The Paradox of Existence

These Great Debates aren’t great enough for me, so I thought I’d throw this flaming puppy out:

FACT: Everything has a beginning.
FACT: Something cannot appear from nothing.

ENIGMA: The universe exists.

How do you reconcile the enigma with the two facts? Obviously at least one of the two facts is incorrect, but for a logical mind, it’s inconceivable to throw either of them out. Where did the Singularity before the Big Bang come from? Is our whole perception of the universe way off? Could we even comprehend the truth? All you theoretical physicists and astral philosophers: It is your hour, do your thing.

Time has a beginning.
Before time started, there was no way to measure the difference between something and nothing, as doing so would require a temporal relationship between cause and effect. That leaves the difference between something and nothing indeterminate.
In other words, your definitions of something and nothing are only valid back to the first moments on the time axis. Trying to project your facts further back than that will only result in error.

Virtual particle pair materialization.

Your second fact can no longer be considered indisputable.

just a quick question Spiritus Mundi,
does Virtual particle pair materialization violate the 1st law of thermodynamics?

Who says everything has to have a beginning? Cite?

I admit my first fact is a little iffy and vague, Diogenes. I have nothing to cite other than intuitive logic, which I’m well aware is completely useless in a scientific discussion. However, I’d like to see you argue the other way: How could anything NOT have a beginning? What is the reason for something to have existed for an amount of time equal to infinity?

Squink: How did time “start?” At what point does the time axis begin? The Big Bang? Why? How?

Sorry to be a nuisance in my own thread, but Spiritus Mundi: please explain what virtual particle pair materialization is. I’m not expecting this thread to remain in layman’s terms, but do try to explain as if a person has had no access to scientific journals.
(I do assume that the laws of thermodynamics and relativity are understood by all, however)

—does Virtual particle pair materialization violate the 1st law of thermodynamics?—

Not the law strictly: 0 = 1 + -1

But some feel that it violates the spirit of the law.

That’s a common enough statement, but despite your assertion that “it’s inconceivable to throw either of them out”, I’d say it’s merely a matter of semantics that is no real way true.

As a guiding principle, it works reasonably well in everyday human terms, kind of like the heliocentric view of the universe. It worked pretty well – you can still navigate to just about anywhere in the world with it – but then Copernicus (or is it Kepler?) came along and showed us that it was completely and fundamentally wrong.

EHAB is the sort of idea that ID’ers throw around as if it were a fundamental principle of the universe rather than just a word game. Whatever we call a thing is just a collection of atoms that have come together in some shape. Those individual atoms have probably been around since matter first condensed out of the big bang’s remnants. For that matter, they or some of their constituent particles might have been through the energy/matter conversion process in the depths of a star a time or two since then. Regardless of which path they took, where can we place the beginning of anything? What does that mean for the EHAB principle?

Here’s a ferinstance, the watch on my wrist was made in a factory in Japan a year or so ago. But wait, the components that went into it might have been cut from raw metal in Indonesia six months before that. But wait, the metal they were cut from was created from ore that might have been dug up in Australia. But wait, that ore had been sitting there for millions of years. That ore got there as a result of hot matter spewing out of a supernova several billion years ago.

The question then is, when and where did my watch begin? Was it Japan, or Indonesia, or in the big bang, or maybe some unknowable event (if the word even has meaning in that context) before the big bang. My watch, like everything else in the universe including me and you, did not have a beginnning, it’s just matter that went through some name changes.

Standard disclaimer: I am not a physicist
Virtual particle pair materialization is a predicted effect of quantum electrodynamics. In brief, virtual particle pairs (one matter, one anti-matter) are particles that spontaneously pop into existence and are anihilated in reaction almost instantly (i.e. before they can be measured directly). These particle pairs are continually materializing out of the Quantum Field and then annihilating each other.

However, sometimes the virtual particles can be separated before they meet and annihilate, thus giving rise to “real” particles out of “nothing”. This can happen (theoretically) in both high energy photon fields and in regions of intense gravity. To my knowledge, this type of particle materialization has never been measured directly, but virtual particles do have effects upon atoms and those effects have been confirmed experimentally (the Lamb shift, the Casimir effect).

So, virtual particles can quite certainly materialize out of “nothing”, and there is strong theoretical support for the idea that “real” particles can be materialized out of “nothing” under the right circumstances, too.

errata The Second Law specifies a closed system. At the quantum level, it appears that no system is truly closed. However, a virtual particle pair materialization does not increase the energy of the system. The sum energy of teh matter-antimatter pair is zero.

Oops, not sure how I read “Second” for “First”, but the answer is essentially the same.

There doesn’t have to be a “reason,” it just can’t be logically ruled out. This universe could be part of an infinte series of universes which arise from and return to the quantum field. This particular universe probably had a beginning, but that doesn’t mean that “existence”, in a greater sense, had to have a beginning.

Doesn’t string theory preclude this from happening, because it asserts the smallest components of matter are too large to allow this sort of vitual particle foolishness?


I have little knowledge of string theory, but I would be very surprised to learn that it contradicts the existence of subatomic particles. I would also be very surprised to learn that it invalidated virtual particles in any other way. As I said above, the indirect interactions of virtual particles have been verified experimentall yin more than one manner. Now, perhaps string theory proposes an alternative explanation for those experminetal results, but if so I have never seen it addressed.

I should clarify that: what I know of string theory is that it portrays what we now call subatomic particles as one-dimensional objects of incredibly short length and functionally 0 width. It does not, to the best of my knowledge, contradict any of the current quantum models for particle exchange during interaction.

a few things:

first, as to time’s beginning…it only has a beginning because we say it does. we say that time effectively began at time t=0 of the big bang, because due to the nature of mass/energy at that time, nothing before it could have measurably affected anything after it, so it is convenient to assign it a time of t=0.

next, vacuum energy might be considered something that creates something out of “nothing” and has been measured. i’m not sure if it’s because of virtual particle pair materialization (it’s been a while), but particles can instantaneously appear out of the quantum nothingness in a vacuum, and have been harnessed to a degree. a completely useless degree, but a degree nonetheless. experiments have been done in which instantaneously appearing particles pulled metal plates together, showing energy creation from “nothing”. i haven’t got a cite at the moment though.

so, quantum physics casts doubt on the traditional meaning of “nothing”. it may be that there is no such thing. there may be a very large difference between “nothing” and “nothing we can measure”.

now, as far as everything must have a beginning, it doesn’t seem completely intuitive to me. why is it that everything must have a beginning?

as an exercise, consider: did the “fact” that everything must have a beginning have a beginning?

"The sum energy of the matter-antimatter pair is zero."

At school I learned that when matter and antimatter collide, they are disintegrating (for the lack of a better word) into energy (radiation). I am not expert enough to say whether you or my teacher was right, unfortunately.

Otherwise I am with Apos when he said "Not the law strictly: 0 = 1 + -1"

I’m of the opinion that if you put the matter and anti-matter of the universe together and somehow balance the energy, you’ll come up with a 0, thus I also challenge CaptainBushido’s second fact, due to the equation presented by Apos :slight_smile:

Well, apparently the sites I dug up on google seem to support the gamma radiation theory when matter and antimatter collide:

The antiparticle in a virtual pair also is supposed to have negative energy, which goes back to zero when the pair annihilate.
the pair can only exist for an infinitesimal time, anyway, unless something like an event horizon intervenes.