General Question

arnbev959's avatar

Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

Asked by arnbev959 (10898points) July 21st, 2008

The most fundamental question, according to Heidegger. Why should there be anything at all?

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35 Answers

shrubbery's avatar

Neither religion nor science can answer this. I will get back to you when I have more time, but I am looking forward to what everyone has to say about this, great question.

Spargett's avatar

Damn optimists.

bluemukaki's avatar

@shrubbery: Maybe not, but Mathematics can; wild chance. There is something because an infinite probability that something could occur did occur, and now we’re floating in a cosmic soup, the wild result of a chain of improbabilities. The paradox: There is no probability until something exists which can be probable. There shouldn’t be anything at all and it’s a common misconception that there is some purpose to our lives. I find this confusing because I can’t think of anything worse than having a predetermined purpose in life, nor that there is some higher external source influencing what I do. I am merely a collection of particles that were joined together against all the odds. So is everything else. There is something rather than nothing because of a very big accident.

shrubbery's avatar

but if there’s no probability until something exists which can be probable then that doesn’t work does it? that’s a pretty bleak outlook :P by the way I like your last tag pete

bluemukaki's avatar

It’s not bleak unless you think from the perspective of someone who needs a purpose. Without purpose and control, you are able to be completely free to behave how you want, how you see fit. You create your own purpose and when you achieve it, you feel so much better for it.

jonno's avatar

The way I see it, we are a tiny tiny “Something” in a massive gigantic infinite swarm of “Nothing” – Nothing as in “no life” as well as “empty space”. The reason this Something came about is because it just the conditions needed to make this Something happened to occur/line up, which is why we came to exist – it was bound to happen.

Everyone who has ever lived is lucky to exist in the first place, as everything, up to the moment of your conception, happened to be as such, so that you could be born. If you were never born, no one would question why you don’t exist, and nor would you (not that you would be able to). There are billions and billions and billions (and billions?) of possible lives that could have happened, but haven’t, and never will. Possible lives that could have gone on to become world leaders, celebrities, sports stars, dictators, scientists, all who may have changed the world.

sorry if I have strayed off-topic a bit

flameboi's avatar

“I know I have nothing, but its MY nothing”

ninjaxmarc's avatar

because something is better than nothing at all.

Adina1968's avatar

Because ultimately nothing is something.

Breefield's avatar

I think the only reason there is “something” rather than “nothing” is because we’re here to experience that something, if there was nothing we wouldn’t know. Really, the question nullifies itself in my mind because on one side I exist, and on the other I don’t so I wouldn’t be able to answer said question in that state of being. Just my 5 – 3 cents.

nina's avatar

Are you sure that there is Something rather than Nothing?

chaosrob's avatar

Cogito, ergo sum

tinyfaery's avatar

@jonno I’m not positive everyone feels lucky to exist.
More later.

Harp's avatar

If you’re really interested in this question, some of the most thorough and rigorous exploration has been done by Buddhist thinkers, most famously Nagarjuna (c. 150–250 A.D.) You can get a taste of his thinking by looking at his Mulamadhyamakakarika—not an easy read, but then, it’s not an easy question—and here is a modern scholarly analysis of that text.

The gist of Nagarjuna’s reductio ad absurdum is that it is, in fact, erroneous to take either a nihilistic or a realistic philosophical position (or any other philosophical position, for that matter). In other words, it would be wrong to say either that things exist or that things do not exist. That necessarily leads to some surprising conclusions about causality that have a direct bearing on this question.

girlofscience's avatar

Because unless you are a solipsist, things exist outside your head. The universe is as big as what exists. We know the universe is expanding, and by that, we mean that the amount of space that exists is expanding. Beyond that, things don’t exist. Within it, things do. Clearly things exist. Solipsism is ridiculous.

arnbev959's avatar

but even a solipsist agrees that something exists…

girlofscience's avatar

@petethepothead: Ok, then clearly Something exists.

8lightminutesaway's avatar

math doesn’t exist outside of our heads… so does that nullify bluemukaki’s argument? Idk…

also, why shouldn’t there be anything at all?

tinyfaery's avatar

Nothing and something are both human constructs, so I’ll put this question in the category of “there’s no way we can ever know”. Plus, if there is a something then there must be a nothing, or else neither one would have any definition or meaning.

Knotmyday's avatar

I think that there is Something rather than Nothing because ultimately, the Universe kinda likes us. We are pretty cool, all things considered.
Besides, Nothing would be lonely without Something to keep it company.

arnbev959's avatar

@tiny: of course it’s one of those “there’s no way we can ever know” questions, but it’s fun to think about anyway. I agree that If there is a something then there must be a nothing. Everything is like that—if there was no cold then there could be no such thing as warm; both are dependent on the other. But what if there was no something, would there be a nothing? If nothing has no qualities, then nothing would be nothing at all, and it wouldn’t have an opposite (I’m not making much sense, I know, I’m sorry)

tinyfaery's avatar

@pete Are you a philosophy major, because you sure sound like one?

Its ideas like these that make the limitations of words painfully obvious.

arnbev959's avatar

no, not a philosophy major by any means, but thanks for the compliment. :)

i know! it’s so much easier to know what you mean than to tell somebody else what you mean.

tinyfaery's avatar

@pete Admittedly, that was a back handed compliment. Philosophy majors go on and on to the point of meaninglessness. But your fun, and most of them are not. :)

Hobbes's avatar

The problem is, when thinking about the question, we tend to apply the same sorts of language we use when talking about pieces of the universe to the universe as a whole. The problem is, this line of thinking is useful in our experience because we can compare one state to another. Asking why I’m writing this post is a question that makes sense, because there are other posts I could be writing, or other things I could be doing. But there is only one universe that we know, and our experience tells us nothing about what may have been before it or what might lie outside it. So the question “why is the universe here” can’t be answered because we can’t even conceive of any alternative to its existence.

ebenezer's avatar

I think at the moment we supposedly only have knowledge of about 5% of the stuff that makes up nothing.

shrubbery's avatar

Hobbes raises a good point. I have to first apologise for my lack of sources in my answer, I’m just grossly summarising class notes and haven’t organised my folder very well. I think the main part is from some book by some guy… :P edit: main source: The Philosophy Gym by Stephen Law, which I just started reading yesterday ;)

Let’s look at The Cause Argument. The traditional solution to this question is to appeal to the existence of God, i.e God must have caused the universe to exist. Look at the chair you are sitting on. Now, it would be absurd – would it not – to suppose that this chair just popped into existence for no reason at all? The existence of the chair must surely have had a cause. Yes? Similarly with the universe, then. It just isn’t plausible that it popped into existence for no reason. It, too, must have a cause. But then God must exist as the cause of the universe.

This argument is an example of what is commonly known as a cosmological argument. Cosmological arguments begin with two observations: that the universe exists and that the events and entities we find around us always turn out to have a cause or explanation. The arguments then conclude that the universe must also have a cause or explanation and that God is the only possible (or at least the most likely) candidate. (The Design argument is also one of these but I think I’ll leave that one for now :P)

But of course, there are always two sides, and this argument is by no means foolproof. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that God does exist. The appeal to Him as the explanation of the existence of the universe still ultimately fails to remove the mystery with which we began. Let it be asked, what caused God to exist? It was said that it is absurd to suppose that something might come into existence uncaused. As was said about the chair, it cannot have just popped into existence for no reason. But then it follows that God’s existence also requires a cause.

But if you’re going to make an exception to the rule that everything has a cause, why not make the universe the exception? Why do you posit the existence of a further entity – God – in addition to the universe?

You argue that everything has a cause. Then you make God the exception to this rule. But why not make the Big Bang the exception to the rule? What reason have you given me to add God to the beginning of this chain of causes as an extra link?

The most obvious flaw in the cause argument – a flaw also pointed out by the philosopher David Hume (1711–76) – is that it involves a contradiction. The argument begins with the premise that everything has a cause, but this is then contradicted by the claim that God does not have a cause. If we must posit a God as the cause of the universe, then it seems we must also posit a second God as the cause of the first God, and a third God as the cause of the second, and so on ad infinitum. So we shall have to accept that there are an infinite number of Gods. Either that or we must stop with a cause that itself has no independent cause. But if we must stop somewhere, why not stop with the Big Bang itself? What reason is there to introduce even one God?

Of course, some might be willing to accept an infinite chain of Gods. But such a chain still wouldn’t remove the mystery with which we began. For then the question would arise: why is there such an infinite chain of Gods, rather than no chain?

This is just like the infinite regression of turtles idea.

Despite being a poor argument, the cause argument has always been popular. In fact, when asked to give some reason why they suppose that God exists, the cause argument is the one to which those who believe in God often first appeal. The question of what brought God into existence is simply overlooked.

As Hobbes says, the original question may not even make sense. While it may make sense to ask what caused your chair to exist, it surely does not make sense to ask ‘what caused the universe as a whole to exist’. It seems to me that to ask for the cause of something is to ask what other thing within the universe brought it about. That is how the game of asking for and giving causes is played out. If to ask for the cause of something is to ask what other thing within the universe brought it about, then it cannot make sense to ask what is the cause of the universe as a whole.

That would be to pursue the question of causes outside the context in which such questions can meaningfully be raised.

It is like asking ‘what is north of the north pole?’

On the other hand, perhaps nothing caused the universe to exist. Perhaps its existence is simply a brute fact. Physicists are inclined to accept that some things are just brute fact and inexplicable. Often they explain why one law holds by appealing to others. One can explain, for example, the law that water freezes at zero degrees Celsius by appealing to the laws that govern the atoms and molecules out of which water is composed.

But few suppose that this process can go on for ever. Presumably one must eventually come up against laws that cannot be accounted for or explained in terms of yet other laws. The obtaining of these basic laws is just a brute fact. And if we are to allow that there are at least some brute facts. then why not suppose that the existence of the universe is also a brute fact, a fact that requires neither a further cause nor an explanation? Why suppose that it, too, must also have a cause, an explanation?

But is it plausible to suppose that the universe popped into existence for no reason. The Big Bang didn’t just happen, surely? There must be a reason why it happened.

It doesn’t seem adequate to say that the Big Bang happened for no reason at all. And yet it seems we can say nothing else. Why is there something, rather than nothing? The answer is God. But that answer will not do, as we have already seen.So what does explain the existence of the universe, if not God? That’s a mystery.

It seems that when it comes to the question what is the ultimate cause or origin of the universe? there are four options available to us. These are to:

1. Answer the question by identifying a cause of the universe.
2. Claim that, though the universe has a cause, we cannot or at least do not yet know what this cause is.
3. Claim that perhaps the universe has no cause – it’s existence is simply a brute fact.
4. Deny the question even makes sense.

The problem is that on closer examination none of these four options seems satisfactory. The difficulty with the first option is that as soon as one offers God or indeed something else as the cause or explanation of the universe, the ‘something’ to which one appeals in turn becomes the focus of the demand for a cause or explanation. So it seems that the first kind of answer can never be adequate.

Rather than answering the question about ultimate origins, we merely sweep it under the carpet.

The difficulty with the second option is, again, that if one suggests that the universe has an as yet unknown cause, the question then arises: and what is the cause of that unknown cause? So the mystery is merely postponed.

the claim that the universe simply has no cause, on the other hand, also seems unsatisfactory – is it really plausible to suppose that the universe simply popped into existence for no reason at all? Surely not.

And yet the fourth and final option seems equally implausible – certainly, no one has yet succeeded in providing an uncontroversial explanation of why the question about the cause of the universe makes no sense.

So it seems that, while no explanation can be acceptable, yet neither can the question of the ultimate origin of the universe simply be set aside or dismissed.

Which is why this particular philosophical mystery remains so perplexing. It appears that the question of the ultimate origin of the universe is a mystery that can be neither explained nor explained away.

Some other arguments along this same line are:
1. Cosmoligical Argument:
Kalam Argument: The universe had a beginning and therefore something must have brought it into being: God
Dependency Argument: the universe needs something to sustain its existence now and that something is God.
2. Ontological Arguments – using logical deduction from the idea of God to the necessary existence of God.
3. Moral Arguments: argue from the idea of absolute moral order in the universe (e.g the existence of good and bad) to the existence of God.
4. Design Argument (Teleological): Argue that the world shows signs of design and that God is the great Designer.
5. Religious Experience Arguments: the Reports of religious experience (or maybe just our ‘religious nature’ points to the existence of God.

Do these arguments boil down to science vs religion? So if “The Cause Argument” theory does not “stack up” logically … does this mean that:-
science and religion are opposed?; and
People who accept scientific explanations for the way the world is cannot logically believe in a creator God, or an intelligent designer or the stories in the Bible?

It’s not a matter of either a scientific explanation of the earth or a religious/creationist explanation. You can have faith that a creator God is the explanation behind everything and explains your role in the world whilst accepting all of those explanations of the physical nature of the universe that comes from scientific enquiry.

Nor is it a matter of religion being the way that you explain those things about your physical world that science cannot explain – God of the Gaps? All this does is make God get smaller as science explains more and more over time!

But still they all have counterarguments, and cancel each other out or are each as valid as the other. So where does this leave us?

I think that one must look at Theism at its best and its worst, and Atheism at its best and its worst, and decide which is the most appealing to you, which one makes you a better person or enables you to live a good life, or the life that you want and can accept. I don’t believe in pushing faith on others, I believe it is a personal journey and a choice you make for yourself.

kapuerajam's avatar

without something there wouldent be nothing because something is everything including nothing

bpeele's avatar

Great question and some very good answers. In order to answer this question, and for that matter most every other question, we must first understand how we know what we know. We cannot know there is something until we know how we know and to do that we have to have something called epistemological certainty. That is our method of knowing is valid. To do this, several conditions have to be made – #1. There must be a perceiving entity to perceive the something. #2. This entity has to have infallible perception. #3 This entity has to have immutable metrics (space and time) for describing that something. #4 This entity has to be able to communicate via a shared and irrefutable language. #5 This entity has to have access to some immutable absolute vantage point from which to perceive, measure and communicate this something. None of these are provable, and as such our somethings in our waking life are as valid as the somethings in our dreams.

Hobbes's avatar

You may have a point, bpeele, but such observations are completely useless. We make assumptions about the world because such assumptions both allow us to function in it and allow us to make useful predictions about it. Sure, there’s no way to be one-hundred percent certain that dreams aren’t reality, but there’s also no way to know that anything is real at all. In the end, though, why does it matter if you don’t spend your whole life in an ivory tower?

ninjacolin's avatar

my guess is that there’s something rather than nothing because there has to be.. meaning.. this IS what nothing is… this is the nature of reality itself.

tigran's avatar

@shrubbery OK I read the whole thing shrubbery, and I find it inconsistent that you compare the idea of god with the idea of the big bang in analyzing the cause argument. I think that reaching the Big Bang in causations is still following a set of rules we think we understand. But by bringing in the idea of God, to me, is like saying that it is something we cannot understand. Therefore its a different kind of exception, it does not follow any laws of physics or any science, its beyond comprehension. its an excuse I’m not even sure if what I’m saying is appropriate to the argument but it is worth mentioning.

ratboy's avatar

Because I will that it be so. Any other questions?

LeeFred's avatar

I found shrubbery’s response very thoughtful, but it seems to me that this question is closely related to the question on what is negentropy. After the Big Bang, why did any matter and pattern in the universe emerge out of a tremendous flash of energy? Negentropy is the answer, but what really is negentropy and why did the Big Bang happen at all? (Sorry. Guess this is really a couple of questions rather than an answer.)

flutherother's avatar

@harp The Buddhist links are useful. It is very interesting to find new ways of thinking about manifest reality. Western science describes the natural world very well and predicts what will happen in a given set of circumstances but doesn’t look as closely at cause and effect, perception and object or the way that past present and future are inter dependent. Nagarjuna examined these things very closely and found logical inconsistencies which could only be accounted for if manifest reality were an illusion. It was a remarkable conclusion and not inconsistent with modern Western thought.

But I can’t agree that what underpins reality neither exists nor doesn’t exist. From the Western perspective we can think of the quantum realm. It is not at all like the reality we are familiar with. It is grey and amorphous and plays by different rules. Particles can pop in and out of existence and time and space don’t exist. The quantum world is like a single moment poised between creation and destruction but the creation and the destruction are vague and uncertain. You could almost say that the moment of creation and the moment of destruction are so doubtful that they neither exist nor don’t exist. That is what the Buddhists say and they are very close to answering this question. When you look closely at a single grain of reality you find that it neither exists nor does it not exist.

This should answer the question and yet there is something. Maybe it is a dream, maybe it is an illusion, but it is something, not nothing, and why there should be this something rather than nothing is perplexing.

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