Tuesday, June 3, 2008

But then maybe the entire universe is just a wave function . . .

Stephen Hawking has tried his hand at designing a design-free universe, as well. In A Brief History of Time, he suggests:

So long as the universe had a beginning, we would suppose it had a creator (the cosmological argument). But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?

How can the universe both be finite and have no boundary? To make this work, Hawking relies on imaginary time, rather than real time. Chemists sometimes use the concept of time measured in imaginary numbers, such as the square root of minus 2, in order to solve equations. He pictures the universe in imaginary time as being like a wave, with no one point that is the beginning. The problem here is the reality check. When chemists use imaginary time to solve equations, they always have to convert back to real values. Once we get back to real time, the universe does have a beginning.

Hawking acknowledges this, saying that “when one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities.” In other words, a beginning. He suggests:

In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities or boundaries. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like.

So … what we call real is “just an idea we invent”? That is a leap of faith, a very different leap of faith from the belief that there is a God whose existence guarantees that what we observe in science experiments, however strange, is real and is happening. Which leap makes more sense for science?

From By Design or by Chance?, page 37.