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Why is there something rather than nothing?

Why is there something rather than nothing?
cLOUDDEAD
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Posted Jul 27, 2012 - 8:38 PM:

180 Proof wrote:
Since about 95% of every "something" consists of empty space (i.e. not-something) "Why something rather than nothing?" is merely a pseudo-question. neutral face.

Seriously, 95% of every something consists of not-something? How does that make any sense? How can we quantify 'not-something' without at the same time treating it as something?

To the OP, Bill Vallicella has a good post on his blog about this:

A Catalog of Possible Types of Response to 'Why Is There Anything At All?'
By my count there are seven possible types of response to the above question, which I will call the Leibniz question. I will give them the following names: Rejectionism, Mysterianism, Brutalism, Theologism, Necessitarianism, Nomologism/Axiologism, and Cosmologism. As far as I can see, my typology, or rather my emendation of Rescher's typology, is exhaustive. All possible solutions must fall under one of these heads. You may send me an e-mail if you think that there is an eighth type of solution.

Either the Leibniz question is illegitimate, a pseudo-question, or it is a genuine question. If the former, then it cannot be answered and ought to be rejected. Following Rescher, we can call this first response

Rejectionism. The rejectionist rejects the question as ill-formed, as senseless. Compare the question, 'How fast does time flow?' The latter is pretty obviously a pseudo-question resting as it does on a false presupposition, namely, that time is a measurable process within time. Whatever time is, it is not a process in time. If it flows, it doesn't flow like a river at some measurable rate. One does not answer a pseudo-question; one rejects it. Same with such complex questions as 'When did you stop smoking dope?' The Leibniz question in its contrastive formulation -- Why is there something rather than nothing? -- may well be a pseudo-question. I gave an argument for this earlier.

If the the Leibniz question is legitimate, however, then it is either unanswerable or answerable. If unanswerable, then the question points to a mystery. We can call this response

Mysterianism. On this approach the question is held to be genuine, not pseudo as on the rejectionist approach, but unanswerable. The question has a clear sense and does not rest on any false presupposition. But no satisfying answer is available.

If the question is answerable, then there are five more possible responses.

Brutalism or Brute Fact Approach. On this approach there is no explanation as to why anything at all exists. It is a factum brutum. As Russell said in his famous BBC debate with the Jesuit Copleston, "The universe is just there, and that is all." (Caveat lector: Quoted from memory!) A brute fact may be defined as an obtaining state of affairs that obtains without cause and without reason. If the Principle of Sufficient Reason holds, then of course there are no brute facts. The principle in question, however, is contested.

Theologism or Theological Approach. There is a metaphysically necessary and thus self-explanatory being, God, whose existence and activity explains the existence of everything other than God. Why is there anything at all? Because everything is either self-explanatory (causa sui) or caused to exist by that which is self-explanatory.

Necessitarianism. On this approach, the metaphysical necessity that traditional theology ascribes to God is ascribed to the totality of existents: it exists as a matter of metaphysical necessity. It is necessary that there be some totality of existents or other, and (what's worse) that there be precisely this totality and no other. There is no real contingency. Contingency is merely epistemic. Why is there anything at all? Because it couldn't have been otherwise!

Nomologism/Axiologism. Theories of this type have been proposed by A. C. Ewing (Value and Reality, 1973), John Leslie (Universes, 1989), and Nicholas Rescher, The Riddle of Existence, 1984). I will provide a rough sketch of Rescher's approach.

For Rescher, there is a self-subsistent realm of real possibilities or "proto-laws" whose mode of being is independent of the existence of substances. This realm of real possibilities is not nothing, but it is not a realm of existents. Rescher's claim is that the proto-laws account for the existence of things "without being themselves embodied in some existing thing or things." (27) Some facts, e.g., that there are things (substances) at all, is "Grounded in the nature of possibility." (27) What is the nature of this grounding? R. speaks of "nomological causality" as opposed to "efficient causality." (21) Somehow -- and I confess to finding this all rather murky -- the proto-laws nomologically cause the existence of physical substances. How does this explain why there is something rather than nothing?

R. argues, p. 31: (a) If every R-possible world is F, then the actual world is F. (b) Every R-possible world is nonempty. Therefore, (c) The actual world is nonempty: there is something rather than nothing (31). That is, only nonempty worlds are really possible. As R. remarks, the reasoning here is like the ontological argument: only an actual God is really possible. Rescher's view seems to be that, while there is a plurality of possible worlds, there is no possible world empty of physical existents. But how does Rescher support premise (b): Every R-possible world is nonempty? He gives a ridiculous question-begging argument (p. 32) that I won't bother to reproduce.

Cosmologism. The above six approaches are listed by N. Rescher (The Riddle of Existence, 1984, Ch. 1). But I believe there is a seventh approach which I learned from my old friend Quentin Smith. (A later post will deal with this in detail.) On this approach the Leibniz question is genuine (contra Rejectionism) and has an answer (contra Mysterianism). Moreover, the answer has the form of an explanation (contra Brutalism). But the answer do not involve any necessary substance such as God, nor does it take the line that the universe itself exists of necessity. Nor does the answer ascribe any causal efficacy to abstract laws or values. The idea is that the universe has the resources to explain its own existence: it caused itself to exist. Roughly, everything (space-time, matter, laws) came into existence 13.7 billion years ago; it was caused to come into existence; but it was not caused to come into existence by anything distinct from the universe. How? Well, assume that the universe is just the sum total of its states. Assume further that if each state has an explanation, then this suffices as an explanation of the sum total of states. Now each state has a causal explanation in terms of an earlier state. There is no first state despite the fact that the universe is metrically finite in age: 13.7 billion years old. There is no first state because of the continuity of time and causation: for every state there are earlier states in its causal ancestry. Because every state has a cause, and the universe is just the sum-total of its states, the universe has a cause. But this cause is immanent to the universe. So the universe caused itself to exist!
On Jul 28, 2012 - 5:03 AM, 180 Proof responded: News flash: not only does it make sense, but the claim is also demonstrably true. disapproval
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Posted Jul 27, 2012 - 10:03 PM:

Because nothing implies something. You can't have one without the other. They're interdependent.
jedaisoul
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Posted Jul 28, 2012 - 9:04 AM:

To cLOUDDEAD:

I would suggest that the answer is either Rejectionist or Mysterianist depending upon how you interpret the question:

- Rejectionist because the question presumes that there is a reason, hence is founded on an unjustified assumption.

- Mysterianist because we cannot know whether there is a reason or not. But, by the same logic, we cannot know that there is a reason, hence we are back to rejectionism. And so on...

Futhermore there is no way of determining which is true, which leads us to another answer: "Ambivalentism" wink

Or how about a form of "necessity" mixed with "brute force": If nothing existed, we would not be here to observe the fact. Therefore, it does not have to be necessary for the universe to exist. It might not. But it is a brute fact that it does, and that is necessary for us to be here to discuss it. I.e. The question only arises if the universe does exist!
cLOUDDEAD
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Posted Jul 28, 2012 - 2:05 PM:

News flash: not only does it make sense, but the claim is also demonstrably true. disapproval

How can you demonstrate that the complete lack of anything (i.e. nothing, not-something) is what 95% of everything is composed of? Nothing has no properties, so saying it composes 95% of every something is nonsense. The problem here is that you're treating empty space or the vacuum (something physical) as if it's not something when in fact it is something. Leibniz wasn't asking why there is something rather than empty space. He was asking why there is anything at all rather than nothing. I also fail to see how 95% of the universe consisting of empty space in any way shows the question to be a false one, as 5% is still 'something' on your view (Is less of something supposed to negate the need of an explanation?). You also seem to be presupposing some kind of physicalism.

P. S.

Do you consider abstract objects 'something' and if so, can you please demonstrate how 95% of their being is composed of empty space?

jedaisoul
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Posted Jul 29, 2012 - 6:27 AM:

The claim that 95% of everything is composed of nothing is a trivial over-simplification:

1. As cLOUDDEAD has pointed out, something cannot be composed of nothing. To claim that reifies nothing, which is silly. E.g. A line is not, and cannot, be composed of non-dimensional points. We can imagine an infinite number of points in a line, but what exists is the line, not the points.

2. There is a genuine argument whether space exists as an entity in its own right or as a component of space-time. Furthermore, it can be argued that space-time itself is a metric not an entity. I.e. It describes relationships between entities. However, that is largely irrelevant as space has physical properties. Nothing cannot have physical properties, therefore empty space, whatever it is, is not nothing.

3. Empty space is not empty anyway. It is pervaded by electromagnetic and gravitational field effects. I.e. It is a misnomer, based on conflating the concept of emptiness (devoid of anything material) as meaning non-existent (devoid of physical properties).
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Posted Jul 29, 2012 - 9:57 AM:

The question is akin to asking why gravity exists. There is probably no why; the question is an absurdity without assuming that existence has a purpose.

A less absurd question would be "how is there something rather than nothing?", though I admit the answer is less mysterious or interesting than the question you posed- assuming there is indeed a purpose to something-ness.
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Posted Jul 30, 2012 - 3:55 PM:

jedaisoul wrote:
The claim that 95% of everything is composed of nothing is a trivial over-simplification

Yeah, it is, especially the "95%" figure which is far too loose (i.e. underestimated). However, I wrote "every 'something'" and "empty space (i.e. not-something)" rather than "everything" & "nothing" because the latter terms are too vague to be physical referents, and think the so-called "dark question" makes more sense translated (as much as possible) from metaphysical to physical terms. Nonetheless semantic confusions persist....

Empty space is not empty anyway. It is pervaded by electromagnetic and gravitational field effects. I.e. It is a misnomer, based on conflating the concept of emptiness (devoid of anything material) as meaning non-existent (devoid of physical properties).

Well, I'm not the one "conflating emptiness" with (the) "non-existent".

cLOUDDEAD wrote:
How can you demonstrate that the complete lack of anything (i.e. nothing, not-something) is what 95% of everything is composed of?

I don't equate 'not-something' with "complete lack of anything i.e. nothing". I don't refer to "nothing" at all. Instead my reformulation merely negates "something". X and ~X makes sense; X and ___ doesn't make sense. As for demonstrating what jedaisoul calls "a trivial over-simplification" to be the case, as you quote me in post no. 11 above that "about 95% of every something consists in empty space (i.e. not-something)", consider the following observations:

A. Given that Leibniz's "something" refers (primarily, directly) to the observable universe (and not e.g. God, souls, angels, heaven & hell, etc), the currently estimated average energy density of the Universe is 5.9 protons (c15.34 cubic femtometers) per cubic meter, including dark energy, dark matter, and ordinary, baryonic matter, or atoms. By implication, the observable universe is 99.999999999999 ... % empty space.

B. Another way of looking at this "dark question" is by considering the composition of that specific "something" somethings like us (e.g. philosophizers) are made of -- and primarily wondering about -- which is baryonic matter. Though the WMAP table linked above shows that only 4.6% of the observable universe is baryonic, currently we have no more grounds to assume the other 95.4% has a greater average density than we do to assume that the iceberg we don't see is denser (or softer) than the tip of the iceberg we do see. Anyway, here's the stats:

- hydrogen atoms make up about 74% of elementary baryonic mass (and helium atoms make up about about 23% leaving the rest of elements to make up of the remaining 2%) and over 90% of the number of atoms in the observable universe

- according to the Bohr model, the volume of a hydrogen atom is about 6.24 X 10^-31 cubic meters (given that the probable orbit (i.e. radius) of its sole electron is about 5.3 X 10^-11 meters).

- the single electron's volume of about 9.2 X 10^-44 cubic meters.

- the single proton nucleus of hydrogen has a volume of about 4.19 X 10^-42 cubic meters.

- 4.111 x10^-42 cubic meters (proton's volume + electron's volume) / 6.24 x 10^-31 cubic meters (entire hydrogen atom's volume) = 99.9999999 ... % empty space

NOTE: See Rutherford's gold-foil experiment.

C. From A & B above, in sum, the observable universe is almost completely 'empty space' that's perturbed by relative traces of mass a fraction of which is 90% composed of hydrogen atoms which themselves are almost completely constituted by 'empty space'. So says our best available scientific models-observations (and currently there aren't any explicable grounds to doubt these findings). Thus, cLOUDDEAD, the ("trivially over-simplifed") claim that 'every something is nearly nothing' is, as pointed out previously, demonstrably true.

Leibniz wasn't asking why there is something rather than empty space. He was asking why there is anything at all rather than nothing.

Leibniz's "nothing" is a consequence of the category error of 'using a privative in substantive terms' and amounts to a semantic confusion (i.e. nonsense).

More to the point, though, "something" (i.e. existence) is the case and the implicit assumption that "nothing (i.e. nonexistence) is possible" is unwarranted in so far as it cannot be soundly inferred from "something" by "somethings" like us (e.g. philosophizers). The question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", thereby, is incoherent.

Here's what Leibniz's implicit oxymoron "substantive nothing" gets you (in the spirit of his "best of all possible worlds" modalism):

- "nothing" is a version of a possible world (incoherent)

- "nothing" is a possible world (contradiction)

- "nothing" is neither a version of a possible world nor a possible world -- in other words, some (at least one) thing (i.e. possible world) is necessary.

You also seem to be presupposing some kind of physicalism.

Of course. I can't think of a more effective -- less error-prone -- presupposition for explaining the world. Can you? raised eyebrow

Do you consider abstract objects 'something' and if so, can you please demonstrate how 95% of their being is composed of empty space?

No. That would be a category error.



Edited by 180 Proof on Aug 3, 2012 - 2:17 AM. Reason: swerving atoms in void ...
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Posted Aug 2, 2012 - 9:37 AM:
Subject: Great book on the subject
If you want a good read on the subject read: Why does the World Exist?: An existential detective story.
On Aug 3, 2012 - 3:01 AM, 180 Proof responded: http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12487
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Posted Aug 2, 2012 - 10:03 AM:

I think the idea of absolute nothingness doesn't make sense. Nothing means not anything, no properties, not uniform, not contingent, no rules, no space, no time, no change. If you can show that nothingness doesn't make sense, then that will show why there is something rather than nothing.

Why should there be nothing?
On Aug 3, 2012 - 1:52 AM, 180 Proof responded: nod
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Posted Aug 2, 2012 - 4:06 PM:

Tudorelius wrote:
This is known as the "darkest question" of philosophy as stated by William James. So what do you think is the way to approach/attempt to answer it? What are your opinions? Please debate! grin


This is not even a question.

There is something, if there were not then you would not have the ability to ask the question.

The real question is why why?

For what reason do you and other humans tend to question things in the universe and expect an answer in the forth cause (telos)?

There is no reason apriori why any why question ought to have an answer.
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