Sunday, October 29, 2017

Negative and positive energy

In my last post, I reviewed The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. I talked there a little bit about negative and positive energy and how they thought it might explain how the universe could come into existence from nothing. I said I didn't think the argument worked.

Well, I had a conversation a while back with somebody where that same idea came up, and I thought I'd share what I said so as to expand on what I said in the book review. So here ye go. . .

Unless I have some big misunderstanding, it seems to me that Hawking, Vilenkin, Krauss, etc. are eqivocating on terms like "negative energy" and "zero energy." Energy has positive ontological status. In other words, it actually exists as a concrete thing.

So what does "negative energy" mean? It can't mean "less than energy," because that would imply that not only does it not exist, but it less-than-exists. But that can't be the case for anything concrete. I have two cats.* If one ceased to exist, then I'd have one cat. If they both ceased to exist, then I'd have zero cats. But I can't have negative cats. What would that even mean?

So "negative energy" can't mean "less than zero energy." That's incoherent. "Negative energy" is kind of a misnomer that I think Krauss et al exploit by equivocation. "Negative energy" is actually a positive something. It has positive ontological status. It actually exists.

So I don't think balancing "positive energy" and "negative energy" and arriving at "zero energy" means that there is actually no energy in the universe or that the universe could've come into existence uncaused out of absolutely nothing. If there was a state of affairs in which nothing at all existed followed by a state of affairs in which both negative and positive energy exist, then even if they sum to zero, you'd still have a situation in which something came into existence out of nothing.

*I had two cats when I wrote that, but I'm down to one now. :-(

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