you arrive at the final theory is intellectual philistinism. It’s cowardice. It’s laziness.
(Lawrence Krauss) It’s just semantics, I think. No, but I think it’s just semantics.
(Neil deGrasse Tyson) See what you started. (Jim Holt) And you’re all of those things,
and a slut. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) The last question of the evening. (Lawrence Krauss)
Then we have something in common. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Sir, you better ask because we got
to shut them up somehow. [Question] Thank you for being here. I was on my way to Acme
Auto Parts, and somebody pulled me into here. I don’t have the foggiest idea, but I just
wanted to say my thought was that the multi-dimensional Universe, or the string theory idea, I wonder
how many of these forms are going on out there in the Universe right now, talking about the
same thing. The other thing is if this is being recorded right now, I think at least
what this panel and what this process shows is the passion with which we look at these
things in science and try to find the answers of how and why. And that’s at least—because
if we record this and in 25 years we all come back and your son is the moderator tonight,
and we look at everybody up here and what they’ve said, I wonder what they’re going
to be saying about, yeah, they were on target. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) I doubt it, really.
(Lawrence Krauss) I hope we’re all wrong. I really hope we’re all wrong. (Neil deGrasse
Tyson) Something tells me— [Question] You got to think about Descartes. What he really
understood was—and I have reason to understand that I’m pretty accurate in this, is that—because
I was over in Paris a while back—his thing of je pense, donc je suis, or I think, therefore
I am was not the end of it. What we really don’t know is I think, therefore I am a
something. And that was left out. So, we don’t really know what was after that. (Lawrence
Krauss) Well, I certainly hope we’re all wrong. I hope 25 years from now we’ve learned
a lot more. And that’s because we do science and [unintelligible]. [Question] Right. So,
I think what I’m saying is we don’t really have the answers tonight. We have the best
answers that we have at this point in time. (Neil deGrasse Tyson) Excellent point to end
this one. Thank you all. I’d like to—just before we break, I just want to publically
thank some people who helped run this event: my executive assistant Elizabeth Stachow,
who runs my life; Laura Venner, who’s our stage manager; Susan Morris runs the Hayden
programs; and Dominic Davis is also active in making all this work. And a bevy of volunteers.
I want to thank them publically, and give us one last round of applause for the panel.
We’ll see you next year, or back at the tables where we have the book signing. You
all drive safely. Thanks for coming.

100 thoughts on “2013 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: The Existence of Nothing

  1. The foreign woman was hard to follow. I wish we had an international language. I couldn't understand her

  2. Everything we know is wrong . We just need to keep learning . Debating religion or human thought is foolish. Debating the universe is everything

  3. science can NEVER explain why the universe exists. its IMPOSSIBLE. what would an explanation even look like.

  4. Nothingness is something to be personally experinced silently; not calculated, answered or anything.

  5. Jim misses Parmenides' point about nothing. Typical blind spot for analytic philosophers, for some reason they don't seem to appreciate dialectical moves. Parmenides' statement "you can't speak about nothing" is really clever. It's a contradiction of course, but that shows that it's right. You can't speak about it coherently even when you try to deny that you can speak about it!

  6. If something has to be created,it had to be created in a space.so the fist thing that would created was the empty space with no weight.

  7. I think the best definition of nothing is the amount of laughter Jim Holt received over his joke about Donald Trump.

  8. I’m in Jim Holt’s corner, and I have yet to hear physicists discuss this with any real meaning. (Krauss’ book is a lot of hand waving just like he did here. Gibberish.) Obviously, existence proceeds from physical law, so that law necessarily must exist. And no matter what you believe, at some point something just is. Turtles all the way down!

  9. Nothing exists. Not so much that anything doesn't exist, but that nothing as a thing in itself exists, at least as a popular concept. There now, I didn't even have to watch the video. We all miss you, Isaac.

  10. What is that symbol / logo of the man in the circle ? Is it just for these debates ? Should be on a cap and T shirt.

  11. I would have liked it if Charles Seife got the chance to speak without being interrupted. Was still an awesome discussion though : )

  12. How has Kraus written a book about nothing without knowing zero arrived with the Babylonians from India (along with 'Arabic' numerals), founded in Buddhist ideas of emptiness? Buddhists hold that existence is eternal also – not just some remote tribe, but one of the worlds major religions!

  13. Watching this, it occurs to me that great intelligence is almost like a curse; it brings them no closer to knowledge of God; it only gives them more extravagant (and futile) word salad in their effort to erase Him. Its quite simple; if your idea of nothing leaves room for something, you haven't quite yet gone far enough. Nothing is nothing.

  14. Neil's constant interruptions and attempts at being cutesy and funny are madly annoying. Rather than being elucidating, he repeatedly arrested the progression of the discussion and the talking points that participants were trying to expand upon. Lawrence is only a little less guilty of this but his manifest smugness is very off-putting. They both are mega vainglorious and simply love to hear themselves talk. Still, it managed to be a very interesting discussion but could have been much more so with a host who was more interested in facilitating rather than entertaining.

  15. they acting like they dont believe in god, then turn around n talk about it the whole time

  16. Lawrence is pissy sounding. Lol. And at exactly 1:22:28 either Neale or Jim missed a golden opportunity. Earlier Lawrence says "why is a stupid question, every parent knows this. Why, why why? The only answer is 'Go to bed!'" And now he's still being pissy with Neal as he tries to act more intelligent than he is and asks Neale "Why?" Man right then Neale should have said "Go to bed!" I was sooo waiting for him or Jim but they missed it. His case was flawed and he sounded like a cranky spoiled child. All in all I enjoyed this discussion though

  17. It may be true non existence cannot exist. But it also seems to make sense that existence is the non existence of non existence and therefore non existence exists. Also, come from means to have as a source. In other words, did something come from nothing means did something have nothing as its source. Nothing cannot be a source, therefore, something cannot come from nothing. Jim had the best definition I find. Not anything. This could mean not everything, not a single thing, or not anything. Not a single thing could be the absence of a pillow or unicorns. They don’t exist, therefore, they are nothing.

  18. I've always thought that 0 x 2 = 0 but 2 x 0 = 2. If I have zero oranges and I multiply them 2 times I logically have zero oranges. Inversely if I have 2 oranges and I multiply them zero times then logically why don't I have the 2 that I started with? Anything multiplied by zero is zero? Or is it? Something multiplied by nothing is something? Versus nothing multiplied by something is nothing? Mathematics may be wrong?

  19. we are in a computer simulation, that or a sentient being from nowhere created all before you… chose your side

  20. This is a language question. In my language (hungarian) "Nothing is" is not a well formulated statement. It is grammatically incorrect . You can only say "Nothing isn't" (where isn't is a standalone word). All things "exist" and nothing does not exist. Above all, "existing " is what makes a thing. Not existing makes "nothing".

  21. omg i really hate this stupid ignorant positions of Krauss..he just postulates a theory that "every kind of universe" should be possible if we (humans) simply state it like this in a pseudo-intellectual (and no scientific) way..even if we haven´t the slightest idea of an "how" or "why" or anything like a source regarding a cause-effect relationship, that is not even close to an argument..that´s just pure ignorance!

  22. Good God, how long will Man seek what constitutes as the 'absence of something or anything' before finding there exists no such thing.

  23. This was one of the least illuminating talks that I've heard. If we can't talk about something or in this case nothing then maybe we should follow Wittgenstein's advise and consign to silence.

  24. isn't nothingness death? the ceasing of a computational, observational mind? reality is essentially only inside your head. Once you die there is nothing, for YOU. but one could speculate that since nothing can't exist because then it would essentially be something, then an observer must be present for there to be something and absent for there to be nothing. and since there is clearly something, then there must be an observer. if this observer ceases to exist, which it might never, then there will truly be nothing for us to discuss here. 🙂 perhaps our individual consciousness is simply a recording device and a feedback mechanism to the ultimate consciousness because it needs observers to define its state or give it credence.

  25. Matter from non matter, laws form nothing, life from non life, intelligence outcomes from mindless actions, nothing is apparently something…buts it is nothing….. and God doesnt exist….. but the propblem is Jesus Christ though DOES exists and died on the cross for our sins ( our lawlessness). He died for His people that hear his voice. He doesnt respect anyone over others, he only wants his people to put Him first and hear HIS voice. He is the Word of God and by His Word all things came into existence.(John1) HE spoke and it existed. He alone can turn nothing into something and likewise, He can turn any hardened heart to know Him. But he will NEVER make anyone serve Him, only He will hear the cries of anyone who is sorry for their sins and turn from them and chooses to follow Him. He wants a people that love Him by choice. "God so loved the world that he gave is one and only Son that whoseoever believes on Him shall not die but have everlasting life" John 3:16

  26. One of the most philosophical questions in the history of the western intellectual tradition and not a single philosopher on the panel . . . So Holt gets away with not mentioning the Parmenidean assertion, "Being is. Non-Being is not."

  27. You might think this is worthwhile, if you don't value your time.

  28. Tyson really stops Krauss from answering then laughs and asks someone else to explain it. Krauss uses a photon analogy, which Tyson debunks as something with energy, to which Krauss says zero energy photon — implying zero energy universe — which is where we are. Perfect! Words are inadequate. Math is the language — quantum mechanics or string theory. Tyson omits his classic if you start with I don’t know, stop talking. And keeps talking. This panel needs Penrose.

  29. someone should have taken Neil's microphone away…. he is a one-man show but a bad moderator, interrupting his guests constantly…. very annoying.

  30. Cool conversation. But what an awful format. A standing moderator should never circle around speakers. You can tell how some felt uncomfortable.

  31. Ahhh yes, contemporary scientism, the art of replacing rigorous definitions with sophistic nuance; while those who appeal-to-authority dare not question the contradictions and inconsistencies of the discipline that are obvious once the idol worship subsides…

  32. Just because you can’t see your arse doesn’t mean it’s not there

  33. 47:25 Lawrence signalling to Neil, “Get this old dude to stop rambling and move on”…and Neil jumps on it right away 😂


  35. 20:00 when i was a kid i used to try to imagine nothing existing at all… exactly as the way the video describes. it would trip me out cause i would sit there and concentrate on it really hard and get all zen'd out by it

  36. Nothing cannot exist in physical matter it only exists in our minds. There will always be something.

  37. The Nobel prize is surely less than nothing after a peace prize was awarded to a president with a kill list.

  38. Nothing from nothing means nothing. You gotta have something to be with me.

  39. Another jewel of a video. Youtube these days have the image of the shallow and the young. But hidden within all these video`s of so called "youtube stars" are these ones. Therefore it has great value. Education should be free. It is here.

  40. A three denominational object occupying an area will occupy that area three dimensionally"
    hence warp or distort the so called fabric of space time three dimensionally'
    So say goodbye to gravity"
    Because the fake theory would make the fake "fabric of space time" a repulsive force."
    It Is As Real" as that Actor talking head being a Scientist""

  41. The void is not "Nothing", it is the container for something(s). Nothing is all that there is. Anything you perceive as otherwise is simply contextual to your trance(s). Light and Thought did not always exist. Thought created Light and Everything Else. Thought and Light are the source of all trances. Awareness which has no dimensions is part of Nothing or is Nothing. You cannot acquire knowledge through thought. Thought merely "expands" the trance as one of the speakers mentioned was happening to the universe. To say the Universe is Expanding is to say In someone's trance the universe is expanding" There is no universe, there is only Nothing. The qualities of Nothing are not somethings, they are merely what is Nothing. Those qualities are your natural state. The trance(s) of Something are illusory caused by the subliminal and hypnotic nature of thought and light. For science and mathematics "proofs" are essential and fundamentally required to sustain their contextual principles. Neither thought nor light "proves" anything. It merely gives you the "impression of" or puts you in a trance, causing amnesia of your natural state, Nothing. Wisdom, Power and Freedom are qualities of your natural state of Nothing. Knowledge cannot be gained through the mind or thought. Knowledge is a subset of Wisdom, which knows everything. If you knew everything what would you think about? Nothing, there is nothing to think about if you have all knowledge.

  42. 28:49 Space is the consequence of gravity. We do not know if space exists without a gravitational region overlapping it(space).

  43. The problem I have with his piece of glass, is that the emergences are parallel, side by side. Instead of nested within each other, as we see in the universe.

  44. What if we are looking in the wrong direction for the beggining of the universe. What if the linear path of grow in the universe is from Smaller to larger, instead of past to future!

  45. I’m surprised them didn’t talk about how we all might just be experiencing a simulation. We could all just be a computer program to think and act the way we do. Who’s to say we weren’t programmed to think about all of these possibilities which what may be giving us the ability to be self conscience

  46. Universes floating in a vast nothingness is not nothing its something.
    You cannot have something appearing out of nothing. As there was no place for it to happen.
    Mathematicians have ruined science.

  47. You can't have nothing without something! It's like negative and positive, Ying and Yang, night and day? They go together, without one the other will cease to have any meaning.

  48. there is nothing to say about nothing, if it were to truly describe it

    now ,more seriously, i think theres 2 kinds of nothing. one is having all the possible dimensions, modifiers like time and space, and all kinds of things that could exist, be of value 0 on the 'spreadsheet', but there being the posibility that they will fluctuate to some non 0 value.

    and then having not even any spreadsheet, or having nothing without even the possibility of something existing ever

  49. In the beginning there was the Word GOD and the word was god.
    And for me, the 'definition' of the 'word' "god" is something like ;
    “The (un)followable law(s) of 'cause and effect', that restrains chaos, thus enabeling the production of the 'story of creation',
    with the aim of creating the greatest possible freedom for the Entity of that 'god'.
    In the beginning – 'Everything' was 'Nothing'. and it was Eternal and it was Everywhere'.
    But After the Passing of an 'Eternal period of time'(wich was really just a single moment in eternity), 'Nothing' WAS NOT 'Everything' ANYMORE, becouse
    'Everything couldnt be just nothing, Becouse for Everything to be Everything , there had to be something Else, then ITSelf !
    There had to be something Else outside of Nothing, to be Everything, Becouse Everything had to be more then itself. Other Wise It couldnt be Everything.

    Now This is in fact The First sign of a logical reason for there to be a Law of couse and effect.
    (and Logic and Law dont take up any TimeSpace, to Exist, becouse its nomatter in itself
    it only needs the law and the logical reasoning of a 'couse and effect' in ITSELF to actually BE.
    and that is the basis upon wich The Fabric of The Universe is built… .
    So, from now on, The '' Endless Timeless Nothing' had became the house of Logic and its Reasons.

    Now there was a paradoxal situation.
    Becouse if everything was built out of more then one thing, then what was that other thing ?
    And was it then (Part of Nothing, or Not… or Both at the same time) ? …
    Lets call That other thing CHAOS.
    becouse nothing IS There. Its the house of Logical Reasoning, of Law and Effect.
    So now there where 2.
    Nothing and Everything. the alpha and the omega

  50. This discussion like in all discussions concerning Creation boils down to a disagreement in semantics. What do the words being spoken "REALLY" mean. Nothing is the lack of something, whether it be an object, a space, an equation, a thought or theory. All of these concepts are something and have a word or label to represent them. The way you are using the language of "nothing" is giving the symbol "zero" equal status to something. Zero is something not nothing!!! First it is a symbol "0", semantics problem here. Secondly, and most important is what "zero" truly is. "Zero" is a mathematical symbol that has "NO" value. It's true definition in mathematics is a "PLACE HOLDER", not a number!!! It separates positive from negative and thus is never depicted with a (+) or (-) designation because it is neither. They are not inter-changeable in meaning the way language usage has become. The answer to the question is the singularity and it is commonly referred to as "The Primordial Fireball". The question before this is "What" caused this? The answer is God. Who created God, belief in His word in the Bible. I am the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. The universe has been shown to be of "Intelligent Design". Without it there is no explanation and the designer is GOD. We exist the Universe exists therefore "proof" that GOD exists without GOD giving us literal proof that He is real. Each one of us has to make that decision for ourselves and that is why we live. Only an "unconditional" love and belief in GOD can we receive the gift of "Eternal Life" with Him in heaven on Earth, the third Earth Age coming after the Thousand Years as prophesied in the book of Revelation.. Excellent guests and discussion and topic! AAAA++++.

  51. One more, science can only measure what is visible and that is the "observable Universe. The expansion rate of space-time fabric has exceeded the speed of light and thus there are places in the Universe that we will never see because it takes light longer to get here than the speed of light. The result is "infinite' or "eternal". Just because it can not be observed does not designate it as being an event horizon as if it were expanding into a Black Hole. If it is infinite there is no room or need for multi- universe. Only One just like our salvation. Only through GOD do we receive 'Eternal" or infinite life. Believe it or not, your salvation will be judged accordingly. That is the definitive answer to this discussion. Amen.

  52. u can tell these the kind of people that go home abd spend the rest of the night Google searching for themselves while s ;niffing their own farts.

  53. To talk about nothing without an Indian scholae is the debate worth of nothing because know about nothing more than any other people in this world 😂

  54. I could be completely wrong but…Numerically infinite nothing is still something isn't it? -1,-2,-3…. Infinite negative instantly creates infinite positive. Like quantum entangled particles the state of the negative instantly changes the state of the positive? The division of infinity between infinite something and infinite nothing is what created the something if that makes sense?

  55. Nothing is not anything, nonexistence. If something exists now then Something has existed since forever into the past. If not anything was actually the case then there would still be nothing or not anything. Changing the meaning of words doesn't make something out of nothing, not anything. The axiom is still true out of nothing nothing can come.

  56. To use a double negative, there is no nothing. Deep empty space is not nothing. Space has energy. A cubic mile of empty (so called) space contains significant energy in the form of a quantum field, EM radiation sleeting through from far far far distant supernovas, and what have you (maybe even a stray pop-tart that some FTL spacer tossed out because it was stale… That energy can ping into matter in the form of an elementary particle/quark and then pop back out into energy. Now, the constraints from Time makes that matter popping back into pure energy a very very very low probability – but not zero. So what we perceive mentally as Nothing, does not exist.

  57. Interesting! To learn nothing out of nothing and the substance of that knowledge something was born or impregnated as a seed of knowledge. If I know nothing, and I then learn something. Where does that knowledge come from?

  58. I think it's most useful to interpret the biblical "chaos" as the lack of order. When you interpret chaos as lack of order it can indeed be nothing. Nothing has no order, nothing has no laws, therefore nothing is chaos in this sense. When you introduce order to nothing you create something. This order can be thought of as the observable laws of physics. This thought experiment is in no way helpful to discovery but it does demonstrate how nothing can be interpreted as chaotic.

  59. This discussion is muddied by semantics and the understanding of nothing. We need to agree on one type of nothing.

  60. I can't believe he really just said that, to make your dog happy just get a warm wet towel and clean their genitals and anus to mimick their mothers cleaning them as puppies. Is this a family show?

  61. My theory of Nothing is called "GRZ" Gravistar Relativity Zone (In 1990 is when I theorized Time Travel and came up with Garcon Relativity Zone "GRZ" then In 2003 I Hypothetically came up with a point before zero in time and space where I was in pursuit of building a Time Machine, the name changed due to Emil Mottola of Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico) Why is "nothing" important? The existence of nothing is very important because we are all looking for the beginning of the ruler. This means before anything was nothing. Meaning it was neither small, nor big, Neither wide nor tall, Neither dense nor heavy or anything. The existence of atoms in nothing does not exist! There is no movement in nothing and there is no voice nor sound. There is not a single growth inside the nothingness! EXAMPLE: If you were to be slingshot into nothing thus you would be the only something that exist within this massive Nothing that has no length or nor no shortness, No tall nor smallness…. Do you understand? If anything would be worse than "Hell" then Nothing would be it. For those that are religious and study religion then the nothing would be: "The Cage"

  62. two hours of scientists cutting off each other sentence. Niel (NDT) s literally the most annoying interuptor ive ever heard. he does not know how how to let other people speak and has some sort of disability which forces him to cut people off. its insanity

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