I was recently pointed toward a presentation given by Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins on youtube entitled “Something from Nothing?” I have time only for brief comment, but the point is important. Suffice it to say as introduction that Krauss is apparently an advocate for a “something from nothing” physics, while (at least in the early part of the video) Richard Dawkins emphasizes that what Krauss is saying is NOT truly “something from nothing,” but is in fact “something from something.” The essential point that Dawkins makes is that just because we may fail to understand the facts involved, we are not justified in abandoning our grip on what is known and thereby entertaining the possibility that the unknown is “nothing.” The viewpoint Dawkins represents harks back directly to the point of Doctrine 24.
But what I want to comment on even more is a very troubling problem I see with Krauss’ presentation. Krauss’s wording leads his students to believe that he really means “nothing,” when, as Dawkins makes (relatively) clear, Krauss’s starting point is actually a (currently) poorly-understood form of latent energy. The point is that if this latent energy exists at all, then it is “something.” We may fail to understand it, but whatever it is, it is “something.”
Krauss may think his “nothing” formulation is fun and challenging, but he is being sensational at the price of leading his students to believe that the foundational law of the universe – the Natural Law on which Epicureanism rests — is not valid. As Lucretius explains early in Book I, there are no firmer principles on which we must base our view of Nature, and therefore our decisions on how to live our lives, than that “nothing comes from nothing” and “nothing goes to nothing.”
Krauss’ students are going to see for themselves as they grow older that these eternal laws have not been repealed. They will learn for themselves the truth of what Epicurus taught: we cannot live happily if we do not come to grips with the realities of Nature. In this video Dawkins keeps his grip on reality by emphasizing the distinction between the known and the unknown, but if Krauss’ students fail to heed Dawkins’ warning they will wander in confusion.
Many of Krauss’ specific statements are very worthwhile, especially his remarks on religion. Krauss makes the very non-politically correct observation that the conscious intent of Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, etc. was (is!) to dominate the world through breeding rather than through the truth of their ideas. But Krauss’ general disposition will lead to personal disaster for those students who fail to think critically. Unless they do, many will carry away from this presentation the fatal Platonist error — which Krauss states explicitly in the video — that all things are only “probable,” and that nothing is certain.
How many more thousands of years will these platitudes be repeated? No matter what Krauss says, it is CERTAIN that if we are boiled alive we will find the experience unpleasant. It is CERTAIN that if we do not keep strong hold of our senses and our commitment to reality we will walk over the edge of cliffs, and again the result will be unpleasant. Krauss is leading his students toward the precipice and telling them they need not honor what their eyes tell them is true.
Presumably Krauss himself knows better, but the price of his Platonic formulations will be a high cost in unhappiness for his students. Any Kraussian student who spends his or her life thinking that “anything is possible” will certainly lose the full degree of pleasure possible to them. This is because Nature has provided that the full degree of pleasure in life can only come if we apply the knowledge that it is CERTAIN that life is short, that it is CERTAIN that we cannot live happily without living wisely, and that it is CERTAIN that we can only live successfully if we live in accord with the basic rules of Nature.
It is simply NOT POSSIBLE to live happily unless one lives wisely, honorably, and justly. That rule applies with the same force today — even for physicists and their students — as it did the day Epicurus first spoke it.