6
$\begingroup$

This sounds like the Egg and the Hen question but I am curious about this. If universe came first and created physical laws for itself, then what created the law or the principle as a consequence of which the universe came into existence in the first place? And if there where pre-existing physical laws that governed the big bang or whatever the origin of the universe was, then where did those laws come from and what were they a part of? If we assume that creation and destruction of universe is cyclic and the same laws are carried onto the next creation and destruction cycle then shouldn't the law which is governing this cycle be a consequence or a part of some bigger something (like a mega-verse). Whichever the case, we again come down to same basic question as in the title.

Thanks.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Impossible to answer your question is. Meditate on this many have. $\endgroup$
    – Apoorv
    Jan 14, 2016 at 11:40
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Well, in a reductionist universe, physical laws and the universe are the same thing. In some laws, it's rather obvious (general relativity describes gravity as fundamentally arising from the topology of the universe), while others are a bit harder to see. And science rests pretty much entirely on reductionism - an assumption that's working quite well so far. Of course, this is within a context where "Universe" means "everything" - if we find that our "microuniverse" is really just a part of something bigger, and different, it might be that the fundmental "laws" are no longer really fundamental $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Jan 14, 2016 at 13:49
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ "If universe came first and created physical laws for itself" - I have grave doubts that this expresses anything meaningful. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2016 at 14:19
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the nature of the existence of physical laws is philosophy of physics (meta-physics in the literal sense). $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Jan 14, 2016 at 14:44
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Also, "first" or "last" doesn't make any sense in this context, because time is part of the spacetime structure of the universe, not extrinsic to it. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Jan 14, 2016 at 14:45

6 Answers 6

8
$\begingroup$

I believe a great answer to your question is:

We don't know

We still can't resolve the time before electroweak interactions, so how can we even come close to answering this question?

You might get answers from some theories (or I prefer to call them theorems because they're only math until today) like string theory or loop quantum gravity or M-theory or whatever... but we're not even able to test any of these! So my recommendation is: If someone claims they're giving you an answer with certainty, you have to know they're lying (which is why I'm starting to dislike guys like Michio Kaku, who keeps giving certainties about string theory as facts, probably to get funding). Answers given here are only bound to the mathematical formulation of the theory related to it, which is still not testable.

One more important point you have to be careful about with such questions is drawing conclusions. Don't get to the slippery slope that gets you to draw conclusions from any answer you might get because we really still don't know. I'm saying this because usually such questions fall within the theological framework to make gap to put god in. So be careful, and keep in mind the great saying of Feynman:

"Not knowing is better than knowing a wrong answer".

$\endgroup$
10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your effort to answer. I guess I know that there cannot be a satisfying answer to this question. My intention of was more of to get some insight on this question. I'll prefer to be curious. $\endgroup$
    – thokiro
    Jan 14, 2016 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Laws of the universe are ink on paper put there by men. How can ink on paper appear without there being a universe? $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jan 14, 2016 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne I think you're trivializing the matter and missing the point and initiating the logical fallacy "personal incredulity"... I'm not sure there's a constructive purpose of your comment. Please enlighten me if I'm wrong. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2016 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ How am I trivializing the matter? I am simply applying the PROPER definitions of what physical laws are. Do I need to explain the scientific method to you? $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jan 14, 2016 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne Well, whether the laws of physics are fundamental or whether it's just ink on paper is something that's not judged by your mere observation and experience. The scientific method is hypothesize->test->theorize and model. While it doesn't give a general definition and laws are not said to be general, we cannot say that generalizations are wrong until proven wrong. You claiming they're not general is not scientific because it's your personal opinion that you claim because of your (or basically our) limitations. $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2016 at 18:08
6
$\begingroup$

This is a metaphysical/philosophical question, imo.

There is the platonic ideals school, in this case read for ideals=mathematics, which postulated that ideals existed and nature fell into their form. I have seen a number of theoretically inclined people who are really of that school. One does not have to think of the beginning of the universe to start thinking that the mathematical format is the mold in which nature settles.

So in this school the answer is that "laws and the subsequent theories existed before the observable universe". It becomes metaphysics because it invites a meta level of:" how did these laws and theories appear out of the vacuum".

As an experimental physicist I am of the school that "nature exists and we experimentally study its behavior and fit the data with mathematical models", so the horizon of our knowledge is limited by our experiments and observations. The answer then is like the other answers: we cannot know because we have no observations for the beginning of the universe, only after the cosmic microwave background time in the BigBang, 380.000 years after the beginning. Before that, we fit models and extrapolate back. For a while we thought that BICEP2 had taken us very near to time 0 with gravitational waves, but it turned out not to be rigorously established.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ I find it hard to understand why many or all are thinking of it as just a metaphysical question only because we are limited in our knowledge and understanding of science. After all, metaphysics of today might be main stream physics of tomorrow, like science fiction of yesterday is realistic science of today(almost). Failure in finding answers won't stop us from asking questions. It will only make us more curious and determinant to find answers. $\endgroup$
    – thokiro
    Jan 14, 2016 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ A metaphysical question means just that :beyond mainstream physics/no answer within mainstream physics. That is what the meta term means. You are correct that the physics of today is the metaphysics of last centuries, but in the case of ideals, it is a nesting outside the current physics models. For all the progress since calculus was introduced by Newton, new theories incorporated the old, or showed the the old were emergent. It is hard to think how the build up of physics models could end up to preexisting platonic ideals. Thus metaphysics $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Jan 14, 2016 at 16:53
3
$\begingroup$

As far as I understand, Physics is not able to awnser this question, because the physical laws we use to describe the Universe are not valid up to the exact event of the Big Bang (the Big Bang is said to be a singularity of spacetime).

Physics attempts to describe the Universe at a moment when it already existed, but does not states causes for its existence itself.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Semantics is wrong in more than one way. First of all, there is no "first" without time, and time only exists in the universe, so the question is not well posed. If there was something before the big bang, then both are a part of the same "universe/multiverse" for which common laws must hold (you can't just discretely switch laws all of the sudden - and if you do, the way you switch it follows some rules as well, so you can again put it in a bigger unyfing theory). If the big bang really is the edge of the universe (edge in space-time), then you must still look at it as a whole (time+space), so you just have an object (=universe) that just is. Evolution in time is simply a way of slicing it up and experiencing it, and there's where the notion of "first" and sequence of events comes in.

Secondly... you should understand laws as things that describe the universe, not the thing that governs it. Telling the rules is similar to saying "this apple is delicious". I guess you could ask "what came first: apples or its taste"... in the sense that the concept of taste somehow transcends the existence of an apple, you may argue that the taste can exist even in a world without apples. Two points must be raised here. Firstly, we argue that taste exists because there are other fruits, there's a bigger universe in which an apple exists. This brings us back to the question of just finding the laws that encapsulate the thing bigger than the universe - which begs the question, if we define the universe as everything there is, does it make sense to even talk about "outside the universe"? I'd say no. The second argument is the core of this issue, and probably an answer: the rules of math and logic transcend any reality at all. They are completely abstract concepts that are true in any universe you imagine, or without any universe. Truth is absolute - so in that sense... math comes "before" (not in the sense of physical time, but in the process of philosophical reasoning) everything else. Then, the laws that describe your universe are simply truths (facts) about it.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ So, Math>Truth>Reality is it then? $\endgroup$
    – thokiro
    Jan 14, 2016 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say Math=Truth, but interpretation can vary. Math is a set of all statements you can make without running into a contradiction. This is why it doens't need a universe to work: it only depends on itself. All statements/definitions/rules have to be consistent with eachother. There is no universe where {1=2, where 1,2 are natural numbers, where natural numbers are defined as [Peano axioms]} is true. Notice how every statement has a "scope" (description what you mean). $\endgroup$
    – orion
    Jan 15, 2016 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, this is the old fallacy of mathematicians again. Truth is not absolute. Truth and math are defined. They are artifacs of the rules of logic/math and hence our brain. Even if you go to its maximum depth, you end up at Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Showing that by itself, it has no basis. Hence Mathematics (and truth) cannot ever transcend reality, and are mere phantasms and tool of our minds. Outside of the parts where it makes predictions, and those are verified by perceptions of reality, it is pure religion and pseudoscience. Just like philosophy. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2017 at 6:00
0
$\begingroup$

The "laws" we have found allow to predict how the "universe" manifests itself (including a concrete concept of universe) are nowhere to be found other than our social interactions as agents.

They are in no way in the same phenomenological level than, well, actual observable phenomena (what you call the universe). You can see this hierarchy in the fact that many "laws" can "fit" a single observation.

From a time arrow perspective, they came afterwards, because they appeared after formal-language-augmented social interacting mass-based agents (us) appeared.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, you're just equating "law" with "model" here - we have many different models that ... model ... reality. But what about the actual physical laws, the fundamental reality we are trying to model? Maybe your answer is exactly what thokiro is looking for, but to me, it sounds like the good old "If a tree falls and noöne hears it" kind of "philosophical" misunderstanding. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Jan 14, 2016 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, my answer has that perspective (<> than misunderstanding). Other answers have mentioned this approach: huffingtonpost.com/derek-abbott/… has been cited, especially points 2 and 3. From other answer: "nature exists and we experimentally study its behavior and fit the data with mathematical models", so the horizon of our knowledge is limited by our experiments and observations.", and "... you should understand laws as things that describe the universe, not the thing that governs it." ... in this view, there are no "actual" laws. $\endgroup$
    – cladelpino
    Jan 14, 2016 at 15:51
0
$\begingroup$

Closely related to your question is that of whether mathematics is discovered or invented. If it is discovered, where does it "live"?

Also relevant might be the view of Tegmark on the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis Where he posits that everything is "made of mathematics" and that the physical world is just one such instantiation out of a possible infinite set.

$\endgroup$
5
  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Jan 14, 2016 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind It DOES provide an answer if you believe Tegmark is correct $\endgroup$
    – user56903
    Jan 14, 2016 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ If I believed Tegmark was correct, this would still be a link-only answer, since you don't actually tell us here what the view of Tegmark is. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Jan 14, 2016 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind Corrected $\endgroup$
    – user56903
    Jan 14, 2016 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ Neither. Mathematics is based on logic, which is based on the way our brains (neural nets) work. 1+1=2 because that’s how we defined it. Based on pattern and concepts we use. Which is why the deeper you go, the closer to come to pure logic and how neural nets work. Category theory is a great example. Don’t get me wrong: Math is a great tool. But acting like it “is”, outside of our ways of thinking, is veering off into the territory of religion and nonsensical pseudoscience. It is how it is because we are how we are. And that is fine. Also, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem kills this. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2017 at 6:10

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.