Book explores how universe could have come from nothing

December 9, 2011

The earliest philosophers argued that out of nothing, nothing comes (ex nihilo, nihil fit). This ignited intense philosophical and theological debates and invoked challenging questions over the coming centuries. How could our universe in all its complexity come into existence from absolute nothingness, if nothing comes from nothing?

In his new book, “A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing,” Arizona State University professor Lawrence M. Krauss explains how recent revolutions in our understanding of physics and cosmology allow modern science to address the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and more importantly, why this is a scientific question rather than a philosophical or theological one. image of book's cover Download Full Image

In a 2009 lecture, Krauss discussed the current picture of the universe, how it will end, and how it could have come from nothing. The lecture’s video quickly became a YouTube sensation, netting nearly 1 million views, and out of that success emerged the idea for the book, which is due out Jan. 10.

“For 2,000 years people have been asking where our universe came from and why there is something rather than nothing. The book is designed to teach about the revolutions in cosmology; but at the same time it is designed to answer that question that a lot of fundamentalists ask: ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ as a proof that there must be God. Everything that we know about the universe allows for it to come from nothing, and moreover all the data is consistent with this possibility,” says Krauss, who teaches in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Many people hold fast to the philosophical expression that something cannot come from nothing. They claim that since we live in a universe that has something this confirms or at least supports the theological doctrine that a divine creator, or some external force, created the universe. However, many physicists disagree, Krauss included. Against the claim, they cite recent scientific advancements.

As Krauss argues, the question of creating something from nothing is first and foremost a scientific one—as the very notions of ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ have been completely altered as a result of our current scientific understanding. As a pioneering theoretical physicist at the forefront of exploratory cosmology and particle physics, Krauss tackles the timeless enigma by showing how science has literally changed the playing field for this big question.

The latest physics research into the origins of the universe shows that, not only can our universe arise from nothing, but more generally, the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity imply that something will generally always arise from nothing. Even space, and the very laws of physics, may so arise. In “A Universe from Nothing” Krauss explains the groundbreaking advances in cosmology and in our understanding of physics that provide insight into how the universe formed, and what its future will be. As he demonstrates, it is possible, and in fact suggested by observation that our universe arose through entirely natural processes, just as Darwin demonstrated that the diversity of life on Earth could arise by natural processes. Indeed, Richard Dawkins, in the afterword of the new book compares Krauss’ book in significance to Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.”

“Recent discoveries about the nature of the universe involve remarkable developments that make it plausible to consider God as unnecessary,” says Krauss, who also is the founding director of the ASU Origins Project.

Krauss clearly, and with great wit and interesting historical color, discusses our current understanding of the geometry of our universe (it’s flat), the quirks of quantum theory (nothingness is unstable), the revolutionary discovery, which he played a role in, that the dominant energy in the universe resides in empty space (which was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize), and the nature of nothingness (nothing doesn’t mean “nothing” anymore), which can provide a natural explanation for how even the initial matter and energy to ignite the birth of the universe can arise from empty space, or even in the absence of space itself.

“Science has changed the way we think about ourselves and our place in the cosmos, and the astounding progress of the last forty years has led us to the threshold of addressing key foundational questions about our existence and our future that were previously thought to be beyond our reach,” says Krauss. “Because these questions are the very ones that humans have asked since they started asking questions, the public deserves to share in the excitement of our scientific quest to understand the biggest mysteries of our existence. As Steven Weinberg has stressed, science doesn’t make it impossible to believe in God. It however makes it possible to consider a universe without one.”

Krauss is the author of eight other books, including “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science,” “Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond,” “The Physics of Star Trek,” and “Quintessence: The Mystery of the Missing Mass.”

Nikki Cassis

marketing and communications director, School of Earth and Space Exploration

Israeli pulp fiction collection distinguishes ASU Libraries

December 9, 2011

Stories of Tarzan, Buck Jones, ‘Patrick Kim’ symbolize Hebrew counterculture

Bright, lively illustrations splash across the covers of small, aged booklets that comprise the IsraPulp collection at Arizona State University. The collection is the sole compilation of Israeli pulp fiction in the United States and contains a wide variety of works. Many of these booklets, known as chapbooks and about the size of a DVD case, are several decades old and representative of popular magazine style publications printed on rough, delicate chip paper. Chapbook cover: The Deserter Download Full Image

Several genres are represented in the collection, which is housed in ASU’s Hayden Library. Many of the works are Westerns, which were highly popular in Israel throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Other genres include espionage thrillers, war stories related to World War II, superhero stories, science fiction stories, and “Stalags,” a type of story that ASU Jewish Studies librarian Rachel Leket-Mor describes as “a genre that brought together American POWs during WWII, sadistic SS female guards, and a lot of imagination in what seems to constitute, in a way, the first literary responses to the Holocaust in Israel.”

Titles in this collection are distinctive and address several aspects of Israeli culture. Many of the pieces of pulp fiction were adapted from the fiction of other countries, especially the United States. “Tarzan ha-Nokem,” translated into English as “Tarzan Revenges,” is the very first Tarzan story written in Hebrew and was published in 1939.

All of the James Bond stories published in Hebrew also are in the IsraPulp collection. Secret agent stories alike to the Bond series are well represented in the works. The protagonist of “Bi-sheliḥut be-Mosḳvah” (“A Mission to Moscow”), published in 1982, is special agent Patrick Kim, a Korean who specializes in karate.

Other stories inspired by American fiction include those dealing with the Western hero Buck Jones. Spelled Buḳ Jones and pronounced “Book Jones” in the original Hebrew, the character is the star of numerous series such as “Sidrat ‘Buḳ Jones’” (“The ‘Buck Jones’ Series”), “Buḳ Jones ha-amiti” (“The Real Buck Jones”) and “Harpatḳa’ot ‘Buḳ Jones’” (“The Adventures of Buck Jones”).

Until the 1980s, the writing and visual aesthetic of the works were created in such a way that they imitated literature that had been translated from English, even though they were originally composed in Hebrew. Characters from American popular culture such as Tarzan, Nick Carter and Shazam were often repurposed and featured in the stories. The pieces of pulp fiction demonstrate both a departure from the purist ideology in mainstream Israeli literature and the importance of the cultural exchange that has taken place between Israel and the United States, noted Leket-Mor. Simulation of fiction translated to Hebrew makes the pieces especially unique.

“These works, in their subversive way, changed the nature of the Israeli publishing industry by making the big, established publishers not only acknowledge the appeal this literature had, but also seek to profit from it and integrate it within the general literary system. The Americanization of the Israeli society is one of the outcomes of this process,” she said.

Stories focusing on Israeli characters also comprise a portion of the collection. “You Can’t Win Twice,” or “Enkha yakhol li-zekhot pa‘amayim” in the original Hebrew, published in 1967, is a rare example of a chapbook featuring a genuine Israeli agent as the protagonist. Another piece starring an Israeli agent is “‘Oz Yaoz vs. Kennedy’s Assassins,” or “‘Oz Ya‘oz neged rotsḥe Ḳenedi,” published in 1964. These works could not have been published by the mainstream publishing industry in Israel in the 1960s.

The works in the IsraPulp collection are representative of a part of the culture of Israel that was separate from the mainstream. Since many of the publishers in the mass production industry were identified with political opposition groups who did not hold the power throughout the history of the nation, some works may be seen as serving to chronicle oppositional viewpoints. Due to the low grade paper on which the stories were printed, many of these materials did not survive, making the IsraPulp collection at ASU one of the most complete representations of this unusual type of literature.

The IsraPulp collection assembled by Leket-Mor is a part of the larger ASU Jewish Studies Israeliana collection. Since these pulp fiction publications were not originally intended to be collected and preserved, the pieces are very difficult to acquire, noted Leket-Mor.

The collection began with the purchase of a dozen booklets and has slowly grown with materials acquired from Israeli collectors over the last several years. Now, the IsraPulp collection contains more than 350 items, and more than 100 are being added. The works in the collection were produced by Hebrew authors since the early 1930s, since the pre-Israel State days and into the 1980s.

Established in 2004, the IsraPulp collection has garnered interest from several academic establishments, including the University of Antwerp in Belgium and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, due to the rarity and uniqueness of its selection. A student from New York University has used some of the pieces to write a senior honors thesis focused on the Israeli Stalag literature of the 1960s, said Leket-Mor.

The IsraPulp collection at ASU helps to distinguish the university’s libraries, she said, noting that a set of works like this falls well within the mission of a large university like ASU. In explaining the significance of such a collection being housed at a major research university, she said, “In this day and age, when scholarly works are becoming available in digital formats or shared among libraries, librarians are encouraged to discover and develop local, unique collections that make their libraries stand out. That's what the IsraPulp collection is: A one-of-a-kind collection that draws attention to a special cultural phenomenon, a collection that puts ASU Libraries on the map together with other world-class collections.”

Other specialty collections, including those in the Arizona Historical Foundation at ASU, which Leket-Mor believes serve a similar purpose to the IsraPulp collection, include the Barry Goldwater Dime Novel Collection and the Joe E. Marks Collection of items such as popular joke books and pictures of vaudevillians.The only other area where materials such as those in the IsraPulp collection are contained is the National Library of Israel, but since the focus of that library is not popular fiction research, many records of pulp fiction there are placeholders for pieces that have been lost or damaged.

Pulp fiction from Israel demonstrates aspects of the culture and society of the nation that would otherwise have gone undocumented and how popular fiction helped to define Israeli values, Leket-Mor noted.

“The library holdings in Jewish Studies make it possible to do scholarly research at ASU on all aspects of the Jewish civilization: history, literature, sociology, art, law and politics,” said Hava Samuelson, an ASU professor of history and director of the Center for Jewish Studies.

“The Jewish Studies Program and the Center for Jewish Studies encourage the ASU community and the community of metropolitan Phoenix to utilize our superb collection,” Samuelson said.

In addition to the IsraPulp collection, the “strong Israeliana Collection in the libraries includes scholarly books, journal articles, e-books, e-journals, CDs and DVDs,” said Samuelson. “This collection has been assembled over several decades and is now managed most successfully by Rachel Leket-Mor, who has created one of the most fascinating collections in the world: the IsraPulp collection.”

The materials in the IsraPulp collection are located in the Special Collections at ASU’s Hayden Library and may be viewed in the Luhrs Reading Room. Items in the collection can also be searched online in the ASU Libraries catalogue under the keywords “popular literature Israel 20th century.” Additional information is online at

A podcast with Leket-Mor is at

Leket-Mor’s article about the history of popular literature in Hebrew and the IsraPulp Collection is scheduled to appear early next year in Judaica Librarianship, a scholarly journal published by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Written by Evan Lewis

Carol Hughes,