A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing

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“WHERE DID THE UNIVERSE COME FROM?WHAT WAS THERE BEFORE IT? WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING? AND FINALLY, WHY IS THERESOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING?”

Lawrence Krauss’s provocative answers to these and other timeless questions in a wildly popular lecture now on YouTube have attracted almost a million viewers. The last of these questions in particular has been at the center of religious and philosophical debates about the existence of God, and it’s the supposed counterargument to ...

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Overview


“WHERE DID THE UNIVERSE COME FROM?WHAT WAS THERE BEFORE IT? WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING? AND FINALLY, WHY IS THERESOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING?”

Lawrence Krauss’s provocative answers to these and other timeless questions in a wildly popular lecture now on YouTube have attracted almost a million viewers. The last of these questions in particular has been at the center of religious and philosophical debates about the existence of God, and it’s the supposed counterargument to anyone who questions the need for God. As Krauss argues, scientists have, however, historically focused on other, more pressing issues—such as figuring out how the universe actually functions, which can ultimately help us to improve the quality of our lives.

Now, in a cosmological story that rivets as it enlightens, pioneering theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains the groundbreaking new scientific advances that turn the most basic philosophical questions on their heads. One of the few prominent scientists today to have actively crossed the chasm between science and popular culture, Krauss reveals that modern science is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing, with surprising and fascinating results. The staggeringly beautiful experimental observations and mind-bending new theories are all described accessibly in A Universe from Nothing, and they suggest that not only can something arise from nothing, something will always arise from nothing.

With his characteristic wry humor and wonderfully clear explanations, Krauss takes us back to the beginning of the beginning, presenting the most recent evidence for how our universe evolved—and the implications for how it’s going to end. It will provoke, challenge, and delight readers as it looks at the most basic underpinnings of existence in a whole new way. And this knowledge that our universe will be quite different in the future from today has profound implications and directly affects how we live in the present. As Richard Dawkins has described it: This could potentially be the most important scientific book with implications for supernaturalism since Darwin.

A fascinating antidote to outmoded philosophical and religious thinking, A Universe from Nothing is a provocative, game-changing entry into the debate about the existence of God and everything that exists. “Forget Jesus,” Krauss has argued, “the stars died so you could be born.”

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In this boundary-crossing book, theoretical physicist and author Lawrence M. Krause (Quantum Man; Physics in Star Trek) describes what recent scientific breakthroughs about cosmological origins and extinctions can tell us about that root question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

Publishers Weekly
Readers interested in the evolution of the universe will find Krauss’s account lively and humorous as well as informative. In 1925, Edwin Hubble (“who continues to give me great faith in humanity, because he started out as a lawyer, and then became an astronomer”) showed that the universe was expanding. But what was it expanding from? Virtually nothing, an “infinitesimal point,” said George LeMaître, who in 1929 proposed the idea of the Big Bang. His theory was later supported by the discovery of remnants of energy called cosmic microwave background radiation—“the afterglow of the Big Bang,” as Krauss calls it. Researchers also discovered that the universe is expanding not at a steady rate but accelerating, driving matter farther apart faster and faster. Krauss, a professor and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, explores the consequences of a universe dominated by the “seemingly empty space” left by expansion, urging focused study before expansion pushes everything beyond our reach. Readers will find the result of Krauss’s “ absolutely surprising and fascinating universe” as compelling as it is intriguing.(Jan.)
Library Journal
Krauss (physics, Arizona State Univ.; director, Origins Project; The Physics of Star Trek) expands a 2009 lecture he gave to the Atheist Alliance International (AAI) that addresses the always controversial debate between believers in a divine creator and avowed atheists: How can science explain the origins of the universe without first cause? In this title, Krauss does just that. Clearly and logically, he illustrates the amazing reality of our physical universe, which arises from nothingness and, according to science, most likely will end in nothingness. With a closing essay by Richard Dawkins, this book will certainly appeal to fans of the religious parody and Internet meme Flying Spaghetti Monster. Although one could certainly read this book as just another popular cosmology title, Krauss's association with the AAI and Dawkins add a subtext of antagonism against religion, even if not overtly mentioned. His arguments for the birth of the universe out of nothingness from a physical, rather than theological, beginning not only are logical but celebrate the wonder of our natural universe. VERDICT Recommended. Krauss's overview of physics is accessible and well explained. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]—Rachel M. Minkin, Michigan State Univ. Libs., Lansing
Library Journal
Famed cosmologist Krauss takes us back to the creation to show that the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is not religious but scientific. In the process, he explains that new scientific discoveries reveal that something not only can but must come from nothing, so it's no surprise that Richard Dawkins calls this perhaps the most important scientific study with implications for atheism since Darwin's work. Bound to touch off a few fireworks.
Kirkus Reviews
Theologians of all religions know how the universe arose. Scientists traditionally considered this a metaphysical question outside their purview, but theoretical physicist Krauss (Director of the Origins Project/Arizona State Univ.; Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science, 2011, etc.) asserts that laws of physics not only permit something to arise from nothing, they may guarantee it. The author delivers plenty of jolts in this enthusiastic and lucid but demanding overview of the universe, which includes plenty of mysteries--but its origin isn't among them. Einstein's relativity proves that empty space can curve, and quantum physics does not forbid matter from appearing out of nowhere provided it also vanishes almost immediately. In the odd, entirely statistical world of quantum physics, whatever is not forbidden can happen and experiments reveal "virtual particles" popping in and out of existence everywhere. These quantum fluctuations were occurring before the dawn of time. All were thought to have quickly disappeared, but perhaps under the right conditions one lived sufficiently long to give rise to the seminal event of the early universe: inflation. Thereafter, the original tiny volume expanded by an enormous factor to produce our universe. Krauss recounts its history and structure, emphasizing recent discoveries that vastly increased both our knowledge and ignorance. It turns out only one percent of the universe consists of familiar matter and energy; the rest is a mystery. Also, a grim future awaits us, although that lies a trillion or so years ahead. A thoughtful, challenging book--but not for the faint of heart or those not willing to read carefully.
San Francisco Chronicle
"Krauss possesses a rare talent for making the hardest ideas in astrophysics accessible to the layman, due in part to his sly humor… one has to hope that this book won't appeal only to the partisans of the culture wars – it's just too good and interesting for that. Krauss is genuinely in awe of the "wondrously strange" nature of our physical world, and his enthusiasm is infectious.”
New Scientist
“[An] excellent guide to cutting-edge physics… It is detailed but lucid, thorough but not stodgy… [an] insightful book… Space and time can indeed come from nothing; nothing, as Krauss explains beautifully. …A Universe From Nothing is a great book: readable, informative and topical.”
From the Publisher
"In A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss has written a thrilling introduction to the current state of cosmology—the branch of science that tells us about the deep past and deeper future of everything. As it turns out, everything has a lot to do with nothing—and nothing to do with God. This is a brilliant and disarming book."— Sam Harris, author of The Moral Landscape

"Astronomers at the beginning of the twentieth century were wondering whether there was anything beyond our Milky Way Galaxy. As Lawrence Krauss lucidly explains, astronomers living two trillion years from now, will perhaps be pondering precisely the same question! Beautifully navigating through deep intellectual waters, Krauss presents the most recent ideas on the nature of our cosmos, and of our place within it. A fascinating read."

— Mario Livio, author of Is God A Mathematician? and The Golden Ratio

"In this clear and crisply written book, Lawrence Krauss outlines the compelling evidence that our complex cosmos has evolved from a hot, dense state and how this progress has emboldened theorists to develop fascinating speculations about how things really began."
— Martin Rees, author of Our Final Hour

“A series of brilliant insights and astonishing discoveries have rocked the Universe in recent years, and Lawrence Krauss has been in the thick of it. With his characteristic verve, and using many clever devices, he’s made that remarkable story remarkably accessible. The climax is a bold scientific answer to the great question of existence: Why is there something rather than nothing.”

— Frank Wilczek, Nobel Laureate and Herman Feshbach professor at MIT, author of The Lightness of Being

"With characteristic wit, eloquence and clarity Lawrence Krauss gives a wonderfully illuminating account of how science deals with one of the biggest questions of all: how the universe's existence could arise from nothing. It is a question that philosophy and theology get themselves into muddle over, but that science can offer real answers to, as Krauss's lucid explanation shows. Here is the triumph of physics over metaphysics, reason and enquiry over obfuscation and myth, made plain for all to see: Krauss gives us a treat as well as an education in fascinating style."
—A. C. Grayling, author of The Good Book

"We have been living through a revolution in cosmology as wondrous as that initiated by Copernicus. Here is the essential, engrossing and brilliant guide."

—Ian McEwan

“Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something. That's how a cosmos can be spawned from the void — a profound idea conveyed in A Universe From Nothing that unsettles some yet enlightens others. Meanwhile, it's just another day on the job for physicist Lawrence Krauss.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History

Nature
“How physicists came up with the current model of the cosmos is quite a story, and to tell it in his elegant A Universe From Nothing, physicist Lawrence Krauss walks a carefully laid path… It would be easy for this remarkable story to revel in self-congratulation, but Krauss steers it soberly and with grace… His asides on how he views each piece of science and its chances of being right are refreshingly honest…unstable nothingness, as described by Krauss… is also invigorating for the rest of us, because in this nothingness there are many wonderful things to see and understand.”
Globe & Mail
"In A Universe From Nothing, Lawrence Krauss, celebrated physicist, speaker and author, tackles all that plus a whole lot else. In fewer than 200 pages, he delivers a spirited, fast-paced romp through modern cosmology and its strong underpinnings in astronomical observations and particle physics theory.Krauss’s slim volume is bolder in its premise and more ambitious in its scope than most. He makes a persuasive case that the ultimate question of cosmic origin – how something, namely the universe, could arise from nothing – belongs in the realm of science rather than theology or philosophy."
Financial Times
“An eloquent guide to our expanding universe… There have been a number of fine cosmology books published recently but few have gone so far, and none so eloquently, in exploring why it is unnecessary to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper and set the universe in motion.”
Associated Press Staff
“Krauss possesses a rare talent for making the hardest ideas in astrophysics accessible to the layman, due in part to his sly humor… one has to hope that this book won't appeal only to the partisans of the culture wars – it's just too good and interesting for that. Krauss is genuinely in awe of the "wondrously strange" nature of our physical world, and his enthusiasm is infectious.”
Mother Jones
"With its mind-bending mechanics, Krauss argues, our universe may indeed have appeared from nowhere, rather than at the hands of a divine creator. There's some intellectual heavy lifting here—Einstein is the main character, after all—but the concepts are articulated clearly, and the thrill of discovery is contagious. 'We are like the early terrestrial mapmakers,' Krauss writes, puzzling out what was once solely the province of our imaginations."
Sam Kean
"People always say you can't get something from nothing. Thankfully, Lawrence Krauss didn't listen. In fact, something big happens to you during this book about cosmic nothing, and before you can help it, your mind will be expanding as rapidly as the early universe."
Santa Barbara Independent
"A very interesting read from a foremost physicist of our time."
Library Journal
Discoveries in cosmology have given us glimpses of the origin of our universe. Cosmologist and best-selling author Krauss (The Physics of Star Trek) suggests that something may always and inevitably arise from nothing. (LJ 1/12)
The Barnes & Noble Review

"Let there be Something," said Nothing. And there was Something.

In A Universe from Nothing, Professor Lawrence Krauss, the author of The Physics of Star Trek and seven other books and hundreds of scholarly papers, seeks to explain why anything at all exists — how the universe arose from empty space and how empty space itself arose from absolutely nothing, not even empty space. I don't know if this primal question bothers you, but it has bothered me actively ever since my freshman philosophy course in college, and nascently well before that, when as a kid I would look at a hill, a cornstalk, a car, a dog, the moon, Marilyn Monroe, my own toes — to say nothing of the ocean and the stars — and, as a proto-pseudo-existentialist, say to myself, "Wha?"

Many of the answers to "Wha?" in Krauss's book will escape the ordinary smart reader's grasp, I'm afraid. But the book still evokes a great measure of wonder about the cosmos and admiration for those, like the author, who are trying to explain it to us. "We are all stardust," he tells us, and explains clearly how that is so. He compares the nothingness from which everything has proceeded to "how it felt to be before you were conceived." After struggling through thickets of particle physics* and anti-matter and dark energy, the reader often stumbles into these clearings of common sense mixed with astonishment. You have an inkling about how particles can pop into existence from empty space and out again, how the asymmetry of the Big Bang was necessary to our universe's existence (that makes common sense to me, because if it had been perfectly symmetrical, nothing could have stuck to anything else), how in a "closed" universe if you could look "far enough in one direction, you would see the back of your own head."

Krauss also makes a comprehensible case that we happen to be living in exactly the right — the only — eon in which humans will be able to apprehend the origin of the universe and its fate, because it is the only eon in which scientists will have been able to detect radiation remnants of the Big Bang and thus draw conclusions about what happened at the start. In the distant future, and I mean distant, when astronomers "on distant planets?look out at the cosmos, essentially everything we can now see, all 400 billion galaxies currently inhabiting our visible universe, will have disappeared!" Krauss goes on to say, quixotically, perhaps, "I have tried to use this argument with Congress to urge the funding of cosmology now, while we still have time to observe what we can!" Can't you just see John Boehner and Harry Reid taking up this cause?

But still, even if you are a wide-ranging, generalist reader of above- average intelligence, large portions of this book will flee you faster than the most distant stars and galaxies are fleeing the nothing from which they were evidently conjured: "The pattern of density fluctuations that result after inflation — arising, I should stress, from the quantum fluctuations in otherwise empty space — turns out to be precisely in agreement with the observed pattern of cold spots and hot spots on large scales in the cosmic background radiation."

And for all the close study I gave to this impressive and exciting and often funny work, I still don't really understand how something came from nothing. Well, I do get, a little, how particles can emerge suddenly from what we think of as empty space, for empty space turns out to be "broiling with energy," as Krauss puts it. (So it's not really empty — right? It's not really nothing?) But how empty space comes from nothing at all — not even empty space — here my comprehension winks out of existence.

According to Scientific American, Lawrence Krauss is among this nation's very few "public intellectuals." The Physics of Star Trek sold a quarter of a million copies, and Krauss has won many major awards and other honors in his field. He is also the founder of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. According to its mission statement, this program "is a transdisciplinary initiative that nurtures research, energizes teaching, and builds partnerships, offering new possibilities for exploring the most fundamental of questions: the origins of the universe, life, consciousness, culture, and human existence" (but is apparently not a program that discourages mission-statementese).

And in his public-intellectual role, before (and during and after) Krauss tries to tell us in his book how the cosmos originated, he tells us that God had, um, nothing to do with it. The first words in the book: "In the interest of full disclosure right at the outset I must admit that I am not sympathetic to the conviction that creation requires a creator, which is at the basis of all the world's religions." Near the end: "God seems to me a rather facile semantic solution to the deep question of creation."

"OK, OK!" some readers might feel like saying. Some might be relieved if certain public intellectuals stopped beating a dead deity. The great mass of humanity are believers, and — sadly, in my opinion — these scholars aren't going to change that situation anytime soon, or soon enough. But in a conversation I had with Krauss, it became clear that he still regards this anti-theist (note: not atheist) mission as crucial to the possibility of human progress and greater knowledge. He said, "The last fifteen years have seen an amazing increase in the understanding we have of the universe, how it began and what its nature is, and I want to motivate people to know about that." He continued, "Like cosmology, the global problems we face are very complex, and we need to approach them empirically, not theologically, if we are ever going to solve them." When I asked him why the universe — even multiple universes — couldn't be Someone Else's video game, he said "We can't rule out the possibility of some intelligence building the universe, but we have absolutely no evidence of that. If I looked up into the night sky and saw the stars being rearranged before my eyes, that would be a different story."

A Universe from Nothing includes some wonderful incidental human analogues to the something-from-nothing question. The first person to propose the Big Bang theory, or something like it, was a priest, George LeMaitre, in 1927, after serving as an artilleryman in the First World War. Edwin Hubble was a lawyer before he became a cosmologist. Harlow Shapley dropped out of school in the fifth grade and when he finally went to Princeton picked astronomy to concentrate on because it was the first course listed in the catalogue. Alex Vilenkin emigrated to the United States from the USSR and worked as a night watchman while he studied.

And of course we are always surrounded by somethings-from-nothings, at least metaphorically. This book, in all its rigor and passion, didn't exist before Laurence Krauss wrote it. This review, in all its whatever, didn't exist before I wrote it. I didn't exist in any way at all before I did, and neither did you, before you did. Looked at from this point of view, everything is a non-religious miracle — which is the constant, invigorating refrain of A Universe from Nothing.

*Here is the only particle-physics joke I know: The bartender says, "I'm sorry sir, but we don't serve faster-than-the-speed-of-light neutrinos in here." A faster-than-the-speed-of-light neutrino walks into a bar.

Daniel Menaker is the author, most recently of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation and of the novel The Treatment, as well as two books of short stories. Menaker is the former Executive Editor-in- Chief of Random House and fiction editor of The New Yorker. His reviews and other writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Slate.

Reviewer: Daniel Menaker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451624458
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 1/10/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence M. Krauss, Ph.D., is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Physics Dept, Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, and Inaugural Director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University. He is an internationally known theoretical physicist with wide research interests, including the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, where his studies include the early universe, the nature of dark matter, general relativity and neutrino astrophysics. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined the Harvard Society of Fellows, then the faculty of Physics at Yale University, and later moved to Case Western Reserve University. Krauss is one of the few prominent scientists today to have actively crossed the chasm between science and popular culture. The author of the bestselling book, The Physics of Star Trek, he was nominated for a Grammy award for his liner notes for a Telarc CD of music from Star Trek.

RICHARD DAWKINS, is an evolutionary biologist, best selling author and outspoken atheist. He has established himself as a guru of evolution with the publication of books detailing and expanding upon Darwinian theory. Until his retirement this year, he was the Charles Simonyi Professor For The Understanding Of Science at Oxford University. He is the author most recently of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. His other books include The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River out of Eden (ScienceMasters Series), Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, The Devil's Chaplain, The Ancestor's Tale, and The God Delusion.

Dawkins was Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001.The Galaxy British Book Awards named him Author of the Year in 2006 for The God Delusion, and in 2008 his TV program 'The Genius of Charles Darwin' won Best Documentary Series at the British Broadcast Awards. He was listed as one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2007.

In his role as the Charles Simonyi Professor For The Understanding Of Science at Oxford University, Dawkins regularly talked to the public regarding his views on the wonders of science.

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Read an Excerpt

PREFACE

Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake. We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real. We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.

—JACOB BRONOWSKI

In the interests of full disclosure right at the outset I must admit that I am not sympathetic to the conviction that creation requires a creator, which is at the basis of all of the world’s religions. Every day beautiful and miraculous objects suddenly appear, from snowflakes on a cold winter morning to vibrant rainbows after a late-afternoon summer shower. Yet no one but the most ardent fundamentalists would suggest that each and every such object is lovingly and painstakingly and, most important, purposefully created by a divine intelligence. In fact, many laypeople as well as scientists revel in our ability to explain how snowflakes and rainbows can spontaneously appear, based on simple, elegant laws of physics.

Of course, one can ask, and many do, “Where do the laws of physics come from?” as well as more suggestively, “Who created these laws?” Even if one can answer this first query, the petitioner will then often ask, “But where did that come from?” or “Who created that?” and so on.

Ultimately, many thoughtful people are driven to the apparent need for First Cause, as Plato, Aquinas, or the modern Roman Catholic Church might put it, and thereby to suppose some divine being: a creator of all that there is, and all that there ever will be, someone or something eternal and everywhere.

Nevertheless, the declaration of a First Cause still leaves open the question, “Who created the creator?” After all, what is the difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one?

These arguments always remind me of the famous story of an expert giving a lecture on the origins of the universe (sometimes identified as Bertrand Russell and sometimes William James), who is challenged by a woman who believes that the world is held up by a gigantic turtle, who is then held up by another turtle, and then another . . . with further turtles “all the way down!” An infinite regress of some creative force that begets itself, even some imagined force that is greater than turtles, doesn’t get us any closer to what it is that gives rise to the universe. Nonetheless, this metaphor of an infinite regression may actually be closer to the real process by which the universe came to be than a single creator would explain.

Defining away the question by arguing that the buck stops with God may seem to obviate the issue of infinite regression, but here I invoke my mantra: The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. The existence or nonexistence of a creator is independent of our desires. A world without God or purpose may seem harsh or pointless, but that alone doesn’t require God to actually exist.

Similarly, our minds may not be able to easily comprehend infinities (although mathematics, a product of our minds, deals with them rather nicely), but that doesn’t tell us that infinities don’t exist. Our universe could be infinite in spatial or temporal extent. Or, as Richard Feynman once put it, the laws of physics could be like an infinitely layered onion, with new laws becoming operational as we probe new scales. We simply don’t know!

For more than two thousand years, the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” has been presented as a challenge to the proposition that our universe—which contains the vast complex of stars, galaxies, humans, and who knows what else—might have arisen without design, intent, or purpose. While this is usually framed as a philosophical or religious question, it is first and foremost a question about the natural world, and so the appropriate place to try and resolve it, first and foremost, is with science.

The purpose of this book is simple. I want to show how modern science, in various guises, can address and is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing: The answers that have been obtained—from staggeringly beautiful experimental observations, as well as from the theories that underlie much of modern physics—all suggest that getting something from nothing is not a problem. Indeed, something from nothing may have been required for the universe to come into being. Moreover, all signs suggest that this is how our universe could have arisen.

I stress the word could here, because we may never have enough empirical information to resolve this question unambiguously. But the fact that a universe from nothing is even plausible is certainly significant, at least to me.

Before going further, I want to devote a few words to the notion of “nothing”—a topic that I will return to at some length later. For I have learned that, when discussing this question in public forums, nothing upsets the philosophers and theologians who disagree with me more than the notion that I, as a scientist, do not truly understand “nothing.” (I am tempted to retort here that theologians are experts at nothing.)

“Nothing,” they insist, is not any of the things I discuss. Nothing is “nonbeing,” in some vague and ill-defined sense. This reminds me of my own efforts to define “intelligent design” when I first began debating with creationists, of which, it became clear, there is no clear definition, except to say what it isn’t. “Intelligent design” is simply a unifying umbrella for opposing evolution. Similarly, some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine “nothing” as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe.

But therein, in my opinion, lies the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy. For surely “nothing” is every bit as physical as “something,” especially if it is to be defined as the “absence of something.” It then behooves us to understand precisely the physical nature of both these quantities. And without science, any definition is just words.

A century ago, had one described “nothing” as referring to purely empty space, possessing no real material entity, this might have received little argument. But the results of the past century have taught us that empty space is in fact far from the inviolate nothingness that we presupposed before we learned more about how nature works. Now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as “nothing,” but rather as a “quantum vacuum,” to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized “nothing.”

So be it. But what if we are then willing to describe “nothing” as the absence of space and time itself? Is this sufficient? Again, I suspect it would have been . . . at one time. But, as I shall describe, we have learned that space and time can themselves spontaneously appear, so now we are told that even this “nothing” is not really the nothing that matters. And we’re told that the escape from the “real” nothing requires divinity, with “nothing” thus defined by fiat to be “that from which only God can create something.”

It has also been suggested by various individuals with whom I have debated the issue that, if there is the “potential” to create something, then that is not a state of true nothingness. And surely having laws of nature that give such potential takes us away from the true realm of nonbeing. But then, if I argue that perhaps the laws themselves also arose spontaneously, as I shall describe might be the case, then that too is not good enough, because whatever system in which the laws may have arisen is not true nothingness.

Turtles all the way down? I don’t believe so. But the turtles are appealing because science is changing the playing field in ways that make people uncomfortable. Of course, that is one of the purposes of science (one might have said “natural philosophy” in Socratic times). Lack of comfort means we are on the threshold of new insights. Surely, invoking “God” to avoid difficult questions of “how” is merely intellectually lazy. After all, if there were no potential for creation, then God couldn’t have created anything. It would be semantic hocus-pocus to assert that the potentially infinite regression is avoided because God exists outside nature and, therefore, the “potential” for existence itself is not a part of the nothingness from which existence arose.

My real purpose here is to demonstrate that in fact science has changed the playing field, so that these abstract and useless debates about the nature of nothingness have been replaced by useful, operational efforts to describe how our universe might actually have originated. I will also explain the possible implications of this for our present and future.

This reflects a very important fact. When it comes to understanding how our universe evolves, religion and theology have been at best irrelevant. They often muddy the waters, for example, by focusing on questions of nothingness without providing any definition of the term based on empirical evidence. While we do not yet fully understand the origin of our universe, there is no reason to expect things to change in this regard. Moreover, I expect that ultimately the same will be true for our understanding of areas that religion now considers its own territory, such as human morality.

Science has been effective at furthering our understanding of nature because the scientific ethos is based on three key principles: (1) follow the evidence wherever it leads; (2) if one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right; (3) the ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one’s a priori beliefs, nor the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.

The results of experiments that I will describe here are not only timely, they are also unexpected. The tapestry that science weaves in describing the evolution of our universe is far richer and far more fascinating than any revelatory images or imaginative stories that humans have concocted. Nature comes up with surprises that far exceed those that the human imagination can generate.

Over the past two decades, an exciting series of developments in cosmology, particle theory, and gravitation have completely changed the way we view the universe, with startling and profound implications for our understanding of its origins as well as its future. Nothing could therefore not be more interesting to write about, if you can forgive the pun.

The true inspiration for this book comes not so much from a desire to dispel myths or attack beliefs, as from my desire to celebrate knowledge and, along with it, the absolutely surprising and fascinating universe that ours has turned out to be.

Our search will take us on a whirlwind tour to the farthest reaches of our expanding universe, from the earliest moments of the Big Bang to the far future, and will include perhaps the most surprising discovery in physics in the past century.

Indeed, the immediate motivation for writing this book now is a profound discovery about the universe that has driven my own scientific research for most of the past three decades and that has resulted in the startling conclusion that most of the energy in the universe resides in some mysterious, now inexplicable form permeating all of empty space. It is not an understatement to say that this discovery has changed the playing field of modern cosmology.

For one thing, this discovery has produced remarkable new support for the idea that our universe arose from precisely nothing. It has also provoked us to rethink both a host of assumptions about the processes that might govern its evolution and, ultimately, the question of whether the very laws of nature are truly fundamental. Each of these, in its own turn, now tends to make the question of why there is something rather than nothing appear less imposing, if not completely facile, as I hope to describe.

The direct genesis of this book hearkens back to October of 2009, when I delivered a lecture in Los Angeles with the same title. Much to my surprise, the YouTube video of the lecture, made available by the Richard Dawkins Foundation, has since become something of a sensation, with nearly a million viewings as of this writing, and numerous copies of parts of it being used by both the atheist and theist communities in their debates.

Because of the clear interest in this subject, and also as a result of some of the confusing commentary on the web and in various media following my lecture, I thought it worth producing a more complete rendition of the ideas that I had expressed there in this book. Here I can also take the opportunity to add to the arguments I presented at the time, which focused almost completely on the recent revolutions in cosmology that have changed our picture of the universe, associated with the discovery of the energy and geometry of space, and which I discuss in the first two-thirds of this book.

In the intervening period, I have thought a lot more about the many antecedents and ideas constituting my argument; I’ve discussed it with others who reacted with a kind of enthusiasm that was infectious; and I’ve explored in more depth the impact of developments in particle physics, in particular, on the issue of the origin and nature of our universe. And finally, I have exposed some of my arguments to those who vehemently oppose them, and in so doing have gained some insights that have helped me develop my arguments further.

While fleshing out the ideas I have ultimately tried to describe here, I benefitted tremendously from discussions with some of my most thoughtful physics colleagues. In particular I wanted to thank Alan Guth and Frank Wilczek for taking the time to have extended discussions and correspondence with me, resolving some confusions in my own mind and in certain cases helping reinforce my own interpretations.

Emboldened by the interest of Leslie Meredith and Dominick Anfuso at Free Press, Simon & Schuster, in the possibility of a book on this subject, I then contacted my friend Christopher Hitchens, who, besides being one of the most literate and brilliant individuals I know, had himself been able to use some of the arguments from my lecture in his remarkable series of debates on science and religion. Christopher, in spite of his ill health, kindly, generously, and bravely agreed to write a foreword. For that act of friendship and trust, I will be eternally grateful. Unfortunately, Christopher’s illness eventually overwhelmed him to the extent that completing the foreword became impossible, in spite of his best efforts. Nevertheless, in an embarrassment of riches, my eloquent, brilliant friend, the renowned scientist and writer Richard Dawkins, had earlier agreed to write an afterword. After my first draft was completed, he then proceeded to produce something in short order whose beauty and clarity was astounding, and at the same time humbling. I remain in awe. To Christopher, Richard, then, and all of those above, I issue my thanks for their support and encouragement, and for motivating me to once again return to my computer and write.

© 2012 Lawrence M. Krauss

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2012

    Well done

    I don't normally take the time to write reviews but I want to encourage others interested in cosmology and physics to read this book. I am a student at Purdue University and have a deep interest in science. This book was filled with entertaining and profound insight into new and possible discoveries in the cosmos. I agree with krauss's annoyance of theologians constantly bringing up " how could there be something from nothing" I experience people on a daily basis that try to be witty and talk against founded evidence and they can be hard to argue with because it feels like a waste of time lol. Well people buy the book, you will enjoy it, thanks

    16 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2012

    A Synopsis of A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing`

    Our best science tells us that the universe is an ever expanding entity consisting of some 400 billion galaxies that began with a very powerful and very hot explosion from a single point precisely 13.72 billion years ago. The degree to which our best science here has advanced in the recent past is reflected by the understanding of the universe that we had just a century ago. At that time, it was thought that the universe was static and consisted of just one galaxy: our own. In the past 100 years, though, Einstein's theory of relativity revolutionized how we understand space and time and the physical processes operating at the very largest of scales, while quantum mechanics has revolutionized how we understand these processes at the very smallest of scales. It is the development of these theories in particular that has provided us with our current understanding of the universe.

    However, the picture of the universe that these theories have furnished us with still leaves us with an apparent problem: What existed before the big bang? Surely something must have existed beforehand, for if nothing existed then something (indeed everything!) came from nothing, which seems absurd. Indeed there are few things more intuitively implausible than that something can come from nothing. In the philosophical community ex nihilo, nihilo fit (from nothing, nothing comes) is appreciated to be a self evident premise, and one of only a handful of postulates that are completely indisputable.

    The apparent contradiction between the universe beginning at a finite time, and the premise that something cannot come from nothing, has often been used as an argument for the existence of an uncaused cause, or creator (most often understood as God). However, in his new book `A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing' renowned physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss argues that a full understanding of the science that has yielded our current picture of the universe also allows us to see that something can indeed come from nothing. Thus, for Krauss, science can in fact do the work that it is often thought only God could manage. As Krauss puts it (borrowing a line from the physicist Steven Weinberg), science does not make it impossible to believe in God, but it does make it possible to not believe in God (p. 183). In introducing us to the science that allows for the possibility of something coming from nothing, Krauss takes us through the history and evolution of physics and cosmology over the past century, beginning with Albert Einstein's theory of relativity in 1916. In the course of this journey we learn about what our best science says about the basic make-up of the universe (including the existence of dark matter and dark energy), as well as what our best science tells us about how the universe (likely) began and where it is (likely) heading in the future.

    For a summary of the main argument of the book, as well as many of the juicier details to be found therein, visit the blog at newbooksinbrief daught wordpress daught com, and click on the article entitled 'A Synopsis of Lawrence Krauss' 'A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing'.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2012

    Would definitely recommend. I had a whole review typed up but of

    Would definitely recommend. I had a whole review typed up but of course Barnes and Noble would ask me for a pen name and when I put in a pen name, it refreshed the page... never mind then.

    This book describes very descriptively, yet pragmatically why a flat universe (which is the type of universe we inhabit as it turns out) can arise by quantum fluctuations for it has zero total energy.

    Like -500 + 500 = 0, this is the same concept for the universe. Because of this, it does not violate any physical laws. He also states that it is almost inevitable for there to be a multiverse, which will suggest answers to the existence of physical laws. As our knowledge of the universe grows, hopefully one day we can arrive at conclusions such as an eloquent theory of quantum gravity and a full picture of the cosmos (or meta-cosmos at that).

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    The title question is still unanswered

    The author doesn't take long to run into a serious problem by stating early on that "nothing" has every bit as real a physical presence as "something". Oh really? This falls under the category of "not even wrong". The only way he can explain how the universe arose out of "nothing" is to assume that "nothing" is a special kind of "something" and then all things are possible. How does a complete lack of existence have any physical presence at all? It implies a relationship that simply cannot exist. This goes way beyond religion or philosophy and demonstrates that humans apparently cannot fathom a complete lack of existence. The author is really saying that something has always existed, but this opens up a major can or worms, so to speak, and he prefers to say that Lucretius was wrong after all and here is all the scientific evidence to prove it. But, alas, the underlying assumption is flawed.

    7 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    This book is a fairly easy to understand explanation of cosmology and quantum physics and how our universe may have began. One of the best books I have read on the subject.

    6 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2012

    A creationist's worst nightmare - highly recommended!

    For anyone with even a vague curiosity about where our universe actually came from (without the need to resort to a "creator"), this book is a must. It updates us with the latest state of the sciences of cosmology and particle physics, told in a readable style, and made understandable to those of us not endowed with a "brain the size of a planet" (to quote Marvin). It also provides plenty of factual fodder for use at parties when "debating" with creationists. A universe from nothing, and no creator too, imagine.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2012

    A lot to chew on here!

    Ok, I just finished reading it for the second time. I think I got it! I would like to read more about this subatomic world of existence and non existence over very small time frames. Wild stuff for sure. Talk about an 'uncertainty principle'! This book does bring it more into what you may call a comprehensible realm. The concept of 'nothing' becomes more 'real'. I think that the thoughts in this book also help with the 'multiverse' concept as well. Well done. A thrice read would not be out of the question.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2012

    Highly Verbose Discussion of an Interesting Thought

    Take out everything between the commas and this book would only be about 75 pages in length. The author digresses on almost every page thus confusing his actual point. Extreme use of "run-on" sentences is annoying and his need to inject his impressive vocabulary at every turn soon became a real drag.

    This book does not answer the title question however, if you actually thought it would, you are a fool.

    IMHO: Good ideas + poorly written = so so read.

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2014

    A must-read for any science-enthusiast. 

    A must-read for any science-enthusiast. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Nothing Here to See!

    An interesting read, but I cannot in good conscious recommend it. Dr. Krauss, who describes himself as an anti-theist (not atheist), proudly displays an obvious anti-supernatural bias and a thorough lack of understanding of the essential God as pictured in pages of the Christian Bible. For example, he posits the notion that since God must arrive at moral conclusions in the same way that humans do, by appealing to conscience and logic, we can dispense with the need for a moral Law Giver as the ultimate source of human morality. The point that Krauss has missed is that God doesn't appeal to logic or conscience to conclude that rape and murder are wrong; rather, God's nature is inherently moral and good, such that things like rape and murder, which contradict God's nature must therefore be wrong. Besides, when man appeals to his own human logic and conscience, the possibilities for evil seem boundless. Does the murder of nearly 60 million pre-born babies in the United States since 1973 really sound like a good and moral thing? Yet with our national conscience supposedly intact, we tend to treat it as if it were.
    Of course it is possible that God does not exist, but as a scientist, the intellectually honest thing for Dr. Krauss to do would be to consider all possible explanations, even those that initially appear far fetched, and to eliminate possibilities only after the evidence clearly warrants. Regrettably, Dr. Krauss appears to have allowed his desire that there not be a God (a position he freely admits to having) influence how he interprets the evidence of apparent nothingness. Though probably quite sincere, his explanations of the nothing that must exist in order for our magnificent universe (or multi-verses, as Krauss often suggests) to come into being, sounds uncannily close to being something, just something we don't yet fully understand. In fact, at certain points in the book the author seems to be saying that something can come from nothing if you first allow him to redefine what "Nothing" is. Even the brilliant (by his own estimation) evolutionist Richard Dawkins who provides the afterword for the book, confesses that he doesn't fully understand his colleague's explanations. Perhaps that is because there is very little here to understand, and instead of a book honestly examining one of the great mysteries of science, what Dr. Krauss has given us is a convoluted bait and switch, elegant and sophisticated at times but when it's all said and done, just a con. In the end, after nearly 200 pages, the reader is still left with nothing.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2013

    Wbsv&&$&%$$'$%%254%wqf sgsv%%%%%$





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  • Posted October 26, 2012

    This was a good read. I only had problems with some of the book

    This was a good read. I only had problems with some of the book because my lack of education in this subject area. I would still recommend the book though because the main subject of nothing from nothing was understood.

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  • Posted July 7, 2012

    A bit hard to follow at times, and somewhat conviluted, but info

    A bit hard to follow at times, and somewhat conviluted, but informative none the less.

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