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Wheeler's drawing of the big U: concept of observer participancy


Can the laws of physics be violated?
John Wheeler Scientist
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If I say that the laws of physics did not exist forever but they came into being, along with the big bang, then there ought to be some microscopic fraction of a second in the earliest days, when those laws haven't quite got hold, when things could come out contrary to the laws as we see them, in their firmly established shape of today. I can't be specific on that, but that is at least my present-day answer to your question, can they be violated? Yes, in the very beginning of the world; yes, in the very end of the world. What about the collapse to a black hole? Isn't that something like the end of the world, on a small scale? And could the laws of physics be violated there? That's a fascinating question. I'd be hard put to it to name any concrete case where there would be a violation that one could look for. But I think it would pay several days of vigorously looking over all the conceivable experiments for something that would be outside the scope of a[n] iron-clad quantum mechanics. When you speak of the laws coming into existence at the time of the big bang, that's what you sometimes refer to as 'law without law'. Yes. I don't see any other route for the laws to come into being except out of the act of coming into being of the universe itself. And if someone were to ask you the question, "Professor Wheeler, what was here before the big bang?" what would be your answer? There was no before, before the big bang, would be my answer. The very concept of time made no sense then.

John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.

Listeners: Ken Ford

Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).

Duration: 2 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008