Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Various answers to "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

My favorite answer to the question is, I'm afraid, ripped off from a commenter on some blog or other (maybe WEIT) whose name I can't recall. (Edit: Mikko K. points out it was a commenter going by the handle AnswersInGenitals over at Jason Rosenhouse's blog. Thanks!) So with apologies due credit finally:

In order to properly frame the question, we must remember that, at this very moment, there are non-existent philosophers in a non-existent universe asking themselves why there is nothing rather than something.

In order to get a more serious answer, I think we need to try rewording the question. First attempt: "What caused there to be something rather than nothing?"

I think that as we peel back the cosmological onion, it becomes difficult to meaningfully speak about "causes". I recognize this is somewhat of an evasion, and it is admittedly a deeply unsatisfying answer. But it may be the most technically accurate answer. Take multiverse theory: It may turn out to be ridiculous to try to apply the concept of cause-and-effect outside of any given universe -- in which case, asking "What caused the multiverse to exist?" would be one of those phrases that is syntactically correct but semantically meaningless.

Because this is so unsatisfying, let's try one more attempt at rewording the question: "What is the 'nothing' that caused there to be something?"

The Ultimate Answer is below the fold.



  1. Ah HA! Trick question. There is something rather than nothing because of the line breaks in the code. The good ol' "
    " tag. Take that William Lane Craig!

  2. html fail. There was a BR tag there. Oh well lame attempt at humour anyway.

  3. Nice spin on the old "Maybe the whole universe is just some supreme being's dream" idea... The whole universe is just some whitespace in some supreme software developer's code.

  4. Simple! There is something rather than nothing because the state of "nothing" is UNSTABLE!

  5. Entropy isn't what it used to be?

  6. There is something rather than nothing because the state of "nothing" is UNSTABLE!

    Krauss' favored answer, if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, that's a pretty good one. This of course is susceptible -- at least syntactically, I'm not sure if this is semantically meaningful -- to the question of why it should even be the case that "nothing" is unstable. For there to be a difference between a stable state of somethingness vs. the unstable state of nothingness, there have to be laws governing what is and is not stable.

    There is a whole class of answers along the lines of the "'nothing' is unstable" one which are pretty good candidates, but which are vulnerable to the stubborn persistence of those who ask, "But why is that so?" The answers here are an attempt to address that follow-up question -- by basically showing that either a) it's already been answered, and it just seems like it hasn't because our evolved sense of macroscopic causality is confusing us, or b) that the answer is embedded in the question itself, i.e. "nothing".

  7. Awesome, thanks. That was it. I have updated the post accordingly. (You can also see in my comments on the same thread a sort of proto-version of this post)

  8. "...a commenter going by the handle AnswersInGenitals..."


  9. I loved that answer!

    Wouldn't the answer be even better without "at this very moment" part? After all, are not "moments" part of our existent universe?

    How about this version:

    A non-existent philosopher, in a non-existent universe, asks, for a non-existent moment: "Why is there nothing, instead of something?"?

    -Mikko K