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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  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on February 26, 2015 - 08:06

    “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.”

    The answers will be more clear upon our death and the carbon material we are all made up of assimilates back into the vast universe it originally came from. Can this transformation allow us to keep our wits though 😉

    • #2 by EyesOfTheArchitect on February 28, 2015 - 02:47

      Actually, there is a safe—but extremely intense—way to experience what’s behind the veil of death: DMT, a mysterious neurotransmitter found throughout the biology of Earth (including our own bodies). Watch or read “DMT: The Spirit Molecule,” based on an FDA-approved study, if you’re curious to learn about it.

      Having experienced DMT many times in oral (Ayahuasca) and vaporised forms, I feel unequivocally that DMT is a portal to exit the space/time continuum as we know it and temporarily travel through the divine realm. DMT isn’t an experience for everyone, but its existence and jaw-dropping effects shouldn’t be kept secret, either—we DO have within our reach the ability to explore existential questions through direct experience.

      • #3 by lbwoodgate on February 28, 2015 - 09:56

        “Actually, there is a safe—but extremely intense—way to experience what’s behind the veil of death: DMT, a mysterious neurotransmitte …”

        Hmmm! Will have to check this out. Wasn’t LSD supposed to expand this avenue of awareness?

      • #4 by EyesOfTheArchitect on February 28, 2015 - 23:05

        Hi lbwoodgate, I can’t make nested replies apparently. 🙂 All entheogens—that’s word means “God awareness -inducing compound”—can give the human mind different glimpses of the divine realm. The entheogens I know of are DMT (e.g., Ayahuasca); Iboga; psilocybin and muscimol mushrooms; San Pedro and peyote cacti (mescaline); salvia divinorum; datura; and as you mentioned, LSD, which is derived from a grain fungus called ergot. There are probably many other entheogens than these, and these have been used ritually for millennia by shamanic cultures all over the world from ancient Egypt to Siberia to ancient Greece to India to South America and practically everywhere else.

        DMT is orders of magnitude more powerful than LSD. Like a strong anesthesia, vaporized DMT totally incapacitates the body at the high dose. But unlike anesthesia, the mind’s senses are heightened and one is not asleep or unconsciousness, but one is seeing and feeling another dimension outside the one we normally inhabit. The effects of DMT correlate strongly with documented Near Death Experiences (NDEs), including the sensation of being pushed down a beautiful tunnel made of light where entities are waiting at the end, as well as the sensation of time folding in on itself (linear time feels like it was an illusion all along).

        In fact, DMT’s particular distinguishing feature, that sets it apart from LSD, is that many (if not most) DMT users experience direct encounters with a “spiritual presence” up to and including beings made of light who may communicate telepathically. If you ask an Ayahuasca shaman who these beings are they will reply that the beings are “ancestors,” or “spirit guides” (in fact, Ayahuasca is a Quechan word that means “vine of the dead”). It’s a fascinating riddle that so many people reliably meet entities on DMT, and that the neurotransmitter that enables us to meet them is imbued in our biology—in all biology in this planet.

        Another difference between DMT and LSD is that when DMT is vaporized, the experience is extremely short-acting. A powerful LSD dose takes 1-2 hours to come on and might last 16-24 hours with the peak 3-4 hours in. A vaporised DMT journey comes on in 30 seconds and lasts 5-10 minutes with the peak about 2 minutes in. An oral DMT (Ayahuasca) trip comes on in 1-2 hours and lasts 3-9 hours with the peak about 2-4 hours in.

        I hope my long reply was worth the read. I just wanted to be clear that DMT isn’t anything at all ‘like’ LSD. In fact, among people who know LSD well, if they also know of DMT, any mention of it is enough to spark fear or humility, and party-trippers won’t touch DMT, because they know that DMT is the ‘electrified third rail’ of consciousness. When one experiences DMT one is at the heart of the mystery that is all of us.

      • #5 by lbwoodgate on March 1, 2015 - 04:55

        “vaporized DMT totally incapacitates the body at the high dose. But unlike anesthesia, the mind’s senses are heightened and one is not asleep or unconsciousness, but one is seeing and feeling another dimension outside the one we normally inhabit. “

        Thanks Eyes. Interesting stuff. I’m going to have to put DMT on my bucket list. 🙂

  2. #6 by Girl for Animal Liberation on February 26, 2015 - 17:35

    Dude! How do I get in touch with you? I sent the link to this post to a couple of brilliant friends of mine and one wrote back the most amazing response. I don’t know why he didn’t just write his comment here but I’d love to send it to you.

    • #7 by Scott Erb on February 26, 2015 - 19:30

      I sent you an e-mail, assuming the e-mail address on your post is accurate. If not, you you didn’t get that, you can contact me at scotterb@maine.edu

  3. #8 by Girl for Animal Liberation on February 27, 2015 - 15:01

    I haven’t checked my personal email but yes that email is still accurate. I’ll foward you the email traffic. Let me know what you think. 🙂

  4. #9 by EyesOfTheArchitect on February 28, 2015 - 23:44

    Hi Scott,

    Beautifully written article. When I read your post, a short Alan Watts talk leapt to mind that you might enjoy: “Existence is Weird”

    Ever since I was a child I felt that existence was a little weird, too. I often wondered: Why is there something when nothing would be much easier?

    As a boy in Sunday school I listened to Christian teachings about God. I looked out the window and daydreamed about what it would be like to play God: to be omnipotent, all-powerful, and all-knowing, and having no creator to answer to. Would God also have a creator, I wondered? And if God’s God had a creator, then certainly some god even higher up the cosmic food chain created that entity also, and so on and so forth, like the infinite zoom created when a television camera aims back at a live TV feed from itself. Where does God begin?

    The more I played with the idea of being omnipotent, the more I thought that being God would eventually become boring. In Sunday school I reasoned that if I were able to be God, I would have to invent for myself an “experience with resistance” in order to make my existence enjoyable. But I didn’t know what to make of this suspicion. How could a boy know the mind of God?

    As I grew older I had a mystical encounter in the Amazon jungle with Ayahuasca tea in which I came to perceive that that deep-down each of us *is* the whole universe looking at, and exploring, itself. And also, that it’s a possibility that each of us *is* that very God whose debatable existence also remains elusively unprovable.

    I came to feel that whether we are studying distant stars, our own DNA, or quantum particles, we are in a sense, looking at and exploring the fabric our being. Only in our human-based explorations, it appears as if the phenomena we’re studying aren’t us, but are separate from us. In fact, the separateness may be an illusion of our consciousness. That everything and every being is really That Which Cannot Be Named And Is Ever a Mystery Unto Itself playing the roles of many different things.

    And furthermore, I wondered whether, in all our scientific quests, we will ever arrive at any “final” answers about the Big Bang, quantum physics, or discovering the ‘edge’ of the universe—only new truths and deeper mysteries to follow on? Because if we were God, we would design an experience for ourselves in which there would always be an endlessly deepening mystery to explore and the “ultimate answers,” whatever they are, would always be just out of reach, like chasing the end of a rainbow.

    Months after I experienced these realisations I later discovered Zen Buddhism and Alan Watts. I particularly enjoy the Buddhist outlook on grappling with these mysteries. And do strongly concur with your insight:

    “In fact, we can create our own meaning for the brief dance we have on this planet.”

    That is my belief also, that it’s up to each us to decide what meaning our lives have. I believe if there is an ultimate purpose to any of this mystery it’s to play. I don’t know if we are God in disguise or not, and I’m not prosthelytizing that idea (which laypersons would regard as psychosis, and Buddhists regard as Enlightened)… but I do feel that all conscious existence is an endless mystery to itself. Every time science gets one answer nailed down it reveals two new mysteries to solve. And perhaps the game goes on and on like this until That Which Cannot Be Named And Is Ever a Mystery Unto Itself hits the reset button and we play Big Bang again?

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