The dream I had the other day was the only dream I can ever recall having had about a philosophical topic. The philosophical topic it touched on was the most profound philosophical question of all: the question of why is there something rather than nothing.
my dream I was simply at some cocktail party where I spotted a
cosmologist. Then I thought to myself: I'll ask him why does there
exist something rather than nothing. Then the dream ended.
somewhat amazing to have had a dream about a philosophical topic,
considering that I can't ever recall hearing about other people
having such dreams. It's not as if you hear someone saying at the
water cooler, “I had a dream last night about the mind-body
problem.” But it's not too surprising that I should have a dream
about this particular philosophical topic, because I spent many hours
pondering it as a teenager (oddly enough).
riddle of existence can be stated as the simple question of why is
there something rather than nothing. In this context something means
anything whatsoever (such as the universe, God, or anything at all),
while nothing means absolutely nothing – no matter, no universe, no
God, no energy, just an absolute absence of anything.
riddle of existence perplexes us when we consider how absolutely
plausible is the concept of complete eternal nonexistence. By
complete eternal nonexistence I mean a state of affairs in which
nothing whatsoever existed, now, in the past, or in the future. Such
a concept is counter-factual, something that we know to be incorrect.
But nonetheless it seems to have a great plausibility, because of its
perfect simplicity. A state of affairs in which absolutely nothing
exists in the past, present, or future is one that seems to be very
plausible because there are zero explanatory difficulties associated
with it. One can only have an explanatory difficulty if there is
something to explain, but there is nothing to explain if nothing
existed in the past, present, or future.
it seems hard to get your arms around the concept of something being
counter-factual but plausible, consider the case of a basketball
player who stands at one end of the basketball court, and is given
only one chance to throw the ball across the entire court, into the
opposite net. Suppose he takes that one chance, and sinks the ball
successfully in the basket at the other end of the court. Such a player may
consider the case of him missing the shot on his only try, and not
sinking the ball in the basket. Such a case is counter-factual,
because he knows he actually sunk the shot. But nonetheless such a
case is very, very plausible.
although we know we exist, it seems all too plausible that we might
not exist, and also all too plausible that absolutely nothing should
exist. The most plausible “alternate universe” narrative is a
cosmologists claim to have some possible answers to the question of
why there is something rather than nothing. The reasoning goes
something like this: a vacuum is unstable because of quantum
mechanics – so a vacuum may have actually fluctuated or decayed
into a state where matter existed.
understand what is wrong with this reasoning, we need to understand
the difference between a vacuum and nothingness. Matter and energy
can be thought of as just two forms of the same thing, which is
mass-energy. A vacuum is defined as some space in which no matter
exists. But in modern physics, a vacuum is not at all a state of
nothingness. Modern physics holds that a vacuum actually has quite a
bit of energy in it, because what are called virtual particles are
always popping into existence and out of existence because of quantum
fluctuations. In fact, a physicist may consider certain types of
vacuums that have very large amounts of energy. Under some
possibilities considered by the modern physicist (particularly when
considering the cosmological constant or possible conditions of the
early universe), a vacuum may have more mass-energy in it (per cubic
meter) than a block of steel.
basically any “vacuum decay” or “vacuum transformation”
reasoning is a sham and a “word trick” deceit if it s used to
address the question of why there is something rather than nothing. A
vacuum teeming with energy isn't nothing – it is something. Without
understanding the details of any equations of a theoretical model, it
is easy to determine whether a claim of a “universe from nothing”
through some physical process is misleading us when it refers to
nothing. If the model actual depicts something coming out of the
“nothing,” then the “nothing” being talked about wasn't
actually a nothing but a something. A real nothing could never give
rise to anything. Please don't try to rebut this reasoning by
referring to quantum mechanical laws, as such laws themselves are a
something that would not exist if there was actually nothing.
to solve the problem of existence by defining a high-energy vacuum as
“nothing” is an empty word trick, rather like trying to solve
the problem of poverty by defining a poor person as someone who
starves to death because of no money, and that therefore there are no
poor people in the USA.
attempt to solve the problem could involve the idea of a “universe
spinner.” We imagine a spinner like one of the spinners used in a
board game. There are different possibilities involving different
universes, and one of the possibilities (the black pie slice) is no universe at all (the
possibility of eternal nothingness). The visual below illustrates the
idea, although the idea might actually involve an infinite number of
pie slices on the spinner, all but one representing a different universe.
given such a spinner, one could argue that there is something rather
than nothing simply because there are an unlimited number of slots on
the spinner for actual universes, but only one slot for the
nonexistence of a universe (eternal nothingness). So, the reasoning
goes, some form of existence is therefore more likely than eternal
this reasoning doesn't work, because if there existed such a spinner
(or any situation corresponding to such a spinner), that would itself
involve something rather than nothing. So by imagining such a
spinner, we are really imagining something rather than nothing. One
doesn't explain why there is something rather than nothing by
imagining some type of “spinner” situation which is itself
something. You don't explain anything when you start out by assuming
the thing you are trying to explain.
we are left with the mystery of why there is something rather than
nothing. I once pondered this riddle at length, thinking about it
for many hours. I was convinced that if you could only figure this
out, the doors of wisdom would be opened, and you would have the
answer to a dozen deep mysteries. I still tend to think that is
true, but I doubt that any human is able to exactly understand why
there is something rather than nothing. To truly understand the
answer to this question probably requires understanding beyond the
capabilities of the human mind, and insight beyond that which can be
expressed using our current vocabulary. We can perhaps get a faint intimation of the solution by thinking about concepts such as necessity and a transcendent ground of being, but the full understanding of the solution seems to require something beyond the power of our little minds.
We can only hope that in
some afterlife we may climb some lofty mountain of knowledge, some
Everest of understanding, and at its summit we might gain some deep
illumination into the eternal nature of things, some luminous insight
that causes us to think: now that is the reason why there is
something rather than nothing.