SCIENCE
07/18/2012 07:53 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

Lawrence Krauss: 'A Universe From Nothing'

Why is there something rather than nothing? What existed before the Big Bang? How can everything we know to exist in the entire observable universe have spontaneously erupted out of thin air?

That's the focus of theoretical physicist and author Lawrence Krauss's new book, "A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing." I spoke with him in search of answers to these timeless questions. To hear what he had to say, watch the video above (or click the link below for a complete transcript). And, don't forget to weigh in by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page. Talk nerdy to me!

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: The question ‘why is there something rather than nothing’ has been around for as long as people have asked questions. It's perplexed people because the question is what-- people want to understand their origins. The fact that we’re living in this vast universe and understanding our place in the cosmos is really what good science is all about, and it may not produce a better toaster or a new car. That’s why people often value science, is for the practical applications, but it seems to me what’s really important are the ideas, because they change our perspective of our place in the universe and that’s what good science, art, literature, is all about.

CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. And that's Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and author of "A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing." I sat down with him to talk about what existed before the Big Bang, and how cutting-edge physics is changing the way we think about our place in the universe.

LK: Why is there something rather than nothing? Well, ultimately there are a variety of answers, which is why I wrote a whole book about it. But the remarkable thing is that our picture has changed completely because we changed what we mean by something and nothing. Nothing is far more subtle than you might imagine, for the Bible for example, nothing would have been a vast, eternal empty universe. That would have been, you know, a void. Well that kind of nothing we now understand--namely empty space if you get rid of all the particles and all the radiation--that kind of nothing is actually quite complicated. In the modern universe it’s a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence on a timescale so short you can’t see them. So there’s nothing there but actually lots of stuff is happening. You just can’t see it, and that kind of nothing, one of the remarkable things we’ve learned is that kind of nothing is unstable. Empty space is unstable.

CSM: But how can we possibly know that? Virtual particles exist in such a short time frame, we can't measure them. So, how do we know they're there?

LK: We can’t measure those particles directly, but we can measure their effects indirectly, because they affect the properties of atoms for example. And when we include them, and we can include them in the calculations and predictions we make, if we don’t include them we get the wrong answer. If we do include them, we get the right answer to nine decimal places, the best predictions in all of physics. The only place where you can predict final numbers from first principles to nine decimal places is there. So we know those effects are happening because we can measure them indirectly, and that’s why we’re so confident.

CSM: Okay, so the calculations pan out. We know that the universe came into existence 13.72 billion years ago, at the time of the Big Bang. Something came from nothing, a nothing more dynamic than we ever knew. But where is that something--the universe, us--where is it going?

LK: All of the galaxies we now see are moving away from us faster and faster and faster. And eventually, they’ll be moving away from us faster than the speed of light. It’s allowed in general relativity and they’ll disappear. So in the far future, the rest of the universe will disappear and we’ll be alone in a vast, dark, empty universe, which is the way we thought it was originally. I find kind of a poetry in that, but, and in fact eventually our stars will burn out and you’ll have nothing left. And in fact, as my late friend Christopher Hitchens who was writing a foreword for the book before he passed away, said, "Well you know in that case, nothing is heading towards us as fast as can be." And the simple answer of the question why is there something rather than nothing should be, "just wait. It won’t be for long."

CSM: From nothing to nothing. That may not sit well for some people, but as Lawrence reminds us:

LK: The important thing about the universe is, it doesn’t give a damn about what we like. The universe is the way it is whether we like it or not, which is the one thing that I really hope people would understand. But it, the way it is it’s fascinating. It may not be the way we like it to be, but it’s so fascinating that we should rejoice in this remarkable accident that lead to our existence. And that you and I are here and having this conversation. That consciousness evolved on a random planet in the middle of a random galaxy in the middle of nowhere. Four billion years into that time, consciousness evolved and we can have this conversation and enjoy learning about the universe back to its early moments and out to the indefinite future. It’s amazing, and the meaning in our lives is the meaning we create and we should enjoy it, and make the most of our brief moment in the sun.

CSM: Anything else?

LK: The two lessons I want to give people is that, you’re more insignificant than you ever thought, and the future is miserable. And those two things should make you happy not sad.

CSM: Does that make you happy, not sad? Reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or leave a comment right here on the Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!

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