I’ve just finished reading Jim Holt’s book Why Does the World Exist? which addresses the classic question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Holt interviewed scientists, philosophers, and the occasional religious authority without, of course, coming to a satisfactory answer to this most fundamental question. The book itself is useful, although the author goes off on too many tangents, including what wine he had with dinner, and changes the subject toward the end to life after death – a different question.
Since no one has provided a satisfactory answer as to why there is something rather than nothing, I suspect that there must be something wrong with the question. And it’s a curious sort of wrongness: the question itself is not like “Why do grzrks flubble?” or “Where is the edge of the world?” Even these questions have legitimate responses, if not answers: “Grzrks do not exist”; and “There is no edge.”
But what kind of response could we give to “Why is there something rather than nothing?” that would count? That we could say of such an answer “That may not be right, but it is at least intelligible.” The question is highly intelligible, but none of the proposed answers make sense. They always include, surreptitiously, a pre-existing Something, a deity or otherwise, that caused the Something that we know to come into being.
Take the answer “Because ‘Nothing’ is unstable.” (I heard this from Milton Viorst, but others have said so, too.) What is unstable? Nothing. But if Nothing is unstable, then it must be a sort of thing that’s subject to instability. A Something, in other words. So where did that Something come from?
The desperate answer is to say that there is no Something at all – the world is maya, illusion, dream, Nothing. But even dreams are Something …
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