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Sunday, October 28. 2018
"A TV interviewer recently asked Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, ‘What existed before the universe began?’ and was snubbed. ‘That’s a meaningless question.’ Oh no, it isn’t..."
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I don't think it's a "meaningless" question, but it's one that can never be answered by human beings. IOW, it's pointless to waste time speculating about the answer. Maybe that's what Hawking meant?
To a scientist, if a question has any meaning, then there exists some experiment (at least conceivable, if not necessarily practical to perform), the result of which will answer the question.
If there is no such experiment, then the answer to the question -- if there is one -- has no effect anywhere in the observable universe. That is meaninglessness, and therefore Hawking was right.
I think it's more that to any scientist, you must be able to create a counter-hypothesis that can be tested. Not so much a contrapositive as more a counter. So here, the question is "what existed before anything existed" and Hawking's reply is that is nonsensical.
I think it’s more that scientists are prisoners of scientism.
A question that can't be answered, however, is not meaningless. It's one that can't be answered by science. The "religion" of science won't acknowledge questions outside it's realm, and largely treats such questions with disdain, to include questions of morality and how to use science. I find Hawking's response one of a brilliant, but shallow thinker.
I think this is one of the proofs St. Augustine suggested for the existence of God: There must be some initiator, some first activator. That is, this apple tree came from an apple seed. That particular apple seed came out of an apple from this other tree. But that tree came from a seed out of an apple from another tree. At some point, where did the first apple tree come from, if not divinely created? So, what was there before the universe isn't a meaningless answer. AS for jdgalt, a better answer might be "The answer to that question is out of the realm of science as we know it." Or, more honestly, "The tools of science are too insignificant to answer a question of such great significance."
I maintain there are three ways to ask questions of the world: Science, Philosophy, Metaphysics.
Science deals with the physical - material world.
Philosophy deals with the conscious -mental world
Metaphysics deals with spiritual world. (Mankind is conscious of a spiritual world as all cultures have a religious understanding of the world.)
You are correct in that Science is limited in its scope.
The question that was meant was "Where did the universe come from?"
The question that he answered was "What happened "before" time existed?" Since there was no time before time existed, the "before" is not meaningful. That does not, of course, mean that nothing exists outside of our spacetime, it just means that our notions of time don't apply to relationships between us and it.
I don't know if Hawking intended to dodge the question or not. I suspect he did, or perhaps he wanted to show off.
Hawking has made his disdain for religion well known. He has also declared the universe sufficient to bring itself into existence. How this happens without a lot of hand waving (which must have been difficult for him) he never explains.
The question was never meaningless if you don't presuppose a universe that can create itself ex nihilo. If something exists outside of time, it also existed before, exists currently, and will exist after since the perspective of one bound by time is in respect to their point in time.
Rather old column, don't you think? Hawking now knows more than any living physicist though I suspect he's not enjoying the answer.
In any case, Paul Johnson paints with a rather broad brush. He takes Hawking's disdain for philosophy and religion and smears all other physicists with it. He mistakes silence on subjects most of them are not experts on, religion and philosophy, as a rejection of those areas of thought. In my experience there are a lot of physicists who are conventionally Christian or deists (or even the dreaded intelligent design proponents). Here's one that is speaking up: https://www.michaelgstrauss.com/
Christian scientists seem about as welcome in science as pro-life women are in feminist groups. About a year or so ago, "Sky and Telescope" published an editorial by a Christian astronomer, and the pushback was fierce, and unabashed from a vocal group. The magazine had to explain it's reasoning in publishing such a heresy. Mainstream science today has very little room for philosophy, religion, and anything outside their rational world. That said, there are Christian's and religious believers out there, but they have to lay a bit low.
It is a critical question and the answer could make everything we believe about the universe totally wrong. Therefore he wouldn't entertain the very idea that he could be wrong.
If in the Big Bang, the mass of the universe were infinitely compacted, wouldn't infinite gravity slow down time infinitely--not even sure if one ever gets to point zero. Perhaps that's what he
meant? Isn't it more a question of what happens outside of time?
Even compacted, there had to be something to uncompact.
As Johnson noted in 2005: "I wish scientists were a little more modest."
Newton (on himself):
"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts."
Hawking was correct. If time does not exist, then "before" has no meaning. It's like asking what's North of the north pole.
It wasn't a snub, or an avoidance of the question, or pointless to ask, or a dodge. It's a statement of the posited geometry of the singularity when time itself curves around. "What's north of north?" is a meaningless question.
It boggles the mind and all of the most logical answers seem to deny our favorite religious beliefs. There really are only two possible answers:
1. The universe (the bigger universe not just "our" universe) is so huge it extends forever and has existed forever and always will.
2. It was all created oiut of nothing by a supreme power just to indulge this supreme being and when he/she becomes bored it will all disappear and there will be nothing, period.
False dichotomy. The first statement is not sensible. Hugeness is not a measure of time. The second statement is just an attempt to make a cute insult. The convenience of belief you attribute to religious persons is simply projection on your part. It must be hellish to live among all these people who just don't appreciate how smart you are.
Hawking has been coasting on reputation for a long, long time. His disability makes his story compelling. His actual thinking and advancing of his field, not so much.
It should have been obvious that I described more than one attribute the size and that it had been around forever. I did not conflate size and time.
That is the religious belief both stated and implied. God created heaven and earth did he not? It would be natural that before he created it that it did not exist.
P.S. that was a cute insult about my hellish life...
Back in school, I read "The First Three Minutes", by Steven Weinberg - a general science look at the Big Bang. Right up front, he admits it really should be called "The First 2 Minutes 59 Seconds and Change" because not only do we not know how the whole messed kicked off, we can't know that or anything that came before.
It was a good read. I suspect it holds up well.
Everything we think about and conclude depends on what we know or think we know. We think we know the speed of light but our conclusion may be the result of our ability to collect data and not accurate. To a blind man the speed of light is unknown and irrelevant BUT the speed of sound he would understand. When it comes to the universe we are all blind men or at least without perfect or even adequate vision. We know or think we know what we can see and observe. We interpret what we believe is evidence of past events based on often flimsy evidence. Then we tie all these things into a theory and if we do it with great alacrity it looks reasonable and without opposing theories it becomes the dominant theory. That alone does not make it correct but merely preferable to whatever else is offered. The simple fact is in most cases we don't know, we are guessing and we are often wrong.
OneGuy: Everything we think about and conclude depends on what we know or think we know.
While we don't know everything, we do have reasonable knowledge of some things.
OneGuy: We think we know the speed of light but our conclusion may be the result of our ability to collect data and not accurate.
Case in point: While every scientific finding is considered tentative, we have a very good idea how fast light travels.