In January, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, published A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, a book that, as its title suggests, purports to explain how something---and not just any something, but the entire universe---could have emerged from nothing, the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory.Well, yes, "the kind of nothing." This is just how we got started, though: this "kind of nothing" isn't nothing at all. It's the potential for something.
It turns out that the New York Times ran a piece that we somehow missed containing a rebuttal on just the same terms as we have been making. The author was not me, though, but a better authority: a philosopher named David Albert, who also holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. I am gratified to learn that he raises substantially the same point.
"The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields... they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story."The Atlantic decided to interview only Krauss, so you can read the rebuttal-to-the-rebuttal. However, having done so, I can't say that I find it enlightening or even interesting. He claims that philosophy doesn't advance while science does; the reviewer points out that the basis of computer science and artificial intelligence is based on recent work in philosophy of language. 'Well, I was just being provocative,' but the important areas of philosophy are being subsumed by other fields. What about the ones that continue to produce insight? 'Those will be subsumed.' Bertrand Russell? 'He was a mathematician.' (Also a philosopher! As Albert is both a philosopher and a physicist.) It would be better to read St. Augustine on physics than the people reviewing his book, who are 'morons' (with, in Albert's case, a pair of advanced degrees in quite difficult subjects).
There is a point he's trying to make here, though, and if we are patient with him we can almost see it. He clearly misses the philosopher's point, but that's because he wasn't listening. Let's not make the same mistake. Just what is he trying to say beneath all that sneering?