OK, I get so sick of people making this argument that I had to post something about it. Don’t have time for the whole rant, so this short little rant will have to suffice.
Overheard two co-workers having a philosophical discussion. OK, actually, one was trying to goad the other into having a philosophical discussion, and by the way, kudos to the one who was avoiding it because the one doing the goading wasn’t being intellectually honest about it and was essentially abusing his class status (he’s a supervisor) but trying to do it in a “we’re just shooting the breeze” kind of way.
(I suppose it doesn’t help that I think the goad-er is an idiot.)
At any rate, the goad-er was trying to puncture holes in the “theory” that universe was created out of nothing. “What does physics have to say about something being created out of nothing…?” he prompted, hoping for the goad-ed to jump on the bait.
People who know me well will appreciate just how difficult it is for me to overhear something like this and not jump right in. Those who know me well will also realize that that restraint is only bought at the expense of my having to write about it later. Which is… uh… now.
Basically, the entire basis of the question “Where did the universe come from?” is about as non-sensical as asking “Does a shoe make a good goat?” The main issue with the first question is thinking that “the universe” is something like a person or a telephone.
It’s not. In fact, “the universe” isn’t an “it” at all.
Sure, there are common conceptions of the universe as being a discrete object, a thing like an egg or an iPod or a kitten. Some folk use “the universe” to mean, say, the planet Earth. Or the solar system. Or even our galaxy, the Milky Way. But those things are part of the universe.
In fact, the logical definition of the proper noun “the universe” is “everything that exists”. If it exists, that is, if it has a discrete place, with finite boundaries in time and space, then it’s part of the universe. All of those things, together, make up the universe as a whole.
The universe is properly thought of as being the conceptual organizing principle for everything that we think of as, well, things. Since it’s a concept and not an actual object it has no finite boundaries at all. Therefore it wasn’t “created”. It can’t have been created, except in someone’s head as an idea, a mental bag to contain everything else.
If this definition is countered with something along the lines of, “Well, then, where did the Big Bang, which supposedly ‘created the universe’, take place?” the answer is quite simple: The Big Bang took place in the universe, since all the matter and energy that made up the singlularity that produced the Big Bang were all that existed of the universe.
Where did the universe come from? It came from our brains, to give us a way to think about everything else.
So no more asking that silly question.