Saturday, May 29, 2010


This is a story about the origin of the world. It is also a story about the origin of the physical universe, why and how it comes to be at all and, in so far as one blog can contain it, why and how it comes to be as it is. It is not a story about the first three seconds. It is not a story about the first seven days. To talk about these latter things we must first find a basis for time, space, physics and mathematics. So this story aims to illuminate First Cause. It aims to answer in an absolute sense (yes, I know this isn't supposed to be possible) the questions:
Is there any knowledge in the world that is so certain that no reasonable person can doubt it? (Russell 1978)

What is the source of all things? (Allen 1992)


Why is there something and not just nothing? (Sorensen 2009)
I think there are many people who wonder about these questions, worded in one form or another. For some, the source of all things is God. Asked whether God is the cause or source of himself, they will answer that it doesn’t work like that, and in any case, this is dangerous talk, sacrosanct, and a matter of belief. Perhaps they are right, and the source of all things is God. Perhaps not. But belief does not in and of itself make you right.

Perhaps surprisingly, the same can be said of science. Founded on a mountain of evidence, science provides the illusion of certainty, and foreshadows the most amazing discoveries. Atom bombs! Positrons! It isn’t just space and time, its spacetime! Let me tell you about the first three seconds! If truth is anywhere it is to be found in science!

There are many people who believe that science holds the ultimate truth. Look at all the evidence, they say. Our theories predict! But this depends on what you mean by prediction. For a long time, Newton’s theory of gravity predicted the motion of planets and seemingly all gravitational objects, until one day it didn’t. Mercury, so near yet far, stuck its finger in Newton’s eye. I want to go faster than you say I should, it said. So along came Einstein with the fabulous General Theory of Relativity to sort it out. Ought we hold any greater faith in the predictions of Einstein’s theory than that of Newton? While these theories provide the illusion of truth, they are merely of sufficient complexity that the phenomena of which we are aware happen to coincide with the theories offered, and whenever some confounding phenomena occurs, the scientists pick and choose from the available options to create a new theory.

Until one at least understands the basis of why things are as they are, and how this happens to be, sprung off a well-founded theory of the origin, the truth of such theories remains in doubt. Though physics is my trade, there are other reasons to be suspicious of science, at least philosophically. Indeed, when taken to its limits, as mathematics would dictate, we ought not be here at all, a point to which I will return in another blog, or when someone asks about it. Of course, the best physicists, mathematicians and philosophers already know this, but are content to hold to their faith in science, set theory, or naturalism.

More than this, because science is founded on empirical evidence (the evidence of the senses) yet the origin if there was one (as scientists mostly believe) existed before there was physicality, then science cannot be regarded as complete. Again, I will consider this in more detail later. Because these theories are both incomplete and always necessarily falsifiable, our scientific theories require belief to attract adulation. And, as with religion, belief does not make you right.

To explain why and how the world comes to be at all, and why and how it comes to be as it is, is a challenge (some would say impossible, but they are wrong). But this challenge is not as difficult as laying it out in a way that others can follow. My intention is to have all the pages complete before New Year 2011.

I pause as I put this out to the world to judge. It is easy to know one is right in private, but quite another to lay it down before others with sharp philosophical knives, and a lifetime of reasons to stick to their old ideas. I hope that my Cartesian shield (I explain this later) will be strong enough.

Now this is a fairly large task, that will require a little patience on your part. I hope you will rest easy in the knowledge that the volume of my words is tiny compared to the flotilla of books that have been written on the subject, none of which answers the above three fundamental questions.

I can and will answer all these and many others besides. To do so, I must first develop a framework in which a study of reality can be properly carried out (an 'ontological framework'). And to do that, I must first provide a secure foundation for thinking about the world at all. I have several formal papers on this, but these are probably a bit heavy going for a blog. Should someone want to see these, I can forward them if asked. With this in mind it may be that my blogwords will sometimes be open to misinterpretation. Ultimately I stand by the formal papers.

To do so requires a rigid order of going about developing the theory, and Descartes' Foundationalism is the only proper way to do so, as will become evident later. The central insight of foundationalism is to organize one's beliefs in the manner of a well structured, architectural edifice. Nothing may be introduced unless it is either necessarily true (and even self-evidence is insufficient at this level) or follows by unshakable inference from such truths.

As Descartes says:
All the mistakes made in the sciences happen, in my view, simply because at the beginning we make judgements too hastily, and accept as our first principles matters which are obscure and of which we do not have a clear and distinct notion. (Search, AT 10:526, in Newman 2010)

He said once that he could put his arguments in a formal order (in response to a criticism by Gassendi) but when he did, he relied upon definitions, axioms and so forth, any of which, in these days of modern philosophy, would not stand up. I will consider this in more detail at another time.

The natural order of development prevents me from explaining straight up how the world comes to be, except in the loosest fashion. Rather, one must first identify a basis for thinking about the world. So the order becomes:

1. Provide a foundation for thinking about the world. This is not as plain as you might think.

2. Find a place for the thinker to view the world (for a person cannot assume they have a rightful place to stand and look out at the objects that may or may not exist).

3. Develop an understanding of what skepticism is, and how the skeptic can come to develop a well-founded understanding of how the world is, contrary to two and a half millennia of argument to the contrary.

4. Identify a principle of equivalence and prove it to be a truth beyond doubt. Such a truth is a model of a condition of the universe. In this case, the principle applies to all that is, so all that is, necessarily beats to the sound of its drum.

5. Show that there is a unique origin of the world (meaning all there is, including physical things and thoughts, as well as anything else there might be).

6. It will also be clear that all physics, mathematics and philosophy also must be founded off this origin, as does space, time and everything else. We begin with a very sparse universe indeed!

7. Further investigation will show that the unique and simple origin evolves into complex structure and with it comes the ability to reinvent the numbers, geometry and others of our mathematics, but with some important differences. The mathematics is constrained to rationals, and we will introduce a new concept I call 'Block numbers' which fill between the rationals. If you don't understand 'rationals' and aren't too good at mathematics don't be concerned because it starts simple, and grows in difficulty only slowly. Is this not what you would expect of a new universe? How could the universe 'know' how to start out complex? This is similar to Penrose tiles, where simple rules lead to complex results.

8. Finally we will investigate the growth of the new structure, and find that our favorite physical constants appear as if by magic, with no need to introduce this or that parameter, or to jiggle this or moderate that, as the physicists do.

9. Is there a Big Bang in there somewhere? I don't know. Maybe you can help. What I do know is that there is a unique origin, a growth of structure, and that structure homes in very rapidly on the equations that we use in our best physical theories, but now without the problems that these equations have, such as infinities.

How this comes to be written.
In 1996, while studying physics, I bumped into a problem with mathematics. The book I was working with (I think 'Calculus' by Swokowski) said, 'A hammer, falling from 500 feet, passes through all points on the way to the ground.' All very good for the hammer, but how does a point in space trade the properties it had for the properties of the hammer? To do so would require an infinity of infinities of changes, for presumably between one property and any other, or variation of that property there must be an infinity of variations, so the act of change enters an infinite regress. And that is just for one point!

More than this, given that there is an infinity of points between some point on the hammer and the ground and that same point on the hammer and any other point in that line, how can the hammer go to the next point, when there are an infinity of next points to choose from? Indeed it implies a scaling problem for the universe, where every distance is the same as every other, at least this is what contemporary mathematics would argue, and the mathematicians nod their head sagely. It's all just a bit crazy, a fact that the greatest mathematicians have already identified, for example Riemann and Hilbert. In fact the problems associated with dropping a hammer makes me very suspicious of hammers. I did not know it then, but I had crashed into Zeno's paradox, and the riddle of Parmenides. If you do not know what these are, you might click on the hyperlinks, gain a quick overview, then come back.

Now, philosophy is divided into two halves: before Parmenides, and after Parmenides. This is because before Parmenides, philosophy was little more than opinion. For example, Thales, the first recorded philosopher said that the world comes from water. One might take from this that he meant that water is the basic element from which all else is made. Instead, Parmenides used reason. From reason he developed a metaphysical argument that has earned him a reputation as early Greek philosophy's most profound and challenging thinker (Palmer 2008). Under his guidance, his follower Zeno developed a series of paradoxes that show that reality does not accord with reason. That is, the world as it appears to be does not accord with how it ought to be, if the world accords with reason.

Most philosophers believe that Parmenides rejected pluralism and the reality of any kind of change. I don't think so. While he argued that what is, is one indivisible, unchanging reality, and any appearances to the contrary are illusions, and contrary to reason, in actuality he asks future philosophers to show how the paradox of change in a world that ought not be able to change can be resolved.

Unsurprisingly his philosophy found many critics, who ridiculed his argument because it flies in the face of some of our most basic beliefs about the world ('Look! There is change everywhere. Hence you are wrong!') But then along came Zeno. Imagine, said Zeno, the flight of an arrow. At any moment in time, it is frozen in time. Indeed, at that moment, everything else is frozen in time. Indeed, no matter how you model it, all that might change is frozen, and there remains nothing that can bring the arrow to move forward.

Aristotle saw deeply into this paradox:
'Zeno's difficulty demands an explanation; for if everything that exists has a place, place too will have a place, and so on ad infinitum. (Aristotle Physics, in Huggett 2008).'

From Aristotle's time to now, no satisfactory answer has been forthcoming, despite protestations to the contrary (see Huggett 2008 for an array of methods that purport to solve Zeno's paradoxes) and the presentation of mathematics that shifts the problems out of sight.

In any case, Zeno's paradoxes are just a few of an entire class of related problems that imply that the world ought to fall apart; yet it doesn't. How this is, and that it provides a proper foundation for understanding the world is my task to explain.

It is an unfortunate if often useful fact, that physics, philosophy and mathematics have had a very long time to develop. Useful, in so far as these disciplines are the foundation of our present standard of living and do show us a rich landscape that stands in for well-founded knowledge of the universe.

While useful, this is unfortunate in that my task is made more difficult simply because of the enormous number of perspectives provided by a large number of philosophers, mathematicians and physicists, since 2500BC, most of whom will be wanting to challenge the view. They have the advantage of many followers. I have the advantage of being right, at least up to the point of Cartesian skepticism (I'll use USA spelling for this) which all agree is the most rigorous level of skepticism available to those of us who think deeply about such things.

Given the journey that lies ahead, I think it only fair that I provide an every-person's explanation of why and how the world began. This us a loose description only. It will be the focus of my next post. Comments are always welcome.


Allen, RE, ed. 1992, Greek philosophy: Thales to Aristotle, The Free Press, Maxwell Macmillan International, Sydney.

Huggett, Nick, "Zeno's Paradoxes", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), .

Newman, Lex, "Descartes' Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Palmer, John, "Parmenides", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), .

Russell, B 1978, The problems of philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sorensen, Roy, "Nothingness", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

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