Letters to Nature

Nature 127, 706 (9 May 1931) | doi:10.1038/127706b0

The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory.


SIR ARTHUR EDDINGTON1 states that, philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him. I would rather be inclined to think that the present state of quantum theory suggests a beginning of the world very different from the present order of Nature. Thermodynamical principles from the point of view of quantum theory may be stated as follows : (1) Energy of constant total amount is distributed in discrete quanta. (2) The number of distinct quanta is ever increasing. If we go back in the course of time we must find fewer and fewer quanta, until we find all the energy of the universe packed in a few or even in a unique quantum.

Now, in atomic processes, the notions of space and time are no more than statistical notions ; they fade out when applied to individual phenomena involving but a small number of quanta. If the world has begun with a single quantum, the notions of space and time would altogether fail to have any meaning at the beginning; they would only begin to have a sensible meaning when the original quantum had been divided into a sufficient number of quanta. If this suggestion is correct, the beginning of the world happened a little before the beginning of space and time. I think that such a beginning of the world is far enough from the present order of Nature to be not at all repugnant. It may be difficult to follow up the idea in detail as we are not yet able to count the quantum packets in every case. For example, it may be that an atomic nucleus must be counted as a unique quantum, the atomic number acting as a kind of quantum number. If the future development of quantum theory happens to turn in that direction, we could conceive the beginning of the universe in the form of a unique atom, the atomic weight of which is the total mass of the universe. This highly unstable atom would divide in smaller and smaller atoms by a kind of super-radioactive process. Some remnant of this process might, according to Sir James Jeanss idea, foster the heat of the stars until our low atomic number atoms allowed life to be possible. Clearly the initial quantum could not conceal in itself the whole course of evolution ; but, according to the principle of indeterminacy, that is not necessary. Our world is now understood to be a world where something really happens ; the whole story of the world need not have been written down in the first quantum like a song on the disc of a phonograph. The whole matter of the world must have been present at the beginning, but the story it has to tell may be written step by step.



  1. NATURE, Mar. 21, p. 447.
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