A Brief History of Time

by Sofia

Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature

And since there are forces that do not obey the symmetry T, it follows that as the universe expands, these forces would cause more antielectrons to turn into quarks than electrons into antiquarks. Then, as the universe expanded and cooled, the antiquarks would annihilate with the quarks, but since there would be more quarks than antiquarks, a small excess of quarks would remain. It is these that make up the matter we see today and out of which we ourselves are made.

The Origin and Fate of the Universe

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. We cannot, at the moment at least, predict the values of these numbers from theory—we have to find them by observation. It may be that one day we shall discover a complete unified theory that predicts them all, but it is also possible that some or all of them vary from universe to universe or within a single universe. The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life. For example, if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars either would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would have exploded. Of course, there might be other forms of intelligent life, not dreamed of even by writers of science fiction, that did not require the light of a star like the sun or the heavier chemical elements that are made in stars and are flung back into space when the stars explode. Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty.

The idea of inflation could also explain why there is so much matter in the universe. There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty zeroes after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero.

If Euclidean space-time stretches back to infinite imaginary time, or else starts at a singularity in imaginary time, we have the same problem as in the classical theory of specifying the initial state of the universe: God may know how the universe began, but we cannot give any particular reason for thinking it began one way rather than another. On the other hand, the quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behaviour at the boundary. There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time. One could say: “The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.” The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.

The Arrow of Time

At first, I believed that disorder would decrease when the universe recollapsed. This was because I thought that the universe had to return to a smooth and ordered state when it became small again. This would mean that the contracting phase would be like the time reverse of the expanding phase. People in the contracting phase would live their lives backward: they would die before they were born and get younger as the universe contracted.

This idea is attractive because it would mean a nice symmetry between the expanding and contracting phases. However, one cannot adopt it on its own, independent of other ideas about the universe. The question is: Is it implied by the no boundary condition, or is it inconsistent with that condition? As I said, I thought at first that the no boundary condition did indeed imply that disorder would decrease in the contracting phase. I was misled partly by the analogy with the surface of the earth. If one took the beginning of the universe to correspond to the North Pole, then the end of the universe should be similar to the beginning, just as the South Pole is similar to the North. However, the North and South Poles correspond to the beginning and end of the universe in imaginary time. The beginning and end in real time can be very different from each other. … I realized I had made a mistake: the no boundary condition implied that disorder would in fact continue to increase during the contraction. The thermodynamic and psychological arrows of time would not reverse when the universe begins to recontract or inside black holes.

A reminder of just how infinitesimally small and coincidental we—and all the things that comprise our history and lives—are.

I really like the idea that the universe adds up to zero, and that there are no boundary conditions and no singularities. It’s very gratifying to think that everything cancels out, and that everything is seamless. It means that all the wrongs are in perfect balance with the rights; that there is a final and utter justice far beyond our insidious evil and most heroic labours of love. Furthermore, the drama and comfort of a beginning and an end is dissolved, leaving a patient forever in its stead. No point in holding one’s breath in such a place. This is what I imagine what Zen thought is getting at, and helps my mind embrace it. The ideas allow me to understand what serenity might be like.

I hope that when we die we get to find out about the rest of the nature of the universe.