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.
What is it
The old metaphysical question – why anything exists at all – has perplexed and intrigued humankind for ages. It has long been a question reserved for philosophers, but now some physicists claim to have answered it. Yet these attempts have raised questions of their own: is this even a meaningful question in the first place? Can it be answered by science alone, or is philosophy necessary? And what will answering the question mean for us? John and Ken find something to talk about with Jim Holt, author of Why Does The World Exist: An Existential Detective Story.
Part of our series A Philosophical Guide to the Cosmos.
Is this a serious question, a silly question or both? How might we even answer it? Do we look for reasons or causes? Even if God made the universe, then would our answer have to explain God’s existence? Even if there’s not reason, could there be a cause, like the big bang? What if the world just is, as Bertrand Russell and David Hume thought? But Ken feels that’s too big of a cop out.
Roving Philosophical Reporter (6:25): Laurence Krauss, author of A Universe From Nothing is interviewed on the topic of nothingness. Eternal void is no longer empty space, it is a vacuum of virtual particles. Space and time itself must pop out from something. No space, time, no nothing would be nothing. Cause only makes sense in space and time, so one has to think about cause before space and time which wouldn’t make sense.
John and Ken invite Jim Holt author of Why Does the World Exist: An Existential Detective Story. Jim found the question when he was a high schooler and found a copy of Heidegger’s What is Metaphysics? He felt the question was at the intersection of all his interests: philosophy, science, and religion. What would even answer the question? Jim wants to refine the question: maybe the question is nonsense, and it might lead us to a more intelligent question.
John asks whether the concept of possible worlds in David Lewis’ work is similar to what theoretical physicists are thinking about in terms of the multiverse. Jim affirms that it is quite similar. Ken asks what allows physicists to think about these ideas, granted that the evidence is so sparse? Jim wonders whether there is not only something but also everything. That might be the least arbitrary form it takes, which goes back to Plato’s idea of plentitude. That tells us that we should be on the lookout for reality taking more forms than we realize now. Dark matter might be evidence of this.
Ken asks what the fundamental base of all existence is. The question of why there is something rather than nothing seems useful in terms of looking at that grandeur of it, but really in the end it seems a little unhelpful for other topics that really matter. What does consciousness have to do with our understanding of the universe? In this theory, mind is fundamental to reality. Without mind there’d be no time, since we project that, and there’d be no time.
- 60 Second Philosopher (47:30): Ian Shoales finds the idea of nothing very unhelpful to think about anything, including nothing itself!