Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

07 April 2016

Why is there something rather than nothing? That’s the big question we’re asking in this week’s show.

It’s an odd question that could be thought of as either supremely profound, or supremely silly. It’s hard to know what an answer might even look like.

To get us started thinking about it, let’s distinguish between reasons and causes. When we ask why something is the case, depending on our purposes and what kind of explanation we seek, we might be asking for a reason, or we might be asking for a cause. 

For example, when we ask, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” the answer we’re seeking is one that explains the chicken’s reasons—its beliefs, desires, intentions, hopes etc. It wanted to get to the other side. We don’t say anything about the causal mechanisms that allowed the chicken’s legs to move in accordance with its wishes, as that is not part of the chicken’s reasons, though it explains how the chicken is able to achieve its goal.

On the other hand, if we were to ask, “Why is California experiencing a serious drought now?” what we’re looking for is a causal explanation, something that describes the climate and precipitation conditions in the state. We try to identify the prior events that brought about the current state that we’re asking about.

So, returning to our original question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” before we can attempt to answer this, we first need to know what kind of question it is. Are we asking about reasons, or are we asking about causes?

The traditional answer to this question appeals to God’s will. Before there was nothing, but God desired there to be something and said let it be so. The exact causal mechanism by which God’s will is capable of making something exist out of nothing is not explained, other than by saying he is omnipotent. He can bring about anything that he wills, and we’ll just gloss over the details of how. Because God.

For those who don’t believe in God, such an answer will be unsatisfactory for obvious reasons. But even if you believe in God, there’s still a problem, because if God is a “something” rather than nothing, then it’s not an answer at all. If God's existence precedes the cosmos, and God’s will is sufficient to bring a physical universe into existence, then we’ve just pushed the question back a level. Why is there a God rather than nothing at all? And surely if we’re having difficulty explaining the existence of all the random stuff that populates our world, we’re going to have even more difficulty explaining how an omnipotent agent exists that can make that random stuff exist out of nothing but his own will. We're increasing our explanatory burden, not lightening it.

Those favoring the traditional answer might try to appeal to God’s necessary and eternal existence. God is his own reason and his own cause and therefore his existence does not need an explanation beyond itself. But complicating the fairytale in this way ultimately isn’t going to make it any more believable for those not already invested in the story.

Perhaps a better approach to our original question, then, is to consider the cause of the universe instead. So, what’s our best candidate for that? The Big Bang?

I’m not a cosmologist, so I’m not sure I really understand what exactly the Big Bang is. Some describe it as the first event in the universe, the event from which all other events followed. But if we accept some version of the Principle of Causation or the Principle of Sufficient Reason, then we must ask whether the Big Bang itself had a cause.

Some cosmologists posit a “Big Crunch,” which is the super dense state that precedes any Big Bang (of which there might be many, resulting in many different universes). At the very least, there are some initial conditions that are required for a Big Bang to happen, for a cosmos to explode into existence. So, if we think of the Big Bang as an event, there was something before it that caused it to happen. But whatever caused the Big Bang must itself have a cause, and so on. The result of this thinking is that we end up in an infinite regress of causes, no further toward answering our original question.

So perhaps we ought to think of the Big Bang as a non-event. Events happen in time, and apparently there was no time before the Big Bang. Try wrapping your head around that! I’ll leave it to the cosmologists to explain how that’s supposed to work, but I don’t see how it’s going to help us answer our original question. How exactly does a non-event, whatever that is, cause anything to come into existence?

Here’s why the question we started off with is so tricky. If you start off with absolutely nothing—no space, no time, no God, no initial conditions—then how does something magically come into existence from nothing? I don’t see how we’ll ever be able to come up with a satisfactory answer to that question.

Maybe, then, we should just conclude that there is no explanation for existence—it’s just a brute fact. Maybe the world just is.

This approach was favored by two great philosophers, David Hume and Bertrand Russell, and it certainly has some appeal. But for some, it may feel like a cop-out. Just because we haven’t yet been able to figure out why there’s something rather than nothing, it doesn’t mean there’s no answer to the question.

So, what do you think? Will we ever be able to explain why there’s something rather than nothing? Or should we recognize that there can never be an adequate answer to the question?

Perhaps the best response is simply to gaze with awe and wonder upon the cosmos we are lucky enough to inhabit.

Comments (32)


columbus.cooper's picture

columbus.cooper

Thursday, April 7, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Hello Laura,

Hello Laura,
If "being" cannot be it's opposite of non-being, does not that prove that there was always being?
If am ok with the mystery or wonder aspect of why. Did you see my blog post? I wrote about a slightly different perspective but along similar lines.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Friday, April 8, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Can we catch reality in a

Can we catch reality in a logical trap? Does logic structure the universe, or merely describe it? If logic, the logical division of reality between 'is' and 'is not', were hermetic in that division there could be no subjunctive. If 'if' is, then there is no 'if' about it, if 'if' is not, then it's all pretty iffy. Or, if there is a meaningful subjunctive, then logic, the mutual exclusion of being and non-being, is not the whole story. And so, we have to become a lot more convincing than school-boy (or girl!) appeals to logical consequences. This is no antinomy. There is something in being real that defies its antecedence and the laws of logical extension. Being is not a logical extension. We cannot find a locus of its becoming because it is not beat the trap of logical extension by fiat. The unity and units (extension) of reality cannot be counted in the same universe. But a universe in which what would otherwise be anomalous to it, but that, by the very receding from it of that anomaly, offers the rest some small gesture towards beating the count, then it is not anomaly at all, it is time. Time is that which asserts itself in departure, in being departed. Being is that departure. By changing everything, or offering everything a way of being that change, it is. And yet, it is by not being at all. Neither school logic nor 'that old time religion' can hold a candle to it, even if you light it at both ends.

columbus.cooper's picture

columbus.cooper

Friday, April 8, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Gary,

Gary,
I can see from your response that my comment was unclear. I did not mean to suggest that an idea is the cause of there being something. My intention was to agree with the position that "there is no explanation" and explain that position. I do believe that because there is something, logically there must be something. However, that is not a statement about causality, or a statement about science or religion.
You rightly point out that my position is partially based on contradictions in language.  The idea that there are contradictions in logic and language when we compare opposites of a certain type is exactly the point that I make in the blog post on mystery.  The claim is that the inability to reconcile these contradictions is a problem for our models.
The claim is that using language and logic that presume objects (quantity) is contradictory when describing a concept that is not quantifiable (nothing, infinity, being). My only other claim is that "being cannot be it's opposite of non-being".
This has nothing to do with becoming, change, time or why there are things. RESPECTFULLY!
 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Friday, April 8, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

What you are claiming is that

What you are claiming is that the "law of contradiction" is embodied in the hermetic division between being and non-being, without reference to a quantifier. If you read Kant carefully, you will see that only referencing the quantifier renders this "law" valid a priori. And that being and non-being are contraries, not contradictories. The effect is to view all that is dynamic as static. This, in order to 'claim' a logical 'entail' by extension. The rejection of temporality is typical of this mentality.

Dwells's picture

Dwells

Saturday, April 9, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

The subject of models has

The subject of models has been mentioned. In my opinion, models are at the heart of the matter. Pardon the pun. Nearly at the heart, anyway. But I think the actual heart of the matter is how the human mind operates. In my view it is a reality modeler. The mind continually imagines and re-imagines  what it is experiencing (perceiving).
I have been living for awhile now among people whose minds are disintegrating due to failure of their memory process. Their ability to invent, use and re-use their models of reality is leaving them. Older models have been with their owners much longer. These older models/memories have been longer developing and they take longer to disappear. But they do eventually succumb.
In summary, the mind develops as a collection of models/representations or stored impressions including imagined explanations for experience. It is this collection of models that comprises the self. It is this self that asks questions consistent with its collection of models. If the process of storage fails, the ability of a mind to exist and operate will fail. The ability to frame questions about reality also fails.
I think that questions like "why do things exist?" spring from the mind's collection of models. Minds model reality and constantly test their models for internal consistency. I think such questions are of the mind rather than of reality. No mind = no questions.
When this question was originally framed for discussion the moderator wondered if it might well be a "silly" question. In some sense it is. But the question might also be quite useful if it gets us to think about the nature of the minds/beings asking it.
 

MJA's picture

MJA

Saturday, April 9, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

If nothing doesn't exist then

If nothing doesn't exist then why question it?
 "just is"  =

columbus.cooper's picture

columbus.cooper

Saturday, April 9, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

I agree with "just is" and

I agree with "just is" and with Dwells when says the questions tells "about the nature of the minds". Gary may also be correct about the rejection of temporality based on my mentality. Questions like time travel could also be considered silly but scientists like Einstein have claimed that time travel is possible. What would in mean about reality if he were right? For time travel to be "travel" every possible combination of every event would have to exist at the same time. In order to travel somewhere that place has to be there. So either the description and concept are wrong are we are forced into a conclusion where time is dimensional for lack of a better term.
Thanks for mentioning the "law of contradiction", very helpful. When Kant discusses quantifiers is he talking about logical contradictions? I don't think he sees much wiggle room for logical opposites. You may need to point me at what you are reading.
 

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Saturday, April 9, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

EXISTENCE: IT DOESN?T EXIST

EXISTENCE: IT DOESN?T EXIST
 On the show, I heard ??the intersection of science and philosophy?? Now, there is something that doesn?t ?exist.? Intersection requires commonality, and, if I have tried to express anything in this forum, it is that there is no such intersection commonality, and it is only non-rational belief in ?a faith of explanation? that impels one to impose an overlay of science-talk on philosophy. For example, the devil in talking about ?existence? is the drive for explanation which proposes that a scientific, self-proving definition will suffice, or rather, will satisfy. The fact that two practitioners like our hosts have to stop dead in their tracks when science appears so improbable (Einstein said ?whatever appears to be improbable, probably is?), shows that only philosophy is the way to proceed on the discourse.  The guest said ?Think about what our conception of reality will be in 100 years.? Reality will be the same, it never changes; it is the ?we? that will be different because we will have different beliefs to try to ?explain? reality.
 Philosophers shouldn?t look for scientific evidence or proof; we should not look for explanations, but for illumination. And always ask yourself, first, why do I seem to need an explanation?
 I like the wording ?believe in the Big Bang.? Searching for an implausible explanation for some physical realities, grasping at belief for a somehow satisfying non-rational answer, is probably more social than anything else. Hence, religion.
 To do philosophy re existence: as the hosts indicated, do an activity something like ?gaze out [and reflect rationally] on the wonder of existence.? Wonder is a perfect motivator for doing philosophy. Wonder.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Sunday, April 10, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Mr. Cooper,

Mr. Cooper,
Kant's square of opposition is 'graphically' clear on this point. But it is also clear that the relation between subject and predicate, if examined with anything like an enquiring attitude, does not really submit to the strict formal rules logicians demand of it, and perennially defy even the most cursory attempt to question. And if being is departure, and the character of that departure, and of the departed, as opportune of the rest of time for the realness of its dissent from the formalism of number and logic, then being and non-being are as essential to each other as the realness of the subject is to the articulacy its attributes are of it. And that, therefore, time is a kind of dissension from that hermetic formalism and that that dissent is why there is something rather than nothing. Put simply, it is better that way. Time (being) is nothing more nor less than an act of departure recognized as the worth of that departure, and always every whit as much nothing (that departure) as it is something (that worth).

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, April 10, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

This is murky water. But,

This is murky water. But, matters of philosophy are often, uh, murky. Dwells hit upon a big piece of the issue in emphasizing the role of models. Cooper and others offered other aspects of reality and corporeality which contribute to pathways of understanding. Something vs.nothing is an example of the dualism inherent in our human experience: good/bad; just/unjust; right/wrong, etc.(I did not pair evil with good because even when something is not good, it is neither inherently evil)  Cosmology,as a branch of scientific inquiry, is very much a function of the ability of someone (or something, such as God) to have a level of recognition of the fact of cosmology. We can ask the question about the chicken crossing the road, and can probably even agree that said chicken "wanted" to do so, though the "why" of that desire may remain forever illusive. And so, we happen upon the phenomenon of consciousness. A much more sophisticated level of consciousness than that of our friend the chicken. For to recognize that there are "somethings" in the world is a priori meaningful and precursive to a realization that there could be, somewhere, somewhen, an alternate state where there are "no things". Or, perhaps more probably, merely no conscious beings to notice the somethings that do exist. Well, this is a posteriori speculative. But the something/nothing question has been asked for as long as there have been minds well-developed enough realize that it could be asked. Probably for nearly as long as questions about chickens crossing roads. It might just be that after the lion and the elephant, there are turtles---turtles all the way down. Metaphysics
Something and nothing need each other. Why should we think so? Because if Einstein was right about the potential for time travel, we are in for a long ride---no, not you or I, but possibly our children's children's children. Models and patterns, and yes, memes as well. Science fiction evolves into science---more and more everyday.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Richard Feynman, the inventer

Richard Feynman, the inventer of quantum mechanics, used to ask his physics classes a question:
If on the surface of the earth we are in a gravity well, and so time is slowed, how far and how fast would you have to go from it to return at an earlier time?
The answer puts the kybosh on time travel. Einstein made a lot of dumb remarks. "Einstein says" is not the gold standard.
If equilibrium only becomes sensible only where it is thrown out of whack, the persistent tendency of its return to equilibrium, and the conditions and reasons of that persistence, may be a less interesting explanation of it than what throws it out of whack.

columbus.cooper's picture

columbus.cooper

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

If there is a speed that

If there is a speed that would return you to an earlier time, how does that render the conclusion that time travel is impossible? I am not sure if you are claiming that we cannot achieve the speed or that there is a speed limit somewhere. Also, if the model fails could the error be in the model?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Thinking cap mislaid? The

Thinking cap mislaid? The speed necessary to get us far enough away and back again 'before we left' is so fast time slows down. Result: there is no going back!

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

The unremarkable thing about

The unremarkable thing about the instant replay is that it does not change the past. And the more it does not change the past the more it proves there is no going back.
John Nash was driven mad by his ability to see patterns. Physics is being driven mad by its need to see patterns in the most complete randomness, such as Hawking's 'strings'. But maybe the story is some sense in which the anomaly is more real than the pattern, and more about what the law of being is, and more the reason there is something rather than nothing. Life, they say, is mutation conducing to 'survival'. But that mutation amounts to nothing if the living organism does not utilize it in some new paradigm of being. And even at the most minute randomness there must be some material response through which the pattern is more meaningful thrown off-kilter than sustained for our meager mentality of only recognizing patterns. The departed deserve better of us.
Mike,
A vivid imagination is no substitute for careful reasoning.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Something & nothing: further

Something & nothing: further reflections (QuasiMechanics 101)
If you recall, Kant posited several questions, while forming and refining his philosophy:
1. What can I know?; 2. What must I do?; 3.What may I expect?; and, 4. What is man?
These are as seminal and relevant for our collective enlightenment as they were for his individual quest. Consciousness remains key to unlocking what we can know; peppered of course with a certain amount of luck. We know more than those humans of Kant's era. How much can we know? It depends. What must we do and what may we expect? Discovery and innovation are manageable limits. Physics presents both problems and opportunities, So, we may expect  most anything but must be ready for it. Somehow.
What is man? As a practical matter, setting aside metaphysical, ethereal and supranatural representations, we are man. We are born, develop, live, produce, reproduce, age, and ultimately, die. This is how it works. We have limited control over any of it although the issue of control has improved in many ways. We are at least that smart.
Graham Martin wrote a book some years ago, asking if any of this matters. We kind of have to think so. Purposive delusion is better than no delusion at all. The "somethings" that drive purposiveness would seem to outweigh the nothingness about which we mostly only speculate and philosophize. Or we might (some of us) become cosmologists, devoting studious lives to making something out of nothing at all. Don't let it get you down.
Neuman.

MJA's picture

MJA

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Equilibrium Gary, now you are

Equilibrium Gary, now you are talking like me! =
As for time travel::
A Time Machine
Imagine yourself in another dimension, a parallel universe somewhere in time. You are watching a football game, sitting on the old couch, eating a hot dog and wondering if they'll ever show the cheerleaders again.
Suddenly, without notice, a loud whistle brings your mind back to the game. There's something happening, wait a minute, the refs have stopped the clock. Wow, they stopped the clock! The men in black and white move to some kind of machine, what could it be? Then BAM! you have traveled back in time. The screen in front of you is showing the history of past events, the game from multiple perceptions. Could it be? How is it possible that we have a time machine but no one knows it? You see the players playing football in the past as real as the present. Well certainly this time machine can not alter the past, you must be imagining things as you are.
You think time machines don't exist but if they did there is a test. If it were truly a time machine it could alter the past and so far that has not happened. Just then, the screen you are watching goes back to the referees and the present, Whew, the time trip is over, had enough anyway. You take another bite of the dog and at the same time the official on the screen announces "after further review we are changing the call." Well you nearly spit Oscar out of your mouth. Did he say they are changing the past. Before you could grasp the full potential of what had just happened, that you had witnessed a time machine that actually exists, the refs start time again by simply swinging their arms. With a huge sigh of relief you are back to the couch, back from the changed past, back to the now..
Stunned but coherent you look down at you watch and wonder if they can do it, why can't I!
=
MJA

Roger's picture

Roger

Monday, April 11, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

"Here?s why the question we

"Here?s why the question we started off with is so tricky. If you start off with absolutely nothing?no space, no time, no God, no initial conditions?then how does something magically come into existence from nothing?"
    I think following the reasoning of this sentence is the key, at least for me.  If you start off with "absolute nothing", there's no mechanism in that "nothing" to create the "something" we now see around us.  So, the only possible explanation is that that supposed "absolute nothing" that we're thinking of really wasn't the lack of all "somethings".  Somehow, it's a "something".  If you start with "nothing", I don't think there's any other choice.  How can this be?  My view is to look for a cause and not a purposeful reason, and I think one way is to first think why any "normal" thing (e.g., a book, a car, etc.) exists and then to see if the reason it exists can also be applied to what we've previously visualized as "absolute nothing".  Up front, I think that my previous visualization of "absolute nothing" would be the lack of all energy, matter, volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, laws of physics, etc.; as well as the lack of all minds to think about this supposed ?absolute lack-of-all?.
    I think that a thing exists if it's a grouping defining what is contained within (e.g., the surface of a book, the definition of what elements are contained in a set, the mental/neural construct called the concept of love defines what other mental constructs are contained in it, etc.).  The grouping is equivalent to an edge or boundary that gives substance and existence to the thing.  Try to imagine a book without a surface defining what is contained within.   By this, if there is a grouping defining what is contained within, this grouping is an existent entity.  Now, applying this to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", if we consider what we've traditionally thought of as ?the absolute lack-of-all? (no energy, matter, volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc.; and no minds to think about this ?absolute lack-of-all?), and not our mind's conception of ?the absolute lack-of-all?, this "absolute lack-of-all" would be the entirety, or whole amount, of all that is present.  That's it; that's everything; there's nothing else; it would be everything that is present.  It is the all.  An entirety, whole amount or an "all" is a grouping defining what is contained within and is therefore an existent entity. In other words, because the absolute lack-of-all is the entirety of all that is present, it functions as both what is contained within and the grouping defining what is contained within. It defines itself and is, therefore, the beginning point in the chain of being able to define existent entities in terms of other existent entities. The grouping/edge of the absolute lack-of-all is not some separate thing; it is just the "entirety", "the all" relationship, inherent in this absolute lack-of-all, that defines what is contained within.    
 
    A couple of things I've run up against in thinking about this are:

1.) It's very easy to confuse the mind's conception of "non-existence" with "non-existence" itself, in which neither the mind nor anything else is present.  Because our minds exist, our mind's conception of "non-existence" is dependent on existence; that is, we must define "non-existence" as the lack of existence (this is why, to the mind, non-existence just looks like nothing at all).  But, "non-existence" itself, and not our mind's conception of "non-existence", does not have this requirement; it is independent of our mind, and of existence, and of being defined as the lack of existence.  "Non-existence" is on its own and, on its own, completely describes the entirety of what is there and is thus an existent entity;
2.) Some might say that in the above, just by using the word "nothing", I'm reifying, or giving existence to, something that's not there at all.  But, this ignores the point about our mind's conception of "nothing" (and therefore the use of the word "nothing") being different than "nothing" itself in which no minds are present.  It also ignores the fact that in order to even discuss the topic, we have have to talk about "nothing" as if it's a thing.  It's okay to do this; our talking about it won't affect whether or not "nothing" itself, and not our mind's conception of "nothing", exists. That is, we're not reifying "nothing" itself by talking about it because our talking wouldn't even be there in the case of "nothing" itself.  
  What is all of this good for? Like all proposed solutions to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", I can never prove the above  because I can never actually directly see whether the "absolute lack-of-all" is an existent entity, but what I can do is to use the above thinking to develop a model of the universe and eventually make testable predictions. This assertion is based on the thinking that because the hypothesis proposed here is about the most fundamental of existent entities, because the universe exists and seems to be composed of existent entities, and because physics is the study of how the universe works, then the laws of physics and of the universe should be derivable from the properties of the fundamental existent entity proposed here. I refer to this type of thinking as a metaphysics-to-physics approach or philosophical engineering. I believe that using this type of thinking, physicists and philosophers would be able to make faster progress towards a deeper understanding of the universe than by using the more top-down approach they currently use.  This method also seems to be a way to merge the often fighting camps of physics and philosophy.
    If anyone's actually read this far, I've got more at my websites at:
https://sites.google.com/site/whydoesanythingexist/
(4 page summary)

https://sites.google.com/site/ralphthewebsite/
(click on 3rd link.   This one is longer and has more philosophical stuff)
 
    Thanks for listening!
                                                                           Roger

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

I will always only be a

I will always only be a something grasping at nothing?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Nothing is?

Nothing is?
'Edge and boundary'? Is being a Venn diagram? A category? A spatial inclusion? No exit? What happens to the subjunctive? You might do well to take a look at Plato's Parmenides, or Heidegger's Intro to Metaphysics.
Harry, are you referring to The Architecture of Experience?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Congratulations on the

Congratulations on the Templeton. I'd say that counts for something, which, in this and most cases means much more than nothing. Don't let anyone tell you different.
Neuman.

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Thursday, April 14, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Thanks, Neuman!

Thanks, Neuman!

ryoudelman@gmail.com's picture

ryoudelman@gmail.com

Sunday, April 17, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

I'm just listening to the

I'm just listening to the podcast of "Why is there something rather than nothing."
I see that John is fond of the Fugs--not the first time I've heard the Fugs on a Philosophy Talk podcast.
A bit of deja-vu feeling coming on, so pardon me if I've mentioned this before, but the song "Nothing" sung by the Fugs is based on an old Yiddish song called "Potatoes"(Bulbes)--(Sunday, potatoes, Monday, potatoes; Tuesday, Wednesday potatoes, etc). It's a comic lament about the lack of variety in the diet. Tuli Kupferberg changed the refrain to "Nothing" and it is amazingly fit for the tune and the character of the original song.
I'm a Fugs fan from way back, so always very glad to see & hear them referenced, especially in a philosophical context!

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Sunday, April 17, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Bored with spuds? Never!

Bored with spuds? Never!
When we say anything 'is' we are differentiating quite as much as we are uniting. It is as critical to the meaning of the proposition that the subject is as different from the predicate as attributed of it. But that difference hangs a pall over our inferences from that proposition as its antecedent. Is that pall nothing? What nothingness is? Heidegger, for all his atrocious personal attributes and political views, was quite right when he claims the issue of reason is the question of the meaning of 'being'. If there is a pall on every proposition that differs that meaning with every inference, then ignoring that question, leaving it unasked, renders reason nothing, nihilism. But the question requires an act, a loss of that conceit that we know what it means to be. And that act enables a response that is freed in the character of that loss from that conceit. But none of us, alone, can be both that act and that response. Asking the meaning of being is motivated by the need each of us is of that freedom enabled through that act of loss completed as that freedom that is not its own. It is the drama of this act and response that is the genesis of language. It is how we can know what we mean and persist in the conceit that we have a right to be understood in our own terms, in ignoring the question of the meaning of being. We are psychologically bound to such ignorance, but we are biologically committed to the question, in recognition that nothing is our end. But if that end enables the rest of time to be freed of that conceit of untroubled being and facile discourse, and is that freedom in that character of loss each of us is of it, then the character of each person, and the characterology of that drama of act and response, is far from nothing. It is why there is something rather than nothing. Or, at least, why there is something human and personal, rather than dead matter. But even beyond quarks and whatever it is Hawking means by 'strings' [really just the implacable ignorance of their meaning of being that ceaselessly erects frameworks and patterns, geometry and laws around what is freer than that, like the gambling addict that convinces himself he is on a streak and will not be talked out of it, though the facts show that such 'patterns' are wishful thinking] there is something more real than the relentless need we have to impose limits on it. No, it is not nothing. But it is nothing alone. It is the act of loss that what responds freed in the character of the loss of it is completed in that character, and so is what being is. Facile or conventional terms do not suffice.

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Sunday, April 17, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Thanks for that funny tidbit,

Thanks for that funny tidbit, Rachel! I'll pass it on to John.

Rokki's picture

Rokki

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Nice share. I think your

Nice share. I think your website write my essay should come up much higher in the search results than where it is showing up right now?.
 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, April 21, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Something, anything, nothing,

Something, anything, nothing, these are not being, they are logical quantifiers. The perplexity of being is not a nicety of logic, it is the mystery of agency. But no god can answer it, because the agency required is absence, absence that enables the rest of time to play out fully the character, and worth, of that loss. But if we look to gods or quantifiers for the answer we will miss the moment of it. The meaning of being is that moment, and that is why being is better than nothing.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Gary:

Gary:

The Architecture of Experience? I am not familiar with what that is. Is it a work of physics; a notion of symmetry/structure; a philosophical treatise (either old or new); or something else? Many (if not most) of the things I offer in comments on this blog are either original ideas of mine or intents to expound or expand upon ideas/tenets/notions I have encountered since becoming interested in philosophy; physics; and other interconnected facets of human endeavors. There is much I have read---much I have yet to learn, and less time than I would like to pursue it all. Well, why don't I just Google it? Sure, and yes I will. Thanks!
Neuman.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

oops. The Google search

oops. The Google search proved daunting. 593,000,000 results in 0.68 seconds (or thereabouts). Well, the piece from the Harvard Gazette? Was that what you meant? Interesting and informative-probably worthwhile from a developmental standpoint, but not necessarily germane to the something/nothing duality. Sounds more along the lines of the memetics discussion we have been discussing on that PT post, hmmm? Or perhaps you are alluding to something entirely different? Now you've got me wondering. Please advise.
Neuman.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Harry,

Harry,
You brought up a text by Graham Martin. I was asking if the book I mentioned was the one you were referring to. I was throwing an olive branch, actually, not assigning you homework. But when I do recommend a text it is intended to be pertinent, not to waste other people's time. I didn't google Graham Martin, I did a search at ABE Books, a great resource for readers on a limited budget.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

They say be careful what you

They say be careful what you ask. This is doubly true of philosophers. On closer inspection, you say that Martin, not you, is asking if any of this matters, at which you say, "we kind of have to think so". Is this the kind of have to Kant meant? I kind of think not, but I don't dare ask, because I don't know what you're saying. Does matter matter? Does it have to? We must be careful what we say, it might just matter. But, other than a venal rat with a love of slop and fortunate in his friends, what is a Templeton?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, May 7, 2016 -- 5:00 PM

Sartre said we are "a useless

Sartre said we are "a useless passion". Said better, I think. We have a passion for boundaries definitions and delineations, as if needed to clarify the chaos that reality is. This may be helpful to keep us thinking we are getting somewhere, but if we really are going somewhere we have never been before, it is indeed useless. Unless, of course, its only meaning is to help us recognize we are not where we thought we'd be. Being is a disciplined differing. The discipline is the passion for purpose boundary and constancy of thought. But if differing is the end, its only use is to help us recognize discontinuity. And if that discontinuity is the final term of the discipline of continuity, it must be more real. It is what alters the condition of being real that is the engine of what is. From quarks to quirks.
Harry,
I understand how you feel when you suppose I am ignoring your own ideas by referencing them to other texts. Half a century ago I almost came to blows with an instructor on this point. But if you think you are being original, or just want to keep the discussion to the views you are expressing, you have some responsibility to scour the literature to see if you are being as original as you suppose. Otherwise it becomes ambiguous whether you are asserting a passion for ideas or for self[expression]. Ideas are shared to help us set each other free, not to bind us in agreement with each other. And if not borne of our needing each other free we are a useless passion indeed!

 
 
 
 

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