Must we assume that in the absence of particles and fields, and in the absence of space and time, there would be nothing? Or can we, without so rash an assumption, find clues to the nature of what Wheeler and Patton refer to as 'pregeometry'? ("...something deeper than geometry, that underlies both geometry and particles." And which they suggest "...must provide the Universe with a way to come into being.")
The other night at the telescopes, when we had them out on the sidewalk for public use, a young man approached me wishing to talk cosmology, and finding me not very enthusiastic [about his notion] that the observational evidence strongly supports the Big Bang, he demanded to know how I solved the problem of "creation ex nihilo" for the Steady State (as if there were no such problem for the Big Bang). I asked why he took the creation to be ex nihilo (out of nothing). I suggested that he might be jumping the gun, that it might be an unwarranted assumption. I reminded him that in the absence of time we would have the absence of change, but not necessarily nothing, and that in the absence of space we would have the absence of dividedness and the absence of smallness. "And the absence of largeness," he added. "Yes," I said, "but not necessarily nothing." (Size, whether large or small, would be finite, and in the absence of the finite we have the possibility of the infinite.) I said that to get the Universe out of the changeless, the infinite, the undivided was a very different problem from getting it out of nothing. He didn't seem to see that. He seemed to take the infinite as equivalent to nothing. Then I reminded him that ex nihilo was an expression of the Roman Catholic philosophers but that even they didn't get the Universe out of nothing. God was there. At that point the young man accusingly asked me if I believed in God. I replied that that was not our problem. Our problem was whether the Universe comes out of the changeless, the infinite, the undivided or ex nihilo. And I reminded him that we were not concerned with beliefs but with evidence.
The real question, as I see it, is not whether we live in a Big Bang or Steady State Universe, but whether the Universe arises ex nihilo or from Wheeler's 'pregeometry'. In a 1975 article entitled Is Physics Legislated by Cosmogony? J. A. Wheeler and C. M. Patton use the term "pregeometry" to refer to "...something deeper than geometry, that underlies both geometry and particles." And they suggest that "For ultimately revealing this structure, no perspective seems more promising than the view that it must provide the Universe with a way to come into being."
Most modern cosmologists, whether proponents of the Big Bang or Steady State models, seem to assume that in the absence of particles and fields, and in the absence of space and time, there would be nothing. But if we go with so rash an assumption we are left without a pregeometry which could 'provide the Universe with a way to come into being'. We are back to creation ex nihilo. If, on the other hand, we take a more cautious approach and assume only that in the absence of time there might be the changeless and that in the absence of space there might be the infinite, the undivided, then we are left with the possibility of a pregeometry to provide the Universe with a way to come into being.
We came to this terminology only by asking what could not exist in the absence of space and time, that is, in the absence of the geometry. And the terminology is entirely negative; it makes no supposition as to what might exist, only what might not exist in the absence of the geometry. But if changelessness, infinitude and undividedness may be taken as clues to the nature of our pregeometry, then the question is: How could such a pregeometry provide the Universe with a way to come into being?
The problem arises because the changeless cannot be changed nor the infinite be made small nor the undivided be divided. So the problem is how to get from the one to the other. And the only way that I can see to get from the changeless to the changing without changing the changeless is by mistaking the one for the other. But if that is the solution to this problem, then our physics must be participatory and associated with uncertainty, just as when one mistakes a rope for a snake the snake is participatory and associated with uncertainty. Its existence is not independent of the observer and one cannot find out what kind of snake it is. If we have mistaken our pregeometry, which is not in space and time, for the measurements of our physics, which are in space in time, then the measurements of our physics must be participatory and associated with uncertainty.
Arguing from illustration, I think we can show a plausible way that such a pregeometry could provide the Universe with a way to come into being, and also provide a basis for the physics which we see. Just as when a rope is mistaken for a snake, the existence of the snake is nothing but the existence of the rope seen as something else, just so here the existence of the Universe might be nothing but the existence of the pregeometry seen in space and time as something else (as changing, finite, and divided). But just as the characteristics of the rope must show up in the snake for which it is mistaken, just so here the characteristics of our pregeometry should show up in our physics. My suggestion is that the changelessness shows up as inertia, the infinitude as the electrical charge, and the undividedness as gravity.
The Universe as we see it consists of an enormous amount of energy, yet no process known to our physics gives rise to any such energy. But if we have come from this suggested pregeometry by such a process of apparition, then the existence of the energy falls out quite naturally. If the undividedness must show up in the appearance of division, the result will be the gravitational wind up. And if the infinitude must show up in the appearance of the small, the result will be the electrical wind up. I see no other explanation for the existence of the energy which we see.
If there is anything to this suggestion (and it's certainly counter intuitive), then it would seem to me that in order to avoid representing any change in the changeless the Universe must arise as pairs of opposites so that the total linear momentum, the total angular momentum and the total charge of the observable Universe should be zero. If it could be shown that there is an overall residual momentum or electrical charge, I should deem this suggestion to have failed. And if, as this suggestion seems to imply, hydrogen is the primordial apparition, then neither the proton nor the electron should decay. If it arises by apparition, how could it decay by transformation within that apparition? If it can be shown that the proton does indeed decay, then I should deem this suggestion to have failed.