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    Thread: Why is there something instead of nothing?

    1. #1
      Consciousness in the Void Universal Mind's Avatar
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      Why is there something instead of nothing?

      In other words, why does existence exist? I think it has something to do with the fact that nonexistence is something that does not exist, so things can't be like that. The only alternative is existence. If nothing existed, that would be reality, and reality would not be what it is because nonexistence cannot exist. But what made that the case?

      Any hypothetical cause of existence would be a form of existence, so it could not really be a cause of existence. So, apparently, existence cannot have a cause. Does that mean cause is not the metaphysical requirement we think it is?

      What is the explanation here?
      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      God cannot destroy himself because He is Omnipotent.


    2. #2
      Xei
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      As promised I found the quotes. The thread is here. The basic 'answer' is epistemological; if you analyse how human knowledge and reasoning works, and what such questions actually mean, you find that the answer is unknowable, and in fact that the question is meaningless.

      I used to wonder about this a lot. I've since realised that, like most great metaphysical questions, it is a meaningless question, only asked because of a vast overestimation of the power of language and thought; the answer is outside of the domain of human knowledge or even meaningfulness. It's a great relief when you finally understand this statement.

      The only thing that the human mind can do is observe local patterns in our little bubble of reality. Sometimes we can break those patterns down into more general patterns. That's what we do when we ask 'why' of something.

      What we can't do is 'explain' something 'a priori', which means without assuming something else. To see this, just consider any explanation, and ask 'why' of it. For instance, why is there wind? Well, turns out it's down to the sun heating the globe unevenly. Why is the sun hot? Because there are hydrogen atoms fusing inside it. Why do hydrogen atoms fuse? Because the sun is so hot that the hydrogen nuclei overcome the barrier due to their positive charges and become bound by the strong nuclear force. Why is there a strong nuclear force? Probably unanswerable. There just is; some things are. And even if it wasn't unanswerable; what possible form could the answer take if it were to contain no assumptions? That's not what 'why' means; 'why' does not mean 'explain why something must be true', it means, 'explain why something happens as a result of something more general'.

      So, taking the universe to mean that which exists, the question 'why does the universe exist' is not well formed. Bearing in mind the above, it does not mean anything.

      Another way to look at it is to ask, 'why not'? Could the wind stop blowing one day? Why not? Maybe heat no longer causes air to expand, or maybe the sun no longer produces heat. Could this really happen? Why not? What is your a priori objection? All the way down to the strong nuclear force. Perhaps you push two neutrons together one day and they fail to attract each other. What objection could you possibly raise? Indeed, before you'd ever seen a pair of neutrons, how could you possibly have known by looking at them that they'd attract each other? Maybe they'd do nothing, or fly away, or spontaneously disappear, or maybe more would appear.

      Why couldn't more appear? Why doesn't stuff appear out of nowhere all the time? (Tangential point but actually particles do appear out of nowhere all the time!). We can't provide any answer. We just know that in our domain of observation, stuff doesn't tend to appear out of nowhere very much. That's not a logical implication. Outside of our observed region of space, or our observed region of time (i.e. tomorrow perhaps), this could fail to be the case. And all of this of course also applies to the moment of creation.

      Read this post again.
      The first thing I'd say is that I think that the scientific discoveries of the 1900s should basically destroy our trust in any principle not being deduced from experience but rather being in some way universal (tangentially, this is why I also mentioned Darwin; he made clear to us our relationship with reality, as natural rather than spiritual beings. In the naturalistic paradigm, the concept of a principle not deduced from nature begs the question 'then where on Earth did the organism obtain the principle'? What form would the thought take in the physical neurons of the brain?). Logic is very basic and intuitive, yes, but, in my opinion, no more so than the concepts which were clearly struck down by the aforementioned events. For instance, our understanding of space. Take the statement, 'given a line and a point above it, there is one line through that point which never touches the first'. Or our understanding of time, 'if two events are simultaneous for me, they are simultaneous for you'. Or identity and causality, 'an object has a state, and that state determines its behaviour'. Are these statements not all just as intuitive as the logical example you gave? And yet they are all false. They are great models of reality for the domains that we normally experience, but outside of that domain they fall to pieces.

      You are correct in your prediction of how I think we come to know the axioms. I actually think it's kind of obvious that we go through such steps, at least at first. I think a good analogy is with numbers. Many people put numbers on the same level that you put logic. But what actually is a number (let's consider whole numbers to keep it simple)? The number three is the thing in common between three trees and three clouds and three deer. But the idea that such disparate things have some entity in common is actually quite a high level of abstraction, and it must have taken many millennia of human history to develop it. If you asked one of these pioneers what two plus two was, how would they have gone about it? I think it's obvious you can't work with the abstraction itself. So you have to go down to the level of the physical substrate of the abstraction, either playing it out in reality or in your head, putting two objects together and finding that there are four. It only feels 'obvious' to us now because we are so used to working with the abstraction. And an important thing to note is the scope of meaning of the concept; it requires universe in which there are discrete objects, in order to think of this generalisation. But what's a discrete object..? There's not really such a thing. Stuff just clumps together in our universe and we notice the pattern.

      I think the same goes through for logical axioms. You have to ask what the axioms are actually 'about'. They can't exist without reference to something; they must delineate some limited portion of reality. In the case of 'A is a B and B is a C therefore A is a C', we again need to have some model of discrete entities, and also we need to be able to put these entities into sets according to some adjective or another. And what's an adjective..? It's a pattern. And again, this statement may seem 'intuitively obvious', but perhaps there are objects which break it which we've just never been exposed to. And what is the neural process which allows us to conclude that it is true? In the naturalistic interpretation there must be one. Well, it seems to me that it must have come from observation. We observed every single object ever, from the time of babies (another tangent: read about Piaget's studies of infants, who turn out to be woefully poor at understanding basic logical concepts), behaving in this way. And so we formed an abstraction and now don't need to refer to the physical substrate, because we're so accustomed to it. I imagine clumps of neurons in our brain form from repeated exposure to the same pattern and become entities in themselves. In fact these concepts are so fundamentally basic that they probably constitute the fundamental essence of our being. But they're still not a priori.

    3. #3
      Consciousness in the Void Universal Mind's Avatar
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      Thanks for the explanation. I have been curious about what your take on this would be. I don't know why the other thread didn't get listed as a related thread as I was posting this one. I did a search and got nothing.

      The "a priori" nature of cause is exactly what makes the issue of the cause of existence so bizarre and confusing. We can't assume anything preceding it in terms of time or source. Based on reality as we know it, existence itself is the initial and most general level of the chain of causation, and anything that would have caused it would have to be something that never existed. That means it has no cause. So, it is a priori. It might be the only a priori entity in the understanding of a hypothetical omniscient being. I have a very hard time with that idea because cause is such a major part and seemingly necessary part of my reality bubble. However, my reality bubble patterns don't just tell me that cause and effect are such a flourishing metaphysical pair that they must be necessary to all of existence. Zillions of other patterns in my bubble of reality illustrate logic that tells me cause is a necessity in reality.

      I have told you before that although I am far from being a quanum physicist, I see holes in some of its major theories. Lack of causation of particle behavior is one of them, and I see it as impossible because my reality bubble screams on many levels that cause is necessary. I don't accept that particles appear out of nowhere. I think they appear in ways the limited human mind is not ready to explain. I think that differences in the activities of particles that appear to be under identical conditions result from the particles' not truly being under identical conditions. Within existence, cause appears to be a necessity. I think reality would be in chaos and highly irrational without the requirement of causation. The universe would be even more insane than a collage of surreal paintings; it would turn into abstract expressionism.

      Okay, that is my view, but a monkey wrench gets thrown into it by the fact that existence itself could not possibly have a cause. Like I said, any suggested cause of existence would be a form of existence and could not possibly be a cause of existence. If existence were caused by something external to existence (a nonsense concept), it would be caused by something that does not exist, in which case it would have no cause. This pops a hole in my reality bubble deductions. However, I think the resolution is that cause is necessary within existence itself but not for existence itself. Existence itself is the one thing that is automatic because cause is part of it and could not precede or somehow be the source of it.

      Your explanation is one of the best ones I have come across yet, though I have my disagreements with it. Eastern philosophers and mystics claim you have to reach a higher state of consciousness to resolve this insane issue. I am fascinated by the Eastern idea that existence itself is simultaneously nonexistence and that is why it does not require a cause. I am not in agreement, just fascinated.
      Last edited by Universal Mind; 08-30-2012 at 08:31 AM.
      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      God cannot destroy himself because He is Omnipotent.


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      Nobody knows.

      Edit: Whoops, didn't realize this was philosophy. Sorry!

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      I've been thinking about this from time to time for some time now. I can usually fathom absolute nonexistance, but only for a second or two, before my brain sets in trying to process the implications of that in the context of all existance. I think that's the problem, that absolute nonexistence is actually beyond the scope of what we understand as reality, so the brain has a very hard time just processing it for what it is (or rather, what it is not).

      Perhaps I should meditate on that.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Jookia View Post
      Nobody knows.
      Well that's a little arrogant, don't you think? I mean I'm sure a lot of people "know." Of course that doesn't mean they're right.

      Everything works out in the end, sometimes even badly.


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      This thread is stupid and reminds me of this Louis CK bit:

      Louis CK - Why? (on parenting, kids, and questions) - YouTube

      This isn't philosophy. This is metaphysical circle jerking.

    8. #8
      Consciousness in the Void Universal Mind's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by cmind View Post
      This thread is stupid and reminds me of this Louis CK bit:

      Louis CK - Why? (on parenting, kids, and questions) - YouTube

      This isn't philosophy. This is metaphysical circle jerking.
      Your pitiful response is stupid, but the ultimate philosophical question is not. You just don't have a good answer to it and are acting like a rude 14 year old. That's really weak.
      Quote Originally Posted by really View Post
      God cannot destroy himself because He is Omnipotent.


    9. #9
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      Not that you're replying to me. But what if I have an answer, and it just isn't communicable?

      The only real question is not why, but whether or not to keep going. You can always answer why, so long as you can dream up some form of justification. That doesn't make it why, in actuality. It's just an answer, a translation, a collection of code. Why is irrelevant. Why continue... now that's relevant.

      So I guess my answer is there's something because I choose something, right now at least. And I have no reason to choose something. My job is not to figure out a reason to live. My natural choice is life, and were I without self-awareness I would continue to choose life. I have simply surrendered to this choice.
      Last edited by Original Poster; 09-04-2012 at 08:09 AM.

      Everything works out in the end, sometimes even badly.


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      Quote Originally Posted by Universal Mind View Post
      In other words, why does existence exist? I think it has something to do with the fact that nonexistence is something that does not exist, so things can't be like that. The only alternative is existence. If nothing existed, that would be reality, and reality would not be what it is because nonexistence cannot exist. But what made that the case?

      Any hypothetical cause of existence would be a form of existence, so it could not really be a cause of existence. So, apparently, existence cannot have a cause. Does that mean cause is not the metaphysical requirement we think it is?

      What is the explanation here?
      The question is flawed, unfortunately. Ultimately something has to exist independently of all things due to the nature of the question. Which, is impossible, under the definition that something that exists must be created by something else. We stumble into a infinite meaningless void. So the answer would be either:

      1. Our language contradicts nature and because of this we need to create unreasonable exceptions to a general rule (sup jesus).

      2. Our logic/language fails to comprehend the nature of the universe and why things may/may not exist a certain way. We can't adequately explain the existence and relationships of matter in a meaningful way because of this pitfall.

      I would have to go with the second possibility. We have very limited exposure to the highly complex general patterns of the universe, and until we further unify (if possible) our these principles and laws, life will continue to seem like a complete mess with beauty interspersed in its awkward existence.

      Because the question is erroneous and ultimately pointless, so is the answer.

      When you ask this question, you eventually contradict the language.

      Its like trying to model an equation that is already flawed. Once you start testing this equation you come across that point where you need to divide by zero. Sure you could go ahead and divide by zero, but in the end you know the equation is completely pointless, because its impossible to validate a flawed reality/solution.

      So what do you do? You got to rephrase the question (solution/axiom) upon which we are trying to model an equation for.

      Anyway I already think you get the idea.

    11. #11
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      No matter what, the actuality stands apart from our conception of it. The question stands apart from the intention so the answer is forced to also stand apart from the reality.

      You could come up with a logical answer, but that doesn't solve existence. Logic remains logic, and cannot go deeper.

      Everything works out in the end, sometimes even badly.


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