Why is there Something Rather Than Nothing?*

This is The Question – the great question. Our universe began in a Big Bang, but why was there a Big Bang? Or are such bangs routine events in an eternal multiverse? But if so, why is there such a multiverse?

We could understand everlasting nothingness – a “universe” devoid of matter or forces or even laws of physics – a non-universe, a default state, of non-existence. But why isn’t that what obtains? How could non-existence ever bring forth our universe, so rich with existence? Or else, how could it exist without ever having been started?

This, religionists say, is the dead end materialism must bump against: why is there something rather than nothing? They have an easy answer: God. But of course that bumps up against the equivalent question: why is there a god rather than no god?

So are we all in the same conceptual black hole of getting something from nothing? Well, not quite the same; at least for the universe its existence is a certainty.

And we do have an answer – sort of – for why it exists. Lawrence Krauss, a prominent science writer, in his recent book, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, does claim to explain it.

 His answer lies in quantum mechanics. Existence, before we even talk about matter (i.e., particles), plays out upon quantum fields. Fields are the underlying “fabric” of the universe; most simplistically, a field might be analogized to the checkerboard upon which checkers is played. The field configuration governs how particles behave, and even what particles there are. A field hosting no particles at all – i.e., nothingness – would be called a “vacuum state.” However, says Krauss – this is the nub of his argument – the laws of relativistic quantum field theory tell us that vacuum states are unstable. Such a state of particlelessness cannot persist, but must devolve into something else. Thus particles (i.e., matter) must exist.

In the face of this, Krauss says, theologians and some (non-scientific) philosophers respond by moving the goal posts – redefining “nothingness” from the scientific understanding (sketched out above) to some sort of idealized (and more profound) nothingness. They can always say that nothingness as defined by science is not as empty as their nothingness, so science could never be right.

David Alpert – a philosophy professor – reviewed the book in The New York Times. Quite simply, he says, Krauss is wrong and the theologians and philosophers he faults are correct.

To see why, you have to step back one level. Krauss would be right if the quantum field paradigm he invokes were indeed a fundamental property of – I want to say “existence” here, but really need a broader word that takes in both existence and/or nonexistence, whichever one of them obtains. Quantum fieldism may indeed be a fundamental property of our existence but, as Alpert says, a true nothingness alternate would be not vacuum state fields, but no fields at all.

 In other words, just as God believers merely push the problem back one level – with no answer for why there is a god, or where he came from – Krauss likewise has no answer for why there have to be quantum fields.

But even supposing he did – being able to trace quantum-mechanical laws back to some still deeper property X embedded in existence/nonexistence – as Alpert observes, shouldn’t we then ask, why X rather than not X? Is there a last such question? Or is it an infinite regression?

So it’s not enough to explain the cause of existence. You’d have to explain why that cause obtains. And then why that explanatory factor itself obtains. And so forth. Dare I whisper, “first cause”?

I thought Alpert’s review was fair until the final paragraph, where he says that religion concerns important human issues, but “all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.” (His emphasis)

 Oh please. The humanistic concerns Alpert invokes are simply not at issue here. But Krauss was endeavoring to answer the greatest cosmic mystery, by applying to it our best scientific understanding. Surely that’s a worthy endeavor. If Krauss hasn’t provided a fully satisfactory answer, it’s a lot better answer than religion has ever offered. (“Turtles all the way down”?) And though quantum mechanics may be counter-intuitive in many respects, yet it has so far withstood the test of scientific falsification through experiment. Religion never has; it’s just fairy tales. Which of the two can be called “silly”?

Even though he does oversell his argument, at least Krauss is on the right track. The universe is not some woo-woo construct of occult origin, conjured up by some imaginary conjurer (from outside the existence he conjured). No – it is natural, not supernatural; the very notion of non-naturalness is incoherent. And if it’s natural, it’s explicable. The explanation may still be way beyond us, but it must lie somewhere along the lines Krauss talks about. Someday, we’ll get it (and it won’t be from theologians).

NOTE: FOR A LATER BLOG POST ON THIS TOPIC, CLICK HERE.

Warning: This post contains highly abstruse metaphysical bloviating. Also discussion of quantum mechanics, which I cannot claim to understand. Then again, as physicist Richard Feynman said, “if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you do not understand quantum mechanics.”

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30 Responses to “Why is there Something Rather Than Nothing?*”

  1. Gregg Millett Says:

    Nicely done! Still I’ll just maintain my state of not-knowing and awe.

  2. Bob Green Says:

    There is something rather than nothing because the state of “nothing” is UNSTABLE. Quantum Physics tells us that the state of “nothing” does not stay “nothing” for long. A true nothing means no energy, no space and no time. Nothing is like a sphere of zero radius with nothing around it. Once a quantum event occurs inside this sphere (and it will according to physics) the radius of this sphere expands slightly causing the pressure ratio of the inside pressure to the outside pressure (zero) to be infinite or near infinite. Remember that a number divided by zero is INFINITY. This infinite pressure ratio causes a rapid expansion resulting in the Big Bang explosion. If we put a partially filled balloon in a vacuum chamber, it expands rapidly and bursts since the internal pressure is greater than the external pressure. Inserting this same balloon into a state of true “nothing” is even more explosive. Google and download “The Origin of the Universe – Case Closed” for a better explanation with lots of pictures and simple language. It even has the math in the appendix to back up the claims. The key to understanding creation is in knowing that gravity is actually negative energy allowing a creation from nothing where the total energy of the universe is zero. Since the state of “nothing” is unstable, the stuff around us is the result of nature seeking stability. It’s amazing that modern physics says it’s possible for the universe to exist without a creator.

    [FSR comment: Many thanks. This is basically Krauss's argument, and actually, I basically agree with it. However, there is still the deep problem of how you account for the fact that the instability of nothingness is a property of "existence." Why is it not possible to conceive of a state of affairs in which that is NOT a property of nothingness; and if so, why do we have one and not the other? Indeed, after all, the hypothetical in which what you're talking about is NOT a property of existence actually avoids the mind-bending paradoxes of the paradigm wherein it is.
    I surely believe "it's possible for the universe to exist without a creator" -- because, well, it DOES -- but I think we're kidding ourselves if we think we have the total explanation.]

  3. The Mechanics of Prayer and Quantum Theory « Talesfromthelou's Blog Says:

    [...] Why is there Something Rather Than Nothing?* (rationaloptimist.wordpress.com) [...]

  4. Anonymous Says:

    It’s quite logically simple. “Nothing” does not exist, any more than invisible pink unicorns exist. Assume nothing exists. Then that “nothing” is something that exists. Therefore, something exists, which contradicts the assumption that nothing exists. The question is not, why is there something rather than nothing, but what *is* it?

    [FSR comment: Thanks for showing us how logically simple this issue is. Now all the philosophers can retire.]

  5. kwiqly Says:

    When you refer to religionists you may be missing a point.

    Take the “zeroeth” Law of Thermodynamics – It is axiomatic

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeroth_law_of_thermodynamics

    To label the explanation of something inherently beyond our understanding and non-disprovable is to employ an axiomatic premise. It only requires adoption or “good faith”

    It can be an axiom to abstract a convenient set of principles, used extensively as a basis of building understanding and commonly is simply adopted as a shorthand. Wave vs particulate nature of material is an example. By current thinking waves and particles are less things and more behaviors, themselves axiomatically adopted as possessing spring-likeness or particle-likeness. As such there is no proof that they exist, but we can adopt the axiomatic shorthand and buy and sell springs in hardware stores.

    As a thought experiment you may consider God as axiomatically being The Logos (reason , basis, truth, fundament and yes “Word” for all existence) and it is possible to reasonably construct a set of life principles based upon this premise. This is philosophizing and it is rational.

    As you know many people do this, as an article of faith (as is the existence or otherwise of matter) and it is equally non-disprovable as the axioms of mathematics if they are consistent.

    It is worthy of note that for most of all history the “completeness” of consistent Mathematical axioms has been assumed or adopted as true – Bertrand Russell spent his life trying to establish this, until Goedel came along and showed us that axioms of Mathematics regarding completeness are self-contradictory. Mathematics are non-disprovable if consistent and inconsistent if disprovable.

    By recent history therefore, God as an axiom has stood the test of time far better than the best mathematics or science the world has yet established – perhaps because God is a more elegant self-evidence – Self-referentially and axiomatically what is YWVH loosely but “I am that I am” – or ” I am that is” – Sounds axiomatic does it not ?

    Posit that you can disprove axiomatic truth – and you are on a hiding to nothing or a fools errand!

    Choose not to accept God (and you may because axiomatically He gave you that freedom) and some think you are missing out on The Truth – axiomatically they are by definition correct.

    Your option is to actively not accept their definition, but if you change the definition of what I take to be a treefrog it will never be any less real to me (or to you) !

  6. Why Are Physicists Hating On Philosophy? « Στα ίχνη της Γνώσης … Tracing Knowledge Says:

    [...] Why is there Something Rather Than Nothing?* (rationaloptimist.wordpress.com) [...]

  7. John Says:

    Heard of the book in the Colbert Report and that was an immediate concern that came to me, about “true nothingness”. Here I loved how clear you laid it out, and fair to both Mr. Krauss and doubts his book raises. Thanks!

  8. Dave Says:

    This is strange to me, because it’s like you get the argument, but not quite – there’s a fundamental piece you’re getting that actually answers your question of “where did that initial quantum field or whatever else you want to posit come from? ”

    Science is now backing up what I’ve known for a while through personal philosophy. When most people think of reality, they think of the stuff that’s here – the universe, with matter, energy and forces. But reality is predicated on contingency, not existence. The most fundamental description of reality is not that stuff exists, but that stuff can either exist or not exist and those things are different. You seem to kind of understand that when you say “a broader word that takes in both existence and/or nonexistence”. I call that “level” of reality a transexistential quantum. Now here’s the tricky bit – the reason it exists without any further reason required is because it doesn’t really exist, or more accurately, it is transexistential. It can neither be said to exist or not exist. It is basically the absence of reality and when we look at reality as contingency instead of existence, its absence becomes not a vacuum, but the absence of existing and not existing being different. If there’s no reality at all, there’s neither existence nor non existence, which means all possible states of reality must both exist and not exist (this is the instability of true nothing that scientists are discovering). There is an inescapable fracture of polarisation that gives rise to positive existence and negative existence, that necessitates contingent reality. I am convinced that one day scientists will find that when they zoom in close enough, they wil lfind those sub-atomic particles can neither be said to exist or not exist, because at the “lowest level” of reality, which is the absence of reality, there is not a difference.

  9. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    Why is there Something Rather Than Nothing?

    Logic: That which exists must have one or more properties. Nothingness has no properties. Therefore, nothingness does not exist and the question is meaningless.

    Metaphysics: There can be no uncaused cause, which means causation is infinite. Since something is the result of causation, there has always been something. The question of why there is something rather than nothing is therefore incoherent.

    Physics: From cosmological Vacuum Fluctuations to quantum mechanical Virtual Particles to the Casimir Force, nothingness does not exist in nature. Therefore, a seemingly ex nihilo event has no basis in nature and is an illusion.

    Me: Nothingness is a semantical construct which, in turn, is an anthropic concept. A doughnut hole, for example, exists only as an area defined by human beings as the inside surface of the doughnut. Thus, when the doughnut is eaten, the hole ceases to exist. But then the hole never existed in the first place except as a descriptor.

  10. j Says:

    I think we have to define existence as not only being physical, but also temporal. Nothingness is not only the absence of anything physical, but it is also the absence of time, something I don’t think we’re capable of experiencing, observing or comprehending. Nothingness lacks any possibility of changing, it cannot be observed or understood, and it doesn’t even have the possibility of existing or not existing itself. Therefore, trying to define nothingness, and trying to prove that nothingness cannot exist through a framework of laws that apply to existence (or even through the logic of a being that exists) seems impossible.

    I’d propose that since everything we know and understand about existence is based upon our observations, studies, and thoughts (which are all based in a temporal existence themselves), our attempts to present, challenge, prove, disprove, or even contemplate “nothingness” would be futile.

    It seems problematic, then, to try to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” by attempting to define and disprove the second option. I’m not sure that was Leibniz’s intent. The only remotely scientifically observable part of the question is the first half, “Why is there something?” which is what I think Leibniz was getting at in the first place: we cannot scientifically explain “why”. We’re not equipped to do so in our temporal state of existence. Only something eternal (existing outside of time) could comprehend both existence and nothingness and give an answer. And the eternal is either nothingness (since nothingness exists outside of time, as stated before) meaning there is no “why”, no reason for existence, that it exists because it does, because it’s more stable than a vacuum, because there can be no uncaused cause, or any other number of reasons or properties of existence that somehow exist themselves…Or it’s something.

  11. no way Says:

    What I want to say to Krauss: “Congratulations! Nothingness is unstable within the confines of Existence! Who woulda thunk?”

  12. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    A couple of years ago, I posted this about “nothing” on another blog:

    “It is my unerudite opinion that nothing is, in point of fact, something. Indeed, nothing is a wannabe something, a something lying in wait, if you will. Of course, nothing is also something that ceases to be.

    “Trillions of years from now when all the suns in the universe will have burned up all their fuel and the forces of nature will have stopped being, well, you know, forces of nature, then nothing will not only be something, but nothing will be everything!”

  13. James W. Tucker (@jtucker2013) Says:

    There’s always been something rather than nothing. The universe simple exists and has always existed. Mankind has only been around for roughly 150,000 years. It’s only the evolution of our species discovering these complexities of our reality: Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Einstein … Now, consider the platitude of 150,000 years compared to the entire age of the universe. It’s mindboggling. We simply have yet to discover all the complexities of the universe to understand the causes of the hidden elements. Maybe we will or maybe we won’t. So, the reality is that for us, there’s always been something rather than nothing. It’s impossible to say that there is nothing, because there hasn’t been. We can imagine there is before mankind, or say, for example, the universe was caused by the Big Bang and ask what was there before the Big Bang, but then we get into the whole cliche of since there’s no observant that there is nothing to observe. The dinosaurs didn’t have the intelligence to observe the universe, or question its existence. Nor other animals. We might ask what are the gas planets for? What’s the point? It just is. I know it’s a blunt rebuttal, that’s really the answer. At least until we keep evolving to discover new elements. Problem with that is: 98 of all species on Earth will become extinct at some point. That includes humans. Then there is nothing to observe anymore. Since there is nothing to observe there is no real point of anything and there is NOTHING but that does not mean the planets and the universe simple stops existing.

  14. James W. Tucker (@jtucker2013) Says:

    Sorry, meant to add 98 percent in last reply.

  15. James W. Tucker (@jtucker2013) Says:

    One more point: who says that what we observe is the truth? Reality is often fragments, distorted. Didn’t David Hume point this out? Hobbs? Doesn’t mankind make mistakes? We age and our cells simply break down; so in a vague way, how can we be sure of something so complex as the universe can be right? Some of Einstein’s ideas were not all correct?

  16. John M. Giannone Says:

    Sorry, if you really mean to be saying something about abut the universe, and you mean to be saying it with the word ‘nothing’, then you can hardly “define it from a scientific point of view. . . to get rigorous, I suppose . . . while wanting, apparently, to be talking about nothing.

    I might put my point his way, ‘If I open a closet and find nothing,’ then remembering that you promised to shop before i got home, I might ask, ‘Why is the closet bare?’ In asking I want to know how it came about that the closet is empty. You might then give some explanation of events. When one asks “Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Putting forward a factual answer merely
    particularizes the question. What we now have is ‘Why is there X
    rather than nothing?’ So . . . off to our homemade infinite regress.

    The word ‘nothing’ does not refer to a something, and we should stop jerking ourselves around as if it does refer to something. Were I to say, mistakenly or not, that nothing exists in space, I wouldn’t mean to imply that something exists and it is nothing.
    If I try to give an answer by defining ‘nothing’ from the “scientific
    point of view’ (Whatever that means here.) I would have changed
    what I was asking, and if I did not know that, then I would just carry on for centuries. So . . .”What came first . . . the chicken or the e.g.?”

  17. rationaloptimist Says:

    I think Mr. Giannone’s comment points up the semantic and philosophical difficulties of trying to grapple with this subject.

  18. Sam Says:

    do numbers exist ? Does the addition exist ? They do in a sort of abstract/function space. Now, if you take a function much more complicated that can lead to consciousness/self-awareness (whatever this function might be), would this function exist ?
    The answer is yes from the point of view of this function, as that function itself would believe that it exists and reality is whatever this consciousness perceives it to be.
    This leads to the answer that the universe exists *because* its function leads to consciousness, and we perceive it to be *something*.

  19. nuality Says:

    I think a more fundamental question is “why are things the way they are?”, or “why this?”

    To see why, imagine a set, or ensemble of “logical possible ways” the world could be. Let’s abbreviate this as “possible worlds”. So in this ensemble, there are worlds that Al Gore actually won the presidency, and there is even a world with nothing, or a nothing nothing world( and since “nothing” is not a word that stand for something), this means there are no matter, no energy, and no what physicists’ mean by field. In this setup, the world with “no thing”, or nothing is just one world among many in this vast ensemble of worlds that contain “something”, or “anything” with the condition that in these worlds that contain something, those something must at least be logically possible.

    From this frame work, we see a couple of things:

    1. There are vastly more worlds with something, than nothing. We can imagine vastly more worlds with Al Gore won the presidency, or a world with no Starbucks, or Peet’s Coffee.

    2. The “nothing world” if it exist, there can be only one such world.

    Some possible objection might be “why there are only one nothing world?”. The people that would raise this objection might in their mind be thinking about about worlds with no matter, no energy, but different dimensions of “space” of nothing. Here, space with different dimensions are like containers of something. I would answer by reaffirming that this “nothing world” contains no space of any dimensions. Some people might raise the objection that these non-empty worlds can contain unactualized laws. So, there could be a nothing world with an inverse cube law, but there are matter to apply such a law in such a world. So the reason goes, we can have many nothing worlds with different unactualized laws. In response to this, I just say those worlds with unactualized laws are still worlds with something, and thus not qualify as “nothing worlds”. In brief, if there is a “nothing world”, then there could only be one nothing world, and it is unique.

    If we take this frame work as plausible, the question of “why there is something rather than nothing?” becomes “why there is the ‘empty world’, and not a non-empty world?’. One possible answer is that those non-empty worlds vastly outnumber the only one empty one. So, if there is a cosmic draw for the way the cosmos is structured, then it is simply more likely for there to be a non-empty world, rather than an empty world.

    Is this the final answer to “why there is something rather than nothing”? The answer is “there are vastly more non-empty world, than the only empty one.” I think not, because the frame work which we assume, of a selection taking place is in need of explanation. We need to assume a cosmic selector, selecting from an ensemble of possible worlds, but why such selector doing the selecting?

    So, from the initial question of “why there is something rather than nothing?”, we have come to postulate an ensemble of worlds, and the existence of a cosmic selector, selecting randomly on this postulate ensemble. We can perhaps ask about the property of this selector principle.

    Here are some possible selector principles on the ensemble of possible worlds:

    1. The fecundity selector principle which select all possible worlds, and by this I mean all the worlds in the ensemble obtains.

    2. The selector principle that claim that the nothing world obtains, and this means there are no non-empty world.

    3. The selector select 1 non-empty world(ours), and exclude all else.

    4. The selector select n>1 non-empty, or empty worlds, but n is less than all the worlds in the ensemble.

    For he purpose of time, 1, 2, and 4 are all false, and only 3 remains.

    Still, the deep yearning for explanation remains. Why 3? Why “this”?

  20. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    nuality says, “I think a more fundamental question is ‘why are things the way they are?’, or ‘why this?’” Now “why’ means, “for what reason, cause, or purpose.” But “reason” and “purpose” are anthropic constructs used to describe intent. Unless nuality would have us consider something supernatural or something transcendent, we’re left with causality. That being the case. I would restate the questions here as, “What caused things to be the way they are?” and “What caused this?”

    Nuality posits that in a set of all possible worlds, one (and only one) would have to be “nothing.” In effect, he is proposing that there has to be a nothing world, otherwise the set of all possible worlds would be short by one world. But this proposition is false because a nothing world is not a possible world. This is true because there can be no such thing as an uncaused cause. And anything caused is something. Nothing cannot be caused.

    For example, take the lowly donut hole. It can be said that the hole consists of nothing (ignoring the stuff in the space it occupies.) But the hole is defined by the donut itself; i.e., the yummy interior surface. And after the donut is eaten, the hole is gone. That’s OK because the hole never existed as an entity in the first place; it was not caused as an independent object.

    Therefore, a nothing world cannot exist. It has no essence, no attributes, nothing to separate itself from other worlds – it cannot be caused.

    Still, that leaves a whole lot of possible worlds for humans to consider how they were caused, which is to say, why they are the way they are.

  21. nuality Says:

    Actually,Mr Fleet, my intention is more close to “reason”, and “purpose”, instead of “causality” when I ask “why this?”. I assume, “intent” is the correct way to approach, and answer the most fundamental question of reality, or “why this?”. For example, how might one explain the web of causal relationships in our world, depicted completely by the laws of fundamental physics? Well, natural impulse is to explain less fundamental causal relationships, with more deeper, and more profound causal relations, or more fundamental laws. physicists might be able to derive less fundamental laws from more fundamental laws, and in this sense, more fundamental laws can in certain sense explains less fundamental laws, but how might one explain the deepest, and most fundamental laws that govern reality? Here are some possible ways to go about it:

    1. Claim that the most fundamental laws that govern how the world works are brute facts, or facts that can not be reduced.

    2. Claim that there is an underlying “intent” to the fundamental laws. That is to say, there is a reason, and purpose for why the world is so structured.

    My preference is 2.

    Mr Fleet, you claim that a nothing world is not logically possible. You compare it with the logical impossibility of an “uncaused cause”. I can not see why you might think this way. What I think is a better way to “picture” an empty world is perhaps an empty set. That is, a set with no elements. I suspect that the reason you feel the way you do is because, you see “worlds” as containers with stuff inside. Already, this mental picture of a container already assumes spatial-temporal relations, and that is clearly not nothing. Since, spatial-temporal relations are something(space), then you reason, clearly, an empty world with no space, no time cannot be. It is why you have problems with an empty world. I don ‘t see the empty world as like a container. I see the empty world as more like the empty set.

    Mr Fleet, You claim “Still, that leaves a whole lot of possible worlds for humans to consider how they were caused, which is to say, why they are the way they are.”.

    First, I think asking for a causal reason for the existence of an ensemble of non-empty worlds is misguided. If those worlds exist, and that fact is fundamental, then there cannot be a causal explanation to their existence, because that would assume an antecedent that exist outside of the fundamental reality of an ensemble of worlds. This is a contradiction.

    Second, there cannot be more than one world. If you have two worlds side by side, it is not two worlds, but one world.

    I am of the opinion that there is one world, and that it had to be the way it is, because it is so for a reason.

  22. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    nuality: First, thanks for responding so quickly to my comments. It’s always helpful, if not informative, to get feedback, be it positive or negative.

    As to the subject at hand, the main difficulty with abstract arguments is that they sometimes break down because of semantics. So, we ought to agree on what we mean by “world” and “nothing” and “something” and “possible.” Otherwise, we’re just talking past each other.

    I take “world” to mean something that exists in a material sense; i.e., something that has physical characteristics or properties. More specifically, where we’re talking about a multiverse, then each world must be considered a universe.

    “Nothing,” on the other hand, is merely a description for something non-existent – If I open a box and it’s empty, I say, “There’s nothing in the box!” (See the donut hole above.)

    “Something,” on the other hand is a “thing that exists.” Or, to say it the other way around, “nothing” cannot exist either physically or metaphysically because “nothing” is no thing. So, if we can say that zero represents nothing, then 1 + 0 has to equal 1 and only 1. Any other result would be a violation of the law on non-contradiction, and thereby incoherent.

    “Possible” means, “capable of happening, existing, or being true without contradicting proven facts, laws, or circumstances.” Therefore, in your set of possible worlds, what you call a nothing world cannot exist. Otherwise you end up with the nonsensical premise, “nothing is possible.” (See Russell’s Paradox.) And nothing cannot be caused because there is no thing affected by causation.

    Of course, this is a paradox. Causation is infinite – backwards and forwards. But science is full of paradoxes. We mortals are limited by the time-space continuum we occupy, and by our mental capacity to learn and to build on existing knowledge. So, just because we don’t know what a particular cause is, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I would even go so far as to say that causation is necessary and therefore not contingent. (I should also note that causation is non-linear. But it’s not chaos either. It’s more like what happens when the wind from the wings of a butterfly combine with more wind and other meteorological forces to produce a tornado in Kansas.)

    Now on to the conundrum of “intent” (as derived from reason and purpose.) But that invokes the teleological argument, meaning the universe was intelligently designed, that the laws of nature came from a supernatural force – a first cause.

    Well, I’ve already made the case that there is no such thing as a first cause – an uncaused cause – so I don’t need to beat that drum again. As to the laws of nature, however, it seems pretty obvious to me that the universe doesn’t need any laws. Humans do. The universe operated as it was supposed to long before we humans came along and I’m sure it will continue long after we’re gone. The universe doesn’t need us, we need it!

    I mean no disrespect, but I also disagree with the use of set theory in a discussion of “possible worlds.” I’ve already pointed out what I see as fallacies in your logic with respect to a “nothing world.” Of course, you may design sets any way you like. But that is just an a priori intellectual exercise that, if held to a rigorous scientific standard, would be quickly falsified.

    But you might win this argument after all. Consider that trillions of years from now when all the suns in the universe will have burned up all their fuel, and the forces of nature will have stopped being, well, you know, forces of nature, then nothing will not only be something, but nothing will be everything!

  23. nuality Says:

    “I take “world” to mean something that exists in a material sense; i.e., something that has physical characteristics or properties. More specifically, where we’re talking about a multiverse, then each world must be considered a universe.”

    This is already a pretty restrictive definition. I like to think that if there are gods, abstract objects, and ghosts, they are part of the world, and yet, not physical. Because of this difficulty, I tend to use “worlds” pretty loosely.

    ““Something,” on the other hand is a “thing that exists.” Or, to say it the other way around, “nothing” cannot exist either physically or metaphysically because “nothing” is no thing. So, if we can say that zero represents nothing, then 1 + 0 has to equal 1 and only 1. Any other result would be a violation of the law on non-contradiction, and thereby incoherent.”

    Ok, but I don ‘t see how nothing is the same as the empty world, and it seems perfectly intuitive to think of a world with no existent as similar to a set without any elements.

    ““Possible” means, “capable of happening, existing, or being true without contradicting proven facts, laws, or circumstances.” Therefore, in your set of possible worlds, what you call a nothing world cannot exist. Otherwise you end up with the nonsensical premise, “nothing is possible.” (See Russell’s Paradox.) And nothing cannot be caused because there is no thing affected by causation.”

    Since I see no problem with the concept of an empty world( I see it as similar to an empty set), I see no problem with a possible empty world. It is the simplest world of all possible worlds; it is the world with no existent at all.

    “Of course, this is a paradox. Causation is infinite – backwards and forwards. But science is full of paradoxes. We mortals are limited by the time-space continuum we occupy, and by our mental capacity to learn and to build on existing knowledge. So, just because we don’t know what a particular cause is, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I would even go so far as to say that causation is necessary and therefore not contingent. (I should also note that causation is non-linear. But it’s not chaos either. It’s more like what happens when the wind from the wings of a butterfly combine with more wind and other meteorological forces to produce a tornado in Kansas.)”

    If our intention is to ask, and give tentative answers to the most fundamental, and ultimate questions, an infinite causal chain that extent infinitely forward, or backward would not give us an answer to the meta question of why such causal chain, and not some other had to be the way it is.

    “Now on to the conundrum of “intent” (as derived from reason and purpose.) But that invokes the teleological argument, meaning the universe was intelligently designed, that the laws of nature came from a supernatural force – a first cause.”

    It is an teleological argument, but I don ‘t see how it implies a “supernatural force”, or a “first cause”. I suspect the universe had to be the way it is at the deepest level because it is “good”, and “perfect”. Perhaps, the universe exist, because of the need to produce good people?

    “Well, I’ve already made the case that there is no such thing as a first cause – an uncaused cause – so I don’t need to beat that drum again. As to the laws of nature, however, it seems pretty obvious to me that the universe doesn’t need any laws. Humans do. The universe operated as it was supposed to long before we humans came along and I’m sure it will continue long after we’re gone. The universe doesn’t need us, we need it!”

    You can see laws as regularities, and descriptive, or laws as necessities, and prescriptive. It really is not an issue for me.

    “I mean no disrespect, but I also disagree with the use of set theory in a discussion of “possible worlds.” I’ve already pointed out what I see as fallacies in your logic with respect to a “nothing world.” Of course, you may design sets any way you like. But that is just an a priori intellectual exercise that, if held to a rigorous scientific standard, would be quickly falsified.”

    I would like to see your try doing that. I am not sure how appealing to the authority of science, and empiricism would enter into an discussion about possible worlds that are constructions of philosophers.

  24. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    naulity, in talking about the definition of “world” you say, “This is already a pretty restrictive definition. I like to think that if there are gods, abstract objects, and ghosts, they are part of the world, and yet, not physical. Because of this difficulty, I tend to use “worlds” pretty loosely.”

    Yes, gods, ghosts, Bugs Bunny, etc., are all abstractions and not physical. But each of those “imaginings” carries with it set of identifiable properties, which are proxies for something physical so that other people can kind of visualize the “thing.” But “nothing” has no such abstract properties. It’s as if you are asking me to imagine a SQUARE TRIANGLE. So again, I assert that using “nothing” along with one or more somethings is a violation of the law on non-contradiction, and, like the square triangle, is incoherent.

    Your response to that is, “Ok, but I don ‘t see how nothing is the same as the empty world, and it seems perfectly intuitive to think of a world with no existent as similar to a set without any elements.” I’ve tried to answer that claim in the paragraph above and in my previous post. I guess your intuition is in a different world than my intuition.

    “Since I see no problem with the concept of an empty world( I see it as similar to an empty set), I see no problem with a possible empty world. It is the simplest world of all possible worlds; it is the world with no existent at all.”

    To that, I say you can’t have it both ways. Either 2 + 2 = 4. Or 2 + 2 = not 4. But, you can’t have both at the same time.

    “If our intention is to ask, and give tentative answers to the most fundamental, and ultimate questions, an infinite causal chain that extent infinitely forward, or backward would not give us an answer to the meta question of why such causal chain, and not some other had to be the way it is.”

    On that point, I ask, why were you born on the date you were born on? Why were you born in the place you were born? Why did you have the parents you had when you were born? Why were you born into the culture you were born into? Why are your physical characteristics and genetics the way they are? In other words, why are you the way you are and not some other way?

    As I said above, causation is non-linear. So there is no single “chain” of causation, there are an infinite number of chains. As Carl Sagan once said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

    “It is an teleological argument, but I don ‘t see how it implies a “supernatural force”, or a “first cause”. I suspect the universe had to be the way it is at the deepest level because it is “good”, and “perfect”. Perhaps, the universe exist, because of the need to produce good people?

    According to Wikipedia, “A teleological argument for the existence of God, also called an argument from design or physicotheological proof, is an a posteriori argument for the existence of God based on apparent design and purpose in nature, beyond the scope of any such human activity.” This argument holds that the universe must have had a “First Cause” or a “Prime Mover.” So this is based on philosophy and not on science. But the major fallacy in the argument, put forth by philosophers, is its circular logic; e.g., who or what created god, and who or what created those who created god? It’s turtles all the way down.

    This is pertinent to this discussion because the argument says that the universe must have been caused; that it could not have come from “nothing.” We can disagree on the cause (or causes) but we can agree that something did not come from nothing. Or, as Walt Disney said, “I hope that we never lose site of one thing: that it was all started by a Mouse.”

    You finish with, “I am not sure how appealing to the authority of science, and empiricism would enter into an discussion about possible worlds that are constructions of philosophers.”

    Fair enough. But if you are talking about ALL possible worlds, that would have to include physical worlds as well as abstract worlds. I’ve argued that physical worlds are the result of causation and can’t come from “nothing,” and that, therefore, there can’t be a “nothing” physical world.

    I’ve also argued that even abstract worlds can only exist if they have certain identifiable characteristics and that those that cannot be imagined, like a round square or a nothing world, are incoherent and illogical.

    Based on the forgoing, my conclusion with respect to this discussion is that a nothing world cannot be one of all possible worlds.

    Sorry to be so verbose, but I hope I have clarified any misunderstanding you may have had regarding my position on this subject.

  25. nuality Says:

    “naulity, in talking about the definition of “world” you say, “This is already a pretty restrictive definition. I like to think that if there are gods, abstract objects, and ghosts, they are part of the world, and yet, not physical. Because of this difficulty, I tend to use “worlds” pretty loosely.”

    Yes, gods, ghosts, Bugs Bunny, etc., are all abstractions and not physical. But each of those “imaginings” carries with it set of identifiable properties, which are proxies for something physical so that other people can kind of visualize the “thing.” But “nothing” has no such abstract properties. It’s as if you are asking me to imagine a SQUARE TRIANGLE. So again, I assert that using “nothing” along with one or more somethings is a violation of the law on non-contradiction, and, like the square triangle, is incoherent.”

    This I think is either your lack of imagination, or that you don ‘t know what “abstract objects” means, since it came out of university philosophy departments. I think things like numbers have independent existence, just like principles of morality. It is discovered by reason, and intuition. So, it is no surprise to me that the world can have more than physical stuff.

    “I’ve tried to answer that claim in the paragraph above and in my previous post. I guess your intuition is in a different world than my intuition.”

    I think you are just not trying. The best way is think of worlds as represented by sets. So, if there is a possible world W with existent X1, X2, and X3, there is a set S(W) such that S(W) contains X1, X2, and X3 as elements. S(W)={X1, X2, X3}
    Since there is an empty set { }, we can say it is a representation of the empty world. I would like to also note that Robert Nozick also postulated an empty world in his philosophical investigation book.

    “On that point, I ask, why were you born on the date you were born on? Why were you born in the place you were born? Why did you have the parents you had when you were born? Why were you born into the culture you were born into? Why are your physical characteristics and genetics the way they are? In other words, why are you the way you are and not some other way?

    As I said above, causation is non-linear. So there is no single “chain” of causation, there are an infinite number of chains. As Carl Sagan once said”

    Well, a causal chain is by definition linear. Suppose, our world can be depicted as a causal chain, then the meta question of why this causal chain is the way it is cannot appeal to some causal explanation of why the chain is the way it is. I said this before. I can see why causality don ‘t need to be linear. It could be circular, or a type of web like structure. Still, the meta question of why such-and-such causal web/structure is the way it is could not have a causal explanation.

    “According to Wikipedia, “A teleological argument for the existence of God, also called an argument from design or physicotheological proof, is an a posteriori argument for the existence of God based on apparent design and purpose in nature, beyond the scope of any such human activity.” This argument holds that the universe must have had a “First Cause” or a “Prime Mover.” So this is based on philosophy and not on science. But the major fallacy in the argument, put forth by philosophers, is its circular logic; e.g., who or what created god, and who or what created those who created god? It’s turtles all the way down.

    This is pertinent to this discussion because the argument says that the universe must have been caused; that it could not have come from “nothing.” We can disagree on the cause (or causes) but we can agree that something did not come from nothing. Or, as Walt Disney said, “I hope that we never lose site of one thing: that it was all started by a Mouse.””

    Yes, we both agree that something cannot come from nothing. I also like to say that I am not religious. I do think teleological explanation is the best explanation for “why things are the way they are”. I don ‘t believe in a “first cause”, or a “god”, but I think the universe had to be the way it is, because it fulfills certain purpose, or goal.

    “I’ve argued that physical worlds are the result of causation and can’t come from “nothing,” and that, therefore, there can’t be a “nothing” physical world.”

    I agree that something cannot come from nothing. My opinion of the empty world is stated above.

    “I’ve also argued that even abstract worlds can only exist if they have certain identifiable characteristics and that those that cannot be imagined, like a round square or a nothing world, are incoherent and illogical.”

    I have no idea what abstract worlds are, so I have nothing to say.

  26. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    naulity, your original post on this blog (see above) was as follows: “I think a more fundamental question is ‘why are things the way they are?’, or ‘why this?’

    “To see why, imagine a set, or ensemble of “logical possible ways” the world could be. Let’s abbreviate this as “possible worlds”. So in this ensemble, there are worlds that Al Gore actually won the presidency, and there is even a world with nothing, or a nothing nothing world( and since “nothing” is not a word that stand for something), this means there are no matter, no energy, and no what physicists’ mean by field. In this setup, the world with “no thing”, or nothing is just one world among many in this vast ensemble of worlds that contain “something”, or “anything” with the condition that in these worlds that contain something, those something must at least be logically possible.“

    I’ve already answered the question of “why?” I said, in effect, the answer to any “why” question has to do with cause and effect. That is, one must be able to trace an elaborate labyrinth of events, which are interconnected to other labyrinths of events, back to their common root. But that is impossible since causation is infinite. Think of your family tree. Go back 10 generations or 100 or 1,000. If either of any two parents on that tree had not existed, you would not be here. Maybe I wouldn’t either!
    You can ask why Orb won the Kentucky Derby rather than Verrazano, but the question is irrelevant. Orb won. The race is over. Therefore, the universe (world) is the way it is because the universe is the way it is. It is impossible for it to be any other way because it is not any other way.

    Yes, you can imagine or hypothesize different universes (worlds), but to what purpose? Anyway, it turns out that the answer to “why” in this case is merely the old cliche, “why not?”

    You then proposed a way to look at the “‘logical possible ways’ the world could be.” I spent a good deal of time (and verbiage) showing how a nothing world is not logically possible, so I won’t rehash that issue. I merely ask that you go back and review my analysis with an open mind.

    You conclude your last post with “I have no idea what abstract worlds are.” All I can say here is that your whole argument is based on abstract worlds. In fact, you start off with, “imagine a set, or ensemble of ‘logical possible ways’ the world could be.” I think you’ll agree that such a proposition requires a lot of mental work in order to “imagine” such worlds, which in and of itself requires abstract thought. It is even more difficult to imagine all possible (abstract) worlds.

  27. The Quantum Touch Says:

    Hello! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or
    maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My
    blog discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you happen to be interested feel free to shoot me an email.

    I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!

  28. Herb Van Fleet Says:

    The Quantum Touch,

    If your request is directed to me, then please post a comment on my blog – http://theabsurdityindex.wordpress.com/ – with your URL and email address. When I click on the link above, I get http://www.oracleofinvesting.info/. And when I Google Quantum Touch, I get something about “the power to heal.” Neither seem compatible with my blog.

    Thanks.

  29. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks. But your website seems to be about investing. Is there another one you have in mind?
    FSR

  30. Blackness, nothingness, something, void | Stepping Toes Says:

    […] Does The World Exist? (rationaloptimist.wordpress.com) In writing previously about Lawrence Krauss’s book, A Universe From Nothing: Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? I called this the greatest question. Comes now Jim Holt’s book, Why Does the World Exist? Whereas […]

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