Taner Edis

April 4, 2012

“Class participation” grade boost

Filed under: Class discussion @ 13:00

In your syllabus, you will see that 5% of your overall grade comes from class participation. Some of you have been pretty active in class, asking me interesting questions and so forth. But the majority have been quiet. So, if you want something better than a participation grade based on an impression like “well, I remember she was there most of the time, but she really didn’t ask many questions,” here is an opportunity.

One of my goals in this course is to get your knowledge about physics to a level where you can appreciate public conversations about physics, including recent developments in physics. So here’s your opportunity:

  1. Read “A Universe Without Purpose,” a recent LA Times op-ed by a big name physicist, Lawrence Krauss.
  2. Comment on it in the comments sections following this post. (Here, not on the LA Times comment section.)

The op-ed is interesting because it is connected to physics, but it also takes a culturally controversial point of view. Krauss is an expert on physical cosmology, but his readers’ interest in what he writes is likely due to the fact that he draws conclusions in areas related to philosophy and religion, in which Krauss is not an expert. You might say he’s being a good liberal-arts person. But then, as good liberal-arts students, you might have something to say yourselves about interdisciplinary matters that you are not experts in.

Things you might ask yourselves while reading the op-ed:

  • When Krauss refers to physics, does it look like he’s talking about established, reasonably certain knowledge, that will soon make it into textbooks? Or is he bringing up cutting-edge ideas that are much less thoroughly tested, and therefore much less certain?
  • When Krauss makes connections between physics and certain conclusions about philosophy and religion, do you think he is doing a good job?
  • Given your background in physics so far, how much of an informed response to this op-ed do you think you have?

I don’t care about whether you agree or disagree with Krauss. I would hope, however, that after a year of college physics, you would be better able to join in cultural conversations involving physics.

If you want to demonstrate this, leave a thoughtful comment. (It doesn’t have to be very long—I don’t want to read 40 long essays.) Please include, in your comment, some way I can identify you. If you don’t want to use your name in public, please also email me a note telling me you made a particular comment, so I can adjust your class participation grade accordingly.

35 Comments

  1. Krauss’s “A Universe Without Purpose” is at best a failed attempt to influence those who deny the evidence of contemporary physics and at worst an essay without a purpose. The apparent strategy behind Krauss’ essay is to “tear them down to build them up.” He uses non-inspirational technical language to posit a situation in which humanity’s concerns are demonstrably not those of the universe as a whole, a situation that should “tear them down,” and then attempts to use this position to prime the reader to more powerfully accept that “Instead of divine purpose, the meaning in our lives can arise from what we make of ourselves, from our relationships and our institutions, from the achievements of the human mind.”

    If Krauss intends to convince individuals who believe in a creator god that because our universe does not require a creator then one does not likely exist, he likely does not succeed. From the perspective of such an individual, the universe does not appear designed as Krauss suggests, at least not at a human level. Our world is plagued by (in the words of George Carlin): “War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades.” Presumably, the job of faith in a creator is to allow a mechanism by which our horrific position can be salvaged. If this is so, then Krauss is attacking a minor point of belief (god as first cause), not a central tenet that maintains belief’s heartbeat (god as savior from death, etc).

    When challenged to provide alternatives to these emotional benefits of belief, Krauss’ model of the universe fails to provide a solution. Instead, he’s demonstrated that the universe of physics is indifferent to humanity. In the same way clever believers appeal to positive emotion in attempts to convert others (with talk of a father figure, heaven and the like) and tend avoid the whole “Hell” business, Krauss would be better served to avoid framing the debate around a future universe in which everything, everywhere is shrouded in darkness, a model that seems more likely to drive a believer towards faith than away. This failure, combined with what appears to be a misleading blending of experimentally demonstrated physics and theoretical physics, makes this essay both ineffective in convincing believers and ineffective at inspiring physics-loving readers who catch his exaggerations.

    TL;DR Krauss’ essay demonstrates ignorance of why believers believe, and his writing style is word potpourri that fails to humanize science. He’s no Bill Nye.

    Comment by Shane — April 6, 2012 @ 20:49

  2. I concur with Shane that “at worst an essay without a purpose.” Krauss’s statement that “mapmakers confronted the realization that the Earth was not flat” is false – the Earth as a sphere was postulated and assumed by ancient Greek philosophers. He seems to contradict himself, near the end of the article; when he writes “if we ask what properties a universe created from nothing would have, it appears that these properties resemble precisely the universe we live in,” yet the “laws of physics we depend on may be a cosmic accident.”

    Also, Krauss does not mention how this scientific ex nihilo gives possibility to there being no divine guidance or purpose; well Christian theology has affirmed creation ex nihilo. The only clue Krauss gives is the word ‘spontaneously,’ which only counters teleological proofs for God not cosmological or contingency proofs.

    Comment by Thomas H. — April 7, 2012 @ 18:25

  3. This article does an excellent job of pointing out that with each century of physics, the previously thought impossible becomes a possibility. As we make new discoveries, new evidence breaks the basic beliefs once thought to be concrete. Instead of providing more answers, it raises new questions.
    New discoveries also affect religious beliefs which were formed when little was known about the universe and its vast expanse. With the limited knowledge that people hundreds of years ago had to base religion on, their beliefs make sense and coincide with what was known at the time. The author of the article does a good job at pointing out that new scientific discoveries provide alternative theories of the source of our existence.

    Comment by Nicholas Schnur — April 7, 2012 @ 18:26

  4. Honestly, this stuff is way over my head. Even simple physics eludes me. I’m not sure I understand Krauss’ statement, “We now know that most of the energy in the observable universe can be found not within galaxies but outside them, in otherwise empty space, which, for reasons we still cannot fathom, “weighs” something. But the use of the word “weight” is perhaps misleading because the energy of empty space is gravitationally repulsive.” I can’t comprehend how empty space has a “weight”, which he himself admits can’t be fathomed, so how does he state such an idea?

    QUESTION: What keeps air from escaping Earth’s atmosphere into space? If it’s just Earth’s gravity, are we still losing air to space slowly?

    I really liked Krauss’ comparison of today’s mapping of the universe (or multiverse) to the mapping of Earth. It really is a constant battle of theories and new discoveries except in this case we probably will never truly “know”. I think it’s a neat idea that science has the possibility of explaining the universe without a greater power. I think Krauss did a fairly good job of presenting the plausibility but also leaves room for a higher power.

    Comment by Annie Ngo — April 8, 2012 @ 01:19

  5. Overall, Krauss provides a bland summary of recent findings in physics and touches on how ideas have changed. After a semester of introductory college level physics, I see no “new” news here. Recognizing the sheer magnitude of how much more we know about the universe than we did in the past 80 years, it remains evident that in our lifetime, the parameters in which we see the cosmological universe and physical phenomena will be revolutionized. Or, at the very least, shift drastically due to new discoveries and theories.

    Along the same train of thought as Thomas, I agree, the article does change its focus in the remaining paragraphs. Originally, Krauss holds that our universe and the existence of humans arose without purpose and without a creator. However, then he partially retracts this statement with the following opinion that the universe and human creation may not just be attributed to random occurrence. As a religious, liberal arts student, I glean from cosmologist Krauss’ undertone a sense to find meaning from the time that we spend on the earth in a universe with purpose. And with a creator.

    Comment by Bridget Waller — April 8, 2012 @ 12:49

  6. I thought this article jumped from topic to topic on a very shallow level while attempting to instigate controversial discussion. Surprisingly “A Universe Without Purpose” seemed to lack any purpose or direction in itself. As the article progressed it was very noticeable that Krauss’ use of the word “know” was way too frequent and essentially a drastic overstatement. Matters involving the structure/order of the universe, if I’ve learned anything from this class, are more-so complex assumptions and hypothetical calculations rather than concrete truths. I enjoyed some of his metaphors like modern science being similar to “the early mapmakers redrawing the picture of the globe even as new continents were discovered.” This, however, seems contradictory to the validity of some of the bold claims he attempted to make.
    For a big time physicist this piece seemed lazy and merely for publicity of his new book. Hearing Professor Edis say something along these lines in class might have biased my opinion but at the same this article seemed to jump from the talking about the origins of life to the macro and microscale structure of the universe and finally to supposed benefits adopting these ideas sociologically in ‘man’s search for meaning.’ While I didn’t get much from this piece maybe that was the author’s intent in trying to stimulate interest in his new book.

    Comment by Ram Golan — April 8, 2012 @ 18:51

  7. First of all, stating that design in the universe in “an illusion” will certainly instigate strong responses. Perhaps, along with expressing his own personal opinions and promoting his new book, this was his intention. Opinions concerning the relationship between science and religion are extremely variegated, with some thinking that they are incompatible, and others saying that they completely coincide. Debates on these subjects have existed for hundreds of years and will probably continue as long as humans exist. Initially, Krauss assumes that the complexity of the universe eliminates the possibility of a divine being. Interestingly, as noted by other commenters, he does not completely rule out the idea near the end, implying that he is not completely sure. Indeed, the ideas of science, religion, and how they relate are very important, and new knowledge gained changes how we view the universe and everything in it.

    I do like Krauss’ point when he says that science forces us to step out of our comfort zones. Relativity, the existence of multiple universes, and the expansion of our universe are just a few of the many scientific topics that seem very weird and, for some, uncomfortable. This is not new, however. Looking in the past, humans have believed a lot of things that we would now consider absurd, such as the world being carried on the back of a turtle and the earth being flat. Regarding the latter case, evidence that showed otherwise, no matter how compelling it was, was condemned by many, who were more comfortable with the older ideas. New discoveries in science are fascinating and exciting, but they also bring many challenges, both intellectually and philosophically. The great debate is to what degree should we change, if at all, our former beliefs, and how these changes will affect our sense of morality and purpose, or lack thereof; the response is different for everyone.

    Comment by Lisa Clark — April 9, 2012 @ 19:42

  8. Whenever I think of the science I think of a moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when King Arthur and his men approach Camelot. One of the squires says “it’s only a model.” and whenever I learn something new in one of my classes I always think of that line. The reality is some people live in a dynamic world that is subject to change given the right body of evidence to convince them that their model are incorrect or more limited than another, while other people live in a static world where the die of their models have been caste and they simply live within the confines of these constructs. This article fails in my eyes because it either seeks to bring about dynamic character changes in static people or it seeks to market itself to people who already accept its tenants and are in no need of ideological reinforcement.

    Comment by Benjamin Barndollar — April 9, 2012 @ 20:48

  9. In the ever evading mysteries of space, Krauss attempts to theorize upon philosophical significances based on physics concepts. Drawing from the concepts of relativity allow him to provide speculative evidence to support his goal for the reader to merely “ponder a universe without purpose”. These modern concepts allow Krauss to achieve a very difficult task: to think of the universe we live in as a mere piece of what could be a game with an infinite number of pieces. I feel that the concept of a “multiverse” is astonishing, and his argument about our universe coming into existence from nothing is a very confusing, yet interesting concept.

    At one point in this article Krauss refers to the creation of our universe as a possible “cosmic accident” and draws that questioning the purpose of “why we live in a universe of something rather than nothing” as an irrelevant and likely answerless question. Along with this argument, there is an implied probability game because we do not know for example, why if I were to roll 300 fair dice and have them all land on the number 6. This outcome merely occurs because it is a possibility and if you were to asked why this happened in retrospective curiosity, that is the only possible answer. Thus, I would not agree with Krauss’s declaration of our existence as a “cosmic accident;” Our existence, at the very least is the result of a possibility, regardless of the any consideration into probability of that event occurring.

    His relation of physics concepts to creationism are worded in a defensive manner, stating that even if these ideas are true, there is still purpose to life, religious based beliefs aside. Implying perhaps an adverse belief that he possesses among the concept of creationism & associated religious beliefs, and an emphasis on the future & salvation. All in all, I really liked the speculative nature of the article, and how he tied in so many ideas of physics to draw conclusions into his beliefs about what a universe without purpose may look like.

    Comment by Chris Robinson — April 9, 2012 @ 23:24

  10. Last semester I took the Geometry of the Universe JINS class, and I find myself puzzled as to why Mr. Kraus is publishing this in the LA Times. There is nothing within this article that is particularly “new” among cosmologists. On the other hand, I note that this was published on April 1st, also known as April Fools Day, making me wonder if this article is in some way a joke to the author.
    Regardless, as to the content, Mr. Kraus’ knowledge of physics seems to be solid, and it’s in keeping with his line of work to philosophize by extrapolating from science into ideas. I do find it curious that he almost makes a case for there being no god, but backs away from that, and merely concludes that humans have purpose whether or not a god exists.
    On that note, his argument that everything (the way the universe has gone since the big bang) could easily have happened any number of equally probable ways, is a curious way of determining that a god may not exist. Given my knowledge of biology (limited) and chemistry, the type of universe necessary for life to really thrive as it does is actually very very improbable. I conclude that there are two basic conclusions from this, a). it’s all a coincidence or b). it’s not. I do wish Mr. Kraus had actually taken a stance.

    Comment by Jacob Roth — April 10, 2012 @ 08:25

  11. This article is a well-written op-ed piece in that the author knows his audience. Said audience doesn’t have lots of physics background so any attempt to really explain(read: lots of math) the ideas concerning the nature of matter and empty space would be wasted. I got the sense it was an invitation of sorts, here are these introductory ideas now you can go look them up if you want to learn more. I also liked how he explains the state of contemporary physics by essentially saying we have learned enough to conclusively say we don’t really know anything.
    On the other hand, I did not agree with the opinion of the piece in that I’ve never understood the desire to force “how” and “why” together into one thought, they exist as separate words already. By that I mean attempting to apply physics, and by extension all science, to the ontological ramifications of the universe. The biggest problem I have with Krauss’ attempt to use physics to answer “why” questions is that the empirically supported and objectively arrived upon theories begin to lose their objectivity. This will happen anytime you attempt to argue/compare any two ideas, the ideas must be redefined in terms of one another otherwise its apples to oranges but I digress. The bottom-line is that anytime you take a statement like, “which began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago”, and place it in the context of why the universe exists you are no longer making a purely objective claim backed up by a nontrivial amount of indirect empirical observation, rather, a leap of faith because no one really knows. In other words, trying to force science to answer the great ontological questions forces one to place the very same faith in the science answer as one would the religion answer. The strength and beauty of science is that you get to question everything, supposed too even. One of the prerequisites for answers to ontological questions is some immutable Truth on which to hang your faith hat.

    Comment by Mike B — April 10, 2012 @ 09:12

  12. Krauss’s ‘A Universe Without Purpose’ brings nothing new to the ‘first cause’ debate. Krauss does a bad job in that he separates ‘first cause’ groups into two broad categories. Either you have a divine cause or a cosmic accident. A majority of people, who want some purpose in life, want an explanation more than, it just worked out. In this regard, Krauss does a poor job of persuading teleological minded people for an accidental universe. Also, Krauss gives no new scientific evidence, making no scientific step forward in his position of the cosmos.
    Overall, Krauss is pretty one sided when it comes to a ‘first cause’. Which at any point in our scientific knowledge is nothing more than a best guess. All theories and laws in science are built on pedestals in a sinking swamp. New scientific knowledge creates a more stable pedestal but one will never be able to say that what is on their pedestal is absolutely true. I feel like my philosophy in science class gives me more of an informed response than physics does. The basic understanding of physics that I have is only a small piece in the large puzzle that is the relationship of science and in this case, religion.

    Comment by Tracy B — April 10, 2012 @ 11:52

  13. Honestly the first thing that caught my attention was when the author mentioned the position of the Earth around the sun. I want to be an elementary teacher and a lot of kids think that we have different seasons according to the distance from the Earth to the sun. They have this ellipse image (which is what I was always taught), but they don’t understand the Earth’s tilt. There are so many misconceptions in science. Is it because we speculate so much about things we can’t always see or test?
    Anyway, I like how the author mentions how we continue to be surprised with all the discoveries we make. There is always something new to learn about. We are naturally curious. I’m still confused about something else the author mentioned. How do we know that most of the energy in the universe is outside galaxies?

    Comment by Amanda Sheeran — April 10, 2012 @ 16:40

  14. In critiquing articles, I first attempt to identify the author’s overall purpose and target audience. This task proved to be very challenging with Krauss’ article and my findings shape the way I will respond to the prompts regarding Krauss’ skill in making connections between science and religion as well as determining if I am informed enough to critique his ideas.

    First of all, as many other students have pointed out, the article appears rather cluttered with a multitude of vague references to scientific discoveries. Krauss’ conclusions about the universe arising by chance do not follow the premises he provides if the reader has merely a simple understanding of the basic laws of physics, as I do. I do not have enough knowledge about modern physics to understand why Krauss thinks that Higgs field discoveries are relevant to the creation debate. In my mind, he appears to be missing connective ideas between the “facts” he mentions (such as: most of the energy of the observable universe is found in the empty space outside of galaxies) and the conclusions he arrives at. If Krauss were appealing to an audience of other cosmology experts, the logic in his arguments may be valid. However, from the reference point of a person with only basic introductory physics knowledge, this article is merely confusing and overwhelming. If Krauss is attempting to draw an audience of those he wishes to convince that intelligent design is bogus, he has drastically limited his audience to only cosmology experts who believe in intelligent design. I assume that this specific audience is one of miniscule proportions in society. If Krauss wished to reach audiences of people with reasonable, basic physics understanding, I think he should have condensed the article to include only a couple facts as premises to his conclusion, and he should have expanded on the relevance of those premises.

    One more observation I made while attempting to decipher the article is that Krauss, from the start, assumes that science is seen as an enemy to religion. He uses combative language and emphasizes that those who are religious “fear” new discoveries will disprove what they define as their purpose in life. As an avid Catholic with a passion for learning, I have never seen scientific knowledge and discovery as a threat to my religion. Rather, I view my quest to understand the composition and movements of the universe as means to understand the power and beauty of my God. Perhaps God is who set the Big Bang in motion-it did not have to be contrary to the existence of God. Krauss’ confusing tangle of vague statements is not going to sway me into denouncing God, and Krauss only gives me that option. Either I believe what he is saying or I am living in a “fairy-tale world.” This type of argument and language is not going to draw in his opponents, but instead, it just might merely offend them. And with no clarification, for non-physics experts, to the relevance of the facts he spews, Krauss fails on all fronts to make a respectful, convincing argument.

    Comment by Emily R — April 10, 2012 @ 19:04

  15. With the knowledge of the last few lectures under my belt, I believe I was fairly well suited to understand almost all of the physics mentioned in the article, at least on the most basic level. Because many of these topics, related to relativity, had just been mentioned in lecture, I was not too impressed by them. For someone who has not learned anything about special relativity or even just physics in general, all of Krauss’s comments could be very mind-boggling.
    As some of the other students mentioned, I do not think he really went into any great detail about the most recent cosmological discoveries, but rather just touched on the surface of several. He did not make any incredible revelations, but just spewed already known facts in the face of people who disagree with him. By just bringing up, and not explaining in more detail, some of the concepts of contemporary physics, Krauss is simply providing those individuals that deny the findings of contemporary physics a stepping stone to form an argument against all that he is saying. For individuals that deny the findings of contemporary physics, and contemporary science in general, evidence is key. Skeptics cannot argue with facts (though they often find a way), but Krauss somehow forgets this notion and does not choose to include these facts to back up his bold statements.
    His intention with this article appears to me as a way for him to stir up controversy, especially with the forthcoming release of his new book. It seems like a way for him to get his name back out there, so people, who both agree and disagree with him will buy his book.

    Comment by Lauren R. — April 11, 2012 @ 09:21

  16. Though Krauss does seem to avoid delivering a clear purpose to his article, I believe his main goals was to point out the power of some of the discoveries that have been made in physics but also explain that these findings continue to be modified with new discoveries. Krauss emphasizes the significance of accepting but also understanding changes that our occurring in the universe. He explains that in time(a very great amount of time) much of our currently observable universe will seem to have disappeared from our view. While these ideas may seem “old”, their implications continue to bring about new questions and answers to be sought.

    To me it appeared that Krauss was not necessarily trying to justify that there is no divine or higher power in existence. Rather, he was emphasizing the importance of scientific questioning and encouraging others to not solely use divine creation as an answer to all complex questions. I do not think scientific discovery and progress needs to be in competition with the belief in a higher power. While Krauss states that it is science that pushes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to address difficult questions, religion is not so different from science in this respect. It does seem highly unlikely to me that we humans and even our universe would/could exist without a purpose. While physics can explain a great deal about our universe, I do not believe, or do not have sufficient physics knowledge to believe, that it can explain everything. Therefore, instead of discovery coming at the cost of and competing with a belief in the divine they can go hand in hand, an idea that may push scientists even more out of their comfort zones.

    Comment by Danielle W. — April 11, 2012 @ 10:56

  17. I found the article very interesting, although I do not agree with all of it. I found the statement, “But science has taught us to think the unthinkable. Because when nature is the guide — rather than a priori prejudices, hopes, fears or desires — we are forced out of our comfort zone” interesting because it is true, science does help us question our world. We are continuously trying to answer questions, and through furthering our knowledge this arises new questions. Science questions what was once thought to be truth, and helps to discover new ideas and ways of thinking. I completely agree with Emily R. when she discusses that, “the article appears rather cluttered with a multitude of vague references to scientific discoveries. Krauss’ conclusions about the universe arising by chance do not follow the premises he provides if the reader has merely a simple understanding of the basic laws of physics, as I do.” He did bring up many different concepts, but did not provide a significant amount of information to back up his thoughts. It seems as though what he has mentioned is almost welcoming counter arguments. The one thing I can take away from this article however is that we are continuously learning, and science helps us do that by questioning what was once considered to be the truth.

    Comment by Kirsten Krause — April 11, 2012 @ 11:06

  18. Overall, I thought the paper was too technical and jumbled for an op-ed in the LA Times. I don’t think the average LA Times reader would have understood the points Krause was trying to make. However, as a student with a basic understanding of physics, some parts of this article were interesting to me. I was fascinated by Krause’s statement that most of the energy in the universe actually lies outside of galaxies in empty space that somehow weighs something. This seems counter-intuitive to me that a great deal of energy is in empty space. What is even more mind boggling is that empty space can weigh something. It would be interesting to find out more about how this is possible and how we discovered this. I also thought it was interesting that, as several people have already mentioned, Krause asserts towards the beginning of the article that our human existence may serve no purpose, and therefore there may not be a creator. However, later in the article he appears to backtrack and leaves the door open, as if he is not certain one way or the other. I didn’t percieve this as instigating the science vs creationism argument, but rather as Krause acknowledging that science does not at this time have all the answers, and we need to continue to pose questions that push us to make new discoveries, which in turn will lead to a deeper understanding of the world that we live in and how it was formed.

    Comment by Haley Downing — April 11, 2012 @ 21:54

  19. I believe Krauss is attempting to make the argument that theology isn’t necessary to explain our physical world. However, I believe it could be argued that he has made science his own theology. He readily admits that his analysis does not result in a decisive conclusion that there is no God, only that it is possible. What that leaves us with is faith. Religious people have chosen to put that faith in a higher power whereas Krauss has chosen to put his faith into science, in the belief that all the mysteries of the universe will one day be made known through empirical evidence. He is also a human with fears, hopes, and desires after all. Along with this, he also explains that the universe viewed in hundreds of billions of years from now will be quite different than the picture we have now and that that image will be flawed much like it was at the turn of the last century due to the rapid expansion of the universe. Following this line of logic, how do we not know that the empirical evidence we accept as truth now is not also intrinsically flawed?

    Comment by Kara Rowden — April 13, 2012 @ 15:30

  20. As a lot of comments have mentioned, I too agree that Krauss is more or less jumping around, not really making much of a point. He is providing the reader with enough foreign information to gain an interest in such matters, possibly advertising for his new literature. But, as I have expressed in class, the idea of “something” coming from “nothing” as Krauss puts it is a concept that I have trouble coming to terms with. In my opinion, and I have yet to find someone who can challenge this opinion, “nothing” is impossible to conceptualize, much more observe empirically. When we think of “nothing”, we are essentially thinking of the lack of something, which is still something. So, when scientists say that our universe sprouted from “nothing”, I don’t believe that actual nothingness is what is being referred to. I believe that scientists are actually saying that the universe as we know it came from something rather than nothing (nothing being the idea which none can conceive). My question to this is where did that “something” come from?

    This being said, I have a very hard time imagining the universe, multi-verse, or whatever-verse spontaneously coming into being. I believe that it was either created by a higher power or that the “something” of the universe has eternally been. Whichever of these are true, we are faced with a very hard concept: either an infinite God or and infinite universe (from past to future). Because all that we as humans know is finite, either of these two ideas will be very difficult to accept as truth. These will also, in my opinion, never be explainable this side of death. Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that humans do their best to make sense of an unanswerable question by assuming the solution lies within finite reasoning.

    Comment by Ethan Jaeger — April 13, 2012 @ 23:46

  21. I also agree that Krauss seemed to be jumping around a lot, touching just the surface of several topics instead of trying to explain one or two. I felt like part of his article was dedicated to giving evidence against the belief that a higher power may have created the universe. He explained how science keeps tearing down classical lines of thought. He didn’t really allow for any kind of co-existence of religion and science. However, some of his points were very interesting. His point about most of the ‘weight’ of the universe is found outside of galaxies. I don’t quite understand this, and it is definitely something I would like to know more about. I also had trouble grasping how the gravitation forces could cause the galaxies to push away from each other – I thought gravitational forces pulled things together. Is it the interaction with the weight outside of galaxies that causes this?

    I was not satisfied with his explanation on the origin of mass. He did not describe what the “Higgs field” is, saying that it ‘just happened to form.’ This leads me to believe that the concept of the Higgs field is a new theory that may not have as much evidence to support it. He also claimed that combining ideas of general relativity and quantum mechanics could explain how ‘something’ can arise out of ‘nothing.’Not knowing very much about either general relativity or quantum mechanics, I don’t understand how he came to this conclusion and I would not be able to make an informed response to it. I would have to do research on the topic before I could come up with an informed response.

    Comment by Ronnie LaCombe — April 15, 2012 @ 15:40

  22. Krauss seems to be touching on the big points of his upcoming book in this article causing it to feel slightly light on details. The points he mentions make sense to me after the in class discussions we had about the article, but I likely wouldn’t have gotten as much meaning from the article before certain points were more fully explained to me. I like the way Krauss makes connections between science and religion. He isn’t forcing his view on others and isn’t saying his view is the correct view, only that it is scientifically possible. I feel this is a tasteful way to present the information given how controversial it could be. The scientific evidence he is using to support his claims is discussed in a way that makes me believe modern physics currently agrees with much of what he is saying. He states things using words like “know” and uses evidence from the LHC to support his statements making me believe he is in agreement with our best theories that explain how the world around us works and that this information could be published before long. I do feel that I am a long ways from fully understanding the details of the topics mentioned in the article but that may be deliberate on Krauss’s part to generate interest in his book when looking for answers. Overall the article was an interesting read and generated increased curiosity within me about how the universe around me works and how our understanding of the universe has evolved as time passes.

    Comment by Kyler Carlson — April 15, 2012 @ 20:05

  23. After reading “A Universe without Purpose” and my peers’ reviews of the article, I have come to a similar conclusion as the rest of the students. The article is just a ploy to gain notoriety as a controversial author. The article used physics to cover up the real topic that the article focused on. Does or doesn’t God exist? Krauss didn’t even give his own response to this question. Instead, he jumped back and forth with statements such as “the very laws of physics we depend on may be a cosmic accident” and “Does all of this prove that our universe and the laws that govern it arose spontaneously without divine guidance or purpose? No, but it means it is possible.” The introduction states “New revelations in science have shown what a strange and remarkable universe we live in.” The word new was a drastic overstatement. The fact that there were only a couple of physics theories briefly mentioned is disappointing enough, but that these theories were not cutting-edge was the biggest frustration. His technique of throwing out a physics theory and then dragging back the subject of theology was confusing to say the least. The oddest thing of all, though, was the random tangent about how we as human beings still all have meaning if there is no God. A scientific article shouldn’t end on a self-help note.

    Comment by Laura A. — April 17, 2012 @ 21:08

  24. This article seems to talk more about the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang, and how our previous misconceptions about the sheer size of the universe have been changed. We used to be limited by our lack of technology in viewing and speculating on the size of the universe, as stated, we believed that we were the one single solar system in the only galaxy. We essentially were the universe. However, much like the scientific community used to believe in an “Earth-centered” universe, the field of science and knowledge of the universe has improved greatly to say the least… It also talks about why some people do choose to believe in the intervention by some Divine Being. This brings up the question: how could we be so lucky as to be the only living, sentient beings in the entire universe if not for God’s powers? The answer more likely being due to the statistics and odds of it all. The article says that we are one solar system within a galaxy comprising of billions of solar systems and even more stars, all of this within an ever expanding universe of over a hundred billion galaxies. The odds, it would seem apparent, are very much so in our favor. It is ignorant and selfish to believe that we are the only one’s in the entire universe to be granted life. This is only a part of the article’s meaning…

    It also could be talking about how the scientific community may eventually go in a circle. The universe is expanding, and celestial objects are accelerating away at ever-increasing speeds, therefore, it is possible that in x-billions of years from now, neighboring galaxies may be so far away that they are hidden from view by even the most complex telescopes. So, it will seem that the viewer and his kind would be the only ones in an otherwise empty universe…

    Comment by Corey K. — April 18, 2012 @ 01:03

  25. Anytime people talk about the Big Bang, I always ask the question, “what particles collided to cause the ‘bang’ or what caused this ‘random’ event to occur?” I can understand how people attempt to explain the Big Bang, by analyzing the ways in which the universe works today. However, I would definitely need more information regarding the few seconds prior to the Big Bang and the Big Bang itself to help me better understand this article. This is because I always get caught up in the Big Bang itself, when reading or hearing postulates relating to said event. I just have a hard time understanding how something could appear from nothingness at random.
    I don’t understand why science and religion must be separate. Why is Divine Intervention by an infinite being so out of the question? Belief in said being does not discount the proof or occurrence of a Big Bang.
    After the in-class discussion regarding some of the topics mentioned in class, I do have a slightly better grasp on some of the information mentioned by Krauss. However, the author leaves so many questions unanswered, topics lacking detail, and many points not able to be understood without more information. This article could either make people angry and its contradictions with a greater life purpose or curious about the content of Krauss’s new book. Either way, I think the author served his point.

    Comment by Aubrey Crowley — April 22, 2012 @ 14:19

  26. I must say that my newfound knowledge of physics gives me appreciation for the forces at work in Krauss’s paper—expansion of the universe, energy (and thus massless mass) in “empty” space, and phenomena which seem to defy the laws of physics as we know them. However, I disapprove of his unscientific use of terms such as “accident” and “fairy-tale.”
    I am troubled by the assumptions that can be made involving the term “accident.” In a colloquial sense of the word, there must be a plan, or an expected “normal” series of events prior to the happening of an accident. It would seem that Krauss is trying to use this term as “something happening which almost never ever happens,” in which case he would be better served to discuss probability. This seems to me to be a necessary basis for a scientific discussion of universe “origins.” If the universe is infinite, and there are infinite universes even, then it lies within the realm of possibility that our planet, life, and intelligence exist. To suggest otherwise fundamentally weakens Krauss’s argument.
    Krauss’s use of the term “fairy-tale” is unnecessarily polarizing and implies an ignorance of literature, history, and religious thought. The term is demeaning in that it infers this: to consider the origin of the universe in any terms except those of cosmology is to think of them in terms of flowery children’s stories involving pixies and goblins. The term “myth,” in contrast, describes many of the stories told in the world’s religions. While a fairy tale is intended to entertain, myth is used to describe “how and why things are the way they are,” to explain even deeper observations of human feeling, and is not necessarily a dogmatic belief. For example, when the ancients observed lightning, some attributed it to the whim of a bolt-happy maniac in the sky. In one personification was held the explanation for at least two phenomena, the discharging of lightning across a macro-scale capacitor and the human emotion of anger. Krauss fails to use this to his benefit, and rather than trying to draw parallels between such ideas as the Christian God (an infinite, ultimately incomprehensible being) and infinite, unknowable content of the universe(s), shoots himself in the foot with nasty bit of gamma radiation.
    It strikes me that many scientists, in their headlong pursuit of scientific fact, have burned behind them the bridges that would allow them to convey that very knowledge to any except an enlightened few. Krauss apparently attempted to re-bridge this chasm, but failed to enlighten those on the other side and is quite likely to be pushed off the cliff by those in his own camp.

    Comment by Josiah Belzer — April 22, 2012 @ 15:04

  27. It appears that after reading this article, Krauss’s main focus is not on physics. He is discussing how our knowledge of the universe will never be complete. Once the life on our Earth dies out, there will be other life in the universe with the same knowledge that we first began with. He is saying that it is a never ending cycle of not knowing. It seems like Krauss just randomly throws physics into his discussion and it doesn’t really feel like it has a necessary place. However, his connection between physics and philosophy isn’t a good one either. Throughout the entire article he just sounds very vague and almost like he’s rambling on. In my opinion, this was not a very good article. Really, I think the entire article could just be written in a couple sentences and could still say the same thing.

    Comment by Meghan Knutson — April 23, 2012 @ 21:10

  28. As I read Krauss’s article, I come back to a question that I have asked many times, “Why do people feel the need to completely separate science and religion?” “Does it have to be one or the other?” Both science and religion have an incomplete knowledge of the world. In science, that is the cause for all of the research that is done. In religion, that is the cause for faith. Krauss uses the advances in science to state that it is possible that our universe came into being without any divine influence, but it does not prove anything. I think that he does overstep his boundaries a bit when he begins to talk about the purpose of a human life. He talks about the science behind the beginning of the world being an accident or a random chance. He says that seeing the world without a purpose will better help us to see reality. I disagree with this. I think that if people are going to see the world as an accident, and their very existence a random chance, what motivation to they have to live a purposeful life? This may be naïve or a too-optimistic point of view of the world, but I think that people need to have dreams and hopes for the futures. If our world has no purpose, then why should we? Krauss uses research and study to say that the world could have started without a god, and I will concede that he knows more about that than I do. However, I think it is presumptuous of him to think first of all that he is right when we clearly do not know all the facts. We have no idea where science will take us in the future. Second of all I think that he takes on the job of a philosopher rather than a scientist when he says that a purposeless universe would lead to purposeful people.
    -Sarah Ehlman

    Comment by Sarah Ehlman — April 24, 2012 @ 11:28

  29. I agree with some of the previous posts that Krauss seems to randomly throw physics and biology facts at the reader. I also think that it is important to remember that Krauss is a physicist and not a novelist. Krauss probably thinks about cosmology and evolution so often that the evidence behind them seems like common sense to him, which is why his writing seems to throw complex ideas around as if everyone understands them.

    I found it very interesting when Krauss discussed the possibility that in the distant future we will be unable to observe distant galaxies because they will be move away from us so quickly that we will be unable to observe them. The prospect of living in such an isolated state does not seem to support Krauss’ argument that living in a randomly created and unique universe is better than one created to justify our existence.

    I think that there are a lot of parallels between Krauss’ theories and those of Darwin’s. Evolution is governed by random chance and so it isn’t hard to imagine that physical phenomenon might be based on random chance as well. The theories that Krauss discusses in his new book probably won’t make it into text books until experimental evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that they are correct.

    Comment by Miles Wenger — April 24, 2012 @ 23:06

  30. People have been saying that the article is light on the physics and that it jumps around a lot. However, the article is in the New York Times, and is intended for the common man, not the physics major. The article isn’t supposed to change people’s minds, and it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table if you already know something about physics. The article could be a promotion because he has a new book out, or it could be just that he is one of the more renowned physicists at the moment, and he has just put a book out. If JK Rowling gets to publish an article, when her new books get published, why can’t the same happen in science?

    People above have also said that Krauss is contradicting himself. I disagree. He states that the universe “appears”, not that the universe “implies” to be tailored for human survival. It isn’t. Also, there is no need to bring the Christian god to the table, as he isn’t necessarily talking about the Christian god, but more about the many personal gods. He also is not implying that the universe came from nowhere. The space was already there. What I think that he’s talking about when he says that “we know things appear from nothing” is how quantum physics has shown that particles appear and disappear without a cause or effect.

    Contrary to what most religious people believe, science in humble. It admits that it isn’t absolutely certain, and that changes might have to be made to models, in order for the models to continue explaining what we know. It seems to me that religion isn’t humble. It has the “We have the truth” attitude. It has the lack of change in the face of new evidence. For me the aim of Krauss’ article was to open the religious’ eyes to the possibility of change in what we know, and an attempt to show them that change isn’t always bad. Change in scientific views is what leads us to a better way of life, better medicine, better energy solutions etc.

    Comment by Carlye Marszalek — April 25, 2012 @ 19:58

  31. Although I have a difficult time understanding the exact physics in Krauss’ article I find it interesting that he compares us to early map makers and in a way he is correct. We are continually learning and discovering so many new things that our concept of what is fact is constantly changing. That change is what is uncomfortable to some, those that wish to keep believing the world is flat because that is what they feel comfortable with. In that respect, he approaches the question of science and religion well; however at some points in his article he uses religion as a punch line instead of a way of thinking contrary to his own.

    It seems as though Krauss is using established physics theories and laws within the article, the science leading to the Big Bang, to support his ideas. Yet, he says that our laws of physics may have been a cosmic accident and that other universes may have different laws. If that’s the case could we be seeing something, or hypothesizing, over a universe that is not there? I’m not quite sure how different laws would affect universe interaction.

    Comment by Amanda Dunn — April 27, 2012 @ 17:53

  32. After reading and analyzing this article, I have been left with many questions. The concept of “nothingness” confuses me the most. I just can’t seem to fully understand what “nothing” really means. It seems that Krauss’s version of nothing still has many properties involved in it. So, is that actually nothing? As many students have expressed above, I am left confused about how “something” could arise from “nothing”. Especially since one of the first things I learned in physics were the laws of conservation of energy and matter in which states that neither energy nor matter can be created or destroyed.
    I also agree with Aubrey when she said, “I don’t understand why science and religion must be separate. Why is Divine Intervention by an infinite being so out of the question? Belief in said being does not discount the proof or occurrence of a Big Bang.”
    Overall, I agree that Krauss’s thoughts were scattered and he jumped around and seemed to change focus frequently. However, he did do an excellent job of stirring up controversy, to promote his book, which may have been his original intent in writing this article in the first place.

    Comment by Michelle Ingles — April 27, 2012 @ 18:55

  33. I would have to agree with previous students that this essay does seem to be without purpose. It took two reads just to figure out what he was trying to say but even then it was hard to follow the randomness of his thoughts.

    The essay appears to be nothing more than the thoughts of Krauss. As a person that has had a long education in science full of many theories that cannot be proven only supported this seems to be only a theory and one that cannot be supported very well. There are times that I feel scientists are just grasping at straws for a theory to explain the purpose of something and this definitely is one of those times. I do not feel that this theory is supported enough to be in textbooks.

    Despite my dislike for his overall theories which is basically the last two paragraphs of the essay, I would have to say that the paragraphs leading up to it were interesting to read. He made some interesting points in our human behavior such as the fact that like he accuses I could not imagine a world without a purpose and really makes the reader ponder the comments like this.

    Overall I think the essay would be interesting to think about from a philosophy point of view but as far as physics I think it is to early to really consider. But I am also a student with the bare minimum of physics I am allowed to have with little education and interest in modern physics ideas. I feel that I probably have a harder time thinking “out of the box” than physicists like Krauss do because I deal with well established and reasonable theories.

    Comment by Arin S. — April 30, 2012 @ 21:59

  34. It’s interesting to see the ideas of modern physics we have been discussing in class summarized in this article by a prolific cosmologist like Dr. Krauss. I also hold the idea of a “universe without purpose” and meaning that is subjectively derived from each individual’s experience so I agree with Dr. Krauss’s philosophical conclusions, based on the findings of his field of study. As a biology major, I see reason and purpose as ideas that stem from the general properties of life, not those of the universe as a whole. My experiences in College Physics and Dr. Krauss’s ideas certainly validate my own ideas.

    Moreover, I think it is important to remember that this is an op-ed article which, much like an editorial, tends to be short and express an opinion. The purpose of the article is not to formulate a sound philosophical argument. This would require a much longer article. Rather, I think Dr. Krauss wanted to stimulate thought, curiosity, and discussion among non-physicists with his piece.

    Comment by Adam Suarez — May 1, 2012 @ 20:19

  35. It’s truly disheartening to read through the other comments and see the primary focus of most of the critiques is on the author’s writing style. This is an op-ed by a physicist, not an English professor’s essay; one would do well to look beyond any faults with the structure or flow of the article, and instead tease out the article’s purpose itself.

    The biggest hurdle here appears to be not searching too deeply for revelations; as Adam pointed out, this is a two page op-ed, not a fully constructed philosophical piece. I would imagine students finding issue with the author’s style would be better suited reading his book for a more comprehensive examination of the issue, but doubt many would go so far.

    Onto the content itself, the basic message appears to be the author’s assertion that the understanding of physics we have gained within the last 80 years has finally allowed us to fully ignore the concept of a deity (in considering the beginning of the universe) once and for all. Krauss is not asserting there is no possible deity; rather, he lines up some basic evidence (bite sized pieces appropriate for an op-ed; we explored these issues more in depth during lecture) to suggest that the universe actually could have arisen without any “outside” intervention. This is a simple enough thesis, but unfortunately the author’s writing style appears to have been too high of an entry barrier for most readers.

    As for the implications, nothing is too revolutionary in what he postulates. The universe is without purpose; so what? To quote Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, “The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.” Demanding a universe with purpose relegates humanity and all other phenomena to nothing more than slaves dancing for a master’s amusement, abiding by the rules they set in place. A universe without purpose is nothing more than a sandbox in which anybody can be their own master.

    Comment by Alex Dalecki — May 2, 2012 @ 21:59

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