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How Much Do We Take For Granted?

Newton's laws of motion take inertia for granted. Quantum electrodynamics takes the electrical charge for granted. Gravitational theory takes gravity for granted. And the currently orthodox cosmology takes the Big Bang for granted. But how much are we willing to take for granted?



Why should matter show inertia? What is it that it should resist every change in its state of motion? And why should the miniscule particles be electrical and fall together by gravity? On what grounds can we take all this for granted? The currently popular Big Bang cosmology seems to take for granted that in the absence of the Universe, and in the absence of space and time, there would be nothing. But is it a warranted assumption?



That is the question I asked Allen Sandage at Pomona in the summer of 1987. I suggested that it seems warranted to assume that in the absence of time, there would be the absence of change, and that in the absence of space, there would be the absence of smallness and dividedness. But that leaves open the possibility that underlying what we see there might be the changeless, the infinite, the undivided, which seems a long way from nothing. Sandage was unwilling to discuss the question, so we let the matter drop. Several months later, when Stephen Hawking was in Berkeley, I had the opportunity to ask him whether he thought there was any observational evidence on one side or the other. He replied that he wasn't sure that it was a meaningful question.



However, I think it is a meaningful question, and that the evidence is there in our physics. I further think that the only reason we don't see these things as evidence is because they are the very things we have taken for granted. I see inertia as evidence that the changeless underlies what we see, and I see electricity and gravity as evidence that it is also infinite and undivided. Please note that I have made no supposition as to what it might be; only what it might not be if not in space and time.