Archive for February 25th, 2015

Why is there Something and not Nothing?

(This blog entry is a bit different – I’m in an introspective mood today)

We live in a world.   Everything about our existence says that every effect has a cause, everything has a beginning, and you can’t get something from nothing.

So why does a world exist?   Why is there something and not nothing?

It seems that there should be no world, no existence.  The existence of a world requires a contradiction.   Somehow something came from nothing.  If you posit a beginning or a cause from something else, you just push back the problem.  If one says “God created the world,” then the question becomes “why is there a God rather than no God?”

If one posits the big bang as creating space-time, the current popular theory, then what came before the Big Bang?

Therein lies a hint of an answer.  If the big bang marks the creation point of space-time then whatever “caused” the big bang or “came before” it must be outside space-time.   Yet we are fundamentally unable to even imagine a world that is not predicated on space-time.   Our minds can only think in terms of a progression of events, one thing causing another, with time marching only forward, the present ceasing to exist as it continually becomes the past.

Our minds think of material cause and effect.   That limitation is the main reason we cannot answer the question why is there something and not nothing.   In our space-time frame of reference this is a paradox, a contradiction.  Existence should not exist.

Contradictions are funny things.  Aristotle says that two sides of a contradiction cannot both be true.  A house cannot be both white and not white.   But it’s not so clear cut.   Reality isn’t the same as our linguistic symbolic representations of reality.  We can create statements that contradict each other, but those statements may be poor reflections of reality.  The fact light is both a particle and a wave — a contradictory state of affairs that is nonetheless apparently true — doesn’t really violate a law of contradictions.  Our language constructs a contradiction because it imprecisely describes reality.   We don’t really understand the nature of light – either the photons or the waves.

Thus it is very possible for two contradictory statements to be true.

So the contradiction behind the notion that a world exists is really a paradox.   There may be an explanation, but it is outside our ability to comprehend – it is outside of space/time.

Is this an argument for the existence of God?   Well, some conceptions of God claim that God is incomprehensible, and certainly whatever is outside space/time is by definition incomprehensible for us beings trapped in this space-time universe.  However particular God-stories (various world religions) are of little help.  If the concept of God is broadened to mean whatever force can explain the existence of this space-time universe and its attributes, then we have a form of Deism.   But we know nothing about this God.

More convincingly is an argument in favor of some kind of non-material or “spiritual” aspect of existence.  Since existence itself rests on the necessity of both sides of a contradiction being true, it’s clear that the material world itself is limited in scope.  Any meaning or purpose this world has cannot be determined by looking at science or the material attributes of this world.   That will give us knowledge on how we experience the functioning of this world, but not any meaning.

Of course, it’s possible the world is meaningless – that whatever created space-time was a kind of accident, and as soon as this universe runs its course it will collapse on itself and space-time will be “forgotten.”  Yet that seems a dubious proposition to hold on purely pragmatic grounds.   If the universe is meaningless and yet we search for meaning, we haven’t lost anything – in fact, we can create our own meaning for the brief dance we have on this planet.  If there is a deeper meaning, then searching for it may connect us at least intuitively with a better understanding of why we have physical lives, and how we should best handle this experience.

Moreover, psychologically it’s very easy for us to become “hypnotized” by the world in which we find ourselves.   Hypnosis operates on suggestions, and our world hurls suggestions at us all day, coming from our culture, media, friends, etc.  We can lose ourselves in the routine doing what we think must be done, taking time for a distraction now and then, but not really making our lives something we consciously shape, reflect upon, and experience as truly meaningful.

To me, that would be boring – sort of like going through life half asleep.

So why is there something and not nothing?   I don’t know.   But contemplating the question gives me a stronger sense that I should reflect on what my experience here means, and look inside myself as well as out into the world.

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