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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing, 28 April 2013
This review is from: A Universe from Nothing (Paperback)
As he tells us in his Preface and subtitle, Krauss aims to show how modern science is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing. To do this he outlines the currently accepted theories of Cosmology. I was familiar with most of this material as there are many books on this subject. If the Universe can indeed create itself from nothing, there is no need, Krauss argues, for a Creator.

This leads on to a discussion of how the Universe (or Multiverse) could have arisen from nothing. Krauss has difficulty with the word "nothing". He doesn't like a "nothing" that really is nothing. He wants "nothing" to be every bit as physical as "something" (p xiv). He suggests a number of physical meanings for the word "nothing", e.g:

An absence of matter and energy, i.e. the Quantum Vacuum - but this is not nothing since it has infinite or extremely large energy (pp71, 72). It is only "essentially" nothing (p 98)

An absence of space and time but with Quantum Gravity, which causes "nothing" to be unstable (p 169/70) and requires universes to be created out of nothing - but Quantum Gravity is the interaction of matter/energy with space/time, so it is hard to see how Quantum Gravity can exist without the existence of any of these phenomena.

Krauss has not expressed the problem clearly. It is hard to see how anything can come from a literal nothing - no matter/energy, no space-time, no laws of nature. Since there is something (our Universe) which had a beginning, it follows that there must be something that simply exists and from which all other things arise; or there must be some sort of infinite regression of things. The question is then: what is this thing which simply exists? It might be the quantum vacuum; it might be quantum gravity; it might be God. The Multiverse might be the infinite regression - but the Multiverse does not automatically exclude the possibility of God. An infinite God can presumably create an infinity of universes. In any case, the Multiverse can only be a truly infinite regression if the process of producing new universes repeats itself with absolute precision each time a universe is created. The smallest deviation from absolute precision will cause the whole process to collapse or dissipate in a finite time.

A question that Krauss does not address is the status of the laws of Physics. Are they simply a mathematical description of the way things behave, or do they have some independent status? Krauss seems to think that the laws of nature have an independent existence (p 142). What is the status of mathematics? The fact that mathematics can make predictions about unknown phenomena suggests some independence. But in what sense can laws of nature and mathematics exist? The most obvious answer is that they exist in something very like a mind.

Krauss does not address the question: why are there laws of nature at all? Why do things behave in a regular way that scientists can observe and deduce what we call the laws of Physics? Why is there not chaos? (Of course, if there was chaos, we would not be here to ask the question, but that brings us back to the question: why are we here?) Why is the Universe quantised (p 58f)? To give a specific example: why is every electron identical to and indistinguishable from other electrons? (Again, if the Universe were not quantised, we would not be here; but that is not an explanation.) Why do Conservation Laws exist? (E.g. conservation of energy and momentum, conservation of electric charge).

Apart from these scientific and philosophical issues, Krauss' style of writing is frequently facetious and this leads him into some rather odd expressions. For example, the Sun is in a "remote, uninteresting corner" of the Milky Way (p 7) and is a star on the "lonely outer edges of a galaxy..." (p 123). The Sun is just over half the galactic radius from the centre of the Milky Way to the edge of the galaxy. Hardly remote, hardly a corner, hardly lonely; uninteresting to whom? To Krauss?

Why does he describe the two scientists who detected the CMB as hapless? (p 44) They discovered an unexpected signal; they thoroughly checked their instrument to ensure the signal was genuinely coming from space; they realised they had detected a new phenomenon and they contacted their theoretically-minded colleagues for an explanation. They were acting as professional, competent scientists. And why does Krauss not name them? (They were Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson) Had Krauss forgotten their names and could not be bothered to look them up?

Why is Erwin Schrӧdinger described as a "young hot-shot"? (p 58) He was thirty-nine when he published his Schrӧdinger Wave Equation; hardly young when brilliant scientists often do their best work in their twenties.

On p 98 Krauss speaks of inflationary "prestidigitation". The word means "conjuring". The aim of a conjuror is to deceive. Is he suggesting that cosmologists are trying to deceive us?

What is the point of the comment about "bosonic quantum angels" (p 135) when he has not explained to us what bosons (or fermions) are?

Why does he suggest that, before Newton and his universal law of gravity, the universe was "strange, hostile, menacing and capricious"? (p 141) In medieval thought, it certainly was not. The heavens were the place of perfection; unchanging and law-abiding; not subject to decay as were things on Earth.

Why does Krauss suggest that God acts from "whim or with malice aforethought"? (p 172) This is simply a snide remark. Einstein said, "God is subtle but he is not malicious."

These and other expressions left me with the feeling that Krauss is slapdash in much of his writing. Is he slapdash in his cosmological thinking also?
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Oct 2013 18:29:00 BDT
Thank you for your exceptionally well thought out review.

Posted on 16 Dec 2013 10:42:25 GMT
Agreed an excellent, review!
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