Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

By Sean Carroll | August 30, 2007 10:39 am

The best talk I heard at the International Congress of Logic Methodology and Philosophy of Science in Beijing was, somewhat to my surprise, the Presidential Address by Adolf Grünbaum. I wasn’t expecting much, as the genre of Presidential Addresses by Octogenarian Philosophers is not one noted for its moments of soaring rhetoric. I recognized Grünbaum’s name as a philosopher of science, but didn’t really know anything about his work. Had I known that he has recently been specializing in critiques of theism from a scientific viewpoint (with titles like “The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology“), I might have been more optimistic.

Grünbaum addressed a famous and simple question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He called it the Primordial Existential Question, or PEQ for short. (Philosophers are up there with NASA officials when it comes to a weakness for acronyms.) Stated in that form, the question can be traced at least back to Leibniz in his 1697 essay “On the Ultimate Origin of Things,” although it’s been recently championed by Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne.

The correct answer to this question is stated right off the bat in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Well, why not?” But we have to dress it up to make it a bit more philosophical. First, we would only even consider this an interesting question if there were some reasonable argument in favor of nothingness over existence. As Grünbaum traces it out, Leibniz’s original claim was that nothingness was “spontaneous,” whereas an existing universe required a bit of work to achieve. Swinburne has sharpened this a bit, claiming that nothingness is uniquely “natural,” because it is necessarily simpler than any particular universe. Both of them use this sort of logic to undergird an argument for the existence of God: if nothingness is somehow more natural or likely than existence, and yet here we are, it must be because God willed it to be so.

I can’t do justice to Grünbaum’s takedown of this position, which was quite careful and well-informed. But the basic idea is straightforward enough. When we talk about things being “natural” or “spontaneous,” we do so on the basis of our experience in this world. This experience equips us with a certain notion of natural — theories are naturally if they are simple and not finely-tuned, configurations are natural if they aren’t inexplicably low-entropy.

But our experience with the world in which we actually live tells us nothing whatsoever about whether certain possible universes are “natural” or not. In particular, nothing in science, logic, or philosophy provides any evidence for the claim that simple universes are “preferred” (whatever that could possibly mean). We only have experience with one universe; there is no ensemble from which it is chosen, on which we could define a measure to quantify degrees of probability. Who is to say whether a universe described by the non-perturbative completion of superstring theory is likelier or less likely than, for example, a universe described by a Rule 110 cellular automaton?

It’s easy to get tricked into thinking that simplicity is somehow preferable. After all, Occam’s Razor exhorts us to stick to simple explanations. But that’s a way to compare different explanations that equivalently account for the same sets of facts; comparing different sets of possible underlying rules for the universe is a different kettle of fish entirely. And, to be honest, it’s true that most working physicists have a hope (or a prejudice) that the principles underlying our universe are in fact pretty simple. But that’s simply an expression of our selfish desire, not a philosophical precondition on the space of possible universes. When it comes to the actual universe, ultimately we’ll just have to take what we get.

Finally, we physicists sometimes muddy the waters by talking about “multiple universes” or “the multiverse.” These days, the vast majority of such mentions refer not to actual other universes, but to different parts of our universe, causally inaccessible from ours and perhaps governed by different low-energy laws of physics (but the same deep-down ones). In that case there may actually be an ensemble of local regions, and perhaps even some sensibly-defined measure on them. But they’re all part of one big happy universe. Comparing the single multiverse in which we live to a universe with completely different deep-down laws of physics, or with different values for such basic attributes as “existence,” is something on which string theory and cosmology are utterly silent.

Ultimately, the problem is that the question — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — doesn’t make any sense. What kind of answer could possibly count as satisfying? What could a claim like “The most natural universe is one that doesn’t exist” possibly mean? As often happens, we are led astray by imagining that we can apply the kinds of language we use in talking about contingent pieces of the world around us to the universe as a whole. It makes sense to ask why this blog exists, rather than some other blog; but there is no external vantage point from which we can compare the relatively likelihood of different modes of existence for the universe.

So the universe exists, and we know of no good reason to be surprised by that fact. I will hereby admit that, when I was a kid (maybe about ten or twelve years old? don’t remember precisely) I actually used to worry about the Primordial Existential Question. That was when I had first started reading about physics and cosmology, and knew enough about the Big Bang to contemplate how amazing it was that we knew anything about the early universe. But then I would eventually hit upon the question of “What if they universe didn’t exist at all?”, and I would get legitimately frightened. (Some kids are scared by clowns, some by existential questions.) So in one sense, my entire career as a physical cosmologist has just been one giant defense mechanism.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy
  • jeff

    The question (as normally stated) doesn’t make much sense because the attribute “is” (existence) is already presumed in “something”. Nothingness does not exist, by definition. Therefore, there cannot “be” nothingness. So logically, nothingness is unstable. Physically, perhaps it is as well. Virtual particles appear from nowhere, don’t they? An entropy-like probability argument might also say that “something” has many more states than “nothing”.

  • Sam Gralla

    Reading this post I was suddenly reminded of Leibniz and his “best of all possible worlds”. The modern reenactment of this principle in the form of anthropic science (the latter word in optional quotes) would be a great dissertation topic for some physically-inclined philosopher. Or a post by Sean Carroll.

  • http://orbitalteapot.blogspot.com Jesse Fagan

    You know, this reminds me of one of the questions of consciousness. “Why am I in this body and not another body?” Another meaningless question.

    I think the existential dilemma is a motivator in my chosen field as well.

    But as a side note, you have to admit, Rule 110 is an amazing automata.

  • Anthony A.

    Perhaps you should combine this point into your ongoing series and argue: “There is nothing, rather than something”. Haven’t your forays into the arrow of time shown that really there is just Minkowski space, but that it looks rather complicated to its residents as it sits there? You’re halfway there!

  • Michael T

    Ah, the fear of nothing.

    When we die do we not return to nothing? Is death a natural state? The duality of something and nothing is just how things are as unsatisfying as that may be to some, I find it quite refreshing. There is no competition between the two, one does not seek to overcome the other. If you see it that way then you miss the point. It is also quite rational to substitute the “universe” for “me” and the same questions hold and even more profound ones emerge.

    Science will provide no answers here as they would be what a Buddhist would call “Mu”, questions which have no answers in such context.

    Eastern philosophies have no problem with the idea of nothingness. It is actually quite central to their framework and core to their metaphors. This discomfort is a likely product of our Western bias.

  • George Musser

    Sean, you write:

    Ultimately, the problem is that the question — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — doesn’t make any sense.

    Nozick, in his article on the question, had a direct retort:

    The question appears impossible to answer. Any factor introduced to explain why there there is something will itself be part of the something to be explained…. Some writers conclude from this that the question is ill-formed and meaningless. But why do they cheerfully reject the question rather than despairingly observe that it demarcates a limit of what we can hope to understand?”

    He goes on to suggest that an explanation is indeed possible and outlines the forms it might take, most famously the principle of fecundity, which addresses your point about the multiverse by extending the concept to other possible laws of physics.

    In denying that an answer might ever be found, you give religious believers a big crate of intellectual ammunition. One of their complaints about science is that it just chalks the universe up to brute fact. It may well be a brute fact, but that shouldn’t close off rational inquiry into the question.

    George

  • Matt

    Interesting post. Though I find the dismissal of the question as senseless rather…”hand wavish”, same with Grunbaum’s discussion. It seems that if this question keeps coming up in the human psyche, as evidenced by the question being posed (not for the first time) by Liebniz and subsequently coming up even in Seans’ childhood here that either the question has some inherent sense to it, or it points to an interesting defect in the human conciousness, perhaps both?

  • http://www.qunat.org/pieterkok/ PK

    Sean, check out Gruenbaum’s paper on the conventionality of simultaneity in special relativity: Phil. Sci. 36 pp 5-43 (1969). This should be right up your street.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    I like the idea of nothing. By this I just mean that the universe we think of being physical is nothing more than an abstract mathematical object.

    By postulating another type of existence, i.e. a physical existence which is supposed to be more than just mathematical existence, we create a lot of philosphical problems. This is similar to first postulating a God and then wondering about who created God etc. etc.

  • Incubator

    The question, as it is stated, and as it is discussed, e.g., at the Encyclopedia of Philosophy site, is meaningless and pointless, and so is your treatment of it. I must say that I am very disappointed by your post, since here, unlike elsewhere, you discuss the question not as a scientist, but as an armchair philosopher, and it appears that you are entirely comfortable with all the philosophical non-scientific bullshit.

    How are multiple universes etc. are even relevant? Isn’t it plain obvious that the real, and very hard question, is how is it possible for anything physical to exist? In other words, what is the nature of the physical universe? Is it some abstraction come to life? How, what is the process, and is it inevitable? Can it be shown to be inevitable using a mathematical model? What is then the nature of our prejudice which causes us to ask a question such as PEQ?

    You sir, did not even attempt to answer these questions. In this, you are no different from religious obscurantists.

    And pardon my English.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    The anthropic relevance is our evolutionary leap.

    This increased our ability to *efficiently* increase entropy, which is the same thing that a “low-entropy” expanding universe does that a wide-open expanding universe cannot… it conserves more energy and better maximizes work.

    So the false assumption is that our expanding universe is not heading for another leap/bang, and the erroneous conclusion is, therefore, that “nothing” is or was ever a natural state.

    The philosophical problem arises from physics that’s derived from non-evidenced projections, instead of the face value of the second law, which notes that the entropy of the universe ***always*** increases.

    Simple-stupid, stoopid.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I probably wasn’t very clear in the original post. The argument is that we can only talk about the “likeliness” of one thing or another when we have an ensemble and some sort of measure defined thereon. Which, when it comes to ways that the universe could or could not exist, we don’t. There is no entropy-like argument (since there is no phase space), and there is no “principle of fecundity.” You could make up something like that out of your own imagination, but if I choose not to go along there’s no evidence you can point to that would change my mind.

    The argument “that leaves a brute fact without explanation” seems utterly misguided to me. There is no way to do away with a certain number of brute facts, if you believe that there is more than one conceivable universe (and I do). If you were able to show that our universe maximizes some certain property, than the claim that universes should maximize that property would be a brute fact. Invoking God just changes the nature of the brute.

  • Zorro

    The real question is: why is there some nothing rather than no something?
    Answer me THAT, my good man!

    Z

  • quork

    Edward Remler used the PEQ (which he terms the FQP) recently to purportedly establish that atheism is not rational: Do science and rationality support atheism?
    His reasoning gets ripped apart in the comments, which Remler blithely ignores in his summing up just before comments were closed.

  • http://egregium.wordpress.com/ Christine

    As a child, the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” also occured to me. (I wrote a little about this in the “inspiration series” over at Backreaction blog).

    Many people will not agree with me and say that the question does not make any sense at all, etc. I do not concur with the arguments that I know of.

    I think that question is by far the most fundamental one there is to be made. Any other question made by our intellect ultimately ends on that one.

  • George Musser

    Well, even if there are brute facts, it’d be nice to pinpoint exactly what they are. We should never settle for saying that such-and-such is a brute fact so let’s go home now. Lots of things that people used to consider brute facts aren’t. More precisely, they can be traced to a smaller number of such facts. The entire physical world can be reduced to the free parameters aka brute facts of cosmology and the Standard Model. I suspect the question of “why is there something rather than nothing” opens up so many avenues that it probably reduces to some other, more sophisticated brute fact.

    My point is simply that we don’t profit by saying that the question is meaningless. And you DEFINITELY don’t want to walk down that road if you see yourself as a public advocate for atheism. Your goal should be to put forward a metaphysics more compelling than those of religion, not to surrender the metaphysics playing field altogether.

    George

  • Scott

    Jeff, quantum mechanics and the concept of entropy are both something and hence don’t exist if nothing exists. Infact would nothing exist mean no universe and not an empty or nonexisting universe(whatever that would mean). In fact no concept could exist since they are things, meaning that “not existing” would have no meaning as would “meaning,” “concept” and “thing.” Or in other words the set of all allowed concepts being the null set implies that a null set is not a valid concept and hence contradicts itself.

    Of course some people might maintain that abstract ideas have some existential existance seperate from reality. However all of the abstract ideas we know are capable of being described within reallity.

    In any case lets assume there is some simplist universe that comes closest to the concept of nothing. Even if we think this state is preferred a god does not explain why this universe exists instead since god would also not exist in that state.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Surely there is evidence for a “fecundity principle” if particle creation from vacuum energy affects the gravity and expansion of the universe, where “low-entropy” structuring is necessary to produce far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures, like, black holes, supernovae, and us, that are capable of making these particles.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    George Musser: My point is simply that we don’t profit by saying that the question is meaningless. And you DEFINITELY don’t want to walk down that road if you see yourself as a public advocate for atheism. Your goal should be to put forward a metaphysics more compelling than those of religion, not to surrender the metaphysics playing field altogether.

    Say what? Does religion offer an answer to the question? Suppose you propose (with no supporting evidence) that a god created the universe. The PEQ then changes from “Why is there something rather than nothing?” to “Why is there God instead of nothing?” This is hardly progress. Acknowledging that the PEQ does not currently have an answer, and perhaps may never have an answer, does not damage atheism, and leaves only a “god of the gaps” for the theist.

  • jeff

    You know, this reminds me of one of the questions of consciousness. “Why am I in this body and not another body?” Another meaningless question

    Ah, but “meaning” is such a personal thing, is it not? The meaning of these deep existential questions can also depend a great deal on the precise diction and phrasing used when they are asked, to constrain meaning properly. The above question could be rephrased as, “why is reality being experienced as me and not as someone or something else”? Personally, I think it’s one of the most profound questions that can be asked (unless of course, you’re a solipsist).

  • Ken Muldrew

    “the question can be traced at least back to Leibniz in his 1697 essay”

    Surely Parmenides answer to the question implies that the question was asked?

  • Toni Petrina

    If mathematicians can construct entire real numbers using only nothing i.e. empty set and sets why can’t we build something out of nothing? Can we prove that once we have nothing we have everything?

  • jeff

    Jeff, quantum mechanics and the concept of entropy are both something and hence don’t exist if nothing exists

    Well in my (partial) defense, I was not assuming entropy or QM, which is why I said “entropy-like”. Still though, I see your (and Sean’s) point – there is no “something space” to select from.

  • Brian

    Some attempt to investigate the nature of existence through “introspection” (maybe this is not the right word) rather than thought. Since I exist, maybe I can understand my existence directly.

  • TP

    “So in one sense, my entire career as a physical cosmologist has just been one giant defense mechanism.”

    I think all us do that. All of us try to rationalize, create a defense mechanism, to stop us from worrying or to at least ignore such existential questions. Science is a body that has evolved from the combination of defense mechanisms of many people over the centuries. So is religion or any belief system. And that is because, as you rightly say, there can be no answer to this question.

    Comment #15 Christine: “I think that question is by far the most fundamental one there is to be made. Any other question made by our intellect ultimately ends on that one.”

    It is definitely the most fundamental one and if one tries to seek an answer to any question (be it scientific/physical or philosophical) and not be satisfied with any intermediate answers (all of the scientific theories and religious beliefs are definitely intermediate), i.e. you keep asking why to every answer, you finally end up with the basic existential question. And precisely because it is the most fundamental question, it cannot be answered.

    Comment #17 Scott: “In fact no concept could exist since they are things…”
    Concepts are not things. They don’t exist as you and I exist. And even assuming so, “a null set is not a valid concept and hence contradicts itself.” the conclusion is incorrect. Suppose I modify it to: null set is a valid concept, then in that case it is no longer null because the set has been defined to be that of all concepts, and then there is a contradiction. If however, null set is not a valid concept, then there is no problem, there are no concepts – including the concept of existence of no concepts.

  • WhatMeWorry

    Somebody with an extra $45 and a few hours (days? weeks?) to spend, could invest in this:

    http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=2081

  • Nick

    I don’t think it’s a meaningless question.
    Nor do I think the mind/body question is meaningless; I just read Hofstadter’s “I Am A Strange Loop,” which answered the question/riddle to my satisfaction.
    Is it meaningless to ask why things fall down, or why things have mass? Lots of people probably think so (I imagine because they have no idea how to find the answer, they realize this, and they are unsatisfied saying “I don’t know”).
    As you answer questions, those answers prompt new questions. I imagine if you start with any question, and follow the correct answers to the next question(s), you would eventually arrive at the PEQ. So why would this chain of questions and answers suddenly become meaningless if you go all the way along this chain to the answer right before PEQ, and then move that one last step, and ask the PEQ itself?

  • Jason Dick

    Well, the argument that we can’t decide whether nothing is more likely than something or not is unsatisfying to me. It still seems that given the fact that something [i]does[/i] exist, there must be a fundamental reason for it.

    And I’ve often wondered if a corollary to quantum vacuum fluctuations might be the answer here. That is, when we examine quantum mechanics, we find that if a particular field is capable of existing within a region of space, then the particles that make up that field will necessarily pop in and out of the vacuum within the space.

    By corollary, let’s take the fact that our observable region of the universe exists, and propose that perhaps it exists within something else which we can’t appropriately describe, but might as well call “nothing”. Whatever this “nothing” is that our universe exists within, it must necessarily be possible for such entities as universes to exist there. So might not there be quantum vacuum fluctuations that ensure existence, given that we know it’s possible? Granted, this is vague and may be nonsense, but I have a feeling that if this could be well-described, something like this might provide a possible answer to why there is something instead of nothing, because it would show that nothing existing is a logical contradiction.

  • Mike

    For me the PEQ is a reason to be interested in fundamental physics. Knowing the architecture of a creation (the universe) might reveal the plans of the creator (God). Of course, we can never know in advance, how successful we will be in finding out something about the fundamental design of our universe and even less, what (if anything) this might reveal about the plans of the creator. What counts for me, is the heroic attempt to try to go this stony path as far as possible and for this I admire fundamental physicists. Smolin writes beautifully about different ways of humans to tackle the fundamental questions of our existence in the introduction to his trouble with physics. I would also say, that our incomplete physical and biological knowledge today influences our philosophical reasoning about the fundamental questions and it has never been different since Newton.

  • Simon

    Hey Sean,

    I agree with Grunbaum – that our idea of what is ‘natural’ or ‘simple’ is based on experience. So it makes little sense to worry about why the universe exists rather than not. But doesn’t the same argument apply to a question you’ve spent some time investigating: why did the universe began with such low entropy? (or if you like why were the low entropy initial conditions required for inflation realized?)

    After all, we have only one universe to look at – and it seems to have had a low entropy beginning. On what grounds can we then claim that a high entropy beginning would be more natural? Though it’s tempting, we can’t point to the relative sizes of the volume in phase space occupied by low and high entropy states, because what is in question is why we should take a uniform measure over phase space as natural rather than some other measure. Fine tuning is only fine tuning relative to a choice of measure. While we have a well confirmed measure which we apply successfully to things like melting cubes of ice, why should that measure be natural for the very different question of how the universe began?

    I don’t know if I agree with this conclusion, but doesn’t Grunbaum’s argument imply that there’s no reason to find a low entropy beginning of the universe particularly surprising?

    Simon

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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Simon, that’s a perfectly reasonable question. And when I talk about the arrow of time, I always emphasize that people are welcome to say “that’s just the way it is” and stop thinking about the question. That’s a perfectly consistent position. It would, however, then become inconsistent to treat the horizon and flatness problems as empirical issues that are worth solving; those are naturalness problems on exactly the same footing as the low entropy beginning.

    But I nevertheless think that there is a crucial difference between configurations of the degrees of freedom in our observable universe and the space of all possible universes. The former does have a well-defined phase space (or approximately so, anyway), whereas the latter simply does not. It’s true that we only ever observe a single trajectory through that phase space — the one the universe actually takes — rather than many different instantiations of the evolution. But it still seems reasonable to ask why the trajectory we seem to be taking is so apparently finely-tuned.

    As to the measure, keep in mind that the universe seems to be evolving toward a future state that is high-entropy, with (as far as we can tell) equal probability in phase space for all states in a uniform measure. So I think that it’s reasonable to wonder why the past is so different.

    It might be that there’s no good answer; that’s always a possibility. But we’re looking for clues that will help us understand bits of physics and cosmology that are currently beyond our grasp. The fact that our universe as a whole behaves in a way that would be thermodynamically bizarre when applied to any of its individual parts might very well be such a clue, and it makes sense (to me) to follow it up.

  • Simon

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the quick reply. I wasn’t firmly advocating either of the attitudes you mention – to paraphrase: ‘that’s just the way it is, stop thinking’ on the one hand and ‘low entropy initial conditions ought to have an explanation’ on the other.

    I agree that it’s an interesting question: ‘why does the universe have low entropy at early times?’ And I don’t know whether there is an answer. My point was that following Grunbaum, one should not start off from the position that a low entropy state is unlikely. I’d say the same about the question of why there are 3 generations – it’s clearly something we would like to explain and investigate if possible, but not a priori unlikely. So I agree with the spirit of your comment.

    I didn’t mean to imply that there was no point to the investigation, and I certainly think that low entropy initial conditions, as well as flatness and homogeneity, are “empirical issues that are worth solving” (or at least worth trying to solve). Aren’t the latter two though are perhaps the historical, rather than most defensible, motivations for an inflationary episode? I’m not sure if the target of your rejoinder was inflation as a whole – but I think seeding of large scale structure is an important achievement of inflation even if the homogeneity and flatness are just brute facts about the universe (or are dealt with by pre-inflationary physics).

    Simon

  • http://vacua.blogspot.com Jim Harrison

    The fascination of the question has something to do with a more existential question about my own existence and non existence and therefore with the little glitch that has, so I presume, kept lots of people awake at night: the fact that I can readily understand my nonexistence, but I am quite incapable of imaging it.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    There is nothing thermodynamically bizarre about it if yo don’t assume that you can rip huge chunks from the rarefied structure of a negaitve pressure vacuum to make positive mass particles without increasing negative pressure proportionally, because this resolves the flatnesss and horizon problems very simply, without inflationary bandaids being added to our most natural projections of GR.

    It isn’t that the answer isn’t simple… it’s that “I believe” junk that’s the problem.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Sorry, let me try it this way, or I’ll be checking my email and blog for a long awaited explanation:

    There is nothing thermodynamically bizarre about it if you don’t assume that you can rip huge chunks from the rarefied structure of a negaitve pressure vacuum to make positive mass particles without increasing negative pressure proportionally, because this resolves the flatnesss and horizon problems very simply, without inflationary bandaids being added to our most natural projections of GR.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    I am very sorry, I thought that my post had been removed, so I modified it and tried again.

    I must be seeing nothing… ;)

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I was not assuming entropy or QM, which is why I said “entropy-like”. Still though, I see your (and Sean’s) point – there is no “something space” to select from.

    jeff, I see the ensemble problem too. But a nothingness is an idealized concept, or at least seems to work like that.

    It feels somewhat like adding points at infinity – not quite real numbers, but not unrelated either.

    So I would consider limits. (Of scarce sets perhaps.) :-P

    Another similar idea as yours would be to consider symmetries, which seems good to have many of. (In the “natural” sense of course.)

  • metzgerm

    Wouldn’t it be rational here to call on a modification of the anthropic principle, and suggest that all you really need to something existing rather than nothing is for the existence of something to be possible? So then you have to ask why something rather than nothing is possible. This doesn’t solve the question, but merely reforms it in a way that might be more interesting–this is why it makes sense to take some time to think abut the question.

    Perhaps many people don’t like the anthropic principle, but as a biologist where many of my assays involve the selection of very rare events through systems in which only the rare events can be detected, it seems quite rational, and the majority of the counter-arguments sum up to “I don’t like it.”

  • Dima

    I’ve been wondering for quite a few years now but never had an opportunity to ask… is the nothingness that preceded the universe (or that will eventually serve as the state where it will return) and the nothingness that preceded our birth the same type of nothingness? Is it possible for there to be different modes of nothingness?

    Basically, can my non-existence be tantamount to the non-existence of the entire universe?

  • chemicalscum

    Hold it – isn’t the total energy of the Universe zero. Didn’t Einstein stop dead in his tracks in the middle of the road when it was pointed out to him by, I have forgotten who, on his way home from IAS. So maybe we should ask why there is nothing rather than something.

    I once struggled my way through Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”. It didn’t really enlighten me on the current topic, but then again neither have the posts on this thread.

  • senderista

    The philosopher Milton Munitz wrote a whole book on this question a few decades back called _The Mystery of Existence_. It’s old but still worth reading.

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  • http://theojf.blogspot.com/ Theo

    I myself am perfectly happy with the anthropic answer “If there were nothing, we wouldn’t notice”. But I do disagree with your argument. You write

    But our experience with the world in which we actually live tells us nothing whatsoever about whether certain possible universes are “natural” or not.

    I think there might be more (or less) to induction than that sentence (and the subsequent paragraph) seem to imply. In particular, we regularly develop some ideas and suggestions in one domain — about what’s natural, say, or about what’s healthy or useful or alive — and transfer that notion to a new domain. This is a form of scientific induction, and a priori it is no less reasonable than any other form of induction.

    Of course, induction is itself highly suspect. Just because something tends to be one way in the past is no conclusive proof that it will continue to be. An Aristotelian logician would say that “our experience with the world … tells us nothing whatsoever about whether certain possible outcomes will happen or not.” But, of course, you and I know that this is not true. Induction does work: it has worked like a charm in the past.

    Perhaps inducting across domains is more suspect than within domains. But it is certainly no more a fallacy than any other form of generalization and induction. There are indeed good reasons to believe that the kind of scientific argument that works in one field or on one problem might reasonably be applicable to some other question.

  • Dr Who

    Simon Says: “Though it’s tempting, we can’t point to the relative sizes of the volume in phase space occupied by low and high entropy states, because what is in question is why we should take a uniform measure over phase space as natural rather than some other measure”.

    People often say this, but I don’t understand it. If someone claims to have a non-uniform measure, then he is proposing a new law of nature. Which is fine if it can be justified. But the point is that, if you do *not* wish to propose a new law of nature [like say Penrose's Weyl Curvature Condition] then you are going to use the uniform measure *by definition*. In other words, sure, the special initial conditions are not mysterious if you have a law of nature dictating that they should be just so. What is that law, by the way? :-)

  • Solipsist

    if you can’t answer the question, you call the question meaningless. Pretty cheap.

  • Garth Barber

    There are two sorts of people, those who think there are two sorts of people and those who do not!

    if you can’t answer the question, you call the question meaningless. Pretty cheap.

    Here in answer to the question “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” there are two sorts of people, those who think this is the most important question of all and those who think it is no question at all.

    The question has been famously restated by Stephen Hawking’s as: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

    The answer is beyond physics, i.e. metaphysics, and therefore whether you think it is a meaningless or meaningful question depends on whether you limit your understanding of the world to mere physical descriptions or not.

    Garth

  • martin g

    “This experience equips us with a certain notion of natural — theories are natural if they are simple and not finely-tuned, configurations are natural if they aren’t inexplicably low-entropy.”

    “finely-tuned” = A Subjective View
    “inexplicably low-entropy” = An Admission of Ignorance
    Unnatural = Man Made Natural = Everything Else

    It sounds as though the word “natural” is being broadly defined to describe that which makes intuitive sense versus that which appears paradoxical. A broad definition is problematic in science.

    Seems to me that using “natural” in a scientific sense is meaningless, unless you are explicitly making a distinction regarding human activity. What has ever been discovered and shown to be “unnatural” that wasn’t man made?

    As far as Grünbaum’s thesis goes, it just sounds like more tail chasing. Regarding theism, isn’t he simple implying that by definition the existence of God cannot be proven scientifically? Certainly if a question cannot be answered scientifically it is meaningless to science.

  • http://freiddy.blogspot.com/ Freiddie

    Well, I was also really frightened by the question of existence, on a smaller scale. Everytime I think of “why I exist” & “why I am me”, I get confused and scared by the fact that I feel a bit “alone” being the only one who asks these questions. It’s hard to explain here, but these questions make me feel very “lonely” for some unknown reasons. It’s just like those “why the universe exists” questions.

  • http://soilcreep.net AZ

    This is the fundamental question of existentialism and metaphysics. Within the question is encapsulated the “is-there” or da-sein discussed in Heidegger’s “Being and Time” as well as the opposition of something (Being) and nothingness, the touchstone of Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”. It seems to me an odd cosmological leap to take this question as the starting point for discussing the origin of the natural universe. Metaphysics is something other than physics – yes?

    Anyway the question is in essence the first sentence in Heidegger’s “Introduction to Metaphysics”:

    .

  • tytung

    Sean,

    One does not need an ensemble of things in order to speak of “likeliness” of one thing or another. It depends on one’s idea of “likeliness”: the bayesians can talk about the likeliness of our universe, to them the entropy of our universe is a valid idea and not based on phase space of universe or multiverse etc.

  • Christopher

    Robert L. Kuhn wrote an article in the most recent issue of Skeptic Magazine addressing the “Why not nothing” question. Ha! just found out that its online now, you can read it here: http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/skeptic13-2_Kuhn.pdf

  • jeebus

    (.9999999999…) does not equal 1!!!!

    /snark

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    If it looks like a question is unanswerable, even in principle, is it cheap to call it meaningless?

  • Nick

    I think so, because the honest answer is “I don’t know.”

  • Nick

    I think the attempt to answer the question might be pointless, but I don’t think the question itself is meaningless.

  • jeff

    If it looks like a question is unanswerable, even in principle, is it cheap to call it meaningless?

    You could replace “a question is unanswerable” with “string theory is unfalsifiable”, but some might find that objectionable ;)

    That fact that a question has the power to induce existential terror in a young child is significant (ten years is awfully young for that). It’s a question that will keep coming up again and again, so if can’t be answered, at least it deserves some kind of explanation, elaboration, deconstruction, or mutation into a question that can be dealt with. Maybe this thread is a small step in that direction.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Nature abhors a “nothing”, or the absence of something defines the need for it… ;)

    You could replace “a question is unanswerable” with “string theory is unfalsifiable”, but some might find that objectionable

    Only because your statement is false. The multiverse is unfalsifiable, but it too can still be justified IF you could prove that it is necessary to a valid tested theory of quantum gravity, or the ToE.

    There should be a time limit on that tho!

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Sean, I am surprised that you didn’t bring up the issue of whether “something” versus “nothing” even makes sense apart from logical description. Seriously, you just can’t logically explain the distinction between substantive existence and logical existence, because “existence” is not a describable property except for mathematical concepts like roots of equations, which numbers are prime etc. Not that I think it really is meaningless, just that it is in strictly logical terms (I mean, you can appeal to conscious experience or some non-logical, ironically mystical distinction.) Even if you somehow can make substantive existence coherent, there’s then the issue of why what existed would be like this and not otherwise. So, the basic choices are:

    A. “Existing” (in some special, substantive sense over and above logical description) is meaningless and therefore “everything exists” (modal realism, which my readers tire of, but right here it is spot-on relevant.) That creates a huge mess, with there being no expectation of our being in an orderly world. (Even if we don’t have a specific idea of measure, we can come to some conclusions about what is generally likely in crude terms, especially about some conditions being “very unlikely.”

    B. If substantive existing is taking as meaningful, then it is a logically peculiar brute fact for this possible world with its properties (even given the supposed rules of variation from place to place) to “exist” and others not to (aside from the simplicity issue.)

    C. There is some organizing principle etc. behind what exists and what it is like, and what does not. That can’t be just the background platonics or logic per se, as I explained.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    BTW, for those who like to critique on the basis of “falsifiability:
    Statements like “Things continue to exist even while not being observed” are not strictly falsifiable. If you don’t like such major dislocations, consider that the specifics of what you said to someone yesterday aren’t either, unless it was recorded etc. Also, probability claims are not falsifiable: Consider the long-term frequentist perspective. Any particular run of potentially falsifying results (10,000 heads in a row, one billion heads in a row etc. during the flipping of a coin with alleged 50/50 chances) will eventually happen, which is self-contradictory. Food for thought and humbleness.

  • Thomas Rickarby

    There is no such thing as existence or non-existence, only observable reality.

    There is no such thing as time or space, there are only interacting extended objects.

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  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Thomas: “Observable” implies observers and/or experience, or in what sense would it mean more than the tautology that what exists is what exists? Making a special deal out of the sort of activities by complex “entities” that are interacting with other things, and not just the “simple”actions by themselves? Those activities are part of the describable model universes (possible worlds) too. It is easy to imagine too that observing is not really a matter of inferring from experience, if you have been beguiled by naive realism and the sophistry of ordinary language philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle, etc. But any intelligent and candid person who plays with optical magnification, focus, distorting optical media etc, realizes that the visual scene is a representation, a mental construct, not the world out there just given before us.

    Another problem with defining reality in terms of the “observable,” which cannot be taken for granted: is a field really observable, or just a way of talking about how the (pretended to be) “directly observable objects” like charges etc. behave? We know there are rules about how they behave, but what does it mean to say “fields actually exist?” This gets back to the modal realism issue, but in segmented form (ie, different categories in the universe, instead of whether the universe as a whole exists apart from logical description.)

  • Douglas Alan

    Sean wrote:

    There is no way to do away with a certain number of brute facts, if you believe that there is more than one conceivable universe (and I do).

    Sure there is a way to do away with brute facts: deny the existence of any contingent facts. If every fact is a necessary one, then none of them are brute.

    And that is why the question of why there is something is rather than nothing is a meaningful question: it’s really asking, why are there any contingent facts? A contingent fact is a fact that could have been otherwise, right? But if it could have been otherwise, then it is certainly meaningful to ask why isn’t it otherwise.

    If, as it turns out, there are no contingent facts, however, then we have a rather elegant answer to the original question: The reason why things are the way they are, is because this is the only possible way for them to be.

    Your cosmologist colleague Max Tegmark has a theory that asserts this. As does David Lewis’s Modal Realism, as was mentioned by Neil B. above.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Douglas, that’s why I wrote “if you believe that there is more than one conceivable universe (and I do).” To me it’s pretty obvious that there are contingent facts. Why couldn’t the universe be a Rule 110 automaton? And how do you know? And if every possible universe exists, that itself is a contingent fact. Certainly didn’t have to be that way.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Douglas:

    I think you are confused about Modal Realism/Tegmark’s idea (which is essentially the same, perhaps more logically well-ordered, and BTW MR is really an old idea in essence. I don’t really agree with MT, but Wow was his Sci. Am. article about parallel (multiple) universes in 5/03 cool as heck – “good to read stoned.”) The idea of MR is not at all that “this” is the only logically possible way for things to be, but the polar opposite: There is every possible way for things to be, and no reason in logical principle to select some or one, and not others, with a special magic wand of substantialization, “making real” etc. Max believes that “everything” exists (in a platonic multiverse, some universes do literally have flying spaghetti monsters or any other configuration possible….) It is like the principle of sufficient reason applied to existing itself. Take another look at my previous discussion and I think you’ll at least get the point, whether you want to agree. I just can’t accept either a suspiciously singled-out logical possibility made manifest, or the mess of “everything goes, and does,” so that turned me into an abstract philosophical theologian who thinks that some management, “God only knows what”, is keeping order in some sense (not to be confused with being omnipotent etc, over instances: this is more like a high-class Deism.)

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  • chemicalscum

    Neil B.

    Max Tegmark’s papers have convinced me but then I am only a chemist suffering from “physics envy”. I have been following them on and off right back to his original 1997 ? TOE paper.

    It seems to me you either have to accept a multiverse/modal realist position or be some sort of deist/theist. Of course you have the interesting position of Max’s colleague Martin Rees (the British Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society) who on the one hand is a practicing Anglican (Episcopalian to you US’ians) for family and community reasons, but on the other hand is a declared atheist and who seems to use the multiverse concept in his work as part of an atheist agenda for cosmology.

    Douglas

    The view you falsely attribute to MT is close to the position Einstein held.

    Finally as an atheist I think it really really cool that MT is managing to extract money from the Templeton Foundation.

  • http://lacuevadellobo.blogspot.com/ Vladimir

    Excelent article friends, congratulations, you have clarified a question that i have had since my childhood, thanks.

  • Garth Barber

    Martin Rees (the British Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society) who on the one hand is a practicing Anglican (Episcopalian to you US’ians) for family and community reasons, but on the other hand is a declared atheist and who seems to use the multiverse concept in his work as part of an atheist agenda for cosmology.

    So Martin has the choice on the one hand to believe in a ‘God’, which he cannot observe, or an ensemble of other universes that cannot be observed…..

    Garth

  • zankaon

    The opposite of a great truth is also a great truth – T. Mann

    for example, the opposite of empty set {} is a non-empty set, such as the set of integers, or the finite sets we experience in our mundane lives.

    also a lesser context can define the greater context, and vice versa. that is, each is defined by what it is not i.e. its antithesis; for example, the antithesis of quanta and spacetime manifold.

    so what if our universe, or a divergent cyclical set of universes (hence non-empty set with 1:1 correspondence to integers), has a greater context of the simplest case i.e. empty set? Could this be indirectly inferred; of course without perturbing such alleged greater context? Such as if there were multiple ‘universes’.

  • Finn

    Well you can definitely get nothing from something (just ask my broker)as well as something from nothing (just look at my baby boy) but you can’t not get nothing from nothing, though if you could, wouldn’t that be something? ;)

    Finn

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Again, you can’t ask the question of why not “nothing” if you have no presidence that “nothing” is even relevent.

    Leibniz, in his 1697 essay “On the Ultimate Origin of Things”

    What “origin of things”… ?

    First, we would only even consider this an interesting question if there were some reasonable argument in favor of nothingness over existence.

    What “nothingness”… ?

    It is only valid to speak of something else, not “nothing”, unless you can prove that “nothing” is even relevant.

    What am I missing?

  • Nick

    Nothing.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Why do I set myself up like that… ?

    … might be the best question… :)

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Folks:

    It is better not to think in terms of “nothingness” as the alternative to there being something. Take the statement, “Santa Claus does not exist.” We are not supposed to think of “exist” as a property (like fat, wearing a red suit etc.) of someone who “exists,” but that there is not a Santa Claus. If “nothing existed”, that is supposed to mean, no existing entities could be listed in a true statement, not that a “nothingness” would be around instead. Modal Realists aren’t confused about the point made about Santa Claus thing, rather: they challenge the idea of “existing” as being able to refer to “stuffs” that embody some structural descriptions and not others – that not only is there no reason to justify why some descriptions would be “incarnated” and not others, but the difference can’t even be explained and isn’t real anyway. In other words, that there is only structure, no substrate. “Go figure” heh.

    But even without going into that deep end, we still have problems of what exists in physical context (like I said about fields versus the direct observables), whether the wave function is something “real” that leaves an atom and then collapses everywhere else when detected etc. (BTW, I do not buy decoherence as a dodge, how could it even explain the simple collapse for one photon when it is geared to interference of many waves? Also, it utilizes as explanation (the irreversible coupling) something that wouldn’t necessarily happen unless waves did collapse in the first place, can’t deal with Renninger negative result experiments (says Penrose and I see the point) etc.

  • drunk

    The ‘something’, which we are made of, cannot answer this question until we fully understand ‘nothing’.
    In the meantime, the leading expert of this question is Bush#2, as he turns something into nothing, based on nothing appearing as something.

  • http://magicdragon.com Jonathan Vos Post

    This ties into the deep issue of “Imaginary Logic” in the sense developed in Russia, and less known (except via Spencer-Brown and Kauffman in the Anglo-American world). Is there ontological validity to worlds with not merely different physical laws, but different Logic?

    The solipsist and co-solipsist or antisolipsist (you exist, I don’t) differ in the zeroth order in whether or not they assert their own existence, but agree at the first order, and hence the antisolipsist agrees with the solipsist. In the solipsist’s model, there is only one being, and so for the solipsist to agree with the antisolipsist ismodeled by the solipsist as his agreeing with himself.

    The solipsist insists that the symmetry mapping the
    solipsist to the anisolpisist and vice versa is a
    trivial symmetry, having one element.

    What A in universe A believes in Logic A about B in
    universe B with Logic B can be consistently modeled by a C in universe C with Logic C, using the proper
    construction of “imaginary logic” – which generalizes Kripke using Model Theory.

    This is relevant in the context of you assigning zero
    probability to the existence of someone who might very well assign the same probability to you.

    Don Quixote met someone who claimed to be Cervantes. Robert Heinlein, in the under-rated The Number of the Beast (6^(6^6)) has a bar at which different versions of the protagonist argue with each other.

    Borges, in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” points out the
    dangers of mapping what you a priori believe to be the nonexistent, when the level of existence is subject to on-the-fly revision.

    This all cries out for n-categorization, as does the
    theory of recursive narrative. One can, for inistance,
    have a twisted structure of mutually referential
    narratives…

    Certain ur-stories are the fixed points of
    story-transformations. Myths may be chaotic attractors in the space of iteratively mapped narratives. Greg Egan and Ursula K Le Guin emphasize the dynamic role of the narrator. The roll of adding machine paper of the original manuscript of “On the Road” [published 50 years ago] becomes a Mobius strip in “Finnegan’s Wake.” This, of course, makes Greg Egan’s existence suspect, since his last
    name is the last 4 letters of “Finnegan.”

  • chemicalscum

    So Martin has the choice on the one hand to believe in a ‘God’, which he cannot observe, or an ensemble of other universes that cannot be observed…..

    OK – you can always retreat into operationalism if you like it.

  • chemicalscum

    OK – you can always retreat into operationalism if you like it. It doesn’t however answer the question why is the Universe we live in so finely tuned for life?. Or put another way, why is the fine structure constant 1/137 not 1 or 10^6 ore even 10^-6 and many similar questions.

    Currently there seems to be only two possible answers to these questions, either they were selected from an ensemble of Universes by the anthropic principle or they were set by God. Yer pays yer money and yer makes yer choice :)

  • http://orbum.net/mark Mark R.

    Well, if any universe might be finely tuned for some type of life, is it surprising that one is?

    Or, if we look at some type of life that does exist, do we need to find some way to force the universe into a justification of that particular life, or do we instead look at the universe and see that this particular life, perhaps, incidentally came about from it?

    In some ways this reminds me of the problems facing science as it studies the human mind, e.g., can the mind gain the necessary abstraction from itself to make objective conclusions?

    From a practical sense, as for the “nothing” — perhaps there is, or was, or will be. But “something” is what we have mostly in our faces all the time, most likely.

    I’m curious what role our notions of Time might play in this.

  • chemicalscum

    Or, if we look at some type of life that does exist, do we need to find some way to force the universe into a justification of that particular life, or do we instead look at the universe and see that this particular life, perhaps, incidentally came about from it?

    See if you can think of any form of life that can exist in a Universe with alpha=1.

  • http://vacua.blogspot.com Jim Harrison

    Very slightly off topic: every time I hear the expression “fine tuning” used to refer to the supposition that life as we know it depends upon natural constants having very specific values I’m moved to remind everybody that speaking about fine tuning is cheating. We might possibly come to know that the relevant values do have to be thus and so, but that is very far from establishing that the values are the result of a choice. That would be a second and far more difficult leap. So far as I know, nobody has ever suggested a physical or, for that matter, metaphysical means by which constants could be set, but this fine tuning language suggests that there is nothing problematic about the image of God fiddling with the dials of his Creat-o-matic 77. Just how does a Creat-o-matic work?

    To be fair, I’m a humorless character and also wonder to whom or what God was giving permission when he said “Let there be light.”

  • John

    Why is existence the universe?

  • http://www.jakob-persson.com Jakob Persson

    Excellent post! Thank you for clearing up those muddy waters where a lot of nonsense speculation is sold as proper philosophical inquiry. My position is the same as yours on the matter, something I’ve come to think after having considered the implications of positivism, phenomenology and various other philosophical movements. I even recall having similar thoughts as as you Sean as a kid. Those thoughts found a void to roam when I discovered science fiction at the age of ten and I’ve been a skeptic with a love for science ever since.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world.” – Einstein I guess is asking the same question.

  • http://thomas.loc.gov X

    So the universe exists, and we know of no good reason to be surprised by that fact.

    The universe exists and we are not surprised.
    The universe exists and we are surprised.
    The universe does not exist and we are surprised.
    The universe does not exist and we are not surprised.

    Each is a Zen Koan.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Sorry Jakob, Sean did not clear up anything, although I understand the difficulty of getting a handle on this question.

    I can’t do justice to Grünbaum’s takedown of this position, which was quite careful and well-informed. But the basic idea is straightforward enough. When we talk about things being “natural” or “spontaneous,” we do so on the basis of our experience in this world. This experience equips us with a certain notion of natural — theories are naturally if they are simple and not finely-tuned, configurations are natural if they aren’t inexplicably low-entropy.

    No, we don’t have to talk about what’s logically natural, which is not the same as “natural” qua Nature, on the basis of our experience in this world. We can think abstractly, including at the highest levels, about that issue and others. Otherwise, we couldn’t think about infinite sets, all the Aleph and omega categories and orders of cardinal and ordinal infinity. It is really silly in my opinion to just take this particular way of things for granted, and pretend we can’t make a logical critique of why it should be here, or the way it is, etc. The most basic point: an abstract distinction like “existing” just cannot be connected to a particular way for a universe to be. For this world to be natural to “exist,” and not other kinds we can imagine, is like the number 23 just being embodied as brass numerals somewhere, not any other numbers. You folks are trying to avoid the high-level abstract thinking that is the cream of philosophy.

  • http://www.cyndilauper.com Neil B.

    In the interest of humbleness, and perhaps a fitting close to this discussion (of course, anyone is welcome to pitch in), I say: None of us can really “clear up” the question “Why is there something rather than nothing” (except maybe to say, a better formed question is just “Why is there something?) It is the primal mystery …

  • CarlN

    “Why is there something rather than nothing?” As it happens I think I found the answer not so long ago. And it’s rather simple.

    Consider first the two possible situations:

    1. There is nothing
    2. There is something

    We know that situation 2 corresponds to reality, but what determines that there is something rather than nothing?. Well, it goes without saying that the factor that “decides” existence of something cannot involve anything existing (not without using circular logic at least..).

    So the “deciding” factor must be nothing. Everthing that exist (universe(s)) must have been created from nothing.

    Now, how is this possible? Easy:

    1. When there is nothing, there are no hinders for something to be created from nothing.

    The proof is obvious.

    2. When there is nothing there are no conditions that need to be fullfilled (f . ex. conservation laws) for somthing to be created from nothing.

    Again the proof is obvious.

    So there is an answer to the question of course.
    There are a lot of other interesting logical conclusions that can be drawn from this as well. Maybe later..

    Keep in mind: Except for what exists there is nothing.

    Sorry about the English.
    :-)

  • Garth Barber

    Now, how is this possible? Easy:

    1. When there is nothing, there are no hinders for something to be created from nothing.

    The proof is obvious.

    2. When there is nothing there are no conditions that need to be fullfilled (f . ex. conservation laws) for somthing to be created from nothing.

    If there are no conditions to be fulfilled, i.e. no conservation laws etc., then why was an ordered universe complete with propitious laws “created from nothing” ?

    Perhaps the proof is not so easy?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    The conservation laws of this universe has nothing(!) to do with the lack of conservation laws “in” nothing.

    Our universe is one of an infinite number of universes created from nothing. All with random properties since there are no rules for the creation. Ours just happened to end up with properties so that humans could exist (and arue about these things).

    For the obvious proofs: We reach a contradiction by supposing there exists conditions (rules, conservation laws etc.) “in” nothing.

    Carl

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    CarlN:

    Sorry, but Nothing (not a “-ness” but it being the case that no thing of any kind exists…) has to stay Nothing. You said:

    1. When there is nothing, there are no hinders for something to be created from nothing.

    That reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s “Four-leaf clover” idea of positive and negative matter and antimatter. However, if there’s “nothing” then there is no time and therefore that situation, however you imagine it, must stay that way. Think: How could for example there be a chance, like for radioactive decay, for our universe to emerge “from nothing” unless there was a process already there to mark time? You can try to “cheat” (as I see it) by imagining the time as part of a bubble that’s just self-contained, but that still doesn’t answet the points listed below.

    It is ironic that despite the appeal of traditional materialism and uncaused matter to many scientists and philosophers:

    1. The very idea of substantive versus logical-description “existing” is questionable.

    2. Aside from whether you accept #1, for this particular world to have special existential status is an irrational loose end. Then you have a mad-house, untamed omni-multiverse or “management” to keep order somehow.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Seems we cannot answer WHY
    or WHEN or WHERE or WHAT
    except of a Universe of something (inside of nothing?)

    But tell me Sean, since there is something (at least the ‘evidence’ around us would have us believe that there is and that we are) does that mean there can never be ‘nothing’ – there will always be something.

  • CarlN

    Neil B,

    Sorry, but Nothing is always Nothing despite how many things that comes from nothing. Apart from what exists there is “still” nothing. No matter how many “things” are created from nothing.

    But of course there is no time in nothing. Nothing can’t “feel” when something breaks away from nothing. “Seen” from nothing nothing ever happens.

    Anyway, there is only one way of giving a logical answer to existence. And that is that all is created from nothing.

    Remember, “Nothing comes from nothing” is a statement that never has been proven. In fact, it is impossible to prove it. Because it is false.


    1. The very idea of substantive versus logical-description “existing” is questionable.

    What is this? Is seems you are actively seeking irrationality. There are logicial answers to all reasonable questions. Whether you like it or not.


    2. Aside from whether you accept #1, for this particular world to have special existential status is an irrational loose end. Then you have a mad-house, untamed omni-multiverse or “management” to keep order somehow.

    I can’t see any logical way you can reach these conclusions. Please show how you do this.

    Let me just add: There is only one logical way of explaining the “fine-tuned” properties of our universe. And that is that there are an infinite number of universes.

    And it is possible to prove that an infinite number of universes are created “all the time” from nothing. It can be proven that these are all independent and can’t
    “feel” each others existence. So it’s like there is only one universe.

  • Paul Valletta

    The first fact of a quantity deemed “nothing”, is itself a immpossibility notion. One cannot get nothing, from something? Can one reduce something down to a degree of zero, I think not.

    You can always get something out of “nothing”, because nothing does not actually equate to anything, there will always be a finite remnant “something” left.

    The physical notion of the term nothing, is a human concept based on a discriptive value that is not quite true.

  • CarlN

    Paul,

    I can’t imagine how you think about nothing. Very strange..
    Nothing is what’s left when you exclude everything that exists. Nothing is simpler than nothing. Nothing is actually the only concept that does not require an explanation.

    Everything else requires an explanation, but “Nothing” does not.

    And “Nothing” is the only way to explain existence without circular logic. Any other attempt will fail.

    I don’t see the logic when you require that it should be possible to reduce something to nothing. Why on earth should that be possible?

    Regards,

    Carl

  • bob

    I like the perfectly ambiguous, “Nothing is impossible”.

  • CarlN

    Sean,

    Maybe I should have addressed this first:

    —-
    Ultimately, the problem is that the question — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — doesn’t make any sense. What kind of answer could possibly count as satisfying?
    —-

    Well, I saw some other comments that also held that this question is not meaningless.

    It actually requires a leap of faith to declare a straightforward question as meaningless. Unless you can offer some proof that it is meaningless of course.

    Maybe this also indicates that you will choose to view any answer to the question as “unsatisfying”. Maybe even if you can’t prove such an answer as wrong?

    Carl

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Crap, I was working on an essay on just this subject, and it sounds like Grünbaum’s already taken all the fun out of it by making all of the same points that intrigued me.

    CarlN: did you somehow miss all the points about why the question is meaningless? It’s because such questions are category errors: they apply concepts and terminology derived from a particular context TO that context. How can anyone possibly go about answering a question about what is likely for possible universes when they only have the one example to work with?

    The universe exists, instead of not existing. If you think that reality is surprising, then YOU need to explain why it is.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Sorry CarlN, but your talk about nothing doesn’t make sense. Why do you speak of things coming from nothing, breaking away as you say? That implies a flow of time, which can only happen when there’s something already there to have changes in it. As for why I challenge the idea of existence: OK, you tell me, what does it mean to “exist,” in a non-circular way which doesn’t just reference what could be a model mathematical description? If there’s a multiverse, does that include cartoon and fictional worlds?

    Bad: Just calling something a category error doesn’t make it so. And pre-emptively announcing that there couldn’t be a satisfying answer is presumptuous.

    It’s because such questions are category errors: they apply concepts and terminology derived from a particular context TO that context.

    No, people aren’t applying concepts and terminology derived from that particular context, they are using their powers of abstraction. We have only one example to literally handle, but we can “work with” more than that – like think about 2, 4, 6 dimensional universes etc., or even the abstraction of what it means for them to exist etc. It’s just a capability of the human mind.

    And, whether I am surprised by this being here is not supposed to be a circular reinforcement of what is the case, but based on my ability to consider what could be the case, or not. I and some others did in fact explain in various ways why we should consider the fact of the universe “existing” (what does that mean, anyway?) and especially, it’s having these properties, to be surprising. (So, even if “existence” is not surprising, why is it like this? Can an astute thinker really tell me with a straight face, that you can imagine that this particular set of laws and content, and not others, just happen to match up to a fully abstract condition like “existing”? Why? If not, then what limits how much can and does exist?

    I really tire of hearing that we can’t do this or that with our minds. If you think we can’t, then don’t, fine, but I am not limited thereby.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Bad: Just calling something a category error doesn’t make it so.

    Well no: just calling a dog a dog doesn’t itself make it a dog… but it is still properly called a dog. And applying concepts derived from the context of the universe to the universe IS a category error, whether you like it or not. It has nothing to do with trying to limit your wonderful imagination: in fact, the whole issue is that your imagination is insufficient outside that context because you’ve done away wit the only reference point you have to work with. Outside the context of the universe, you don’t have any legitimate reason to insist on those particular things over any others one might imagine.

    And, whether I am surprised by this being here is not supposed to be a circular reinforcement of what is the case, but based on my ability to consider what could be the case, or not.

    But you don’t have any limits or grounds on such considerations. For all we know, our universe is extremely unlikely because of how UNordered and hostile to life and intelligence it is.

    I really tire of hearing that we can’t do this or that with our minds. If you think we can’t, then don’t, fine, but I am not limited thereby.

    I didn’t say you couldn’t make up anything at all you want to imagine. The problem is outside the context of the universe any given thing you can imagine is as improbable or probable as any other.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Bad, you’re saying these things better than I said them in the original post. Maybe you should change your name to “Good”?

  • bob

    If Nothingness, in the strong sense ( lacking any, ie, quantum potentiality) were physically possible, wouldn’t it have been realized in nature? In other words, doesn’t existence deomonstrate that Nothingness is physically impossible?

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    Bad, you’re saying these things better than I said them in the original post. Maybe you should change your name to “Good”?

    Thank you, but if I did that, I’d have to live up to it consistently. This way, if I say anything stupid, I can just say that I warned everyone from the start. :)

    That Kuhn article in Skeptic is great by the way: I was going to recommend it but I see that Christopher already did, back in comment 52.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    For all we know, our universe is extremely unlikely because of how UNordered and hostile to life and intelligence it is.

    Or it is extremely likely because bicentric preference over an extemely specific region of the universe implies that we might not be here by accident.

  • CarlN

    Bad, bob, all,

    I see there is a need to explain existence. I will do it not in terms of anything existing (as you might get confused) but in terms of nothing, so the existence of the universe should not be an issue.

    I know I will probably be requested to explain nothing after this, but what the h..

    But first Bad:

    CarlN: did you somehow miss all the points about why the question is meaningless? It’s because such questions are category errors: they apply concepts and terminology derived from a particular context TO that context. How can anyone possibly go about answering a question about what is likely for possible universes when they only have the one example to work with?

    The universe exists, instead of not existing. If you think that reality is surprising, then YOU need to explain why it is.

    I can easily imagine that this is the case. Existence or not? Why existence? Can it be answered within an existence? It is a legitimate question of course, especially if ones “grasp” on the concept of existence is not clear.

    First we note the obvious: If is possible at all to answer the question, it can only be answered from within an existence. It cannot be answered from nothing.

    Second, your take on it: You actually only point out that the question can be meaningless because of this. The proof is missing.

    I don’t expect you to give a proof. So instead I’ll prove it is not meaningless.

    Let’s do it in a roundabout and careful way (in my humble opinion of course):

    Existence is a concept much easier to understand than for example energy or electric charge. What is energy really? What is electric charge really? Nobody knows of course, but that does not cause any concern for physicists. Well, it does but they are not stopped by it, and they are still working on it within this existence.

    I could argue the same with existence but I won’t. Instead I’ll tell you what existence is.

    Something that exists is just anything that is different from nothing.

    Like the “fruit” concept “encapsulates” apples and oranges, existence encapsulate energy and charge and oranges. And everything that is not nothing.

    Just like apples and oranges “produce” the concept of fruit, anything different from nothing “produce” the concept of existence.

    Santa Claus does not exist. George Bush exists. Understanding the existence of George Bush, that is to say: George Bush is not nothing (despite what some might say!), is not different from understanding the existence of the universe: The universe is not nothing. If the universe were nothing it would not be possible to say “the universe is not nothing”.

    The universe is not nothing. So it exists.

    There are only two possibilities:

    1. The universe is nothing

    2. The universe is not nothing

    The question now is:Why is the universe not nothing?
    Why is the universe not like Santa?

    Or we can generalize to include whatever, gods, other universes

    The possibilities are

    1. There is nothing

    2. There is something

    That’s all there is. In situation 2 there is of course also nothing (what’s left when disregarding all that is different from nothing).

    The existence or non-existence of something is not different for things like gods, universes or bananas.

    The simplicity of nothing (requires no explanation or causation) has on the other hand generated the question: Why something instead of nothing?

    Something other than nothing requires an explanation. Saying that something does not require explaining or can’t be explained is to say that the presidency of George Bush cannot be explained (some left-wingers might say this question is more difficult!).

    Things have turned out so that in situation 2 is is possible to discuss these possibilities. But the fact that it is possible to discuss this, does in no way complicate the issue.

    Existence is just the common name for all “tings” (the universe, Bush, god if god exist etc) that is not nothing.

    Existence is simple actually. Something is said to exist if it is not nothing. We don’t have to pretend it is difficult.

    If you have difficulties thinking about the existence of the universe, think about the existence of any of its components, like Bush. The universe is simply the “sum” of the components. “Why the universe” is as meaningful as “why president Bush?”.

    To me it seems that centuries of circular logic around this question has “forced” the conclusion that the question is meaningless. But the false conclusion is just a result of desperation.

    And the way out of the circular thinking or out of the “meaningless-ness” is to realize that what exits has been created from nothing.
    :-)

  • CarlN

    101. Neil B,

    I realize I have done a poor job in my explanation. Sorry for that. I’ll try to do better:

    When something suddenly appear “from” nothing: First, we see that there is no “gradual” transition from nothing to something. It’s not like:

    0% existence

    50% existence

    100% existence

    It’s 100% existence “suddenly”.

    Now, nothing is the same “before” and “after” 100% existence. Because nothing is what is “left” excluding what exists. So “in nothing” nothing ever happened.

    We can only see “what happend” from within that existence, like looking back at the Big Bang. Does this help?

  • http://zhogin.narod.ru Ivan

    Jeff (#1) might be right that perhaps “nothingness” is simply unstable.
    And one more remark: perhaps, “to be” (in a form of physical existence,
    and not just as a mathematical phantom) requires (ie, is not possible without)
    at least “to be in (a?) general position” (Hawking’s / Sakharov’s “fire”).
    (btw, Sean, one my NSU classmate (klimenko_at_phys.ufl.edu) was writing
    (in ~1980, trying to avoid a philosophy exam)
    an essay on Grunbaum’s geochronoconventionalism ! such a long -ism:)

    I’m not a ((/so) perfect) philosopher so let me illustrate the point using
    two `toy theories’ (no matter — only metric, symmetrical, naturally;
    and Latin indices instead of Greek — for brevity).

    Taken as a Lagrangian (density), (1) Ricci scalar, R=R_{mn}g^{mn},
    and (2) R_{mn}G^{mn} (where G_{mn} is Einstein tensor) lead
    to field eq-ns, resp.:
    (1) G_{mn}=0,
    (2) G_{mn}_{;p;q}g^{pq} + (quadratic terms)=0

    One should add the Bianchi identity R_{ab[cd;e]}equiv0; its
    prolongation (divergence) and contraction lead to the following
    “evolution eq-n” for the Riemannian tensor:
    (3) R_{abcd;m;n}g^{mn}equiv 2R_{c[a;b];d}-2R_{d[a;b];c} + (R^2) .

    The trivial solution (R_{abcd}=0) is stable in the
    first theory (“nothing is real”), but unstable in the
    second theory: in linear approximation, the RHS in (3) is not
    zero, and some components of Riemannian tensor (Weyl tensor)
    grow up with time
    e^{-iwt}(a + b t) ,
    in general case (when the components of Ricci tensor do not vanish).

    Of course, the second ‘theory’ (RG-gravity) is inappropriate –
    we live in space-time with small curvature
    (and both theories suffer from singularities in solutions).

    However, interestingly, some intermediate situation is possible
    (GR is not the only pebble .. as it was clear to Einstein who proposed
    also absolute parallelism (AP) which combines symmetries of SR and GR)
    in the most interesting and unique (no singularities,
    hence topological (quasi)charges exist requiring some accounting system;
    and there are no free parameters) variant of AP:
    trivial solution is unstable, but curvature keeps small (stable) –
    only components of least symmetrical portion of torsion grow up
    (unstable). This portion does not contribute to energy-momentum
    (unsensible, weightless waves; it sounds a bit strange but
    let it be); the energy moves along usual
    Riemannian geodesics paying little mind to torsion.
    (Formally, in this variant of AP, covariantly conserved T_{munu}
    can be related to a “weak Lagrangian” (the term coined by N.Ibragimov:
    variation leads to prolonged equations), but this WL is trivial
    (quadratic in field eq-ns) and gives no exact conservation laws
    (no pseudotensor; only approximate, or conditional CLs exist –
    say, when a symmetry with Killing vector is developed in a
    solution).

    Ok. And the last. In AP (and in absence of singularities)
    one can note (making the Hegel’s thesis a bit more concrete
    and less abstract):
    being (existence, solution of general position), in any its point
    (in very-very tiny piece, in zeroth jets),
    is identical to nothingness (non-existence/ trivial solution).
    That is, it is impossible to distinguish one point per se
    (in zero jets) from another. Vacuum GR looks similar
    (there are no invariants constructed from zeroth and
    even first jets..) — but singular points..

  • http://zhogin.narod.ru Ivan

    (2) G_{mn;p;q}g^{pq} + (quadratic terms)=0 — of course, this is more correct

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    (Pardon me if this double posts, it seemed not to got thru the first time.)

    CarlN: Sorry, it doesn’t help. Just try to appreciate what I was saying before. You’re treating “nothing” like a something, which is silly.

    Bad (still Bad), Sean, et al:

    I don’t know why you think that wondering about other universes is applying concepts from the context of the universe to the universe itself. There aren’t already other universes inside this one. Unless you are telling me I can’t abstract the sheer concept of “nonexistence” or “multiplicity” or “other” to the universe itself and possible partners, or that there could have been none of them, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it. Like it or not, you are trying to deny abstract thinking capabilities with facetious doubletalk about how we poor hicks are tied down inside our swampy little universe, so laden with the things we are familiar with, unable to form novel ideas and etc. I suppose we shouldn’t talk about infinity, since we never get to see infinite numbers of things, or perfect circles with literal pi as the ratio of their circumference to their diameter, etc., since they are outside the context of our everyday tomatoes and such.

    BTW, are you telling all the other thinkers about multiple universes, including the ones who use physical theories to postulate their generation etc, that they can’t in principle make such speculations because they aren’t allowed to jump outside the context of the universe? The ones who postulate multiple universes in order to avoid appreciating that ours has the fine tuning for life (which is well-researched)? Or is it only thinkers who might produce an “undesirable” result, like a reason for this one existing and having the properties it has?

    I didn’t say you couldn’t make up anything at all you want to imagine. The problem is outside the context of the universe any given thing you can imagine is as improbable or probable as any other.

    Well, that lability of anything else is indeed the problem, as I mention. If the other things we can imagine are just as improbable or probable as any other, then ours shouldn’t be the only one, and we have the mess of modal realism – that’s basically what you describe. What you miss that is so ironic: If it is really so hard to get outside the context of our universe, then how come you are so confident of your metaphilosophical critiques of other’s perspectives on those issues? (Statements like the above etc.) Wouldn’t you really have to say, “Maybe, maybe not, who knows”? If something is really meaningless, unreachable, etc, you don’t even understand or know it well enough to disagree.

    BTW, does anyone know if Google changed their search criteria sometime around July? Some of my searches started turning up different results around then compared to long-standing patterns.

  • CarlN

    Neil B.

    Hm.. I have difficulties seeing I am treating nothing as something. Nothing is what’s left excluding all that exists. So nothing is simply “nothing”.

    If we imagine the situation where no “things” exists (as I called situation 1 above) there is simply nothing. No time, no laws, no rules. There is only “time” in existences where there are “forces” causing change or motion to occur.

    We could imagine a universe coming into existence with some objects in it (spanning its space), but where there is no relative motion between the objects. In this universe there is no time at all. Looking at it it is impossible to determine whether it was “created” 5 seconds ago or 5 billion years ago.

    So time depends on continual change. And there can only be time “inside” something that exist. Not so in nothing. Nothing does not change when something start to exist. Nothing does not exist.

    My wording might be confusing at times, and maybe this make it worse. One thing is the idea in one’s head. It can look different when it’s written down and read by someone else. Maybe we should all give each other some slack in this respect.

    Also English is not my native language, and I know I’m clumsy at it.
    And I realize also atheists can be nuts, not only religious people :-)

    Ivan, I only have an M.Sc. in physics. I think I have good knowledge of ordinary quantum mechanics, a little bit of “QED”, but hardly any GR, just the SR. So I can’t comment on what you’re saying here.

    But I agree we should try to find a mathematical description on what “goes on” when something “comes from” nothing. (Careful with that wording).

    We can only conclude from logic that there can be no rules,laws that stops something from being “created” from nothing.

    For Neil B: I’m not meaning that nothing is doing any act of creation.

    The no rules “in” nothing “condition” will in my opinion mean that there are infinitely many “ways” in which something can come “from” nothing. I guess the only restriction that can be placed is that something illogical, something that conflicts with itself cannot start to exist.

    So there cannot exist anything that could prevent existence, for example. And “nothing” can’t do anything. Nothing can’t prevent anything.

    Coming up next (maybe) on this blog:

    The logical impossibility of eternal existence. Invalidating not only much of religion but also any cosmological model proposing that the universe has always existed in some form or another.

    Sharpen your brains and prove me wrong! :-)

  • http://orbum.net/mark Mark R.

    Neil B – I think what Bad’s saying is that we’re limited by the terms of our existence within the universe we inhabit — the tools, our perceptual abilities, our language, our rules of physics, our capabilities of observation, etc. We can’t easily, or perhaps even sensibly, hope to address things that are beyond, beside, within, underneath… this existence. And that pretty much includes nothingness, because it does not fall within our existence.

    I think that even if somehow we eventually develop to the point where we can see alternate existences, our understanding of them will likely be wildly biased by the same frameworks we currently find ourselves within, and will reflect little about the alternate “nature” (or lack thereof) that we’ve uncovered.

    If multiplicity exists (as the terms of our universe might have it said) then we might possibly come to understand and perhaps even inhabit at least conceptually multiple universes. But even so, nothingness remains outside of that multiplicity.

    I believe in this sense, Bad is not talking about nothingness as being akin to a numeric 0. In this sense, nothingness is the absence of everything, including reasoning, from any standpoint, of any universe. Including the absence of the concept of a numeric 0.

    And as such, speaking reasonably about anything in comparison to nothingness is just ripe with error.

    But, at least from my perspective, this isn’t really a terrible limitation upon reason, nor is it any suggestion that exploring cosmological origins is pointless. It’s just a bit of an outermost boundary where our sensibilities end.

    The multiplicity of universes seems to be just fine, too.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism Neil B.

    Mark, I still think this limitation indulgence is an escape from the power of abstract thought. If we were really so limited, how can you imagine that things continue to exist even while not being observed? (Come on, logical positivists, what is the operational content etc. of that statement?) How could you conceive of your own death, if you only had being alive to work with, etc. We just can do it, and I think the reason is: we needed to be able to think about things like “It is still ‘there’ even if I can’t see it anymore” and imagine “thereness” in order to survive, when we moved past instinct and impulse and started modeling the world as ideas. I will concede one thing, and that is the subtleness of “exist” because we wonder if space-time is a fabric “thing” since it would still “be there” even if no objects were in it (a “vacuum” inviting comparison to other “vacua” with other properties – !) and the odd question of whether fields really exist or particles exist and the wave function etc. – as Clinton said, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”! BTW, what do you think of modal realism?

    CarlN wrote “We could imagine a universe coming into existence with..”
    Once again, “coming” means time, which means a universe or something at least, was already there – dude, please get the point! ;-)

  • bob

    Why treat Nothingness as a physical idea? It is not the same as empty space. It can’t be filled. It has neither duration nor other dimension. Nor potentiality. There can be a whole lot of nothingness right under our noses and we wouldn’t know. Because nothing happens and nothing’s there. What experiment could we run to test the idea of Nothingness?

    Maybe the qustion isn’t metaphysical at all but just a linguistic trap.

    Or maybe it’s a “temporal” rather than “physical” question — today exists but yesterday is nothingness.

  • http://orbum.net/mark Mark R.

    Well, Neil B., considering modal realism is interesting, but even more interesting to me is the linkage of empiricism to philosophy that physics so often, in general, does. I have no means to say anything definitively, or even authoritatively. Based on our current understanding, as I understand it, modal realism, in some sense, may well be an actuality. I think it is a highly speculative thing, but fun.

    Which leads, in part, to the “limitation indulgence” that is “escaping from the power of abstract thought.” I can’t even say for certain that abstract thought is this almighty thing, unbounded by anything, even nothingness. There seems to be a certain hubris in believing such a thing, but I do not believe that hubris is always a bad thing.

    It seems to me fine to consider nothingness. The problem arises when we attempt to connect it to the “something” we inhabit. There is no characteristic of “nothing” that we can tie ourselves to. As we approach it, the end leap just isn’t there. We’re caught within our own terms, linguistic, conceptual, or otherwise.

    That’s not true for a multiverse, however.

    I agree with you, from an aesthetic standpoint, that the discontinuity is not satisfying in the least. Perhaps it has something to do with that irritating arrow of time smacking us straight between the eyes. Perhaps nothingness never was. Perhaps we’re caught up in some crazy blooming belly button dream.

    We’re certainly predisposed to having temporal origins in this nothingness, however.

  • CarlN

    Neil B,

    CarlN wrote “We could imagine a universe coming into existence with..”
    Once again, “coming” means time, which means a universe or something at least, was already there – dude, please get the point! ;-)

    Hmm , wording problems again I think..
    No, “coming” means beginning of existence, the big bang. No time “before” that.
    “Before” or “coming” does not imply time “in nothing” or “before” existence.

    Time is limited to existence. This does not imply “..or something at least was already there.

    Seen from “outside” our universe the big bang “never” happened. Time can only be perceived from within something that exist. And “the time” exists only in that existence.

    “Nothing” is always separate from what exists. 99.999% existence is logically impossible. No matter what “happens” “nothing” is untouched by existence and time.

    I think you should clarify for me (and maybe for yourself) how you view time.

    If you can prove me wrong on something I’ll be glad. I don’t want to believe in something wrong.
    :-)

  • http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hall/2638/ lfmorgan

    Princeton Physics Professor John Archibald Wheeler said it best a very long time ago. How come the quantum? How come existence? His teaching inspired Nobel Prize winners like Richard Feynman (hope I got that right at age 83 with chancy memory)! MY new theory posted at my URL was written by 1993 while my recall was totally unconscious and instantaneous as far as I can now tell. It all still reads good to me because it always ALLOWS ME TO mind’s eye vividly see the ALWAYS MOVING DARK MATTER THAT FILLS ALL SPACE-TIME with absolutely no possiblity of “nothing”, AND allows the rythmic creation and death of visible matter. As visile matter, we only get to retina-see other visible matter. We need the mechanically false notion of nothing so we can feel separate and superior while COMPLETELY IMMERSED EVERY INSTANT EVERYWHERE ALLTHETIME, EVERYONE THE SAME– IN A HIGHLY INTIMATE and INTERACTIVE dark matter. As Leon Lederman, the best particle physicist who ever lived said (read his “The God Particle”), the notion of “nothng: makes us feel more comfortable. It gives all things lousy a great place to hide, including bad thinking. That is why the physics of “something” that needs no problematic math to hide it, is so long in catching on –but it must and will to prove one other thing Wheeler said–”How could we be so stupid for so long”. And the anser is –it lets the masses also be highly intelligent and inventive! You can still tell a real genius by there loneliness. Can you imagne our massive genius giving up and accepting the truth?

  • CarlN

    All, please prove me wrong on this:

    The impossibility of eternal existence

    When thinking about something that has always existed, we note that
    no explanation can be given for its existence. That naturally raises questions about the validity of the concept. If something can’t be explained we must reject it (not just ignore the problem and believe in it).

    For centuries one has tried to “solve” the problem by imagining that it might be
    possible for something (like a god) to “necessarily exist” or be the cause of its own existence going back all eternity or “outside of time”.

    S. Hawking also touched upon this: “Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? Or does it need a creator…? And who created him?”

    The impossibility of causing its own existence is simply put: For causing its own existence, something needs to exist “first” for causing its own existence, and also it needs “causing” exist. There is no way out of this but to reject that no “things” can cause its own existence. After realizing this, the philosophers gradually gave up on the problem “why something rather than nothing”.

    Since it seemed impossible to answer the question, the way out was to declare the question meaningless.

    And they forgot to investigate whether something can “come from” nothing. “Nothing comes from nothing” seemed too obvious I guess.

    I digress, back to God:

    Now, when thinking about something eternal we realize that its existence has never been established. Something, whose existence has not been established, simply does not exist. The concept of eternal existence actually contradicts existence. Eternal existences (like gods) can only be imagined. In reality, a situation in which there exist something eternal has never been established of course.

    So eternal existence is not only impossible to explain (as we have always known), it is also plainly impossible. It contradicts itself. No wonder it can’t be explained.

    In turn, this implies that something that exists needs a beginning, like a big bang. This has obvious consequences for religious belief. A small cost is that it sacrifices some cosmological models that suppose that the universe has always existed in some form or another (even “before” the big bang).

    Since everything needs a beginning it can only be concluded that existence ultimately “comes from” nothing. As I already have shown, the logical “avenues” are wide open for creation “from” nothing. There are no hinders, rules, laws (like conservation laws) “in” nothing, that can prevent creation “from” nothing.

    The “no rules in nothing” has, other interesting consequences of course. Maybe more on this later.

    OK people, please prove me wrong. I really would not like believing in something wrong.

  • Garth Barber

    Now, when thinking about something eternal we realize that its existence has never been established. Something, whose existence has not been established, simply does not exist.

    May I ask why you say this?

    Lots of things may exist whose existence has not been established; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    Read it again please, establish not in the meaning of “ascertain” but in the meaning of “construct” or “put in place” or whats the correct english?

  • Garth Barber

    Carl, thank you for that clarification, but does not this use of the word ‘establish’ also apply to the universe as a whole?

    Since everything needs a beginning it can only be concluded that existence ultimately “comes from” nothing.

    What is it in the “nothing” that ‘establishes’ the universe?

    Does this not bring us back to Stephen Hawking’s question I quoted above, “”What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

    Which, to my way of thinking, is just another way of asking the original question.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, I’ve tried to understand what you mean..

    Carl, thank you for that clarification, but does not this use of the word

    ‘establish’ also apply to the universe as a whole?

    The universe is of course “established” (maybe a poor choice of word?) because of it’s beginning, the big bang. The big bang established its existence.

    This is the opposite of anything eternal (eternal god or eternal universe or eternal equations) that has no beginning and thus don’t exit. Their existence has not been “established” so they don’t exist.


    What is it in the “nothing” that ‘establishes’ the universe?

    I think I have tried to explain. Nothing does not exist and can’t do anything. It does not establish anything. Nor can it prevent existence. It can’t prevent something from “popping out” into existence.

    “Nothing” only provide an explanation for existence. since we can’t use circular logic and use existence (something that exists) to explain existence. That’s been tried for thousands of years.

    We cannot even use eternal “equations” to explain existence. Not only because that would again involve circular logic, but because anything eternal is just impossible anyway.

    I just used the Hawking quote to show that he also probably don’t believe that the “unified theory” can cause it’s own existence and then asks about creator(s).

    As I showed it is impossible for something to cause it’s own existence. So the unified theory can’t cause its own existence.

    All we are left with is nothing to explain existence. That’s not so bad actually,
    since “nothing” can’t stop “something” from starting to exist. So it makes sense at last. This can also explain more actually, like the “fine tuning” of the universe..one need of course to following the conclusions “for a while”..it’s required to study some of the consequences of “no rules in nothing”.

    Or can somebody prove that “only nothing can come from nothing”? I’ve tried for a long time to prove it, but it seems I can’t. If someone can do that, then I can forget all about this.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Nothing does not exist and can’t do anything. It does not establish anything.

    Agreed.

    Nor can it prevent existence. It can’t prevent something from “popping out” into existence.

    Popping out of what?

    All we are left with is nothing to explain existence. That’s not so bad actually, since “nothing” can’t stop “something” from starting to exist. So it makes sense at last.

    Okay, if that explanation satisfies you, but I find it does not satisfy me.

    The Big Bang may not be an absolute beginning, for universe itself may be eternal in which our ‘Big Bang’ being just one of an infinite number of bottlenecks it has to go through. In this case the eternal universe would therefore just ‘exist’, but you find that nonsensical.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,


    Okay, if that explanation satisfies you, but I find it does not satisfy me.

    The Big Bang may not be an absolute beginning, for universe itself may be eternal in which our ‘Big Bang’ being just one of an infinite number of bottlenecks it has to go through. In this case the eternal universe would therefore just ‘exist’, but you find that nonsensical.

    I don’t find it “nonsensical”. I find it impossible. As I proved, I believe. So assuming the proof stands, the only explanation (as I can see) is “existence from nothing”.

    I thought I’ve just shown the impossibility of something eternal. Maybe it was not clearly enough stated? If so, say it and I’ll try explaining it better. If not, disprove it.

    “Popping out of nothing” That is just strange wording for a strange concept.
    Popping out of what? Nothing. Since nothing can’t stop it.

    Carl

  • http://magicdragon.com Jonathan Vos Post

    Every word begins and ends with the empty word.

    The empty word begins and ends with itself.

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    That is just strange wording for a strange concept.
    Popping out of what? Nothing. Since nothing can’t stop it.

    But nothing can’t cause it either, I like to look for the causes of effects…

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, all

    All this boils down to: We cannot use existence to explain existence, since we cannot accept circular logic. All we are left with is nothing to explain existence.

    We are actually left with no other choice than accepting that what exists comes from nothing.

    This is of course very counter-intuitive, but there is help for that:

    For existence from nothing, we know that there are no rules or laws “in nothing” that can prevent something from starting to exist.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Alternatively we can just accept the existence of a ‘self-existing’ entity; either the universe, in some form or other, has always been there with no beginning and no end, or some traditional idea of a self-existing creator, which was the first cause of everything else (the ‘fire in the equations’).

    I find this alternative no more or less a satisfying explanation than

    All we are left with is nothing to explain existence.

    .

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    It does not work that way. You can’t choose an explanation based on what you find satisfying. And why do you choose to believe in the impossible? Something “always” existing is proven to be imposssible.

    And you choose to believe in circular logic as well. This is even stranger than something “popping out” of nothing.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    The point is, I do not believe you have proved the impossibility of something “always” existing.

    Such a thing would not be ‘self-caused’, for it would require no cause at all, it would simply ‘be’.

    In the days of the Steady State Theory it was naturally assumed by many that the universe did not have a beginning nor an end, it simply existed, without cause, for all time. This was a counter to the theistic claim that God was the cause of the Big Bang as per Abbe’ Lemaitre and Pope Pius XII. This latter approach of course could be seen to be an example of a ‘god-of the-gaps’ argument, in this case the ultimate ‘gap’.

    When the Big Bang theory proved to be observationally superior there was a flurry of activity to find a natural cause of the BB, such as that which might be given by String Theory, Brane theory or Loop Quantum Gravity, otherwise, indeed, one could equally say “God did it”. Today it is generally thought that the BB was not the beginning but just a stage the universe has gone through. This of course cannot be substantiated observationally it has to be just taken on trust, or ‘faith’.

    Equally your argument that the universe just ‘popped’ out of nothing, while avoiding the question of a first-cause, and the impossibility of self-cause seems to be something that has to be taken on trust, or faith, but I find it a less satisfying explanation, than either an eternal universe or an eternal Creator.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    Maybe we are getting somewhere now? Where is the error I’ve made?

    Beside this, you realize you are taking a position that means an explanation for existence is impossible? If you only were able to prove that it is impossible to explain it..

    This position is of course also the position that allows the eternal gods in through the back door.. I don’t like that..

    If I made an error I”ll be the first to say sorry. I don’t want to believe in something wrong.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    I may have missed something important in this long thread, however I as understand it, you have shown the impossibility of something causing its own existence, with which I agree, but I cannot see how that then proves the ‘impossibility of eternal existence’.

    Some thing, such as the universe, could simply exist; there would be no need of a first (self) cause because there would be no first moment, it would always be there. Each event caused by a preceding event and that preceding event caused by an even earlier one ad infinitum, the whole universe itself being uncaused.

    We may indeed be left with either a universe ‘popping’ out of nothing, or an eternal uncaused universe or an eternal uncaused creator. Each possibility may appeal to different people

    Garth

  • Carlos

    “By corollary, let’s take the fact that our observable region of the universe exists, and propose that perhaps it exists within something else which we can’t appropriately describe, but might as well call “nothing”. Whatever this “nothing” is that our universe exists within, it must necessarily be possible for such entities as universes to exist there. So might not there be quantum vacuum fluctuations that ensure existence, given that we know it’s possible? Granted, this is vague and may be nonsense, but I have a feeling that if this could be well-described, something like this might provide a possible answer to why there is something instead of nothing, because it would show that nothing existing is a logical contradiction.

    Nope. You can’t do it. Any event that causes something is itself something. You can’t get something from nothing. Even space has qualities and structure, hence, it too is something.

    If there were ever nothing, therefore, there would still be nothing. Since there isn’t nothing, now, it follows that there was always something, at least for as long as always was. It is and always will be a purely metaphysical question, unapproachable by Science and proof, if you are looking for it, that Science cannot answer every question, no matter how important and fundamental.

    “New Atheist” Scientists strike me as angry people. No doubt this question is one of the reasons, alongside, at least for now, the key point in the Natural Selection sequence no Evolutionist ever wants to discuss, how it began.

  • Garth Barber

    Now that nothing is really something!

  • Carlos

    “I can’t do justice to Grünbaum’s takedown of this position,”

    Well it isn’t that complicated really. Once you weed through all the hoo hawing you come to this:

    As against any a priori dictum on what is the ‘natural’ status of the universe, the verdict on that status depends crucially on empirical evidence. Thus PEQ turns out to be a non-starter, because its presupposed SoN [spontaneity of nothingness] is ill founded!

    Grünbaum simply states that because the Universe exists, it thereby exists naturally (since he assumes we all know there is no god and no other mechanism for instantiatiation). The PEQ it is therefore not a valid question. Essentially a 1200 word duck, to rousing applause.

    http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/55/4/561

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    Regarding eternal existence, this is something that’s by definition has not started to exist.

    Given the information that X has not started to exist, we can only logically deduce that X does not exist. We cannot say that this means that X exists and always have.

    Given the fact that Santa has not started to exist, it is invalid to conclude that Santa has always existed.

    We can only conclude that something that has not started to exist, does not exist. Otherwise the eternal existence of anything we substitute for X must be believed in.

    This is why I said that eternal existence contradicts existence. And this is also why eternal existence can’t be logically explained.

    So again, this leaves us only with “nothing” to explain existence. Existence must come from nothing.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Given the information that X has not started to exist, we can only logically deduce that X does not exist. We cannot say that this means that X exists and always have.

    This is where we disagree; the information we have is not that ‘Given that “X has not started to exist”‘ but that ‘Given that “X already exists”‘.

    An example of this was the Steady State Universe, exponentially expanding with no beginning and no end and satisfying the Perfect Cosmological Principle in which it looks the same from any location in space and at any epoch in time. The one fact we started from was the belief that we, and the universe as a whole, already exists!

    I say ‘belief’ because that was what our experience and instruments tell us, though of course it may, as in ‘The Matrix’, all prove to be a delusion!

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    No, here you are equating “already exists” with “always existed”. “Already exists” equates “has already started to exist.”

    Eternal existence is equivalent to existence that has not started. It has not been “established”.

    It also strikes me that you are more ready to accept non-caused eternal existence than maybe “less” non-caused existence from nothing.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    here you are equating “already exists” with “always existed”.

    That relationship: “already exists” = “always existed” was what the Perfect Cosmological Principle was all about…..

    Even though the SST has been superseded, present attempts to explore back before the Big Bang http://npg.nature.com/nphys/journal/…/nphys654.html either with Loop Quantum Gravity, String theory or Brane theory, expose the possibility that there was no real beginning in time for our universe.

    Eternal existence is equivalent to existence that has not started

    It has not had a ‘start’, that is a first moment in time, but that is not equivalent to it not existing, for it has always existed.

    There may of course be a first moment, i.e. a beginning of time itself in the Big Bang singularity, and that would depend on how you define and measure time, i.e. with what sort of clock do you measure it, but that does not negate the other possibility.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    That relationship: “already exists” = “always existed” was what the Perfect Cosmological Principle was all about…..

    But this “principle” is not a principle, is only a guess actually..In a bit of trouble because of the Big Bang. We have no evidence there is anything before that.

    There is no evidence for this principle. It is simply trying to explain existence with existence yet again, a logical impossibility .

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    I am not necessarily saying there was an eternally existing universe, just that it is a possibility, it is not a logical impossibility.

    It is normal to explain existence of a state ‘now’ by the existence of a previous state at an earlier time. Far from being a “logical impossibility” this is absolutely logical.

    The only question is whether there was always an ‘earlier time’, not matter how far back you go, especially at such a special event as the Big Bang. I am just pointing out that you cannot prove that the Big Bang was a singularity for under those conditions GR, which predicts such, may well break down.

    If it is the case that you can go back before the BB, as many workers in the field believe, then you might well be able to go back forever. You could never prove it of course, but you couldn’t disprove it either.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, the question here is “why something rather than nothing”. Going forever back (even before the BB) does not answer it. This is just trying to answer the question using existence to explain existence. That is circular logic, and this explanation is therefore a logical impossibility.

    Logic itself forces us to accept that the ultimate explanation for existence is that what exists must come from nothing. Nothing else is compatible with logic.

  • Garth Barber

    Logic itself forces us to accept that the ultimate explanation for existence is that what exists must come from nothing.

    To my way of thinking this statement is just an example of the logical reductio ad absurdum.

    Therefore either we do not exist, or there is something wrong with your assumptions.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    No, nothing is wrong. I have shown that creation “from” nothing is entirely consistent with logic. Remember, there are no rules or laws “in” nothing that could prevent that from happening.

    This explanation for existence is the only one allowed by logic. I’ll give you it is not a “physical ” theory showing what happened in the moment of the BB when the universe was created from nothing. That is still to be worked out.

    But this is all logic allows.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    I have shown that creation “from” nothing is entirely consistent with logic. Remember, there are no rules or laws “in” nothing that could prevent that from happening.

    Understood, but do you not find this conclusion absurd?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    If it is consistent with logic, how can it be absurd? It’s only your intuition or instincts (which you should not blindly trust) that tell you it is absurd.

    We’re all used to that. Both QM and SR can appear quite contrary to “common sense” and human instincts.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    If it is consistent with logic, how can it be absurd?

    As I said, as in “reductio ad absurdum”. The logic is impeccable, it is the conclusion that is absurd.

    Obviously you do not find it absurd, but I do, no less so than an eternal universe that has not been “established”.

    Garth.

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    You choose to view the conclusion as absurd since you don’t like it, it seems. I don’t see a demonstration of its absurdity. No point in going on I guess. Everybody else seems to have left the tread anyway. That’ s a shame, there is more to tell. Somewhere else maybe.

    Carl

  • Jason Dick

    CarlN, there is a fundamental difference between a causal loop and circular reasoning. Causal loops are strange, to be sure, as they overthrow our normal understanding of cause and effect. But they are not inconsistent, and therefore it is entirely possible (so far as we know) that the universe caused its own existence.

    Circular reasoning is where one attempts to derive a conclusion by first assuming the conclusion. This is in no way related to cause and effect of a physical system.

  • CarlN

    Jason,

    No, it does not answer “why something rather than nothing”. We need to understand why not nothing.

    A loop “A causing A” or maybe “A causing B causing A” is a loop that exist. Why this loop instead of nothing?

    Such a loop is explaining existence using existence, so it is circular logic.

    Carl

  • Jason Dick

    CarlN,

    The answer to why there is something rather than nothing, if there is to be an answer, would be a physics answer, not a dynamics answer. That is to say, if there is an answer, it is an answer in terms of something akin to, “The fundamental laws of physics force total nothingness where there is the potential for the stuff that makes up a universe to exist to be a contradiction in terms.” The answer would not be, “X event caused the universe to appear,” as that just begs the question as to what caused X.

    My point in stating that causal loops are valid logical constructs was as a rebuttal to your claim in 143.

  • CarlN

    Jason, an “ultimate” explanation for existence can only have as a starting point “something” that requires no explanation and hence no causation. Any other starting point will not do. The only starting point that satisfies this is nothing.

    An explanation involving physical laws “that forces nothingness” (a contradiction in itself) does not satisfy this. This is circular logic again.

    Existence has to come from nothing because of this. The explanation can only use logic as in the “starting point” physical laws does not exist.

    All we now is that any conservation laws (or any conceivable rules or laws or conditions) does not exist “in” nothing. This means we are not getting into trouble with logic, by saying that existence starts “from” nothing.

    This is the only logical explanation to “why something rather than nothing” that can be given. Anything else will fail.

    Also take note that the explanation cannot involve any physics. Only logic.

    Carl

  • http://sum1ton.wordpress.com/ Jon

    It’s interesting that no one has really defined what “nothing” refers to, as if readers should intuit it by themselves.

    Is it an absence of something? An absence of everything? An absence of anything? Is an absence of something itself a something? Are we counting thoughts as somethings? Are we counting ideas as somethings? Abstractions?

    This is why these sorts of questions annoy me. We assign mnemonics to ideas we can’t even describe formally, and then ask questions about those mnemonics. This “why something rather nothing” question is almost like asking “Why algebra instead of not-algebra?”. Well, what is “not-algebra”? What other system could we have used besides algebra? We are a specific kind of organism with a specific history needing to answer specific questions. Algebra resulted from that. Can we devise a system which effectively performs algebraic-like tasks, but isn’t isomorphic (i.e. can’t be reduced) to algebra? It doesn’t seem possible, by definition.

    So let’s ask the basic questions first. What is “nothing”? What is “something”? What are the differences?

    Etymologically, “nothing” is a reference to a lack of a thing. Which references a thing in the first place. Which means the thing had to have existed, in some shape or form, prior to the demarcation of its nonexistence. A unicorn doesn’t exist as an organism, but it does exist in the physical neural firings that represent the idea in our brains. That we know a unicorn doesn’t exist as an organism depends on the existence of the idea of the unicorn. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know to say it doesn’t exist. It’s the tree falling in the woods scenario. If no one is around to see it fall, does it make a sound? That you’re there or not there to witness the tree falling is irrelevant, I feel. The tree may be a frictionless tree which causes no sound when it falls. Perhaps the tree is in orbit, and thus constantly falling without making any sounds. The entire scenario demands our implicit approval of the definitional bounds of what trees and woods and falling are. So, too, does this discussion of nothing vs. something.

    To define “nothing”, in general, requires the existence of “things” first, in some respect. Even if those things are figments or artifacts of our brain chemistry. Defining a lack of a something reduces to first knowing about the something, which reduces to being able to know, which leads us to further ambiguities. What does it mean to know? Are there other ways of knowing? Would a sentient species of alien even think our dichotomy, “nothing” vs. “something”, sensible? Perhaps there are other intermediate options which are, to abuse the highly redundant quote of Haldane’s, not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can possibly suppose.

    I think I’m basically just restating Sean’s (and Grunbaum’s) position in a different way, now that I read over his post. But whatevers.

    I hate philosophy. Intellectual masturbation, that’s what it is. :(

  • CarlN

    John,

    This was strange reading, you discuss unicorns and stuff, fictional ideas that depend on human existence (for “existence” in human minds only) as if these concepts has anything to do with the question of existence or nothing.

    Logic does not at all depend on our history or whether we are human or alien. It does not depend on whatever we might fill our minds with. It is really strange how such simple concepts can appear so complicated. Truth and reality does not at all depend on humans anything of what you refer to.

    Falling threes and their sounds..

    Something is said to exist if it is not nothing. Nothing is nothing. Nothing has no “shape”, no attributes whatsoever. It has no properties and no rules or “laws” are associated with it.

    Nothing is the only thing that does not need an explanation as there is nothing(!) about it that needs explanation. This also means it does not need any causation.
    Only that what exists needs an explanation.

    Why algebra? There is no algebra in nothing. Algebra is “generated” by existence. Asking “why algebra” is the same as asking “why something”. We don’t even need to know what algebra is to answer such a question.

    All questions depend equally on existence. No questions can be asked “when/if” there is only nothing.

    :-)

    Carl

  • Jon

    …you discuss unicorns and stuff, fictional ideas that depend on human existence (for “existence” in human minds only) as if these concepts has anything to do with the question of existence or nothing.

    Isn’t “nothingness” just such a fictional idea? Have we ever observed “nothingness”? You can’t observe it by definition. The entire idea is based upon our (human) assumption that “somethingness” has a complement, an opposite, and that the opposite is this thing, “nothingness”. My question is this: how do we warrant such an assumption?

    Logic does not at all depend on our history or whether we are human or alien.

    Every logical system depends on axioms. Those things we take as axioms depend on the history of our understanding of how the universe works. They depend on what we perceive to be unalterable and how we think about things. And how we think about things ultimately depends on our hardware, i.e. our brains.

    Truth and reality does not at all depend on humans anything of what you refer to.

    Truth and reality? Human beings have never experienced truth or reality. This is partially my point. We model truth and reality, certainly. But models have flaws and imperfections. And you can only examine those flaws and imperfections by developing better models. And we get into an infinite cascade from there, with each model improving upon the last. Godel and Turing aren’t famous for nothing, you know.

    If it has no properties and no rules and no laws, then it can be said to have all properties and all rules and all laws, even if they contradict each other, no? Do you see the kind of quirky scenarios you get into by trying to formalize this kind of thing?

    Nothing is the only thing that does not need an explanation as there is nothing(!) about it that needs explanation. This also means it does not need any causation.
    Only that what exists needs an explanation.

    You’re just saying the same thing over and over but with different words. If nothingness exists, then it’s self-refuting (nothingness’s existence counts as something existing). If nothingness doesn’t exist, then something else exists by definition. Around and around we go with the verbal acrobatics.

  • Jon

    Messed up my blockquotes a bit in the previous post.

  • CarlN

    Jon,

    This is the “human-centric” thinking.

    No, they didn’t notice any change in reality in the Andromeda galaxy when humans appeared on Earth. And logic for them is the same as for us (maybe not all of us).
    They also ask why something instead of nothing.

    Follow your line of line of thinking and you end up believing all that exist is your own mind. But even that does not change the question. Why your mind instead of nothing?

    Physics as well as logic does not depend on the existence of humans. It’s is the other way around actually.

    But anyone is free to confuse oneself.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl, the ‘Andromedans’ might also conclude that a universe popping out of ‘nothing’ is also absurd!

    Where I take issue with your argument is in the two lines of argument:
    1.

    Eternal existence is equivalent to existence that has not started. It has not been “established”.

    Regarding eternal existence, this is something that’s by definition has not started to exist.

    and 2.

    As I already have shown, the logical “avenues” are wide open for creation “from” nothing. There are no hinders, rules, laws (like conservation laws) “in” nothing, that can prevent creation “from” nothing.

    The problem with the first line of argument is that it assumes that existence requires ‘establishment’; this assumption is debatable, yet you base the whole of your logical edifice upon it. As I said the universe may simply ‘be’, uncaused, without beginning and without end. I personally do not think this is the case, but I acknowledge that others do think so. and I have to allow that possibility.

    The second line of argument I find astonishing. Basically you are saying that in ‘nothing’ as there are no laws then anything goes, but you can argue anything from this premise and if you can explain anything then you have explained nothing….

    One problem we have is the one and only universe we can observe is highly ordered in its structure. The physical basis that formed the Big Bang then and holds reality together today is mathematical in nature, yet mathematics is a mental activity. As I quoted from Stephen Hawking, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”.

    I find your explanation that the fecund universe with its mathematical laws sprang from nothing, because in nothing there was nothing to stop it, less than satisfactory.

    Interestingly this puts a twist on my statement (#47 above) that there are two sorts of people, those who think the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is the most important question of all and those who think it is no question at all.

    You obviously think it is an important question but give an answer that completely satisfies you although I find it to be no answer at all.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Hi Garth,

    I agree, many Andromedans will find this unbelievable :-)

    If we assume existence don’t need to be “established” (“constructed”/initialized) then any eternal gods can be dreamed up and their existence can be claimed to be logical. Such a situation is of course not logical in itself and must be rejected.

    First, maybe we should clear up something (as I confuse myself sometimes as well).

    1. There is the concept of “caused” and “uncaused”
    2. There is the concept of “explained” and “unexplained”

    (this is probably very bad English but I think you get it..?)

    Creation from nothing is (of course) uncaused since “nothing” can’t perform any acts “of causation”. Nothing can’t do anything.

    But this nonetheless affords an explanation for existence and “why something instead of nothing”.

    Regarding anything eternal we also see that causation is not involved. But suddenly also the explanation disappears. We are automatically “barred from any explanation. We cannot get any answer for “why existence”.

    This is of course another way to look at the whole issue here. When something becomes unexplainable (for no good reason), we must reject it since there must be something wrong in our initial assumption. Here the initial assumption is the eternal existence. So eternal existence is not a logical concept.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    If we assume existence don’t need to be “established” (“constructed”/initialized) then any eternal gods can be dreamed up and their existence can be claimed to be logical. Such a situation is of course not logical in itself and must be rejected.

    The existence of an eternal God is not necessarily illogical, that is, depending on the nature of the god that is being invoked.

    The ancient Hebrew name for God, taken from the story of Moses and the burning bush, “I am that I am”, is active in meaning and refers to God as the author, or in your words, the establisher, of existence. That notwithstanding, those cosmologists such as Fred Hoyle who held to the Steady State Theory because they were atheists did not find the acceptance of an eternal universe was rendered illogical by the possibility of an eternal deity, quite the opposite in fact.

    I understand the difference between uncaused and unexplained; I only added in ‘uncaused’ as that would be an extra characteristic of such an eternal universe.

    The existence of the eternal universe, if this universe is indeed eternal, is indeed unexplained. But that is the point, it’s existence would not need an explanation, it would simply ‘be’. One holding this view would consider the Original Question “No question at all.”

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    I think I have demonstrated in various ways the logical impossibility of eternal existences, including gods. And the particular nature of any such gods does not matter at all. “Supernatural” beings have of course no more explaining-”power” than any other existence when the question is about existence.

    Also, I can’t imagine why you prefer to have no explanation instead of having one. I can only guess it’s because you want to hang onto some god(s).

    Regarding the “status” of question itself read my 107. There is nothing wrong with the question. Otherwise you would prove it, right?

    Anyway this is very useful. If I’m right, I need to find the best ways of explaining this.

    Creation from nothing can explain a bit more than just “why something rather than nothing”, but (most of) the fog around this issue needs to be cleared first anyway.

    Carl

  • CarlN

    All,

    Hm, everybody has left it seems. Should we leave it at this? Probably everyone is fed up with this.. Although I think the topic is important. But I do not want to come across as some lunatic spammer. Well, maybe I am..Should we move on and discuss the logical implications of creation “from” nothing? Could be interesting but I will not “force” the issue anymore.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Hi Carl,

    I haven’t left yet, though I think we have agreed to disagree.

    I would be interested in what you think the logical implications of “creation from ‘nothing’” are, if indeed in nothing there are no rules, for surely there are no definite implications, is it not a case of ‘anything goes’?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Hi, Garth

    Ok, let’s see.. Read through a couple of times maybe, as this is bad English..Maybe I shouldn’t try to cram it into one piece but..

    Yes, the “no rules in nothing” could mean that anything can “happen”. But what is “anything” in this case? The only thing that can “happen” “when” there is only nothing is that something starts to exist. Nothing else can happen, obviously. A quick proof (in the usual way): If we assume anything else can “happen” (except “creation”) there must be something “already” “there” contrary to our assumption of only nothing.

    So only one thing can “happen”, that things start to exist. But what things? Anything? The other alternative is that nothing at all “happens” to or “in” nothing. But that is the case as well! Nothing happens to nothing! Unbelievable? See later..

    I think it is best to recap a little bit first.

    I point out once again that there is nothing illogical about something that starts to exist “from” nothing. The lack of conservation laws etc in nothing, means that creation from nothing is logically consistent and “physically” unhindered. There exist no requirements for causality as well “in” nothing. And we must necessarily use nothing as a “point of departure” for explaining existence. Any other “starting point” will necessarily involve circular logic.

    Not only will any other explanation involve circular logic, it will necessarily also involve some eternal existence (a god, or some physical laws or something) in this explanation. The logical impossibility of anything eternal is another reason any such explanation fails. So for these two reasons “creation from nothing” is forced upon us. There are no alternatives.

    Many may still disagree, but anyway, let’s see where this will take us:

    1. There is no time “in” nothing. Assuming otherwise will of course lead to a contradiction.

    2. Nothing is always “separate” from existence. If nothing at all exists there is of course only nothing. If something exists (like a universe) there is “still” nothing apart from what exists.
    Apart from what exists there is nothing. “Nothing” does not exist.

    3. Since nothing and existence are separate they are never “mixed”, not even in the “moment” of creation. 0.1% existence is as logically impossible as 99.9% existence. This means that when something starts to exits, nothing is “untouched” by this event. And it means that time is confined to existence. So, even “when” things start to exist, nothing happens “in” or “to” nothing!

    4. “No rules in nothing” means that the properties of what comes into existence must be completely “random” somehow. The only requirement that can be logically imposed is that the properties of this “something” (call it a universe) must be self-consistent. Something that is not self-consistent will conflict with its own existence and cannot exist. That also means that it cannot be created (or start to exist). But how much does that limit the “number” of possible universes? Is a universe like ours the only possible self-consistent universe? Or is the number infinite? The answer is one of the two. We only know that the number is not zero anyway.

    We should maybe also note that centuries of physics has only brought us one “piece” of knowledge that is absolutely certain. And that is that our universe is self-consistent. The logical self-consistency of reality is the most important piece of knowledge we have. Physics has of course brought us very much more, but most of this knowledge will be improved on as time goes by.

    5. Since “nothing” is “untouched” by existence, we see that things can still be created “from” nothing even if something “already” exists. “In” nothing, it is not “known” whether something exists or not. So the existence of any number of universes does not affect the creation of “new” ones.

    6. Universes created from nothing are independent of each other. Why? The only link between them is nothing. So there is no link. There is no possibility for something to be created from nothing inside an “earlier” universe. There is no “nothing” inside something that exists. Also travel from one universe to another is logically impossible, because of the lack of a link (sadly enough). If we think about two different universes that has started to exist, there is no way to determine which of them was created “first”. In each universe the “local” time cannot be applied for other universes.

    7. There can be no limit to the number of universes that “has started” (or will start) to exist. Proof: There is no mechanism “in” nothing that can put a limit on this number.

    8. Given the infinite number of universes (with “random” but self-consistent properties), the “fine tuning” of our universe is easily explained. On the other hand, if the properties of our universe are the only possible self-consistent reality, we must expect there to exist an infinite number of copies of our universe (and there will “still” be created new ones).

    9. Given that our universe necessarily must have a beginning in its existence, we see that it is natural to interpret the Big Bang as this beginning. Cosmological models that propose that the universe always has existed in on form or another are necessarily wrong (on that point at least).

    10. Because of the “no rules in nothing” the universe could have started its existence with any finite (and random) size. There is no requirement “in” nothing that says existence must begin as a point. So the laws of physics could still be valid even from the first moment of existence. It is logical to impose the requirement of self-consistency even at the moment of creation. But of course it may be possible to demonstrate self-consistency (using future, improved physical models) even in the limit of a point-like universe. But realizing that logic does not require a point-like universe at the first moment of Big Bang might be of help for cosmologists?

    We (or I) still do not know anything about the moment of creation other than we know it is logically possible. We need to “find” some mathematics that can describe this. If we can splice this exercise in logic and “metaphysics” with some math describing this event, a theory of Everything does seem possible. A Theory of Everything would at least be possible in principle. Whether we ever would get there is another thing.

    I will finally point out that a Theory of Everything is in fact impossible if we use something existing to explain existence. That includes eternal existences of course (like eternal physical laws). Proof: It’s circular logic to use existence to explain existence. That makes a Theory of Everything impossible.

    But that’s what many religious people want, of course!

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Proof: It’s circular logic to use existence to explain existence. That makes a Theory of Everything impossible.

    But that’s what many religious people want, of course!

    On the other hand, some religious people actually want a Theory of Everything.

    This is because such a theory would need to be ‘established’ by an eternally existing God to avoid the circular logic you have identified otherwise.

    Such a God would serve as the author and guarantor of the laws under-girding that theory.

    Of course that point of view has to first accept the possibility of a ‘being’ eternally existing outside time, unexplained and uncaused, which I understand you do not accept.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    I was hoping for some “resistance” here, but that’s OK. I just want to point out that
    a “Theory of Everything except God” is not a theory of everything.


    This is because such a theory would need to be ‘established’ by an eternally existing God to avoid the circular logic you have identified otherwise.

    There you are putting God into the circular logic loop. I’m not sure if He likes that!
    If He exists, that is.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    Once you have one universe ‘popping out of’ nothing, of course you can have many or as few as you like.

    Resistance:

    I have three criticisms of your argument.

    1. For reasons explained above I find your argument explains ‘nothing’, if you would pardon the deliberate pun! It may be a logically sound argument, but then so are “reductio ad absurdum” arguments, it is the logical conclusion that is absurd.

    2. The further conclusion that there are many, perhaps an infinite number, of universes is a quite plausible but untestable conclusion. Where do we stand with it vis a vis the scientific method?

    3. I am worried about your argument’s use of time. In ‘nothing’ there would be no time, therefore the casual link is broken in any case, there being no former cause of a later effect. I am not sure that anything can be spoken about this situation, for all possible hypotheses are equally plausible.

    Garth

  • Ivan

    We are discussing about Nature (as causa sui:), or what ?
    about personal impressions (or different traditions and skills
    to make use) of the words `nothing’ and ‘something’?
    I’m not sure that mother-nature understands (in all her regions)
    English, or Fortran, or philosophical systems;
    but it seems or it’s a piece of evidence that nature `understands’
    in all regions some simple (and the same) mathematics,
    that is, follows some strict physical law which
    should admit a rigorous mathematical formulation.
    Then it makes sense to probe and discuss some `mathematical
    system’ (not philosophical:), eg field theory
    (one can divide `world’ down to a point) –
    say, whether all its solutions are eternal or not, and so on.
    (to CarlN, 112: it is a pity that you are not so strong
    in GR (say as ‘t Hooft or Witten) but perhaps you are
    strong in hermeneutics :-) BTW, is there possible (in QED :-)
    a one-photon-world ? one photon for ever — it is not so
    interesting but still it’s `something’.
    One more BTW, some people are still interested
    where is a photon when it is coming through Mach-Zander
    interferometer (amplitude wave goes through both arms, but
    what about photon itself? is amplitude just means to calculate a
    statistical horoscope?) — look at
    `Experimental Realization of Wheeler’s
    Delayed-Choice Gedanken Experiment’, Science 315 (2007) 966

    Minkowski space is not (absolutely) empty space (to Bob, 115):
    according to GR, it is filled with the metric field, g_{munu},
    and according to AP — with (co)frame field h_{amu}
    (and g_{munu}=eta^{ab}h_{amu}h_{anu}, eta –
    Minkowski metric).
    If the main and simplest tensor (torsion)
    Lambda_{amunu}=h_{amu,nu}-h_{anu,mu} vanishes,
    one can find the inertial coordinates (`scalar fields’), y_a,
    making integration y_{a,mu}=h_{amu}
    (`coma’ denotes partial derivative).

    This case (Lambda=0) is trivial solution (with many symmetries)
    to any AP equation; and here is NOTHING to be measured
    or to serve as a scale of time or length, completely nothing.
    So why not to mark (to label) this case as `nothing’?
    (definition by usage;
    to Jon,154; is your (love-)hate to philosophy so serious ?
    they are saying also about `guilty pleasures’– answering
    journalist’s questions :-)

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    I believe I have explained existence: Why does anything exist instead of nothing? Well, it’s because existence “comes from” nothing.

    You, on the other hand, prefer the no-explanation: “Something exists because something exist.” If you really are happy with the circular logic then of course it’s your choice. Of course I might be wrong on some (or all) points, but you are necessarily wrong. Circular logic is necessarily wrong.

    2. The number of universes? How on Earth can this be the only universe? :-) That is like thinking there can only be life on Earth or that the Earth is the center of the universe, or like thinking the God you happen to believe is the one that exists.

    But you are right, we cannot observe the other universes, we can only deduce it from the fine-tuning of this universe.

    3. Causal link? There is obviously no requirement for a causal link “in”nothing.
    Requiring such a link violates logic.

    Carl

  • CarlN

    Ivan,

    We’re discussing existence (I guess :-) ). So it is about Nature. In my view there exist nothing but Nature. Some might say there are also supernatural things (gods and devils) that exist as well. But the concept of existence covers all cases anyway. And the logic of existence can be equally applied to gods and Nature.

    So the questions are like: How come Nature to exist? Why is it not nothing? Nothing surely are simpler.

    I’m trying to argue that in order not to end up with circular logic, we must conclude that nature comes from nothing.

    Ordinary physics progress from macroscopic thing, gradually to smaller and smaller “things” (toward nothing?). Also backward to the beginning of time.

    I’m just trying to start with nothing and work the way up. :-)

    I get the feeling that in two-slit (or many slit) that the “particle” is not there , its only as wave. It seems it is only particle when it “needs” to be a particle (hitting detectors). Boundary conditions seem to dictate when it is particle and when it is wave..(?)

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    Its not that your logical argument doesn’t provide an explanation of the existence of something from ‘nothing’, it’s that it can explain anything and everything from ‘nothing’.

    There is no structure, no discipline, and there are no rules in the explanation – it is this that I find to be no explanation at all. It gets me no further in answering the original question, though I concede that that is a personal opinion: you obviously find it profound, whereas I find it empty.

    I understand that you have explained existence to your own satisfaction, its just that it doesn’t satisfy me any more or less than the ever existing universe, or indeed eternal ‘God’.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    No structure, no discipline, no rules? I’m trying to be very careful to use only valid logic in my arguments. Whatever results from this is just what it is. If I’m wrong, someone surely can point out where I have failed in my reasoning.

    Reality is self-consistent. And any valid description of reality must be equally self-consistent. So if my arguments are not self-consistent on some points, this can be spotted and my explanation shown to be wrong.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    It is your argument’s self consistency that I have compared to “reductio ad absurdum” arguments, which are within themselves self consistent. The fact that they then lead to an absurd conclusion is proof that something was wrong with the original presuppositions of the argument.

    In the case of your argument above I would question the statement

    Something, whose existence has not been established, simply does not exist.

    .

    Why does the existence of ‘something’ require ‘establishment’?
    I do not think you can prove this statement one way or another, it is a statement of faith.

    Garth

  • Garth Barber

    A further comment would be, “Why insist on logical argument?” If indeed there was nothing in ‘nothing’ i.e. no rules, why should logic remain?

    This is what I meant by saying there was no structure.

    To give an example; one possibility recently advocated by Max Tegmark is that reality is mathematical as expressed in his short paper “Shut up and calculate” , http://arxiv.org/abs/0709.4024v1.

    If you believe in an external reality independent of humans, then you must also believe in what I call the mathematical universe hypothesis: that our physical reality is a mathematical structure. In other words, we all live in a gigantic mathematical object— one that is more elaborate than a dodecahedron, and probably also more complex than objects with intimidating names like Calabi-Yau manifolds, tensor bundles and Hilbert spaces, which appear in today’s most advanced theories. Everything in our world is purely mathematical — including you.

    and

    Pushed to its extreme, the mathematical universe hypothesis implies the level-IV multiverse, which includes all the other levels within it. If there is a particular mathematical structure that is our universe, and its properties correspond to our physical laws, then each mathematical structure with different properties is its own universe with different laws. Indeed, the level-IV multiverse is compulsory, since mathematical structures are not “created” and don’t exist “somewhere” — they just exist.
    Stephen Hawking once asked, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” In the case of the mathematical cosmos, there is no fire-breathing required, since the point is not that a mathematical structure describes a universe, but that it is a universe.

    But why should mathematical structures simply “exist”? If in ‘nothing’ there are ‘no-rules’ why mathematics?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    I think you misunderstand “reductio ad absurdum”. If we have a logical proof that something cannot come from nothing, then for sure it would be the case of
    “reductio ad absurdum”. But we do not have that (yet, at least).

    It is not “reductio ad absurdum” just because you find the conclusion unbelievable.

    Prove that something cannot come from nothing. Then I’ll certainly agree with you that this is “reductio ad absurdum”.

    Existence of something simply needs to be “established” or initialized since otherwise we have the case of: “It exists because it exists”.

    We only need to realize that since reality is self consistent, then “it exists because it exists” is not how reality “works”. Reality is not reliant upon circular logic. Then reality would not be self consistent, it would conflict with itself, and therefore it would not exist.

    This is actually “reductio ad absurdum”. Assuming that something exist because it exists, shows it cannot exist. This demonstrates that “it exists because it exists” is invalid (of course).

    There are of cause other ways of showing that eternal existence is illogical. See earlier arguments.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    I was not saying your argument was a “reductio ad absurdum” argument, but that the logicality of an argument does not guarantee the soundness of its conclusion, as in the case of “reductio ad absurdum”.

    Eternal existence is not necessarily a case of saying “It exists because it exists”.

    Those holding to such a view such as Tegmark in his statement

    since mathematical structures are not “created” and don’t exist “somewhere” — they just exist.

    would say there is no need for the “because”, they would believe that the existence of something like mathematics does not need an explanation. Of course that statement cannot be proven, just taken on faith, exactly as with your statement “Something, whose existence has not been established, simply does not exist.”

    Garth

  • Garth Barber

    Just to make it clear; in a “reductio ad absurdum” argument you start with a premise A and develop logically to a conclusion B, which is recognised as absurd, because, for example, it is a logical contradiction.

    It is therefore concluded that the original premise A was false.

    I am using the example of this form of argument to show that the logical soundness of an argument does not guarantee the correctness of the statement B, I am not criticising the final conclusion “therefore premise A is false”, which is, of course, correct.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    I can’t make the link to the paper work it seems.

    But that the world (or reality) is “mathematical” is no surprise. We know of no other way reality can be self-consistent (and not too simple) without “using” math.

    That the physical laws “looks like” math is natural (in my view).

    But anyway we should also keep in mind that reality is one thing, a self-consistent description of reality is another thing (although there must be a one-to-one “mapping” between them. Sometimes it seems to get blurred whether people are thinking about reality or its description.

    But, based on your quote, I don’t think Tegmark has given much thought about how the existence of logic and math has come about.

    Of course also logic comes from nothing. It is only self-contradictory “things” that cannot come from nothing! And they can’t have eternal existence either.
    :-)

  • Garth Barber

    Carl,

    Try http://arxiv.org/abs/0709.4024 the original link was copied from the abstract and worked initially but not now!

    I understand what Tegmark is saying but I would not necessarily agree with him. I agree that the basis of physical nature, the structure of quarks, strings etc. is mathematical in nature, but to say that they are mathematical would be to make a category mistake to my way of thinking.

    I would say there are two uses of the word ‘eternal’.

    The first is a temporal meaning as might be applied to the universe in the Steady State Theory, which means that the universe would go on forever over all time without beginning or end. Time itself would not have a beginning or end.

    The second is a non-temporal meaning, outside time, so that something exists whether time passes or not.

    I would say that the mental constructs that are mathematics and logic exist eternally in the non-temporal sense, outside space and time. Just as we would not say that an idea such as Pythagorus’ theorem exists only at a certain location(s) so I would add it does not exist only for a certain time.

    But then again others may well think I am being Platonic.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    Thanks, I already found it. Maybe Tegmark is right, that reality is just math. And its description is the same. I have speculated in similar lines. It more or less follows from the requirement that reality must be perfectly self consistent. There is (maybe) the possibility that “something” else also might do that trick. But we don’t know what that is. Whether its some more “physical stuff” or something more “abstract”. But Tegmark makes a lot of sense, actually.

    But clearly Tegmark thinks that math is eternal (big mistake :-) ). So if we apply the same arguments as before we see it cannot be eternal. Math can’t generate its own existence etc. etc. Like anything that exists, even math can’t be used to explain its existence (the circular logic and all that).

    The only logical “point of departure” for explaining the existence of math (or reality) is still nothing.

    There is no Phythagorus theorem “before” something exists. It needs to come from nothing. But that is no problem. :-)

    Carl

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    So, the solution is: Nothing really exists, were “really” refers to a form of existence that is more real than in an abstract mathematical sense.

  • Garth Barber

    If I buy a computer programme I might receive a CD, a floppy disk, a tape, sheets of paper with lines and lines of code on it, or download it straight from the internet. What therefore is the programme? Obviously not the medium: the CD, floppy, tape, or paper sheets but the intellectual property of the abstract ideas that are the set of instructions that make up the programme.

    To think that the CD is the programme is to make a category mistake. To my way of thinking Tegmark is making the same sort of category mistake.

    If we work out the ‘Theory of Everything’ as a physical theory written in the language of mathematics we would have before us a sheath of paper on which are written equations, a set of mathematical, abstract, mental constructs’ not a new universe; hence Stephen Hawking’s question quoted above: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

    I cannot but understand mathematical truths as eternal truths that exist ‘outside space and time’ and distinct from the physical world which may indeed have had a beginning in time, but not necessarily so.

    Nothing really exists

    How do we define “exists”?

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth, maybe you worry too much about what exists (and its meaning?), instead of: why existence instead of nothing? Which is really the issue here.

    Intellectual “things” clearly depend on existence of “computers” (human or otherwise) which in turn depends on the existence of “something” like a universe which in turn has been “created from” nothing.

    After reading some of Tegmark, it strikes me that Gødels incompleteness theorem corresponds to the fact that we cannot use anything existing to explain existence. Big surprise :-)


    Nothing really exists

    How do we define “exists”?

    :-) Language can play us some tricks unless we are careful..

    “Something is said to exist if it is not nothing”. Nothing is “void” of any thinkable (and unthinkable) concepts. Except for what exists, there is simply nothing.

    Carl

  • Garth Barber

    I still like to think that 2 + 2 = 4 even if there are no human minds around to think so.

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Garth,

    I was talking rubbish, 2+2 does not depend on humans, only on existence. Being necessarily self consistent, probably only mathematical universes are possible..
    So 2+2= 4 is true “as long as” something exists.

    Carl

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Wow, you guys are still going at it here (if there really “is” a “here” … ;-) .
    Garth: Although you are very sturdy to keep putting up with CarlN (please don’t be offended Carl, you are just very trying), you don’t get Tegmark’s point. No, he isn’t confusing the CD with the program, he is saying there is only the program. That means, there’s no logically clear definition of “substance.” – consider, a “description” in the Platonic realm of all possible descriptions, specifying where everything is and what it does in our universe (not really possible anyway because what do you do with the wave functions, especially when they “collapse”?) But pretend that’s not a problem. Tegmark is saying, that is all this universe (and all the others) is. He would say, what distinguishes a “real CD” from the set of points describing one in mathematical space.

    But, I don’t agree with him. Our talk about “really existing stuff” is indeed mystical, but that’s because existence really is mystical – it really can’t be logically framed. Also, if we were just math, we couldn’t really feel nausea, joy, itches, experience the true qualitative experience of red, green, etc.- He just doesn’t get it. His “world” is a pathetic, hollow, geek fantasy of the most pitiful sort. I’m not too hard on him and other modal realists because there is no *logical* way to make the point that matter is something more real than math, but they just aren’t right that logic is enough to describe everything.

  • Garth Barber

    Neil,

    Thank you, I did understand what Tegmark was saying and like you I disagree with it!

    The CD example was just a trivial illustration of what I meant by a “category mistake”. A better illustration is that of the difference between a “Theory of Everything” and the actual universe, which exists, that such a theory describes.

    There I’ve done it again – used that mystical word ‘exists’!

    Garth

  • CarlN

    Neil, Garth,

    You are probably just math. Nausea? Joy? That’s just what math can do. Somehow you think your feelings and perceptions are not part of the “physical” (or mathematical) universe. (without any reason for thinking so?). Your feelings ultimately are produced by the same “laws” that governs everything else. Like it or not.

    Existence is not mystical. Well, it used to be ;-) . It can be logically framed. If it couldn’t, there would be no existence.

    Everything needs to be logically simple and self-consistent otherwise it can’t exist.
    Seems you guys need another reality.

    Carl

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    No, Carl, we are not just pure math. First, “time” isn’t even mathematically describable. Really, despite all the hype about 4-D space and etc., and the equations like dp/dt = …. etc., those are just using t as a marker for different kinds of mathematical relations. They don’t really specify the difference between space and time as genuine duration the way that point specifications do indeed specify a “space” distribution. Some scientists just pretend that “time” is “an illusion”, just like they deny the genuine, qualitative nature of conscious experience. Being “qualitative” is by nature not part of mathematical description. Nor can the wave function be rationally described by mathematics (how would the “collapse” rule apply given simultaneity differences?), nor can true randomness (mathematical “machinery” can only generate pseudorandom numbers, such as from the digits of pi etc.)

    The claim that things need to be logically framable is not only an unfounded conceit, but provably false as I just explained. No, it isn’t those of us who appreciate that who need “another reality” – we’ve already got this one, which is quite “mystically” non-mathematical – but those who believe that everything is mathematics. Maybe you can find such a pure math universe and live there, but there would no time and no conscious experience – just a bunch of dead points and structures in various “spaces.” It wouldn’t be very fun.

  • Count Iblis

    Being “qualitative” is by nature not part of mathematical description.

    Why not? can you prove that no formally describable robot can say that he is qualitative about something?

    Nor can the wave function be rationally described by mathematics…

    There is no evidence that time evolution is not unitary, i.e. that the wavefunction really collapses instead of the observer entering into a superposition of the different possible experimental outcomes.

  • Count Iblis

    Also, if we were just math, we couldn’t really feel nausea, joy, itches, experience the true qualitative experience of red, green, etc

    Nevertheless, the mathematical Neil B when eating the mathemical dinner contaminated with mathematical salmonella would still become ill and say to the mathematical doctor that he feels very sick. :)

  • http://www.newphysicsworld.com Sunil

    Well this is a rehtorical question that shall not be part of a scientific discussion. I have dealt with this issue in detail in my book ‘Philosophy and Science of Nature’ (

  • http://www.newphysicsworld.com Sunil

    Well this is a rehtorical question that shall not be part of a scientific discussion. I have dealt with this issue in detail in my book ‘Philosophy and Science of Nature’ (www.newphysicsworld.com) though without referring to it directly.

    Nothingness, when taken literally, rules out a physical reality. However, in this question nothingness is more akin to the concept of zero in the mathematics and thus assumes the status of a physical reality.

    I just stumbled upon this discussion and found some reall interesting comments and hence felt that a discussion on the above line may be more fruitful.

    Nice blog and very interesting comments. Best of luck.

  • CarlN

    Neil,

    When I said the universe is probably mathematical, it’s based on the mathematical structure of the physical laws and the self consistency of reality. So there is good reason to believe that, but it is no evidence of course. You, on the other hand, seems to offer nothing else than your unfounded(?) personal view or “feelings” in rejecting this.

    So what do you conclude from that?

    You are offering the term “qualitative” (your own quotes) without explaining what qualitative means. I know what it means and what you try to say (I think) but I fail to see the relevance. I’m not saying you could not be right, but I can’t see how you can be sure about this. If you could prove it it would be big news, I think.

    Regarding time I also think there is something wrong with it, the way it is used in physics today. You say it can’t be described mathematically, that I don’t understand. Personally I think Leibnitz was basically right. Time is “generated” by motion or change. I think it should be like this:

    Forces (bosons)–>change–>time

    There is no time in a universe where nothing (careful with that word!) moves. So time is generated when things are forced to move. If the laws of physics could be recast to reflect this, some additional insights might be found. But maybe not.
    It might be completely equivalent.

    I can’t see where you demonstrated that things need not to be logically framable. If you did, that is very significant too.

    Regarding the collapse of the wavefunction I take no responsibility! Well, I could also discuss that with you, but shouldn’t we discuss why something instead of nothing? Or is everybody happy now with my explanation? :-)

    Carl

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Iblis/CarlN: Sure, mathematical beings would say the same things real feeling beings do, but that’s just behavioristic escapism. (I don’t think you really are a “feigner of anesthesia”, but if you were: would you let me torment you to show your stoic faith in the sterile structuralism of the world? Nor does it matter a hoot whether a robot could talk about qualitative or anything else for that matter, of course it could form the words – so what? You could also make a formal robot and its environment that just came into existence, that talked about the “past” as if real, and no observable difference at the present time (analogous to Russell’s skeptical question – but here, we actually make it so!)

    Qualitative is like the experience difference between red and green (not to be confused with the actual light wavelengths, but the effect on you of signals from the different types of cones in your retina.) “Qualitative” means there is no structure defining the difference, but differs in an irreducible way about its identity. Either you get it/admit it or not, I only have so much time and effort to waste on anyone who doesn’t try hard enough to appreciate those sort of fundamentals of our real lives.

    Sunil: Sure, this isn’t “science”, it’s philosophy – so? That’s what philosophy is all about. Why not tell the scientists to quit doing philosophy, instead of philosophers to quite doing “science” which they aren’t doing anyway in a case like this?

    “It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.”

    -Wittgenstein

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Also, CarlN: You say time can be defined by “movement” but that is a circular definition, since “movement” means change with respect to time. Time cannot be defined by anything more primitive, it cannot be defined by reference to dimensional structure which are defined collections of points and have no time or motion unless time is already a given to begin with. I challenge you or anyone to define time in a non-circular way and in a way distinct from “configuration.”

    BTW The issue of the wave function may be relevant, so, what do you think of it? (See my blog for a good paradox…)

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Neil, so if 30 years from now you could replace your neurons one by one by transistors in such a way that your brain would remain functionally the same, thereby becoming immortal, you won’t do it?

    I think that it is very difficult to deny that were are anything else than computer programs. What we experience is just a simulated world by the programs our brains are running, which is, of course, modelled after the “real world” using the information that we get from our senses.

    In that world things like green and red objectively exist. But the way I perceive green may be slightly different from the way you perceive it, because you are in a different universe than I am (your program is different from mine, so you live in a different virtual world than I do).

  • CarlN

    Neil,

    Regarding time: The only way to measure it is to compare some motion/change against some reference motion/change (like the rotation of Earth). So time depends on change, not the other way around.

    Classically: dx/dt = p. If we choose to regard p as more fundamental than t then we “generate” time dt = dx/p. Or use a wavefunction ø:

    dø/dt = Hø (H a time-independent Hamiltonian). So “formally” dt = dø/(Hø).

    Don’t take this literally, I’m just trying to make a point. Time is not “fundamental” in that we can choose what we regard as fundamental (p or t).
    Time needs two things:

    1. It needs the existence of some “objects” (minimum 2). More if time is also to be “observed”).

    2. It needs for these objects to change or move relative to each other

    Without this there is no time.

    ——-
    Qualitative is like the experience difference between red and green (not to be confused with the actual light wavelengths, but the effect on you of signals from the different types of cones in your retina.) “Qualitative” means there is no structure defining the difference, but differs in an irreducible way about its identity. Either you get it/admit it or not, I only have so much time and effort to waste on anyone who doesn’t try hard enough to appreciate those sort of fundamentals of our real lives.
    ————

    Yes, I simply do not get this. Either I’m stupid, or this is nonsense.

    After a quick look at your blog, it was not easy to see what you’re trying to say.
    It could take some time digest. A figure or two would help a lot.

    Carl

  • http://magicdragon.com Jonathan Vos Post

    “Qualitative” and the experience difference between red and green, and nausea… Can these “exist” in Tegmark’s Mathematical Object Multiverse?

    The word and concept from Philosophy applicable is:

    Qualia.

    As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins:

    First published Wed Aug 20, 1997; substantive revision Tue Jul 31, 2007

    Feelings and experiences vary widely. For example, I run my fingers over sandpaper, smell a skunk, feel a sharp pain in my finger, seem to see bright purple, become extremely angry. In each of these cases, I am the subject of a mental state with a very distinctive subjective character. There is something it is like for me to undergo each state, some phenomenology that it has. Philosophers often use the term ‘qualia’ (singular ‘quale’) to refer to the introspectively accessible, phenomenal aspects of our mental lives. In this standard, broad sense of the term, it is difficult to deny that there are qualia. Disagreement typically centers on which mental states have qualia, whether qualia are intrinsic qualities of their bearers, and how qualia relate to the physical world both inside and outside the head. The status of qualia is hotly debated in philosophy largely because it is central to a proper understanding of the nature of consciousness. Qualia are at the very heart of the mind-body problem.

    The entry that follows is divided into eight sections. The first distinguishes various uses of the term ‘qualia’. The second addresses the question of which mental states have qualia. The third section brings out some of the main arguments for the view that qualia are irreducible and non-physical. The remaining sections focus on functionalism and qualia, the explanatory gap, qualia and introspection, representational theories of qualia, and finally the issue of qualia and simple minds.

    * 1. Other Uses of the Term ‘Qualia’
    * 2. Which Mental States Possess Qualia?
    * 3. Are Qualia Irreducible, Non-Physical Entities?
    * 4. Functionalism and Qualia
    * 5. Qualia and the Explanatory Gap
    * 6. Qualia and Introspection
    * 7. Representational Theories of Qualia
    * 8. Which Creatures Undergo States with Qualia?
    * Bibliography
    * Other Internet Resources
    * Related Entries
    [truncated]

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Garth – drop by some time, we are still stewing this over!

    Here’s another Wittgenstein quote:
    There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.(T L-P 6.522)

    Iblis:
    I don’t think the replacement of neurons by transistors really makes any point against the phenomenal qualitative feel of experience. Either transistors can really be like the brain, in which case they really could produce real feelings, or they aren’t – and then it doesn’t matter. It isn’t at all guaranteed that transistors could really be enough like brain cells to do that, and it really isn’t clear what “functional” equivalence is anyway. Maybe something about the nature of real brain tissue, the flow of all those wave functions around, it not being a formal scheme, etc, we don’t know. Even if it acted like me, remember that the same result could come from an analog or a digital computer – and yet maybe that difference is critical to the nature of the experience it can produce. To those who complain that mysterians haven’t produced evidence of special mental characteristics, well: first of all, “evidence” is something we have through consciousness anyway, and second, no working model of a formal computing entity that acts like a person has yet been made. Game’s afoot.

    PS: I think your blog was cool, please put up some new posts!

    CalN, qualitative difference is a difference in kind that cannot be described as a rearrangement, as a new structure. Green does not look to us like one set of lines or dots and red like another, they both appear continuous, homogeneous, and different from each other. You just have to get it – how can a fundamental be gotten off the ground, when it is the sort of thing that everything else is defined by? Same for “time.”

    My paradox: I would like to put up a diagram, but I haven’t got the hang of that for the blog yet. It’s just a Mach-Zehnder interferometer with a gray filter in one leg.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Jonathan – thanks for the excerpt.

  • CarlN

    Neil,

    I think the excerpt from Jonathan just proves my point. “Qualia” is a concept so foggy it can’t be discussed in any meaningful way. That of course does not stop philosophers from filling large volumes nonsense about it. It can’t be discussed in a meaningful way before we have sufficient knowledge on how our minds work.

    Count Iblis showed beautifully that we are just robots anyway. It does not matter if we are designed and constructed by DNA or designed by humans and built from transistors. We are of course all just various assemblies of molecules.

    But even if I am a robot, I would not like to get tortured. Especially not by you, Neil!

    The nature of time is not related to your experience of it. Space does not exist without something (objects, fields) “spanning” it. Time does not exists before there is some change going on in this space. It is this simple, since time cannot be measured unless there is some motion or change going on. There is simply no time in a space where nothing changes or moves.

    Motion of objects makes is possible to measure time, just like objects at different locations makes it possible to measure distances. In an empty space without objects there no way to measure any distance (aside from the facts that there would be no one to do the measurement and that the space itself would not “physically” exist). The presence of “objects” span the space, and their motions generates time.

    Now, are we finished discussing “why something rather than nothing”? If we are, I say good by to you all. :-)

    Carl

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Well, what does it say about “robots” that they wouldn’t like to be tortured? The very idea implies an inner life that is more than just information – mere information would not hurt, it would just inform. You might as well just read about being damaged, or have strings pull your arms around as if struggling, it wouldn’t really feel bad…

    “Time does not exists before there is some change going on in this space.” – sure, that’s why a nothing can’t change and turn into a something, but there’s no point in hashing back and forth over this over and over.

    Carl, we might stop talking about the ultimate “Why”, but we will never get to the end of it! That is the nature of such questions …

  • CarlN

    Neil,

    ” sure, that’s why a nothing can’t change and turn into a something, ”

    You should know by now that “when” something starts to exist, there is no change “in” nothing.

    But that’s OK. Bye!

    Carl

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  • Pierre Charland

    A lot of words written here, with ultimately no content, no meaning, no relevance, no conclusion, no consequence, no information, no value.

    Not one bit more knowledgeable after than before.

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  • Chaos

    Why is there something rather than nothing?

    An interesting question. But, from what I’ve come to realize (You don’t have to take my word for it, I will admit I am only 19 if that makes me any less wiser¿) is that the question actually is quite pointless. And not because it has no answer, but because I think people are not realizing that there is no difference. Something, or rather everything, is exactly the same as nothing.

    Let me explain. Take anything. Any one thing you can think of. It doesn’t matter at all what it is. Now try to explain what it is. Now if you really consider how you just described that, you will realize that you described it relative to something else. Everything is relative to something else. Thus, every thing’s existence is relative to something else. There is no static element, no one standard, of what existence is and what isn’t.

    To take one example I can say: What is an atom? A “thing” made up of electrons and protons. OK. Then, What is a proton? A “thing” made up of quarks. OK. Then, what is a quark? A “thing” made up of particles (i think they’re called baryons or Bosons or something) OK. What is a boson? A particle made up of little vibrating strings of energy (only assuming string theory is correct of course) and so on and so forth …

    It probably won’t take long that physicists find that particles and strings can be broken down into even smaller parts. Physics has been finding smaller and smaller parts for the past century. But as you can see the first question, “What is an Atom?” wasn’t actually answered because we haven’t gone down to the core like the actual little bit that is a solid piece of existence. We just keep relating it to something else. In the case of this atom it’s almost like it’s collective groups of nothing done over and over again. You can even go the other way and say “What do atoms make up?” and go on into the infinity we know as space.

    So, I have come to realize at this point in my life that this relativity we experience will continue on indefinitely. Infinity. And that this reality is all really based on nothingness. “And from Chaos came everything.”

    It seems to me that we’re really all looking at exactly the same thing from a different point of view and since it is nearly impossible (and when I mean nearly I mean so close to absolute it’s not even funny) to see from someone else’s point of view one doubts and questions it and thus create his own universe where he is the point of origin. I think this is the whole thing behind the whole concept that everything is one and that this wholeness has been fractured creating all these separate view points and thus the whole universe.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that if you take one thing and one thing only and stand it alone without a reference relative to something else it ceases to exist.

    I see that the author Sean notes that eastern philosophies have no problem with nothingness. I think you can go a step further, at least in Buddhism, that nothingness is the final goal. Nirvana is the ultimate state of balance. Where there is no good or evil or anything for that matter. Nothing. It is balanced because there is no yin and because of that no yang and vice versa. There is no relative opposite to rationalize each other’s existence. That is true balance. And that is the goal. Where there is no more chaos or disharmony or everything, but nirvana or harmony or nothing. Basically achieveing Nirvana is allowing everything to return to the original one state and thus have nothing else to be referenced to and thus cease to exist.

    So what I am saying here is we came from nothing and now we are everything and we should be trying to go back to nothing (so that we have no worries I guess). Or maybe some would like to keep everything¿

    So all this rambling nonsense comes back to the original question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And when you realize that nothing is everything and everything is nothing, you will then realize that the questions seems to sound more like “Why is there something rather than something?” or “Why is there nothing rather than nothing?” or “Why is there everything rather than everything?”

    And now you can see why the question is actually pointless. It doesn’t really ask anything. But, there is no problem asking this question in any of the forms I presented. I feel that philosophy is really just elaborated bullshit because for the most part your just running around in circles when you think philosophically. I think this question can actually be simplified down to … “Why?”

    Yes that is it. WHY?

  • Garth Barber

    Hi Chaos,

    And that this reality is all really based on nothingness.

    Nevertheless we experience the world ‘out there’ as ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’.

    In particular we measure the physical properties of objects, their mass, temperature, etc. etc. and can differentiate between ‘something’ and ‘nothing’, e.g. the mass of an object is different from that of a vacuum of the same volume. Scientists then tend to want to develop theories to explain those properties.

    Consistency in such measurements made by different observers verifies the physical nature of the object and leads us to believe in the reality of an external reality. It also encourages the search for properties that are conserved in interactions.

    One of these verified physical properties is the property of an object’s existence.

    Whether we think the question, “Why is there something rather than something?” is a meaningful question or not is a matter of personal choice.

    Garth

  • mish

    No one would argue that the existence of the universe is necessary. Everyone would presumably agree that its existence is contingent. Accordingly, there is a reasonable argument (at least philosophically) as to why nothingness takes precedence over existnece. And therefore the question is indeed relevant.

  • CarlN

    mish, you are absolutely right. Nothingness takes precedence over existence. Nothingness does not need an explanation or a cause. Existence on the other hand, can’t be explained by existence. Trying to do that is circular logic. The explanation for existence cannot involve anything that exist. So existence has to come from nothing.

    But that is easy to understand.

    1. “When” nothing exists there are no hinders for something (universes) to start to exist. Any such hinders don’t exist “when” nothing exist.

    2. There are no conditions the need to be fulfilled for something to start to exist
    “when” nothing exist. Any such conditions don’t exist “when” nothing exists.

    3. No causation is needed for something to start to exist “when” nothing exits. Such need for causation does not exist “when” nothing exists.

    There you all have it. Break free from the chains of circular logic and realize that we all come from nothing. There is no God. We are free.
    :-)

    Carl

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    CarlN: Even if “existence” (or what is existent) can just arise spontaneously in the midst of nothing (“midst of” must be conceived since it can’t arise “from” nothing, which is causally self-contradictory), you still can’t tell me why it has the properties it has. Indeed, if existence is natural and spontaneous, then we have pan-existentism, which is like modal realism. In modal realism, every possible world exists, but they are all mathematical forms and not substantive. In pan-existentism, all possible worlds exist, but are substantive and not merely mathematical forms in a Platonic superspace. Aside from whether you care about the substantive v. Platonic distinction (not everyone does), your notion does not explain what came into existence having these properties instead of other logically describable one (e.g., laws different from ours.) The irony is, you are the one having to use circular logic to just put this world here without foundational explanation.

    Finally, what is so “free” about there not being a God? I can’t imagine you mean, we’re free morally to do as we please (all the horrible Nazi, Stalin, Inquisition, criminal etc, activity was really OK?) So, just how are we then “free” in any desirable sense?

  • CarlN

    Neil, the term “from nothing” is only intended to mean “starting to exist” without anything existing that creates it and without any cause at all. It is not from the “midst of nothing”.

    However, as explained earlier, only self-consistent “things” can start to exist, so that its existence don’t conflict with itself. Is this universe the only possible self-consistent thing that can exist or are there infinitely many (and different) such unverses? I don’t know. But we can understand that the laws of our universe is looking like mathematics because it must be self-consistent.

    “We are free” meaning we are free from the circular logic using a god or something else existing to explain existence. We are free from the madness of the circular logic.

    Notice that there are no other way to explain existence. We are stuck with this. You cannot use anything existing to explain existence. You are left with nothing.

    I can’t see how such insight could make people behave like nazis. I think rational and good behavior is easier to achieve when people get a more rational view of the world.

    Carl

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  • Pierre Charland

    Why is there something instead of nothing?

    I don’t know the ultimate answer, but my point of view is that any mathematical structure that is consistent (non-contradictory) exist as such (it exist as a logical structure just by being possible).

    From nothing, the empty set exist. From there you can build the integers, and all other numbers, and everything else.
    From nothing everything.

    This interesting article expand on this:
    – Max Tegmark, Is the “theory of everything” merely the ultimate ensemble theory?
    – Published in Annals of Physics, 270, 1-51 (1998).
    http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/toe.pdf

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  • http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hall/2638/!MrMorganNewPhysics.doc lfmorgan

    A very good question that every child should be asked in first grade without the expectation of an answer any time soon —-it has taken me a lifetime and new theory of the universe as a retired Physicist/Systems Engineer to have an answer that satisfies. “Because the idea of nothing is empty and the universe is obviously full.”

  • CarlN

    Pierre,

    Actually, I think this is best understood from that fact that anything eternal is logically impossible. The concept of eternal existence is irrational. So there is no alternative to “creation” “from” nothing.

    By definition anything that is eternal has not started to exist. Likewise we know that non-existing “things” (fictional tings) like Donald Duck, Santa, God etc, also have not started to exist. Is is like logic is trying to tell us that eternal “things” (like an eternal physical reality) belong to the category of fictional things.

    Further, by definition, it is impossible to give any explanation for anything eternal.
    If we believe in an eternal physical reality, we will find that it is impossible to give an account of why this reality is such and such instead of so and so. Let’s assume God exists for a while. If God asks himself why he is good instead of evil by nature (or the other way around), he will find that it is impossible for him to find an answer. Or if he asks why he is eternal etc. etc.

    This is an illogical situation. So an eternal God cannot exist in the same way as an eternal reality cannot exist. The eternal “things” are therefore non-existent, they are fictional.

    And since something actually do exist, we are forced to conclude that “something” comes from nothing.

    Tegmark is of course right in that what exists is mathematical. We already know that only self-consistent “things” can be created from nothing. However, it seems to me that he thinks that math itself (and logic) is eternal, a big mistake.

    Just to repeat myself: “When” nothing exists
    there are no hinders, no conservation laws, there exists no need for a cause, for something to start to exist. The proof is obvious.
    :-)

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  • http://blogtopicz.com Zenshadow

    It’s always bothered me that mathematicians can use expressions that ‘do not exist’ in the physical/real sense (ie square root of negative 1), and in fact use such ‘nonsensical’ values in very real situations (including electrical engineering and quantum mechanics). It is this use of a thing that does not really exist to evaluate things that do that puzzles me. The entire Complex Plane is not a tangible ‘thing’ (such as the normal x,y,z planes)… yet it’s use in real world applications is common.

    I suppose there is a difference between ‘imaginary’ and ‘nothing’, obviously in the ‘imaginary world’ Santa exists, but in the ‘nothing world’ Santa does not (nor does anything else for that matter).

    Why Something over Nothing? Why Reality over Imaginary may be a better question. Why Higgs Fields over Santa Fields? Are Fields even real? Can you see one? Touch one? Well, as electrostatic discharge or radioactive heat decay I expect we ‘feel’ the fields… sort of.

    I’ve been reading Brian Greene’s popular books (The Elegant Universe and, currently, The Fabric of the Cosmos). He frequently discusses the ‘Why something instead of nothing’ (Leibniz), especially in Fabric of the Cosmos.
    Apparently, it was inevitable that there is something (universe) due to virtual quantum fluctuations in the nothingness vacuum. Go figure.

    It is what it is.

    Meanwhile, the real universe calls. Ciao.

    Zenny, strictly imaginary in concept and design

  • http://blogtopicz.com Zenshadow

    I might also add that the original something wasn’t the huge something of our Universe today, but rather was about the same size as a small dog (according to Brian Greene). We owe the Grand Somethingness of the Universe (ie Galaxies, Stars, etc) to the Inflationary effects on quantum wrinkles in the original ‘blob of something. Powerful stuff that Higgs Field, whatever the heck it is.

  • Ross

    I think you look at the question in a different way than i do.
    It is an impossible question to answer – obviously.
    I think the question relates back to how the universe started. How and why there was ever something instead of there being nothing? And whatever it was that started the universe, we should question how and why there was ever [insert answer here] God for example.
    But i always say it is just stupid to even ask questions like these without a real answer.

  • Ross

    And – If there was ever nothing, how could there possibly be something?
    If there has always been something, then where did the first “thing” come from? and i could go on about time, but i should stop.

    PS – I’m probably the only one here without a physics degree xD.

  • CarlN

    Hey Ross, there is a simple explanation “where did the first thing come from”.

    “When” there is nothing there are no conditions that need to be fulfilled for something to be created from nothing. There are no need for causes for something to be created from nothing.

    Proof: “When” nothings exists there exists no conditions (like conservation laws) since there is simply nothing.
    “When” nothing exists there exist no need for causes for something to start to exist. When nothing exists there exists also no need for causes.

    Only nothing is needed for something to start to exist. So it is not strange at all that something actually do exist.

  • BrianM

    Try this one on for size to answer the Central Leibniz Question:
    Brian Miller Ph.D.

    The Set {Something, Nothing} is not exhaustive. Space (volume in three or more dimensions) is a third member of the Set. Space combines characteristics of somethingness and nothingness,and may exist ad infinitum without predeterminates or cause.

    In a universe being created, the creation of mass and the creation of space appear together as canonical variates. Space and matter also disappear together when you run the movie backwards – as in the Big Crunch. Since other physical properties such as charge can sum to zero with, eg. positron colliding with electron, isn’t it possible that some quanta of space may be the anti-particle of mass, viz. SPACE = – MASS/ENERGY. Space can be present ad infinitum without predeterminates or cause. The presence of space may occur cannonically with the creation of mass/energy; under certain conditions – possibly the Big Crunch- space and mass can also annihilate one and other into nothingness. Conversely, nothingness could just as likely be nothingness within a three (or higher) dimensional volume, ie, Space, which would impel the creation of mass/energy – the latter, acting as the anti-particle to space, would maintain the Conservation of Nothingness.

  • http://qualium.wordpress.com/ Qualium

    I am only a humble artist, and i offer this: eternity is not a long, long, long time. It is a completely different idea. Time is a limited idea, eternity is an unlimited idea.

    I only perceive time if I believe in cause and effect as separate, cause preceding effect. What if they are the same thing? Then time is no longer necessary. I imagine there are billions of universes that don’t bother with time.

    Why is there Something rather than Nothing? Perhaps reality solved that problem by applying Occam’s Razor and being both Something AND Nothing.

    Where is the Nothing? It’s here, just not observable. Never will be . . .

    My conclusion, for peace of mind, is that all the comments to this post are true.

    To quote Walt Whitman:
    “Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

    Reality contains ALL possibilities, even untrue ones. Don’t worry about it. The purpose of existence is to have fun.

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  • Tim

    The question is not worded correctly. Beginning the question with “Why…” automatically assumes a purpose or reason for existence, and leaves it in the arena of philosophers and theologians. Shouldn’t it be re-stated as “How is it that there is anything at all?” This change in terminology makes it a question that science can grapple with.

  • Jeffrey

    Qualium, comment #228, hits the nail on the head. Something and nothing are two aspects of a binary opposition. Each aspect defines, contradicts, and confirms the other.

    You know, like a photon is a wave and a particle, its binary opposite, at the same time although both cannot be observed simultaneously as Heisenberg showed with the thought experiment that led to his Nobel Prize.

    It was Heisenberg’s mentor, Niels Bohr, who observed that — while wave-particle descriptions of a single photon were inconsistent and incompatible [and contrary to Aristotle's principle of non-contradiction] — both were necessary for a complete description of nature.

    If you are interested, there’s more on this at http://donnee.com.

  • Carl

    Absolute nothingness is impossible. Why?

    Just as yourself the following question with respect to absolute nothingness. Is it true that absolute nothingness obtains? If it is not true, then absolute nothingness does not obtain, and therefore there is something rather than nothing. But if it is true, then there is truth, and hence a way things are, and thus some kind of reality, i.e. something, even if it is totally barren of physical or concrete objects. Hence, contra the initial supposition, absolute nothingness is impossible, i.e absolute nothingness could not obtain. That’s why there is (necessarily) something rather than nothing.

    Carl

  • http://N/A Fred

    It is like the chicken or the egg, who came first. The reason for existence, is because without it, there could not be nothing. You must have to have not.

  • http://neozubair.wordpress.com zubair

    something rather than nothing huh..
    chk out my views here..
    http://neozubair.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/nothingness/

  • Andrew H.

    The egg came first. A genetically modern chicken hatched from an egg. Its parents were the common ancestors of the modern chicken.
    Carl stated that eternity cannot exist because our universe has an apparent beginning. In this case, our universe must one day cease to exist. We are then left with two avenues to contemplate.
    1. Before and after the existence of the known universe, there is nothing.
    2. The known universe has indeed a cause for existence, and comes from another, possibly larger universe.
    If this larger universe has no beginning, It could be described as eternal. In an eternal universe, there is no longer a such thing as pure “nothing”.
    While the existence of a megaverse is not yet verifiable, It illustrates we have the ability to come up with a solution to the big “something vs. nothing” question. Unfortunately, it’s not good enough to be a full fledged “answer”. Existential questions persist in a megaverse too.
    Luckily, this idea is compatible with M theory (brane theory), so there are scientists looking for evidence for this.

  • justjonathan001yahoo.co.uk

    Semantically, the concept ‘is not’ has no ‘definite description’ or presentation. The universe just ‘is’ universe of contingent ‘things’, beings which ‘are’ have the copula ‘is’. The apophantic. Being is euuated with ‘is’. This in no way elucidates the ‘fact’ of existence. It’s brute ‘thatness’ Reason are called for. the theistic are rejected for requiring their equally implausible, counter-factual, improbable suppositions. We are left with the question. Why is there something rather than nothing.

    Language attempts two answers: 1. non-existence is meaningless. it has no definite description or referent. It i not presentable. It fall’s outside the scopes of experience and language. Talk about the universe not existing is therefore literally meaningless. (constructive metaphysical non-sense) In so far as this is supposedly an abstract, extreme example

    Alternatively, terms like ‘nothingness’ and some thing ness’ are infra-referential, pointing to an immanent and not transcendetal constituting of language. Language constitutes the world but doesn’t do so prohibitively. It cannot do so without the concept of nothingness.

    The approach ( not solution) is to distinguish metaphysics, ontology, logic and the philosophy of language. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing is a profound existential and ontological question precisely because the emphasis and status is on the status of the question before it is on the status of the answer

  • justjonathan001yahoo.co.uk

    Why is there something rather than nothing…
    Semantically, the concept ‘is not’ has no ‘definite description’ or presentation. The universe just ‘is’ universe of contingent ‘things’, beings which ‘are’ have the copula ‘is’. and are ‘explained through their antecedent ’causes” The apophantic. Being is equated with ‘is’.

    This in no way elucidates the ‘fact’ /nature of existence. It’s brute ‘thatness’,

    Reason are called for. the theistic are rejected for requiring their equally implausible, counter-factual, improbable suppositions. We are left with the question. Why is there something rather than nothing.

    Language attempts two answers: 1. non-existence is meaningless. it has no definite description or referent. It i not presentable. It fall’s outside the scopes of experience and language. Talk about the universe not existing is therefore literally meaningless. (constructive metaphysical non-sense) In so far as this is supposedly an abstract, extreme example

    Alternatively, terms like ‘nothingness’ and some thing ness’ are infra-referential, pointing to an immanent and not transcendetal constituting of language. Language constitutes the world but doesn’t do so prohibitively. It cannot do so without the concept of nothingness.

    The approach ( not solution) is to distinguish metaphysics, ontology, logic and the philosophy of language. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing is a profound existential and ontological question precisely because the emphasis and status is on the status of the question before it is on the status of the answer

  • Don

    Imagine there is only one thing in the universe and it expands to fill infinity. Now, ask yourself: how is that any different than an infinite amount of nothing?

    Is it possible that an infinite amount of anything, even nothing, could cause existence itself?

    I don’t think we’re going to ever know the answer to these questions, so I suggest we focus on things we CAN understand.

  • Richard

    My head feels like it’s going to explode. I’ve been contemplating about this brute fact since age 12, and I don’t think I’m getting any closer to the answer, I feel pessimistic about the chance of we ever coming up with the right answer!

  • Pingback: Philosophy and Cosmology: Day Three | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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