Professor Mir Faizal is an Adjunct Professor in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Lethbridge. I wrote an article for Science, Technology & Philosophy, which gained the attention of one of the people related to the work in the article. It happened to be professor Faizal. He reached out in appreciation for the publication and the accuracy of the reportage on the research. I then returned with a request for an interview because… physics and astronomy. I love the field. Here we talk about some of the work.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is the relation between the structure of spacetime and gravity?
Professor Mir Faizal: A geometry can be flat like the geometry of a piece of paper, or a curved geometry, like the geometry of a ball. According to general relativity, the geometry of our spacetime is a curved geometry. In fact, gravity is caused by this curvature of spacetime. This is the main difference between gravity and other forces in nature. Other forces (like electromagnetism, weak or strong nuclear forces) act in spacetime, and gravity is the spacetime.
Jacobsen: What is a singularity?
Faizal: It is possible for the gravitational field to become infinite at a point. As gravity is the structure of spacetime, these points cannot be analyzed as points in spacetime, and laws of physics cannot be applied to such points. The occurrence of singularities is predicted from the equations describing the general theory of relativity. They occur at the center of black holes, and at the start of the universe. So, it seems problematic that our universe is described by elegant laws of physics, which cannot be applied to the beginning of our universe.
Jacobsen: Are these singularities physical or just mathematical artifacts?
Faizal: There are theorems by Penrose and Hawking called the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems, which state that classically the singularities are an intrinsic feature of general relativity, and not just mathematical artifacts. By classical, I mean if we do not consider quantum effects into consideration.
Jacobsen: What happens if quantum effects are taken into consideration?
Faizal: It has been argued that we need a full theory of quantum gravity to understand how quantum effects will change the structure of spacetime, and the physics of singularities. However, we still do not have a full quantum theory of gravity, but only various proposals for quantum gravity. All the past work on removal of singularities has been done using these different proposals for quantum gravity (such as the string theory and loop quantum gravity), so all of the past work depends on the specifics of a particular proposal. However, we approached the problem from a different point of view.
Jacobsen: What was new in your approach?
Faizal: We looked at the mathematical ingredients used to derive the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems, and tried to obtain a quantum version of such theorems. These theorems were derived using an equation the Raychaudhuri equation, and we derived a quantum version of this equation. Then we used it to obtain quantum versions of the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems. Thus, we could demonstrate from our quantum no-singularity theorems that the quantum effects would prevent the occurrence of singularities, just like Penrose and Hawking demonstrated that classical effects would lead to the occurrence of singularities using classical singularity theorems. Our results did not depend on the specifics of a particular model, like the past work done in this field.
Jacobsen: What is the significance of this work?
Faizal: The universe (and even the multiverse), should be described by consistent laws of physics. There should be no inconsistency in nature, and it is this belief in consistency, which is at the heart of a scientific worldview. Every time, we observe that some experimental data is not being explained by a certain physical law describing a physical system, we propose there to be a better more elegant law behind that system (of which the existing law is an approximation). Thus, if the motion of mercury was being described by Newton’s laws, it was not because there was an inconsistency in nature, but because gravity was described by Einstein’s equation, of which Newton’s laws were an approximation. However, if the beginning of the universe could not be described by consistent physical laws, then the whole philosophy of science would view would break down. So, the absence of singularities, means the presence of consistency, at all points in the universe (including its beginning), which in turn means that scientific worldview is a consistent worldview.
Jacobsen: Does this work have implications for the existence of God?
Faizal: It depends on how you define God, as the word ‘God’ has been defined in various ways (many of those definitions are contradict each other). So, if you define God as the as a supernatural being, who keeps breaking the laws of physics by performing miracles, and use the occurrence of singularity to argue for the existence of such a being (by performing a miracle at the point of the big bang), then such an argument is broken. This, in fact, is still a god of gaps, with the big bang being a big gap. On the other hand, if you define God as the most fundamental aspect of existence from which all existence (including elegant laws of mathematics describing nature) emerges, then such a God exists by definition. What we could say about the nature of such a fundamental form of existence, in rather a poetic way, is that there is no inconsistency in the creation of God. However, the definition of God as a supernatural being who performs miracles by breaking laws of physics is inconsistent with this statement about the absence of inconsistency in nature, as miracles are by definition inconsistent with the laws of physics.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Faizal.
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