SCIENCE     versus     MATERIALISM

by     Reginald O. Kapp

SECTION III - THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE

Chapter XXVI - A NOTE ON THE ORIGIN OF MATTER


THE origin of Matter, or as the theologian would say, the Creation, is a fact towards which the materialist can only adopt the policy of the ostrich. He may hope to make the theory plausible that our bodies and minds are entirely the result of the unaided action of Matter on Matter. But he can never hope to prove that Matter has produced itself. To say so would be equivalent to saying that a man had raised himself from the floor by pulling at the collar of his own coat. The origin of the Material Universe with all its contents is a mystery for which neither science nor philosophy can provide an explanation. It constitutes the ontological problem in philosophy which William James has aptly described as the skeleton in the philosopher's cupboard.

But though it would be idle to speculate on the why and the how of the Creation, the where and the when are beginning to appear just above the physicist's horizon. Jeans, for instance, as we shall show in a moment, has some interesting speculations on this subject.

It is true that the arguments which we have been using in refutation of materialism are not affected by any answer which could conceivably be given to the question: "When and where did Matter make its first appearance?" So we cannot really justify inclusion of the present chapter in this book. But, nevertheless, the concept "Cosmic Specification" enables us to show this question in a new light and to present a new theory which seems to us to be sufficiently plausible to merit the serious consideration of philosophers and physicists.

We believe that here again the dialogue form has advantages. It enables us to define the meaning of our question most clearly, to keep the points of view of the theologian, the philosopher and the physicist separate and to present in the most readable form. all the arguments which we have been able to think of both for and against the theory. We hope also that our form of presentation will make it easy for others to add any further arguments on both sides which, on account of our limited knowledge of philosophy and physics, have not occurred to us.

Let us, therefore, return to the committee room of the last chapter.

The Secretary turns to the Chairman and says: "The architect's specification which I am using as a model for my editorial work contains two further clauses for which we must now consider suitable equivalents in the Cosmic Specification. The first of these states where the work is to be executed, the second states the commencement and completion dates."

"Exact equivalents are impossible," the Philosopher points out. "The architect requires that his building shall be erected in a stated place in existing space and shall be begun and completed at stated dates in existing time. But the New Universe for which the Cosmic Specification is required is not to be in our space or to pursue its existence in our time. We are imagining that it will have its own space and its own time. These are to be created together with the substance in it. Only thus can the conception of a second Universe have any meaning, for the theory of relativity proves that substance, space and time are inseparable."

"In what form, then, should the corresponding clauses be drafted?" asks the Secretary.

"The clause dealing with location", the Philosopher tells him, "must say in what parts of the newly created space things are to make their first appearance; in other words, how they shall be distributed at the beginning. The clause dealing with dates must say at what part of the newly created time things shall begin to appear and at what part their production shall be complete."

"We will consider the clause dealing with location first," announces the Chairman.

"I have heard the word 'any' so often", remarks the Secretary, "that I have come to expect it. Would it be correct to say that Matter may make its first appearance anywhere?"

The Chairman asks the Philosopher to explain what this would imply.

"If we say anywhere", is the answer, "there would be no reason for any given particle to prefer one place to another. One particle would appear here, another there. Every spot would stand an equal chance of harbouring one. The result would be that Matter was distributed almost evenly in the form of a very tenuous gas. Anywhere would come to mean practically the same thing as everywhere."

"But that is not the way Matter is distributed in our Universe," remarks the Future Citizen.

"No," replies the Physicist, "but Jeans has shown1 that, if the whole of Matter originated in an almost even and very tenuous distribution throughout space, it would, as a result of gravity, condense in the course of time into discrete conglomerations. He has proved mathematically that each of these would contain about the quantity in one of the galaxies. As the process of condensation continued, stars would form, and these again would have about the size of the stars in our Universe. So there is good reason to believe that, given time to develop, the second Universe will be like our own even if the Cosmic Specification says nothing about location."

"What will happen if we say nothing about commencement and completion dates?" asks the Chairman.

"Then, presumably, particles of Matter may come into existence at any time," the Philosopher tells him. "There would be no preference for one moment over another. Each would stand the same chance of witnessing the birth of a particle. One particle might appear at the beginning of the newly created time, another a little later, another still later. New Matter would be coming into existence all the while. . The creation of the "world would be a continuous process, evenly distributed not through space only, but through space-time."

"If that is true of our own Universe," remarks the Theologian, "Creation would be going on here and now. This possibility is certainly more consistent with my view of a living God than the theory which relegates the Creation to a remote past."

"But is the theory of a continuous origin of Matter compatible with science?" asks the Chairman.

"Perhaps physics proves that the Creation occurred an infinite time ago," suggests the Philosopher.

"No. There is sufficient authority for the view that Matter has not existed for ever," the Physicist tells him. "Jeans, for instance has said:

'All this makes it clear that the present matter of the universe camiot have existed for ever: indeed we can probably assign an upper limit to its age of, say, some such round number as 200 million million years! ' 2

The evidence produced by Jeans suggests that the whole of the contents of the Material Universe came into existence at once at the beginning of time."

"We now have to choose between two theories," says the Chairman. "It will be convenient to have names for distinguishing them. I will call the first the 'At-Any-Time' theory and the second the 'Once-Upon-A-Time' theory. We should be grateful if the Physicist would give us arguments for and against each."

"The most relevant arguments are possibly outside my domain," is the physicist's reply. "But I will gladly discuss the bearing of each theory on such subjects as interest me. I will begin with the shape of space-time."

"Could you explain what that means?"

"The theory of relativity proves that space is finite in the sense that if one keeps on in one direction for long enough one will find oneself at the starting-point. A journey through space is equivalent to a journey round the surface of a cylinder. It does not appear that the same is true of time. If one waits long enough one will not find oneself at the moment when the waiting began. Waiting is equivalent to a journey along the surface of a cylinder parallel to the axis. Consequently space-time is described as cylindrical. If time repeated itself we should call space-time spherical.

"Now the Once-Upon-a-Time theory asserts that time has a beginning but not an end. The theory implies that space-time is neither spherical nor strictly cylindrical but that it has the shape of an infinitely long test-tube. On the At-Any-Time theory the origin of Matter has been going on for ever. This theory implies that space-time is not closed at either end, but is truly cylindrical, extending to infinity both in the past and in the future."

"This appears to be the less arbitrary assumption," comments the Philosopher.

"Perhaps. But in explaining why the contents of the Universe are finite the Once-Upon-a-Time theory has the advantage. If Matter is originating all the while and if this process has been going on for ever we are set the hard task of explaining why the total quantity of Matter is not infinite. It is true that we need not expect an infinite number of material particles, for tangible substance seems to change occasionally into radiation. If the process of conversion kept pace with the process of creation the quantity of tangible substance would be finite, but the quantity of radiation would have become infinite. We know that this has not happened."

"That appears to me to be an insuperable objection," comments the Chairman.

"Not quite insuperable if we adopt the further theory that some of the contents of the Material Universe occasionally disappear without leaving a trace behind. If the rate of destruction balanced the rate of creation the contents of the Universe would be finite. It would not be necessary for an exact balance to be struck at any moment. One rate might lose on the other for a while and then catch up and even things out again. The Universe would expand or contract according to whether creation or destruction was for the time being more rapid."

"But things do not suddenly disappear without leaving a trace behind," objects the Chairman. "No one could believe that this ink-stand might vanish at any moment."

"I am suggesting that what might vanish is something very small, just a minute particle of the inkstand which no one would notice, or, perhaps, a quantum of radiation called a photon might get lost occasionally. This might happen now here, now there. The probability that all the particles forming the inkstand, or all the light from a candle would vanish at once is too remote to be contemplated."

"Could you prove this theory by an experiment? Of course you would need very delicate measuring apparatus."

"Perhaps we could, but that is not certain. Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy shows that there is a limit to the value of a change which can be observed. If Matter originates and vanishes in quantities below this limit the process could not be detected by even the most refined methods of observation. When any change in a system announces itself by sending out a signal, called a photon of radiation, the total amount of Matter in the system is unchanged. But if a particle originated or disappeared without sending out a signal we should not know that the event had occurred."

"Then do you believe in the continuous destruction of Matter?"

"I do not. But then I am not sure that I believe in its permanence either. I believe only what I can observe and prove."

"Would the condensation of Matter into stars which Jeans has described be possible if there were continuous creation and destruction?"

"That is a question which the Mathematician might be able to answer," is the Physicist's reply.

"How do the two theories stand the test of the principle of conservation of energy?" the Chairman asks.

"Neither of them can stand this test," is the Physicist's reply. "This principle asserts that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Matter and radiation are both forms of energy. So whenever Matter originates the principle of conservation of energy is broken. On the Once-Upon-a-Time theory this principle was broken once in the world's history and has been faithfully obeyed ever since. On the At-Any-Time theory the principle is being broken all the while, and doubly broken; both by the creation and the destruction of energy"

"Then the latter theory is worse," suggests the Chairman. "It makes out that Matter is a habitual law breaker."

"It is rather the other way about," replies the Physicist. "The At-Any-Time theory makes out that there is no law to be broken. If this theory is true we must regard the principle of conservation of energy not as a law of nature but as a statement formulated by physicists as the most appropriate way of describing what they observe. The Once-Upon-a-Time theory cannot meet the same objection so well. It can only claim that the principle of conservation of energy was created at the same time as everything else, so that there was nothing to break until the Universe was complete."

"That suggests a peculiar state of affairs during the Creation, right up to the moment when the last particle of Matter had come into being," comments the Philosopher.

"Or perhaps the whole process of creation took no time at all," suggests the Physicist. "However, both the view that laws were suspended during the Creation and that the whole process occurred in one blinding flash of infinitely short duration bristles with absurdities, from which the At-Any-Time theory is free."

"Finally", the Physicist continues, "the Once-Upon-a-Time theory makes an arbitrary distinction between space and time while the At-Any-Time theory puts both on the same footing. If the origin of Matter is evenly distributed in space, we are bound to ask the question: 'Why not also in time?' If other things go on happening in the same way all the while, why should the origin of Matter alone be an event which happened once and is never repeated? On the whole the At-Any-Time theory appears the less arbitrary one."

"I have been considering how each of the two theories ought to be worded in the Cosmic Specification," remarks the Secretary. "The wording for the At-Any-Time theory is simple. The clauses stating when the creation of Matter is to start and when it is to be completed both say: 'At any time.' The clause which says for how long any particle of Matter or radiation is to last also says: 'Any time.' But for the Once-Upon-a-Time theory the clauses dealing with the commencement and completion dates will have to read: 'The work is to be started at the beginning of time and is to be completed at the same moment. No period is allowed for construction.' The clause dealing with the duration of Matter will have to be worded: 'Matter, or its equivalent energy, is to last for ever.' "

At this the Philosopher says: "The At-Any-Time theory seems to involve the fewer assumptions. For this reason I consider it the more attractive."

"But attractiveness is not necessarily the justification for adopting one theory in preference to another," the Physicist reminds him. "And we may be mistaken about the number of assumptions made by each. At one time a theory of Euclidean space-time would have seemed more attractive and to make fewer assumptions than the view that space-time has the unrestricted geometry since proved. But we know now that this geometry involves the minimum of assumptions. The Once-Upon-a-Time theory may really be more attractive than it appears now. Above all I would remind you that both theories deal with time, and neither the Philosopher nor I know much about time. We cannot explain it or even understand it properly. If we could, one of us might be able to prove the superiority of one of the two theories over the other. Till then I do not think we ought to form an opinion about them."

"Nevertheless, no one can form an opinion unless it be the Physicist," remarks the Chairman suavely. "I hope at least that in this discussion various aspects of our problem have been stated clearly and cogently enough to induce, or may I say even provoke, you to attempt an answer."


Notes
1 Jeans, The Universe Around Us, p. 202
2 ibid p. 336

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