Nothingness in LA on April Fool’s Day

The media and blogosphere today are full of April Fool’s Day jokes of various degrees of funniness. Then there’s the Los Angeles Times, which used the date to publish a piece by Lawrence Krauss entitled A Universe Without Purpose. It promotes the argument that the multiverse is science’s answer to religion, with in this case backing coming even from the LHC:

Out of this radically new image of the universe at large scale have also come new ideas about physics at a small scale. The Large Hadron Collider has given tantalizing hints that the origin of mass, and therefore of all that we can see, is a kind of cosmic accident. Experiments in the collider bolster evidence of the existence of the “Higgs field,” which apparently just happened to form throughout space in our universe; it is only because all elementary particles interact with this field that they have the mass we observe today.

Maybe it’s just my defective sense of humor, but I’m not finding this funny.

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30 Responses to Nothingness in LA on April Fool’s Day

  1. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Then there’s this quote:

    “Perhaps most remarkable of all, not only is it now plausible, in a scientific sense, that our universe came from nothing, if we ask what properties a universe created from nothing would have, it appears that these properties resemble precisely the universe we live in.”

    If we’re the products of an accident in the multiverse, these properties are, at best, a parochial curiosity among a vast ensemble of “universes” with unimaginably diverse properties, right? Does this not imply that if we ask what properties a universe created from nothing would have, it would appear that anything goes? How does anything remotely resembling “precision”, beyond perhaps a basic need for mathematical consistency, follow?

  2. billy the skeptic says:

    Okay – let me see if I’ve got this right:

    In order for us to explain our universe as NOT being part of some grand design or intended creation with a purpose – we have to assume that there are many of them?
    Meaning that some athiests are conceding that “how” our universe popped into existence is so unlikely that there must be many because if this is the only one, then it could possibly be due to purposeful creation? Really???
    How many other universes would need to exist in the multiverse in order to find our random but good fortune statistically plausable?
    I myself am an agnostic, which means the religious folk don’t like me because I’m a nonbeliever, and the athiests don’t like me because I have a fear of commitment.

    If you believe this multiverse nonsense, then I assume you must also believe we are far luckier than those 3 Powerball winners this weekend!

  3. Yatima says:

    >I’m not finding this funny.

    That’s because it’s not an April Fool’s joke, I reckon.
    But I don’t see where the problem is. Only a person deeply encumbered by religion would find anything to object here.

  4. Anonyrat says:

    Lawrence Krauss writes: “Asking why we live in a universe of something rather than nothing may be no more meaningful than asking why some flowers are red and others blue.”

    In order to come to this conclusion, he has to invoke the latest in cosmology and speculative particle physics theory.

    But I would say that “asking why we live in a universe of something rather than nothing” is a priori without meaning. It did not have and does not have any meaning within a scientific framework. The question is meaningful in the framework of one particular theology which, however, is hardly universal.

  5. Aidyan says:

    “…. all that we can see, is a kind of cosmic accident.”

    And what is an “accident”? What is in the eyes of a tiny ant the world outside of its anthill if not an unintelligible stream of random “accidents”?

  6. Pingback: Multiversum « Yasers hörna

  7. paddy says:

    Pardon me for waxing a wee bit pop-ish on this april fools day..but:
    (A) Just when did the jester steal the thorny crown of physics?
    (B) When did some physicists think it was okay to jump the shark?
    (C) How valid are their opinions in the face of the “Julie Andrews assertion”: i.e., “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could”.

  8. SpearMarktheSecond says:

    Krauss has always hopped on the publicity machine… `The Physics of Star Trek’. For a publicity guy, he knows a lot of physics, but he doesn’t care to mention that most of the mass in our own matter has nothing to do with the Higgs, but originates in dimensional transmutation in QCD, and that we have no idea whether or not the Higgs has something to do with the mass in dark matter.

    N-rays, polywater, faster-than-light-neutrinos, cold fusion… hype and hokum are always out there and always will be.

    Meanwhile new interesting physics always breaks out in areas overlooked by the publicitarians…. 100 or so earth like planets! Now that is real and exciting. Good that SETI got some money to point at them!

  9. Peter Woit says:


    Yes, but even giving Krauss the simplification of ignoring QCD and dark matter mass contributions, my problem is with the remainder. I don’t see what the justification is for claiming LHC Higgs results as evidence that the Higgs and its Yukawa couplings are “a cosmic accident”, “which apparently just happened to form throughout space in our universe”. The question of what the Higgs really is and where its Yukawas come from is a deep mystery we don’t understand. The multiverse philosophy is to sweep everything we don’t understand under the rug as a “cosmic accident”. You can do this if you want, but I don’t think you should claim experimental backing for this pseudo-scientific procedure.

  10. says:

    there’s science and there’s speculation… each can give rise to the other. Maybe all speculative ideas should be written in red type, just to remind us that they’re not science!

  11. SC says:

    “Only a person deeply encumbered by religion would find anything to object here.”

    I don’t think it’s the case that only religious people care about abuses of science. If someone runs around saying “science shows” what science doesn’t actually show (and may, in fact, be unable to show even in principle), anyone who values science should be annoyed. Even if the sentence is “science shows God doesn’t exist!”

    It’s as bad when an atheist does it as it is when a creationist does it. Perhaps worse, since at least one can easily identify the creationist’s bias.

  12. Bee says:

    I’ve figured it out: We live in a computer simulation, and it has a loose cable.

  13. Christian Takacs says:

    I am not a believer in creationist Mythology, but I certainly am not a believer in the Big Bang Theory ex nihilo ad nauseam either, because quite frankly, knowing with certainty anything that happened fourteen or more billion years ago is quite speculative to the point of absurdity, and claiming it popped out of nothing is “Credo quia absurdum”. Are the leaders of the scientific community really so scared of “I honestly don’t know, we still have to find out” that they debase themselves with the inaccurate bravado of “Oh yes, we know almost everything, we just have a few last calculations to work out” ? Think of it this way, if you can’t admit the limits of your knowledge, how are you going to actually to learn anything that will allow you to extend this limit? I think many potential scientists are discouraged from going into the sciences and making real discoveries because of the arrogance and hubris of the present scientific community that makes wild claims to knowledge they don’t possess, Much like Bohr telling Einstein “it is the best we can do and the best we can ever do”… Hogwash, pure and simple, it’s the fallacy of the appeal to (scientific) authority telling future generations not to look for answers anywhere that might challange todays dogmas.

  14. Emanuel Derman says:

    It is deeply dishonest to pretend he understands the mysteries of the Higgs, even more so to claim it follows from the multiverse. Probably it’s just PR.

    But, you don’t have to be a believer to see the wisdom of the following two statements:

    “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.” – G.K. Chesterton.

    And, from Saul Bellow:

    The philosopher Morris R. Cohen was once asked by a student, “Professor, how do I know that I exist?”

    “So?” Cohen replied. “And who is asking?”

    Thanks to Professor Cohen I feel that I stand on firmer ground, and can do what I have done all my life: i.e., to fall back instinctively on my first consciousness, which has always seemed to me to be most real and easily accessible. For people who have no access to any such core consciousness, no mysteries exist. Linguistic analysts aim to clear away all mysteries—alleged mysteries, they would say. Facts, however, must be respected, and the fact is that for reasons I can’t explain, my own first consciousness has had a long unbroken history. I wouldn’t know how to defend my faithful attachment to it. All I can say is that it is a fact and I wonder why anyone should feel it necessary to put its reality in doubt. But our meddling mental world puts all such realities in doubt. This world of truly modern, educated, advanced consciousness suspects the core consciousness that I take to be a fact of being inauthentic and probably delusive.

  15. BlizzardOfOz says:

    “The Large Hadron Collider has given tantalizing hints that the origin of mass, and therefore of all that we can see, is a kind of cosmic accident.”

    Yes, I’m sure the experiment “hints” “tantalizingly” at something he had already decided years ago. What a wanker.

  16. TB says:

    Peter said: “The multiverse philosophy is to sweep everything we don’t understand under the rug as a “cosmic accident”. You can do this if you want, but I don’t think you should claim experimental backing for this pseudo-scientific procedure.”

    That’s interesting as that’s the same (valid) criticism of religion when they shrug their shoulders and say “god did it.” I suspect the rush to a multiverse has more political motivations than scientific.

  17. TB says:

    SC said: “It’s as bad when an atheist does it as it is when a creationist does it. Perhaps worse, since at least one can easily identify the creationist’s bias.”

    Agreed. But that’s what seems to have changed in the past few years.

  18. Allan Rosenberg says:

    I’m a little disappointed by the four slash one post. I was hoping for some more NYC bakery recommendations or maybe a discussion of snide anti-string theory bumper stickers (“String Theorists Do It In Their Pants”). Maybe next year…

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Sorry Allan,

    Not much news on the NYC bakery or biking fronts I fear. After extensive investigation, I can report though that an excellent Kouign Amann can be found in Paris at the boulangerie/patisserie on the square where Rue Monge and Boulevard St. Germain come together (i.e. at the Maubert-Mutualite Metro stop).

    No one seems to have noticed this year’s much too subtle attempt at 4/1 humor, I guess no one reads the updates…

  20. Giotis says:

    Can’t you see why he is making this assertion Peter?

    Currently in LHC we have light Higgs but no SUSY. If these results remain it means that extreme fine tuning is needed similar to CC. This means accident and this means multiverse.

  21. Peter Woit says:


    Yes, I understand that argument very well. I just don’t agree with it. That the ratio of the electroweak scale to the Planck scale is a very small number is an observed fact that we don’t understand. Saying that “the multiverse did it” just isn’t a scientific explanation unless you have a viable theory of the multiverse, testable in some way, even indirectly (which you don’t). At the moment, “the multiverse did it” is just a pseudo-scientific statement, being used to claim you have a scientific explanation, when you really just don’t know what is going on. This is a bad idea for lots of reasons, one of which is the one David Gross emphasizes: promoting a non-explanation for something you don’t understand discourages people from continuing to do the hard work of trying to find a real explanation. If you’re the sort who wants to argue religion, this doesn’t seem to me a good way to go: arguing against one non-explanation with another non-explanation is not going to convince anyone.

  22. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    It’s not clear to me that the multiverse has any predictive value whatsoever, even in the complete absence of theoretical alternatives. If I read the history of the subject correctly, originally evidence of fine tuning in the value of the CC and phenomena at the electroweak scale, in combination with certain assumptions about what conditions were required to get flat universes with such-and-such matter content, complex chemistry, etc., left us with a stark choice between God or the multiverse. But those assumptions turned out to be far too narrow. Perhaps intelligent life and many other gross features of the universe we observe can be accommodated by a far greater range of constants, etc. than previously assumed. So it’s not even clear if we can make good estimates of probabilities of required conditions. Meanwhile, there’s probably no good way to estimate probabilities of finding some-or-other physical features in the Landscape. Apparently there are no solid constraints on, well, much of anything in the multiverse. You can simply posit its existence, twiddle the available knobs however you like, and satisfy yourself that what you get bears some resemblance to what we see.

    If I’m totally or partially wrong about the above, I’m all ears. But, again, I haven’t the foggiest idea where the notion of “precision”, or anything remotely like a veritable “prediction” comes into any of this.

  23. Dan Winslow says:

    I’ve always wondered what ‘random’ means. People throw it around a lot in relation to quantum thingies and cosmology…Krauss uses it a lot. Lots of phrases like ‘…and then through random fluctuations of … ‘. But I’m not sure that the term random has any absolute meaning. I think it just means ‘for reasons unknown’…right? I think there’s a paradox about randomness, in that if you can define rules for deciding whats random then it’s no longer random, or something along those lines. Can any of the high powered folks here elucidate?

  24. paddy says:

    For my own April fools day exercize I attempted to calculate the transition probability from something to nothing and vice versa. That pesky density of states on the “nothing” side unfortunately kept coming up zero (e.g., nada, null, and–doh!–nothing). Not wishing to admit defeat, I am currently (a la a recent arxiv paper cited somewhere in this blog) attempting to sequentially approach “nothing” with diminishing state densities (as well as diminishing returns). Once again though I have a problem: trying to be careful about uniform convergence issues I keep losing track of my epsilons and deltas (physicist you see not a mathematician). Should someone find these characters (subscripted with “nothing”) I would be happy if they returned them.

  25. Peter Woit says:


    The problem with current multiverse theories is that there is no viable underlying theory which would explain exactly what the different possible effective laws of physics would be, and allow computation of probability of any particular set of effective laws.

    So, instead, people just talk about the “measure problem”, and say things are “random”, giving equal weight to all values of various parameters, for no reason other than that they don’t know what else to do. This has exactly the same implications as my “theory”, which is: I have no idea what determines the value of that parameter, so, a priori could be anything. This kind of “multiverse theory” is identical to complete ignorance. More honest if you ask me to just call it what it is.

  26. Don Murphy says:


    Nothing is wrong with your sense of humor.


  27. Casey Leedom says:

    Okay, since you didn’t find that funny, try A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney The New York Times author managed to find a way to very humorously integrate modern physics — including a multiverse reference — into the current year’s political landscape.

    Note that I am explicitly not posting this as a “political” comment, simply as a humorous use of “physics speak” in the popular media. It would have been just as funny if it was about Obama, etc.

  28. N. says:

    @Christian Takacs:

    You see, you get no funding for saying “I don’t know”…

    It’s much wiser to say “I know almost everything about it, just need a little (better: a lot) more money”.

    That’s it.


  29. Adrian_H says:

    I’m not a great fan of Albert — his pugnacious style is off-putting to me, and he tends to weigh in too heavily on particular sides of debates. But I have to say that I completely agree with his review of Krauss. He nails it. OK there is still too much rhetoric, too much “this, and that, and tother, and your mother” rankling through the prose, but he is right about the way that Krauss is wrong.