Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.


Journal of the Communist Party of Australia


Diving into the theoretical wormhole

by Tim Wheeler

First published in the People’s Weekly World paper of the Communist Party of USA

Stephen W. Hawking, the English theoretical physicist, in his acclaimed 1987 book, A Brief History of Time (Bantam) reassures us that we will not stumble over a single equation in his slim volume, not even E = mc2, Albert Einstein’s formula for the theory of relativity.

Hawking is one of the leading proponents of the Big Bang theory. It holds that the universe began with what he calls a “singularity”, when matter was infinitely dense. Then came an explosion and the universe has been expanding ever since.

He devotes a chapter to “entropy,” that, energy flows outward from its point of origin until it dissipates. That explains, for example, why the sun shines. Entropy dictates that in a closed system, order disintegrates into chaos.

Hawking uses a typically English illustration of “order”. A tea cup is sitting on a table. Knock it off the table and it will smash on the floor. The order becomes chaos. Only in a movie run backward do cups gather themselves off the floor and fly back up on the table, Hawking says.

All the evidence seems to confirm that the universe is expanding. The rate of expansion, observed in the so-called “red shift”, has even been measured. It is called the Hubble Constant. If you know the rate of expansion, then you can calculate how long ago the Big Bang occurred. The range is from 15 to 20 billion years ago.

Scientists are searching for matter with sufficient mass to exert the gravitational pull needed to reverse this explosion. So far they haven’t found it. These gloomy astronomers foresee a universe in which stars and galaxies will move forever, further and further apart, until they vanish into nothingness.

Hawking’s cosmology sounded so much like the Prophecy of St. John the Divine that the Pope invited him to come and lecture at the Vatican which is still trying to live down having branded Galileo a heretic.

There is another school of astrophysics, the “Steady State” whose main proponent is the British astronomer, Fred Hoyle. They argue for a stable universe. Ironically, Hoyle invented the term “Big Bang” as a term of ridicule. The problem with the “Steady State” is that the evidence of an expanding universe proves that there is a process of development and change in the universe. It has a “natural history.”

Yet in my opinion, Hawking is one-sided. Entropy, the dissipation of energy, is a by-product of nuclear fusion in which hydrogen atoms concentrated within the enormously powerful gravitational field of stars are fused together into all the other elements.

It is a process that goes from lighter to heavier atoms. Created in this process are all the elements including oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon essential to the appearance of life.

Life, in turn, has evolved from single cell organisms to human beings with the capacity to reason and discover the laws of nature.

Agreed, nuclear fusion produces entropy, the dissipation of energy. On the other hand, nuclear fusion created elements necessary for the appearance of intelligent life, the most highly organized of all forms of matter.

Hawking declares that before the Big Bang, all known laws of physics would be inoperative. This notion was accepted by some Soviet physicists.

E.I. Parnov in his 1971 book, At the Crossroads of the Infinities states, “If we accept that the universe started with a bang, then we must accept that time too began at that moment. ‘Before’ that, the clock stood still, or rather, it wasn’t there at all.” Asking what existed before the Big Bang, Parnov says, is a “foolish question.”

In his book Dialectical Materialism and Modern Science, the late Kenneth Neill Cameron devotes a chapter to “Matter, the Universe and Life.” (International Publishers 1995).

“There seems to be little attempt today to interpret the findings of science from a materialist point of view,” he writes. In the capitalist world, there has been almost no follow up to the work of Marxist scientists like J.D. Bernal and J.B.S. Haldane while in the Soviet Union “the field was long dominated by ... idealists.”

Some cosmologists, Cameron continues, hypothesise that all matter began with a “seed” at some indeterminate moment before the Big Bang.

Nothingness, it is speculated, existed for an indeterminable time, but it was fundamentally “unstable” so that sooner or later a “singularity” would occur ... If there was a “singularity” then it must have been one of interactive units and these units can hardly have been anything else than a form of matter ... Whatever first arose, if the phrase has any meaning, must have been plural and not singular.

Are some modern cosmologists, like Hawking, trying to repeal the law of conservation of matter? If the universe began with a Big Bang, where did all that matter and energy come from? It is easier and simpler to conceptualize time, space and matter as always having existed than to imagine them springing out of nothingness.

Frederick Engels called time and space the “mode of existence” with the clear implication that they must always have existed and always will. The same can be said of matter. The mind accepts changes in the state of matter but rebels at the notion of it springing from nothing. If something comes out of nothing, then nothing must be something.

To argue the absence of material existence before the Big Bang implies that this explosion was an event that took place outside the laws of causation. That is how theologists define a “miracle”.

Hawking builds his cosmology on Werner Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle”. Heisenberg discovered in 1926 that it is impossible to observe both the position and the velocity of a subatomic particle. The reason is that the light beam focused by the scientist on the particle to observe it has the effect of accelerating the particle.

“In other words”, Hawking states, “The more accurately you try to measure the position of the particle, the less accurately you can measure its speed, and vice versa.” Hawking says the Uncertainty Principle ended forever the “dream of a theory of science that would be completely deterministic ... . ”

Hawking argues that because we cannot observe or measure a particle’s velocity therefore it does not have a definite velocity. Hawking is confusing the limits of scientific observation of a phenomena with the phenomena itself — the classical error of idealism.

He argues that the Uncertainly Principle proves that the universe itself is indeterminate not just our perception of it.

Quantum mechanics, he states “introduces an unavoidable element of unpredictability or randomness into science ... Einstein objected to this very strongly ... Einstein never accepted that the universe was governed by chance ... .”

Hawking complains that like Einstein some Soviet astronomers objected to many of the fashionable Western theories of the universe. But Hawking does not explain their objections.

In fact, he seems to think that the choice is between the crudest sort of mechanical “determinism” or a universe that is at root random and chaotic.

There is another alternative, dialectical materialism, the study of the laws of motion, change, and development of the universe.

Engels, in his polemic, Anti-Duhring, and Lenin in his book, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism demolish the idea that science stands above the class struggle and is free from the ideological pressures of a ruling class that perpetuates its power by obscuring the truth. Pope John Paul II, an expert in anti-working class ideological warfare, knew what he was doing in luring Hawking to the Vatican.

Science has made long strides in understanding the universe and the pace of discovery is actually accelerating with advances such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Nevertheless, astronomy is still a subject dominated by much guesswork and conjecture.

Take one recent example. Scientists are studying photographic images of a distant galaxy taken through the Hubble telescope.

The galaxy is seen as it appeared about 1.6 billion years after the Big Bang.  But the stars that make up the galaxy appear to be nearly-twice as old as that, at least 3.5 billion years old.

As the New York Times reported, June 13, the stars are “older than the universe itself — a paradox experts say, that must now be explained away.”

Dr Craig Hogan, a cosmologist at the University of Washington in Seattle said, “This is a new line of evidence to support the idea that the simplest models for the universe don’t work.”

Or as Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Back to index page