No, but seriously. Why is there something instead of nothing?
Last night, as I was creeping around the internet at 2:43am while the adults of the world slept, my eyes glanced by the headline, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” on the sidebar of a site I was on. I didn’t click the article.
I finally went to bed, planning to sleep eight hours, when at 7am I decide that actually, it was a better plan to wake up and stare at the ceiling for three hours thinking about why there was something. Instead of nothing.
I had heard the question before. It’s an old one that lots of people have pondered. But until 7am today, it hadn’t fully hit me how unbelievably boggling a question it was. It’s not a question—it’s the question—and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes.
First, my mind goes to “Wait—why is there anything at all?” Why is there space and time and matter and energy at all?
Then, I think about the alternative. What if there were just…nothing…at all…ever…anywhere? What if nothing ever was in the first place? But what? No. That can’t—there has to be something.
Nothing is truly a crazy concept. I’d keep thinking about a false nothing—like a vast empty vacuum (which is something) or nothing here, but other universes elsewhere in other dimensions (which is something), or nothing now, but at some point, way before or after now, there being something (which is something). Even in my question in the paragraph above, I refer to “ever” and “anywhere”—two words that themselves only exist in the world of something, because time and space are something.
Trying to wrap my head around true, utter nothing, is what kept my eyes extra wide as I stared at the ceiling between 7am and 10am this morning.
But the fact is, there isn’t nothing—there’s something. We’re something. The Earth is something. Space is something. Time is something. The observable universe and its 100 billion galaxies are something.
Which then leads me to, Why? Why does all this something exist? And where the hell are we? If this universe is the only thing there is, that’s kind of weird and illogical—why would this big space just exist by itself in an otherwise nothing situation? More logical, to me, is the bubbling, frothing multiverse situation—but okay, we still then have the same problem. Why is this bubbling thing happening? Where is it happening? In what context is it happening?
That’s our main issue—we have no context. It’s like being zoomed in on a single letter and not knowing anything else—is the letter part of a book? In a library somewhere? Is it part of a word that exists by itself? Is it a single letter all alone? Is it part of some code we don’t understand? We have no fucking idea, because all we can see is this one letter. We have no idea about the context.
Religious people have a quick answer to “Why is there something instead of nothing?” I’m not religious, but when I’ve thought hard enough about it, I’ve realized that it’s as plausible as anything else that life on Earth was created by some other intelligent life, or that we’re part of a simulation, or a bunch of other possibilities that would all entail us having a creator. But in each possible case, the existence of the creator still needs an explanation—why was there an original creator instead of nothing—and to me, any religious explanation inevitably hits the same wall.
I did a little reading this morning to see how people who had thought about this a lot more than I had felt about the question. Not surprisingly, no one has a clue.
Certain scientists believe that quantum mechanics suggests that nothing is inherently “unstable,” that it’s possible for little bubbles of space-time (something) to form spontaneously (out of nothing), and that if a thing is not forbidden by the laws of quantum physics, it is guaranteed to happen.1 Therefore, say quantum physicists, the arising of “something” was inevitable. I’ll file this whole paragraph in the Whatever the Fuck That Means cabinet.
Others, like Joel Achenbach, believe that there’s no such thing as nothing in the first place. He explains:
Seems to me that “nothing,” for all its simplicity and symmetry and lack of arbitrariness, is nonetheless an entirely imaginary state, or condition, and we can say with confidence that it has never existed. “Nothing” is dreamed up in the world of something, in the brains of philosophers etc. on a little blue planet orbiting an ordinary yellow star in a certain spiral galaxy.
I don’t quite get Achenbach’s logic. Why does there have to be a physical world at all? Why is a physical world an automatic thing? But then…if there weren’t a physical world—ever—then what, there’s just fucking nothing at all?
This is ruining me.