Nothing much

I’m reading Lawrence Krauss’s new book, A Universe From Nothing (every so often I enjoy punishing myself by trying to figure out what cosmologists are learning about the cosmos). About the first half of the book is setting up the main premise, which is that things – particles, bagels, universes – can indeed spring forth from, well, nothing. At first I was confused, because Krauss uses “nothing” to mean both “empty space” and “nothing, not even empty space.” Not being a cosmologist or theologian, I can get my head around empty space, but I have trouble picturing the concept of absolutely nothing. I mean, if even space-time is absent, then what are we to do?

My impression is that this works mathematically and theoretically (which is good), but how can a human being even conceive of this kind of nothingness? It’s not a blank slate; there simply is no slate. Then, through something called “quantum fluctuations”, a slate appears. Then, after about 13.5 billion years, Shakespeare. It’s mind-boggling.

I haven’t finished the book yet, and I’ve just gotten to the meat of the matter, so perhaps this deep, disturbing nothingness is adequately explained further in the book. But right now I’m depleting my store of imagination trying to figure out where quantums are fluctuating if there is no longer any where for them to fluctuate in.

Scale of the universe

Here is a totally awesome interactive scale model of the universe. It really helps you visualize the so-big-it’s-unthinkable and the so-small-it’s-beyond-our-power-to-comprehend. We here on this planet are so small and yet so big. It’s actually kinda weird when you think about it. But not so weird it implies the need for supernatural causes.

I’m going to make a point of using the word “yoctometer” in a conversation, though – just so I can tell someone to go check this out. (Click on image, then use the slide rule to pan in and out.)