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A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing
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Book Club 2013 > October 2013 - A Universe From Nothing

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message 1: by Betsy, co-mod (new)

Betsy | 1698 comments Mod
Our reading selection for October 2013 is A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing.

You can use this thread to post questions, discussions, and reviews, at any time.

Sach (sachintha) Looks like I arrived here just at the right time!

I recently read A Universe from Nothing, and wanted to talk a bit about it so looked through Goodreads Groups to find if there is any such group. Lucky me! (Although as Penn says, luck is just statistics taken personally.)

Alright, so how does this work, I'm not too sure as I'm obviously new here. Can I just post my thoughts on the book?

David Rubenstein | 893 comments Mod
Hi Sach, and welcome. Yes, this is the right thread for discussing anything you like about "A Universe from Nothing". Please start right up!

I am just about ready to start this book. I'm waiting, though, until I finish the September book--any day now. :-)

Sach (sachintha) Alright, let me get started then.

First up I need to give you a bit of a background on how and why I came to read this book. I'm a big fan of both Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss (though 'was a fan' should be the right phrase in the former's case) and often check out their public speeches, debates and the like on YouTube. So they were on tour early this year about the book and obviously it caught my attention.

So, about the book.

First I must say while it's fun to listen to Krauss, his writing is not the most interesting and easy to understand. He's leagues behind compared to his good friend, Dawkins. I've read most of Dawkins' works such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, and ease with which he can describe sometimes difficult concepts is amazing. Krauss on the other hand seems to forget (or else doesn't care) that most of his potential readers would not be highly educated physicists. Considering the fact that I myself - while by no means a Physicist - is quite familiar with modern day science and science literature (I've a bachelors degree in Mathematics and reasonable amount of undergrad level physics behind me), it was disappointing that I struggled with this book.

This is my problem. It was relatively easy to understand the first few chapters, but when you progress through the book it gets harder and harder to keep up. Especially I think Krauss does a bad job of explaining what exactly is the relationship between his three kinds of possible universes (open, closed and flat) and the total energy of it, and more importantly, why.

There are 3 important questions, answers of which are essential to the understanding of this book, that begs to be explained by Dawkins, not Krauss, if you get my meaning.

1. What's the difference between open and closed universes?
I know that a flat universe is one in which light travels in straight lines (except for local space-time curvatures), but what's the difference in closed and open?

2. Why does the total energy of a flat universe needs to be zero?
I think Krauss spends half the book explaining this but I still didn't get it.

3. How come that leads to stuff originating from nothing?

I read this very hastily I might add, so maybe I didn't catch some important points. But I still feel Krauss could have done a better job of it.

What do you all think?

David Rubenstein | 893 comments Mod
Concerning your first question, in an open universe, two light rays that are parallel in one region of space will eventually diverge. In a closed universe, they will converge.

David Rubenstein | 893 comments Mod
Sach, after finishing the book, I agree with you. Krauss did not explain his important points very well. He attributes the generation of matter out of "nothing" to quantum fluctuations, and his explanation is not really satisfying.

I just finished the book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us by Victor Stenger. In this book, many of the same ideas are explained, but in a more detailed way. In fact, Stenger claims that the term "quantum fluctuations" is really a misnomer. He claims that quantum tunneling is the more appropriate concept, as it has been observed in a multitude of other contexts.

Sach (sachintha) David, sorry for not responding to your earlier comment.

Yes, now I think about it I think I get it (in fact I should have in the first place), the difference between open/closed universes. I tried picturing it and then all of a sudden, I got it!

About your recent comment, yes I think Krauss could have done a better job. If anything he should have sit Dawkins down and said everything to him and ask him to write the book, if you know what I mean. Surprising, given that he does a very good job at explaining stuff verbally in public forums.

Let me add Stenger book to my wishlist, I might try that and see as well. It's a pity we don't have enough people who can take complex sciences to the masses.

message 8: by Stan (new)

Stan Morris (morriss003) I'm an atheist, but personally the idea that the universe is a result of a quantum change in vacuum sounds like religion science.

message 9: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Yeah Stan, that's a bit of the issue I have with much of leading(bleeding) edge cosmology and physics. The hypotheses are for the most part not testable by the scientific method so remain in the speculative realm.

message 10: by David (last edited Oct 07, 2013 06:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Rubenstein | 893 comments Mod
Kenny wrote: "The hypotheses are for the most part not testable by the scientific method so remain in the sp..."

I agree, Kenny, that some bleeding-edge physics hypotheses are not falsifiable. The one that comes to mind most readily is string theory. I am not aware of any claims of string theory that are testable with today's level of technology. Perhaps, some day in the future, a technology will be invented that could test string theory. There is even a well-known book on the subject,
Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law where the concept is likened to an aesthetic religion.

I don't think that some of the cosmology hypotheses that are described in the book "A Universe from Nothing" are quite in the same category. For example, the book describes the BOOMERANG and WMAP experiments that mapped the cosmic microwave background radiation. Both of these experiments gave strong confirmation of the big bang theory, and also the so-called "flat universe".

The presence of both dark matter and dark energy seem to be demanded by a variety of recent astronomical observations, described in some detail by our book of the month. These theories of cosmology have been confirmed by different types of observations, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of controversy about them.

message 11: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Dark matter I'd agree. Dark energy though is being held up as a solution addressing a problem we dont even understand..... IMO.

message 12: by Sach (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sach (sachintha) I agree with David in that while some of the claims in Cosmology seems far fetched and untestable at present, most of which Krauss discuss in this book has solid experimental evidence behind them. He covers most of the background pretty well with evidence, but how he arrives at the ultimate claim - that stuff can arise from nothing - is not very clear to me.

message 13: by Sach (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sach (sachintha) Kenny wrote: "Dark matter I'd agree. Dark energy though is being held up as a solution addressing a problem we dont even understand..... IMO."

Kenny, why is that?

Is there any more solid evidence for Dark Matter than to Dark Energy? From what I understand we know very little about either, and that we can't even actually use the terms 'energy' or matter' with them.

message 14: by May (new) - rated it 5 stars

May Ranch (maysranch) | 2 comments "Is there any more solid evidence for Dark Matter than to Dark Energy?"

Dark matter and dark energy can best be thought of as placeholders for specific phenomena we observe in the universe. We don't know what is causing the phenomena (we have some ideas), but until we know for sure, we say "Dark matter/Energy".

message 15: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Don't want to get too far off topic here. :) But Dark Matter makes 'sense' to me. There are clearly gravitational effects we observe in galaxies and galaxy clusters that support the presence of more matter that we 'see' via light and reflected light. It just makes sense to me that there is matter/mass out there that we don't see. The Dark Energy thing though is a stretch. We are seeing an effect - acceleration of the expansion of the universe - that we have no explanation for ..... therefore "Dark Energy" - something we can't see, detect, measure or verify other than through the accelerated expansion of the universe.....

And David, yes Krauss sticks pretty much to the know scientifically verifiable claims. Even the appearance of matter from nothing is supported by the apparent appearance/disappearance of virtual particles in empty space. Still a bit of a stretch but yeah...

message 16: by Stan (new)

Stan Morris (morriss003) An article on Tardis regions in spacetime.

message 17: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Interesting, thanks Stan. Nice and concise too. :)

message 18: by Keely (last edited Oct 10, 2013 08:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Keely | 3 comments Sach wrote: "Alright, let me get started then.

First up I need to give you a bit of a background on how and why I came to read this book. I'm a big fan of both Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss (though 'was ..."

Hello all!

I read this book several weeks back and am just now reading through the thread (sorry!).

I completely agree with you, Sach, when I read this book. I thought, I must be stupid to not grasp this concept. I even went back to re-read certain parts of the book just to see if I missed something. I initially thought, I should have read a pre-requisite book to astronomy before tackling A Universe From Nothing. I have to agree now that Krauss' explanations were very lacking. There we even some parts I had to google on the internet for more information so I could understand the book... I believe one was a better explanation (definitions) of the Open/Closed/Flat Universe.

There were parts of this book I found intersting, and other parts made me want to stop reading. I did make it through, but have no desire to explore the topic of astronomy again anytime soon. Maybe after a few months though I will try again but with something by Neil DeGrasse Tyson instead.

message 19: by Peter (new)

Peter Stanton | 11 comments How is the whole religion aspect of the book? I'll admit the reason I'm not reading this one is I really dislike the whole contrived "war" of science and religion some people seem to push. I'd like a cool cosmology book, but I'm not interested in a "religion is stupid!!'" screed which has been mentioned in many reviews.

Keely | 3 comments I read this book in August, but I don't recall there being much if anything anti-religious. He seemed to stick to the science. If he did mention anything, it wasn't enough to stand out or for me to recall.

message 21: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Thanks Xox, and agreed.

BetseaK | 54 comments I just finished reading the book. It failed to meet my expectations. Here's the link to my review:

message 23: by Sach (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sach (sachintha) It looks like this book leaves a lot of people unhappy. Think it's mostly to do with Krauss' writing than the contents of the book, though.

message 24: by Phylwil (last edited Dec 21, 2013 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Phylwil | 19 comments Naturally I am many months behind on reading.

These comments make me feel better about struggling with this book. I was assuming that the problem was me, not a lack of clarity in writing.

What I LIKE about the book is his providing at least some information about supporting experiments.

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