Why is there something and not nothing?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Alan McDougall, Nov 29, 2010.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Cosmologists say it's because the Big Bang occurred. So far I have no problem understanding them. Before the Big Bang there was nothing. As I understand it, the Big Bang resulted in particles and antiparticles of each sort in strict parity, so the total matter and energy in the universe is still zero. The only difference is that it now has organization, so it's in a state of lower entropy. The Second Law allows this: a local reversal of entropy.
    I think the problem we're running into here is neither scientific nor philosophical, but linguistic. The space-time continuum is an abstraction. Abstractions only "exist" in our minds so we need a different word. It's a coordinate system for identifying the location of its contents, so that we can talk about them meaningfully. All of the contents would still exist if we weren't here to define a space-time continuum. There would be no good way to analyze and study them, or even describe where they are. But that's okay because there would be no one around to analyze them and study them, so the abstraction of the S-T continuum would not be needed or missed.
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  3. Red Devil Born Again Athiest Registered Senior Member

    we have dark matter and dark energy, these hold the galaxies together and prevent the outer edges flying off into space. Also space is far from 'empty'. The big bang was discussed not so long back in a Discovery documentary with eminent physicists and astronomers taking part. They did not agree by any means but most now hold to the theory that the big bang was not a cause, but effect. I am afraid the scientifics went over my head somewhat but fascinating nonetheless.
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Depends on what 'nonsensical' means, I guess. But I do persist in thinking that the question of this thread is very real and that it's nothing less than the fundamental question of ontology.

    I seem to recall that Parmenides argued for a seemingly self-evident proposition that can perhaps be paraphrased 'nonexistence doesn't exist'. Once he had established (so he thought) that fundamental thesis, he interpreted it very strongly, to include not only the non-existence of everything, but extending it also to the non-existence of anything, to the denial of any and all occasions of non-existence whatsoever. That line of thinking led him to the decidedly non-self-evident conclusion that true being is totally unchanging, indivisible, and without any internal distinctions. He also argued that true being is spatially unbounded and what he called 'spherical', apparently meaning the same in all directions (isotropic).

    He called this the 'way of truth', and his task then was to somehow derive from it what he called the 'way of opinion', namely our observed universe of change, flux and discrete bounded objects. Unfortunately the portion of his 'Poem' (he wrote in verse) where he explained this is no longer extant, so nobody is sure how he attempted that. It appears that the ancients themselves didn't find that part very convincing, which may be why it wasn't copied and preserved.

    I'm reminded of Advaita Vedanta and its belief that true reality is Brahman, with the observed universe of Samsara being some kind of illusion. Our religious goal is said to be to see through the illusion and to merge back into the primordial oneness.

    I agree with you that it's seemingly impossible for human beings, and perhaps any sentient beings including space aliens, to think about, experience or imagine absolute nothingness, the absence of anything and everything, as if it was some kind of something. Doing so leads to logical contradictions. So non-existence shouldn't be thought of as if it was a place, a dark empty void of some kind. Absolute non-existence seems to be more like a boundary concept, marking out the edges of being.

    I agree. Physics and even logic are found here in the realm of being. They are aspects of being, however abstract. So if we try to depend on physics or on logic to explain why existence exists in the first place, we will be expecting what is to be explained to explain itself. Those kind of 'boot-strap' theories look like circular reasoning.

    The other alternative is to appeal to something supposedly outside being to explain it. Theists use that strategy with their myths of divine creation. But that begs the question. Presumably the god who supposedly creates all other being exists. So we are still left with our original question, why does anything at all (including god) exist? This line of thinking seems to lead to infinite regress.

    I'm inclined to think that human beings will never solve this mystery of mysteries.
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  7. Emil Valued Senior Member


    Forgive me if my thinking is more practical.
    For me "nothing" is nothing.
    If there are two things that neutralize each other then there is not "nothing"
    but there are two things that neutralize each other.
    If there are two opposing forces that neutralize each other, does not mean that there is "nothing".
    If the force of attraction between the Earth and the Moon, it neutralizes with the centrifugal force of the Moon,
    does not mean that there is "nothing".
    Absolute nothingness can not exist philosophically, but in a defined closed system can be "nothing".
    So I can not conclude that "nothing" can be something.
  8. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    Of course, I don't believe there is any mystery.


    If, alternatively, one dismisses the notion that this is an ontological question, and rather reframes it as a linguistic one, then we see where the problem arises.
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    How do you justify such reframing?
  10. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    If a key doesn't fit a lock I guess you could claim that the door is unopenable.
    Some would first rather try a different key.

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  11. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    At one time, when I was more attuned to 'Language, Truth and Logic'-style logical positivism than I am today, I probably would have agreed with that approach.

    It seems simple enough:

    All global why-questions about being itself are overruled with the observation that 'why'-questions can only be meaningful when they are linking together different parts of being. The question 'why' has no meaning when it's applied to the whole thing, being taken as a whole.

    There might be something to that. I've already indicated that I don't know how to answer, or even to approach, the question of why there's something rather than nothing. I do sense that there's something peculiar, both logically and linguistically, about the question.


    My present-day philosophical intuition insists very strongly that there's something sophistical about the positivist line of argument. It's come to look more like it's an evasion of the issue, instructing us to simply accept the universe's being as an axiomatic given in all of our philosophical thinking. It's something that can't be, and shouldn't be, questioned.

    Unfortunately, that seems to me to beg the ultimate question.
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Reframing the issue from ontology into linguistics closes the door, if anything.
  13. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    I think Sarkus' response is quite apt.

    In effect, I do not think that the question can be legitimately understood as an ontological one.

  14. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    And thus, the solution is presented.
  15. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


    Somewhat offtopic, but, I do recognize your 'intuition' on this point.
    My only quibble would be that I wouldn't characterize the positivist position on the matter as being one that identifies the universe as being axiomatic, so much as a logical and pragmatic impossibility (or, more accurately: implausibility) with respect to epistemological claims. Of course, the latter does turn into the former by fiat, but there is a procedural distinction.

    But doesn't the OP itself beg the question?
    In framing the question in such a dichotomous manner, the implications themselves are determined..

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  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Not "the" solution, only "a" solution.

    I do not believe that every person's thirst for Absolute Knowledge can be dismissed so easily.
  17. Raithere plagued by infinities Valued Senior Member

    I don't have a problem with the gist of the question but the particular phrasing really doesn't work. There are a few intrinsic problems. The main one I pointed out already but there is also a false dichotomy at work (there may be more than two precise states of being) and the question "Why" implies both causation and meaning which begets the real question.

    I'm often struck by recurring concepts of unity and am inclined to think that it's our habit or need to categorize experience that's in error.

    I'm also inclined to think that the boundary is a fuzzy one. That being is not a binary condition. There have been several references, for example, to potentiality which I have trouble classifying as either. Down on the quantum scale things seem to get rather fuzzy as well.

    I am as well. I've the feeling that we're asking questions that come up against Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and that are simply unanswerable within the system we exist. Conversely, perhaps it's just that rational thought is the formal system we're battling with against a Universe that is ultimately irrational. Either way, I don't see an answer forthcoming.

  18. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member


    Fair enough.

    Ah, but that's another question (and problem) entirely.
    The very notion of "Absolute Knowledge" is problematic. To say nothing of the predicate "Absolute"....
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    We have to know - we have an urge to know, to know how "things really are".

    "I don't know and I'm okay with that" just doesn't do in the long run.
    We might fool ourselves with it for a while, but if nothing else, the stress of not working on this question of "how things really are" shows as watching tv "just a little longer", playing yet another computer game, overeating, feeling sad or crying for no apparent reason, buying those fancy shoes you're not sure you really want or need, and so on.
  20. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

    I completely agree with you: this emotion does exist, and drive us.
    However, that is just a desire, not a need. More importantly however is the fact that, just because our desire has an objective in its sights, it doesn't follow that such an objective either exists or is attainable....

    To me, the most interesting point you raise here is that desire for how "things really are", the bizarre notion of the 'objective'.
    I readily admit that this desire seems pervasive, but in the face of a complete experiential lack of evidence for such, I wonder about its origin...
  21. Big Chiller Registered Senior Member

    One thing I would say about nothing is that nothing's not diametric opposite of something even though we may get such an impression for linguistic reasons because when we say "nothing" we are actually not referring to anything in it's meaning.

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