October 23, 2012

"Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Now, there's the question I wish Bob Schieffer had asked at last night's debate, but, failing that we have Jim Holt’s "Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story," which is based on asking a bunch of philosophers “Why is there something rather than nothing?” As Freeman Dyson summarizes:
He reports their reactions to this question, and embellishes their words with descriptions of their habits and personalities. Their answers give us vivid glimpses of the speakers but do not solve the riddle of existence.
They won't answer the question! This is an outrage.

75 comments:

Methadras said...

You can only know, what your 5 senses and your inner 6th sense tell you about the world at large. That's it. If you start to question beyond that, then you are either on the road to insanity or enlightenment. Some may say those might be one and the same.

Lucien said...

Objection!: Lacks Foundation; Assummes Facts not in Evidence.

Is there something rather than nothing?

How do you know?

jdniner said...

Methadras ,might be correct. See also the book. "The mystery of the Aleph" It is about how mathematicians think about infinity. Very readable and funny in parts as people kill each other over the hidden meanings behind numbers.

Nothing can not give rise to something, for darkness is the absence of light. That old old saying from before Christ is probably the best summary. IMO.

traditionalguy said...

After many years of contemplation, it seems that atoms, molecules and DNA itself are only impersonal coded information that somehow coordinated in time. That is Darwin's truth.

But a person is needed to interact with persons. So it all comes down to Romance.

jdniner said...

IMO existence points to an impersonal energy as God. Humans personalize it as that is what they are comfortable doing. And in that act, personalization is part of the impersonal God.

Jeff said...

Because if there was nothing there wouldn't be anyone to ask the question.

ricpic said...

You dint build that, God. You a phoney. It's all a big nothin' till I say it's somethin'...ya heah?!

Shanna said...

Oh! I think that's the guy I was forced to listen to drone on and on about why we're here when I was in Big Sur. NPR was the only channel i could get for part of the drive.

Astro said...

Maybe it's just always been here:

Roger Penrose's Cosmology

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

The implication is that faith is ubiquitous and is not a distinguishing characteristic. Some people call it religion, while others call it philosophy, and others yet call it science. The last reflects an objective reality, which is necessarily constrained to a limited frame of reference. The first two reflect a reality inferred from limited, circumstantial evidence or emergent patterns.

This further suggests we judge an individual's religion, science, or philosophy by criteria other than its articles of faith. Each faith has its useful applications and there must be extrinsic criteria to properly evaluate its merits and legitimacy.

For example, science has been repeatedly exploited to justify population control (voluntary and involuntary), redistribution of wealth, and to generally degrade the human condition. Religion and philosophy have also been exploited to those ends. There isn't a faith which is universally valuable or objectionable to all people.

In any case, while we are encapsulated and, in fact, integrated within the system we hope to characterize, our ability to discern its nature will be forever limited. Perhaps we should begin with an axiomatic foundation for a universal faith. It was an effective beginning for mathematics and science, and it may prove equally useful to advance the human condition.

bagoh20 said...

When asked why is there something rather than nothing, they offered nothing rather than something.

The answer is found in tofu, which is nothing that can be anything.

bagoh20 said...

Tofu is rhetoric in physical form.

EMD said...

This is something. This is nothing.

They should've asked Phil Hartman when they had the chance.

Andrew X said...

So, on the topic of blindsiding our political leaders with deep and non-sequitured questions, may I share one that I would just LOVE to spring, particularly on our current CinC?

"Sir, the great British essayist Theodore Dalrymple wrote recently that he was touring the Edinburgh Zoo primate house, and the zookeeper there told him, brimming with pride, that their chimpanzees were so well cared for by their keepers that that they now had a lifespan that was twice the length of their cohorts living in the wild. Would you care to comment?"

mccullough said...

What is this something you call nothing?

Sigivald said...

They can't answer the question, because there isn't an answer.

Well, not a meaningful one, at least.

("Why" tends to imply motive - motive need not be present at all. "It just happens to exist" is the most defensible answer, and also completely unsatisfying if one wants anything more.)

(Contra Lucien - Descartes answered that one, ages ago.

Some entity is perceiving the asking of the question, even if it's imagining the asker's existence; therefore at least that entity must exist, in order for the question to have even in its imagination been asked of it.)

Ron said...

"Suppose everything is an illusion and nothing really exists. In that case, you paid too much for that suit." -- Woody Allen

Methadras said...

Astro said...

Maybe it's just always been here:

Roger Penrose's Cosmology


I've been tending towards this argument for a while now. I'm finding it more implausible. Ifyou look at the idea that a black hole (supermassive or otherwise) is such a massive gravitational well, but yet to envision a pre-big bang singularity that contains all of the matter, energy, and time of the universe we see now as being the size of an atom (the guesstimated size of that singularity) that somehow it reached a point of criticality that it overcame those unimaginable forces to "explode" to give us this ever expanding universe we see today.

General and special relativity fit very nicely in a universe that always was, not the total and complete breakdown of one that started from a singularity and somehow overcame that unbelievable crushing force of gravity to expand to what we have now. Furthermore, we have no way to postulate how that singularity came to that state to begin with if the notion of expansion, not the big crunch is being touted today.

Methadras said...

Astro said...

Maybe it's just always been here:

Roger Penrose's Cosmology


I've been tending towards this argument for a while now. I'm finding it more implausible. Ifyou look at the idea that a black hole (supermassive or otherwise) is such a massive gravitational well, but yet to envision a pre-big bang singularity that contains all of the matter, energy, and time of the universe we see now as being the size of an atom (the guesstimated size of that singularity) that somehow it reached a point of criticality that it overcame those unimaginable forces to "explode" to give us this ever expanding universe we see today.

General and special relativity fit very nicely in a universe that always was, not the total and complete breakdown of one that started from a singularity and somehow overcame that unbelievable crushing force of gravity to expand to what we have now. Furthermore, we have no way to postulate how that singularity came to that state to begin with if the notion of expansion, not the big crunch is being touted today.

Paddy O said...

Why do we assume there should be nothing?

gerry said...

I fart; therefore I am.

marshall2twr said...

There is no possible answer to the question.

Fact: Existence is.

edutcher said...

You have to answer the fundamental questions first, the way Bill Cosby did.

Why is there air?

To blow up basketballs with.

seyferth said...

A travelogue of cranky and eccentric people with tenure speculating about things which, by definition, have no answer.**

Unfortunately, the book is this month's reading for my book club.

**Not to be confused with any particular law professors, by the way.

Lem said...

The existence of nothing has been greatly exaggerated.

DADvocate said...

The question that spurs the creation of religions.

Revenant said...

Ifyou look at the idea that a black hole (supermassive or otherwise) is such a massive gravitational well, but yet to envision a pre-big bang singularity that contains all of the matter, energy, and time of the universe we see now as being the size of an atom (the guesstimated size of that singularity) that somehow it reached a point of criticality that it overcame those unimaginable forces to "explode" to give us this ever expanding universe we see today.

A few points:

1. Black holes are not "the size of an atom". They are the size of their event horizon, which varies by mass. Most are dozens or hundreds of kilometers in diameter; the one at the center of the Milky Way is something like 6 billion kilometers across.

2. The Big Bang theory does not posit that all the "matter, energy, and time" of the universe were crammed into a singularity within the universe. It posits that the universe itself was a singularity. Energy didn't escape the singularity into the space outside it; space expanded, taking the energy with it. That's a gross simplification, of course.

3. Contrary to popular belief, matter and energy can (and does) escape from black holes. In fact, any black hole will eventually evaporate if not supplied with fresh energy. So if, hypothetically speaking, you had a point mass containing all the mass in an otherwise-empty universe, it WOULD "explode" -- or at least that's what it would look like when you factor in time dilation.

Jim S. said...

Leibniz's cosmological argument has become very popular among contemporary philosophers in the last few decades. He starts by asking why there is something rather than nothing, and uses his principle of sufficient reason to argue that there must be an entity that has its reason for existing within itself. Et hoc dicimus Deum. The universe doesn't qualify for this entity because it is contingent.

Methadras said...

Revenant said...

Ifyou look at the idea that a black hole (supermassive or otherwise) is such a massive gravitational well, but yet to envision a pre-big bang singularity that contains all of the matter, energy, and time of the universe we see now as being the size of an atom (the guesstimated size of that singularity) that somehow it reached a point of criticality that it overcame those unimaginable forces to "explode" to give us this ever expanding universe we see today.

A few points:

1. Black holes are not "the size of an atom". They are the size of their event horizon, which varies by mass. Most are dozens or hundreds of kilometers in diameter; the one at the center of the Milky Way is something like 6 billion kilometers across.

2. The Big Bang theory does not posit that all the "matter, energy, and time" of the universe were crammed into a singularity within the universe. It posits that the universe itself was a singularity. Energy didn't escape the singularity into the space outside it; space expanded, taking the energy with it. That's a gross simplification, of course.

3. Contrary to popular belief, matter and energy can (and does) escape from black holes. In fact, any black hole will eventually evaporate if not supplied with fresh energy. So if, hypothetically speaking, you had a point mass containing all the mass in an otherwise-empty universe, it WOULD "explode" -- or at least that's what it would look like when you factor in time dilation.


Yeah, I never said that a black hole was the size of an atom, I said the pre-big bang singularity was:

"black hole (supermassive or otherwise) is such a massive gravitational well, but..."

I also never said that the singularity was contained within the universe, but rather that everything within the universe (mass, energy, and time where contained withing this singularity:

"a pre-big bang singularity that contains all of the matter, energy, and time of the universe we see now as being the size of an atom (the guesstimated size of that singularity)"

On your third point that is true in cases of Hawking particles or if the black hole is so encompassed with so much mass that it cannot consume it fast enough it will create opposing jets at near the speed of light. The mechanism for how the jets get produced is still a mystery, but they are there and also emanating from galactic centers too.

Maybe I didn't articulate the concepts as accurately as I should have. I was typing as fast as I could to get to something else and it may have come off as lazy.

traditionalguy said...

The Prophet Moses said, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

As the Prophet Bob Dylan says, words just comes to him and he wants to know what it means too.

Methadras said...

DADvocate said...

The question that spurs the creation of religions.


I believe the existence of religions are mutually exclusive of why the universe exists. If it is divinely created that still doesn't require a religious understanding. If it wasn't created by a divine being of some kind, then you could make the argument that religion plays no part of that either. Religion in this regard against my argument is basically like spackle. It fills in the blanks, or tries to, to foster an understanding, but with an underlying morality for why the universe exists and why God created it and what his purpose for us is and it are.

For me, it's a one way trip. The universes existence trumps everything else. The mystery is to solve how it got here and see its underworkings. I personally believe they are divinely created, but I think that enlightenment in that regard requires you to solve all of these puzzles first because that revelation is thrust upon you.

Revenant said...

The main problem with arguments based on the principle of sufficient reason is that the principle itself isn't demonstrably true.

The best we can say is that *within* the universe it appears to always hold true -- but that doesn't do us a lick of good when discussing the universe within a larger context.

ricpic said...

Something is better than nothing.

phx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Yeah, I never said that a black hole was the size of an atom, I said the pre-big bang singularity was

Singularities, by definition, have no size. They are point masses. An atom is "infinity" times larger than a singularity.

I also never said that the singularity was contained within the universe, but rather that everything within the universe (mass, energy, and time where contained withing this singularity:

My point is that all you're really saying is "everything in the universe was contained within the universe"; the universe itself was the singularity. In a literal sense all the energy in the universe was evenly spread across every point in the universe -- its just that there was only one point IN the universe, originally. :)

The universe then expanded, and the energy within it stayed uniformly distributed before ultimately congealing into other stuff. So your analogy to matter escaping from a black hole simply doesn't apply. Nothing escaped from anything; the container just got bigger.

furious_a said...

...the one at the center of the Milky Way is something like 6 billion kilometers across.

You're telling us this only now?!??

David said...

Because it's more fun.

etbass said...

...he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. (Eccl 3;11)

VekTor said...

Several others have already alluded to the solution to this "problem". It is one of epistemology more than anything else.

The question presupposes the notion that "nothing" can actually exist as a state... a premise for which there appears to be no evidence whatsoever, let alone experience with.

I subscribe to the fundamental axiom that "Existence exists". It "does so" because it cannot fail to exist, by definition.

Nothingness is not a state that can legitimately obtain. The Universe might be differently arranged between two different times, but it can't fail to be.

Big Bang theorists who are careful tend to qualify their statements when running things backwards (so to speak), and point out that we simply cannot rule out the notion that there was "something" before the event in question... it's just that we can't derive what that state might have been.

The notion that what we see is simply one in an infinitely long series of iterations is not mathematically ruled out, and solves the conundrum nicely.

Existence has no beginning and no end. There is "something" because there simply is no alternative. It cannot be otherwise.

Revenant said...

You're telling us this only now?!??

It is believed that most/all galaxies are centered around black holes. Ours is in the direction of Sagittarius.

I got the size wrong, though (darn memory).

Astro said...

Cosmologists have long referred to the Big Bang as a 'naked singularity'. I.e., one without an event horizon.

My point was (is) simply that the universe may be infinitely old. That the question of why there is something rather than nothing may just be completely meaningless.

What's north of the North Pole?

How cold is -1000 Kelvin?

What do colors look like that are beyond the range of human vision?

Who put the bop in the bop-she-bop-she-bop?

Who put the ram in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong?

furious_a said...

My favorite scene in Dark Star is where one of the surviving crewmen tries explaining Phenomenology to the bomb's AI in order to convince it to disarm itself.

furious_a said...

I got the size wrong, though (darn memory).

Bigger or smaller?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

ricpic said...

Something is better than nothing.

Better than nothing is a very high standard.

Bill R said...

The Italians are putting Geologists in jail because they couldn't predict earthquakes. Maybe we should put philosophers in jail if they can't solve the mystery of existence.

The Italian court said the Geologists gave "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information". Exactly.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

My point was (is) simply that the universe may be infinitely old. That the question of why there is something rather than nothing may just be completely meaningless.

That answers when, not why

Bender said...

Even empty space is a something.

But this is not what is meant by "nothingness." Nothingness is exactly that, no thing, not even space devoid of physical matter. It is not a state, it is the absence of a state.

There is no per se reason that this particular universe must exist, just as there is no reason to automatically conclude that this universe contains all of reality. It is far more likely that reality transcends the observable physical universe, that there is an existence above and beyond this one. And the existence of that transcendent reality does not dictate that this universe must exist as well.

Rather, what we see around us was created ex nihilo and ab initio temporis.

VekTor said...

That answers when, not why

If a case is true at all times, then asking "why" that case is true at all is equivalent to asking why 1 = 1.

It cannot be otherwise, and therefore requires no "why". Asking "why" presupposes that there could possibly be a different state.

bagoh20 said...

"naked singularity"

That's just sad...and all too common.

gadfly said...

I suppose that Schieffer didn't ask the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything - simply because Romney already knew the answer to be 42 and Barry didn't have Candy Crowley around to help out.

bagoh20 said...

Are you guys sure about this? The cosmetologists I know never mention it.

Steven said...

General and special relativity fit very nicely in a universe that always was, not the total and complete breakdown of one that started from a singularity and somehow overcame that unbelievable crushing force of gravity to expand to what we have now.

Hmm? We didn't have a big (or infinite) volume of space with a singularity at its center, that singularity suddenly exploding and stuff rushing out into the space. Rather, space itself got bigger inside that singularity. If that singularity was embedded in the space of a larger universe, there's no reason to expect it ever got larger relative to that universe.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

VekTor said...

If a case is true at all times, then asking "why" that case is true at all is equivalent to asking why 1 = 1.

It cannot be otherwise, and therefore requires no "why". Asking "why" presupposes that there could possibly be a different state.


I don't see that at all. The Pythagorean Theorem is always true, but it makes perfect sense to ask why, and the why can be answered by a mathematical proof.

rhhardin said...

What if nothing exists and we're all in somebody's dream? Or what's worse, what if only that fat guy in the third row exists?

- _God_ Woody Allen

Sigivald said...

VekTor said: Nothingness is not a state that can legitimately obtain. The Universe might be differently arranged between two different times, but it can't fail to be.

Invalid, methinks.

Now, it's true that "the Universe" can't not be in this Universe - but there's no argument in what you said against an alternate condition where there never was one in the first place.

In short, you appear to be saying "stuff exists because stuff can't not exist".

"The Universe might be differently arranged between two different times, but it can't fail to be. "

See, the problem there is that you're asserting that it "can't fail to be" (in the counterfactual; that existence of the universe Is In-itself Necessary).

But you're not demonstrating that it's so. Which is why it's not real convincing.

That stuff exists is not an argument that stuff HAS to exist in some inherent way - or if it somehow is, you haven't presented the argument.*

I agree re. the Big Bang and such that, given that stuff DOES exist it seems that "it always has" is a perfectly good origin story - but that's also not the same as it being logically necessary rather than contingent.

(No, the fact that we can't "experience" nothingness does not argue against it as a counterfactual possibility - it argues against it only as an actuality. But nobody's arguing for "nothing exists"; the question is why anything does.)

(* If it helps, none of the ones I came across during my Philosophy BA were remotely convincing either, least of all Leibniz.)

Roger von Oech said...

I read this book last month and enjoyed it. Jim Holt is a good writer and a pretty good "explainer."

What I found especially interesting was that Holt seemed his happiest not when he was contemplating the mysteries of existence but rather when he was getting drunk on wine. [Various instances throughout the book.]

VekTor said...

The Pythagorean theorem didn't cause c^2 to be equal to a^2 plus b^2 in Euclidean geometry for right triangles... that truth always existed, long before Pythagoras.

It's therefore a bit silly to say that it's true because of the theorem. It's not. It would be true if Pythagoras had never even existed.

The theorem provides an easier way to understand the fundamental mathematical truth, but it doesn't cause it to become true. Thus, it doesn't answer the question of "why" it's true. That answer is the same as the one I provided: because it cannot be otherwise (under the defined constraints of the problem).

Truth isn't a function of understanding or explanation. It just is. Recognizing truth is often easier with things like a mathematical proof, which provides a stepwise demonstration of how it is inescapable that the given situation obtains. But that answers the question of "How can you make me understand that this thing is true of necessity?" rather than the question "Why?", which is generally one of causality (establishing the preconditions which caused a non-necessary state to obtain).

Not all imaginable circumstances can actually obtain in reality... therefore the ability to believe that we can imagine a different possible state does not necessarily imply that there is a meaningful "Why?" question to be answered.

We can speak meaningfully together about the notion of what a "hole" is... but holes themselves don't actually exist in reality. They are an idea, a relationship that we establish mentally that deal more with human expectations of conformity / uniformity than anything else. "Why" questions about holes would therefore be questions of epistemology and language rather than questions about physical reality.

It's much the same with "nothing". It's a concept rather than a state which actually obtains in physical reality. The question therefore reduces to being perplexed as to why an imaginary (and unobtainable) state isn't the one that is actually real, versus what is real (the real state).

I might as well ask why you aren't four inches taller than yourself at all times, or why we can't simply keep reducing temperatures below absolute zero.

The answer is that we can't because such states are impossible by definition, even if we think we can properly imagine them.

VekTor said...

Sigivald, I would invite you to more closely examine the verb of existence: to be.

It's inherent in the phrasing of the question "Why is there something instead of nothing?"

This breaks down into two possible states, which are being contrasted as possibilities:

1. There is something ("something" exists, by the definition of the verb "is")

2. There is nothing ("nothing" exists, again by definition asserting the existence of nothing.)

So when you contend that 'nobody's arguing for "nothing exists"' I would disagree. They may not realize that their construction does that by definition... but as I said, this confusion is an epistemological issue.

Revenant said...

Now, it's true that "the Universe" can't not be in this Universe - but there's no argument in what you said against an alternate condition where there never was one in the first place.

I believe his point is that the question "why is there something instead of nothing" presumes that "nothing" is a possible state, the absence of which requires an explanation.

But it is literally true that nothingness has never been observed. We've only ever witnessed "somethingness". In light of that, it would appear that "why would there be nothing instead of something?" is the more pressing question.

VekTor said...

We likely use the term "universe" differently than one another, Sigivald, and that may account for some of the confusion.

I use the term as synonymous with existence itself. In my conception, the constructions "outside the universe" or "just this universe" don't express anything meaningful.

Thus, when I say that the universe has always existed, I might more easily be understood to be asserting that existence itself has always existed, and since I take that as an axiom, it doesn't have to be demonstrated. It's an epistemological "brute fact" in my conception.

If you'd like to take the contrary position that existence does not necessarily exist (or that existence might not exist in certain cases), feel free... but I don't think there will be much semantic intersection between the two of us.

Sigivald said...

(I see in the above I missed the part about "I subscribe to the fundamental axiom that "Existence exists"." being both meaningful and important to your argument.

The problem there is "I subscribe to the fundamental axiom that "Existence exists". It "does so" because it cannot fail to exist, by definition." assumes things not in evidence about the "definition".

Which definition? Asserted by whom?

It sure seems like you're just asserting the necessity of existence and claiming it's self-evident.

Problem is it doesn't seem to be either - unlike other axioms, which can be shown to be incoherent-in-denial or demonstrated in some way.

Like the axiom of identity, for instance. "1 = 1" is a bad fit for "existence exists" because the former is dealing with symbols and their definitions, while the latter is about an observational fact.

[If we deny it, all of mathematics becomes incoherent or fails to work; this denies basic experiences like "counting" - the very nature of "number", so we accept the axiom; rejecting it is incoherent.

If we deny "existence NECESSARILY exists" (not "existence exists" without the claim of necessity) ... does anything become incoherent?

Does anything even change?]

"Existence exists" as an axiom in your use seems to involve a lot of dubious handwaving if we try to go beyond it to "existence necessarily exists", which seems to be what you're trying to do.

So, bottom line? Not convincing so far. Explicate where the necessity comes from?)

Jeff said...

Bagoh20, that is the funniest thing I've read in days. My wife thinks you must be the former Style Invitational master known as Chuck Smith of Woodbridge.

VekTor said...

Like the axiom of identity, for instance. "1 = 1" is a bad fit for "existence exists" because the former is dealing with symbols and their definitions, while the latter is about an observational fact.

I think I see the breakdown here. The "latter" in this case is also a matter of symbols and definitions, in this case the symbols and definitions of the English language as opposed to the symbols and definitions of mathematics. What (I assume) we are trying to do on this blog is communicate concepts using language.

[If we deny it, all of mathematics becomes incoherent or fails to work; this denies basic experiences like "counting" - the very nature of "number", so we accept the axiom; rejecting it is incoherent.

If we deny "existence NECESSARILY exists" (not "existence exists" without the claim of necessity) ... does anything become incoherent?


Yes. The verb of existence becomes incoherent and self-contradictory, and the same sorts of hilarity ensues in communication once you allow that as happens in mathematics if you ever permit 1 to equal something other than 1.

If you assert the conceptual validity of the construction "non-existence can exist", or "existence does not necessarily exist" then you introduce the same sort of incoherence as asserting that 1 does not necessarily equal 1.

It might seem an esoteric point, or one that you find not meaningful in the least, but it's a point that I consider critical... because without it, we blur the lines between the conceptual and the real. Existence is a state that obtains for reality and exclusively for reality, in a manner and form entirely and utterly different than the conceptual.

Failing to make that distinction clear fosters magical thinking, which a subject far too broad for this particular thread.

My objection to the question is one of semantics and semotics... it presupposed precisely the sort of blending of the concepts of the imagination and word-symbols used to denote discussion of the real.

Not nipping that problem in the bud has led to innumerable problems.

You might be infinitely unconvinced that any of it matters, or that I'm making any sense at all, or have demonstrated anything that I contend that I have. You're perfectly entitled to such positions. If you're comfortable seamlessly blending such disparate things into one sentence as if they are the same sort of thing, I'm not terribly keen on convincing you.

Language can be used to inform and communicate, but it can also be used to confuse.

I contend that some have used this sort of construction precisely in order to confuse others. I don't particularly like that, which makes this a bit of a bugaboo for me. I wouldn't dream that you have to agree. That's just my position.

Have a nice day.

wyo sis said...

Roseanne Roseannadana said "It's always something." That's good enough for me and makes as much sense as anything else.

mythusmage said...

Because things can exist. Once they can exist sooner or later they will exist.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

VekTor said...

The Pythagorean theorem didn't cause c^2 to be equal to a^2 plus b^2 in Euclidean geometry for right triangles... that truth always existed, long before Pythagoras.

It's therefore a bit silly to say that it's true because of the theorem. It's not. It would be true if Pythagoras had never even existed.


Of course it would be silly to say it is true because of the theorem, but that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that the proof of the theorem explains the why.

I think the problem here is that you are defining the question why to be limited strictly to a time-oriented cause and effect. Once you do that, then of course there is no cause for anything that existed since the start of time.

But the question why can also mean the logical reason that something is the way it is. That's the way I used it in my example, and I think that's the way it is used in the question of this post.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

If we deny "existence NECESSARILY exists" (not "existence exists" without the claim of necessity) ... does anything become incoherent?

Yes. The verb of existence becomes incoherent and self-contradictory...


In what way would the verb to exist become incoherent and self-contradictory just because it does not apply to anything? The verb to levitate manages just fine even though it does not apply to anything either.

VekTor said...

I think the problem here is that you are defining the question why to be limited strictly to a time-oriented cause and effect. Once you do that, then of course there is no cause for anything that existed since the start of time.

But the question why can also mean the logical reason that something is the way it is. That's the way I used it in my example, and I think that's the way it is used in the question of this post.


I'm having trouble thinking of examples of "why" questions with meaningful answers that ask for the "logical reason that something is the way it is" without also invoking time-oriented cause and effect.

In each example I'm coming up with, the "reason" that something is (the way it is) is tied intimately to the temporally-prior cause which generated the effect of that particular state obtaining.

In each case I've encountered so far of this question being offered, the original question can be accurately mapped to "what is the cause for the state of existence as we know it to have obtained as it did, rather than an alternative of non-existence obtaining instead?"

Can you give me a few examples of "why" questions which convey your distinction, by asking for the "logical reason that something is the way it is" without invoking time-oriented cause and effect?

I can come up with questions that might map to that, but none that seem to have meaningful answers in the "logical reason" sense.

Eustace Chilke said...

This thread got dumb so fast it ran the trolls off. Good work.

VekTor said...

I can actually tie the discussion back to law:

laws.findlaw.com/us/000/07-21.html#dissent1

In the dissent for "CRAWFORD et al. v. MARION COUNTY ELECTION BOARD et al.", Justice Souter referenced the poem with the line "I met a man who wasn't there":

"The State responds to the want of evidence with the assertion that in-person voter impersonation fraud is hard to detect. But this is like saying the 'man who wasn't there' is hard to spot".

Souter rightly points out, in my view, the incoherence of taking an imaginary concept and treating as if it actually instantiates in the world.

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Rusty said...

First you is and then you ain't.

seyferth said...

Oh, and Holt seems to drink too much, too.

Roger said...

My view is that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is answerable. The conclusion I've come to is that "something" and "nothing" are just two different words or ways of looking at the same underlying thing: what we've traditionally thought of as the "absolute lack-of-all", or "non-existence". That is, the universe, or "something", must exist because even if there were "nothing at all", this "nothingness" can be thought of from a different perspective as being an existent state, or "something". A more detailed explanation of my arguments is at my website at:

https://sites.google.com/site/ralphthewebsite (click on 3rd link)

But, given this, I admit that no one can ever prove their arguments because no one can step outside our existence spatially or temporally to see what caused it. Instead, what I'm trying to do is to use my rationale as a base to try and build a working model of the universe that can eventually make testable predictions via a process that I call "philosophical engineering". Predictably, I'm a long way from this goal! Thank you for listening.