Why is There Something Instead of Nothing?

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.

Someone help.

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  • What even

    It appears my Whatever the Fuck That Means cabinet is full. I’ll be back to answer this after I buy 20 more. Or 800. Probably.

    • What even

      But seriously. This is the kind of question that keeps me awake for 3 days straight until I just accept it. I think I agree with Achenbach’s logic, though. Nothing is something we made up because we assume theres an opposite to Something. Not like we’ve ever experienced Nothing to be sure of it.

      • girly freak

        “Nothing is something[…]” – Very nice! 😀

      • David Swanson

        Achenbach is responding to Nothing as a concept. A concept is certainly something, so I get his point. But are we only capable of seeing concepts? How then are you even understanding what I’m writing? What you really are is something beyond the conceptual, and in which concepts appear from time to time, including the concept of nothing. The harder you look at who or what you are, the less you come up with. Sounds like Nothing to me.

  • disqus_HQl9LwTw0e

    Well,

    What we learn from physics is that nature HATES nothingness. At the most fundamental level, nature fills space that would be void with very short-lived things. (Also, there is no such thing as a quantum physicist. Every physicist works with quantum mechanics.)

    But that doesn’t really touches the core of the question which is why things exist ?

    All I can say is that it is possible that existence is something that comes naturally from logic. I mean that through logic something has to exist. But that’s a very platonic way of seeing things and I don’t thing that LOGIC by itself has any physical reality.

    Another point of view is just say the obvious: Nature does not care about our whims and our need for meaning/reason, nature is and we have to live with it.

  • DrFil

    This is one of the few questions that gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach as my mind spirals down the rabbit hole. In the end, religion (organized or otherwise) has no answer and philosophy is of little help as well. The reason for the existence of existence is a non-material matter in our daily lives; so carry on as you were.

    (I get a similar sinking feeling when I think about death… how can I just not be alive? How would I know I’m dead if I’m not alive to know I’m dead?)

    -_-

    • Nikhil Nichani

      Death is a really interesting one. What is death? which then leads to the question, what is life? I’ve thought about this a lot. All it takes going from alive to dead is a few minutes of not breathing. What happens to our consciousness in that period? What is consciousness?

      Think about this. People who get into a horrible accident, are in a completely vegetated state but are breathing, so they meet the medical definition of being alive…but are they truly alive? Is that person that we all knew before the accident still alive? or are they dead? If they are alive, then why is there consciousness no longer the same?

      Total mind fuck brah

  • k0an

    What if there were no hypothetical questions?

    • Blrp

      We’d all be living in caves, banging rocks together, hunting with spears and dying at 30.

      • k0an

        Incorrect. The only correct answer is no answer at all because otherwise you’re answering a question that doesn’t exist.

        • Blrp

          Actually, the question does exist. Look, it’s right there above my first comment. I can answer a question about a hypothetical world as long as I remain in the real world.

  • Cameron

    I’m partial to what Achenbach is saying. Nothing to me seems as illogical as a square circle. If there is an area of a dimension in which nothing exists, it will be inaccessible from any realm in which something exists. What is the universe expanding into? Presumably nothing – a non-area. The universe isn’t so much annexing more space as growing to be larger. The very idea of “outside the universe”, in time or space is as nonsensical to folks like Hawking as a square circle is to philosophers.

    But I agree with you with the context thing. Whatever exists apart from this universe, it seems there must be something. Something that caused this place to be a place. But without context, without a way to access a different realm, there is not way to know what that may be. Perhaps as physics progresses we’ll figure out a way to get some more data.

  • Andrija Čajić

    The question “Why?” can mean two things:
    1) What is the purpose?
    2) What is the cause?

    “Why” is the question that arises from Causality, which only exsits in a space-time continuum. Only in such a system it can be sensible to ask such a question.

    So, I think we are fundamentally making a mistake by imposing causality on systems “outside” space-time.

    However this observation still doesen’t satisfy me and I myself have been struggling with this question for a long time. So, I will keep a close eye on these comments 😉

  • Supakorn Suttiruang

    I’ve been researching about “Why does everything exist?” to make a video explaining it and bringing people through some complex topics simply. I ran into Lawrence Krauss’ lecture about “The Universe from Nothing”. He showed us how the scientists proved that the universe is flat and how this property allows something to pop up from “nothing”. In quantum mechanics, empty space is not exactly empty, even if you remove all the stuff away, there will be virtual particles jumping in and out of existence, creating “something”, and a flat universe has the total amount of energy of exactly zero, so something can be created with nothing, if given enough time.

    More in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    • disqus_HQl9LwTw0e

      See, the difference is that this doesn’t really answer the question.

      Yes a flat space has zero total energy which means that we didn’t HAVE to have a jump-start in our universe, and a “creator”is not strictly required.

      However this does not answer WHY our universe pop-up into existence. Even more: does even make sense to believe that there were laws of physics “before” the universe’s creation ?

      • Supakorn Suttiruang

        Exactly. This might explain how something can possibly created from nothing, but it doesn’t explain why. It’s pretty creepy to think about what could happen before the so-called Big Bang, when every time we tell a story about the universe we always start there. Did evolution trick us to think that there must be a reason? Are we all brains in vats? What the fuck is going on?

    • Andrew Niese

      But that isn’t “nothing”, at least in the philosophical sense, that is a state in which virtual particles can pop into existence (quantum vacuum/quantum foam) — something.

  • :)

    +1-1=0
    perhaps from nothing, dualities arise? or other kinds of things idk lol

  • kobold

    Consider “nothing” as number zero – just a logical concept to make your life easier. As a philosophical point of reference rather than real thing. I guess that doesn’t help, huh?

  • Gape S.

    I don’t know the answer to this question, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t derive a life goal from this. If I don’t know what the purpose of all this is, then my purpose is to create and maintain an environment in which someone else can figure it out.

  • JKG

    There’s no way of honestly comprehending it unless you make some incredible new discovery because, as far as we know, that’s honestly the universe’s “question”. It makes no sense to me at all, so i just ignore it and sometimes think of that “consciousness staircase” thing you had, basically just assuming that I’d need to be on a higher level to comprehend something like that

    Edit: The best metaphor I can think of for the way I think of it is like asking what a new color looks like

    Another edit: Don’t think about it too much though, if you dwell on it you’re just gonna fuck yourself up trust me dog

  • András Kühn

    I feel for you. Whenever I come across this topic, my brain kinda zooms out, like the end of the first MIB movie and compresses reality into a sphere floating in white hot nothing (like the construct in the matrix movies). Then it all stops, and the perspective can’t get out further to explain the white hot nothing, and I feel like there’s this static just beyond my peripheral vision that I can’t turn towards and see. I’m guessing you mean this by no context.

  • D_Aiello

    Looks like that question “if a tree fall in the middle of the jungle, does it make a noise? How can anyone be sure if no one is there to listen?”. Instead in your question you put Nothing in the place of the tree and Reality in the place of the jungle (I was about to say Universe, but it did`t seem logical).

    I believe, like the sound of the tree, that Nothing is possible, at least theoretically, even if anyone is capable of observe it. But that’s my opinion taken under beer influence, right now, in a hot brazilian afternoon.

    • D_Aiello

      Wait, maybe the universe pop-uped like the bubbles in my beer foam!

  • Alfred

    Well I’ve always thought this question as an oppurtunity. We know nothing about physical (not really) nothing so once we invent FTL travel (sooner or later), number 1 priority is getting a ship as far away from the rest of matter as possible and seeing what happens. Then again maybe this is why stuff exists because nature compels itself to fill gaps and explore.

  • Fiel

    I think you would appreciate the stories by Jorge Luis Borges. Look him up if you haven’t already.

  • Blrp

    It doesn’t make sense to dismiss nothingness on quantum-mechanical grounds. Take the Schrödinger equation, for example. It describes how particles behave in a space-time coordinate system. So why should it be assumed to be “prior” to space and time? If there’s no space and time, the Schrödinger equation can’t describe what happens in it, and I’d imagine the same is the case with false vacuum and all that.

    And in either case, you still have to explain how quantum-mechanical laws exist, not merely as an explanatory mathematical model, but as the “principle” that “decides” how things are. It didn’t have to be so. There’s a difference between vacuum within an existence of space and time governed by physical laws, and true nothingness in which there is no space, no time, no matter and no laws.

    • v43

      I partly agree and was thinking about the same.
      But I may add, quantum mechanics is just a model made to fit reality, and although it doesn’t make reality, it can be used to make previsions on some unknown quantities. This “indirect measurements” can also be used to support new conjectures, like in this case.

      But it seems to me like we’re basically saying: the universe gives us the clue that since it’s here, there could not be nothing, and if there was nothing* it couldn’t be any longer**
      no shit sherlock!

      (* bear in mind that “nothing” is just a mental concept and not an actual entity=something)
      (** also bear in mind that time is part of the universe, so when the universe popped up time began, and before there was .. nothing!)

  • TheHrybivore

    I think ‘nothing’ does not exist. If there was absolutely nothing, then that is something. The nothing is the lack of anything. So if we have to have something (nothing is something) then why not have something as well. If nothing is something, there is a 100% probability of there being something. Why not let that something be a universe?

    • Blrp

      Human intuition leads us to think of nothing as a concept, which is “something” in a sense. We also tend to think of nothingness as a boundless void of utter blackness, but this does not make nothingness boundless or black. If there was no matter, no physical laws, no space and no time, there wouldn’t be “something”.

  • Nicolas

    I think about this since I’m 8 and now I believe that the purpose of life is to know the answer to that question 😀 And that’s why we go to space ! To know the answer !

  • Catherina

    42?

  • Nikhil Nichani

    This is one of the few questions in life that will make anyone go around in circles. I have wondered many times – is time real? As in, is there REALLY a thing as past or future, or is it all now and everything is happening now and past and future are concepts we have created to explain what happened now and what is going to happen now. But then if there isn’t a past and future, and it is just now, then isn’t now time as well? But doesn’t that also mean that if the past and future are now, we should be able to time travel because we aren’t really going anywhere except where are now? It’s a total mind fuck.

    What really interests me is the edge of the universe. We are in this random point in the universe, with is a collection of all things that are something. But then what is the universe in? In nothing? But then how can something exist in nothing?

    Maybe one day we will know. In 100,000 years, not only will humanity as a society will be so much more developed (provided we don’t kill our self), but I believe the human species ability to process information and concepts will develop. As we challenge our self to think more and more about these questions, the more our intellectual capabilities will expand (over generations) to be able to understand them better. Think about the intellectual capabilities of the early humans, the cave men and the intellectual of humans today – over hundreds of thousands of generations it took to develop our capabilities today.

    We could also just find out in 50 years when full AI is around and could solve the answer in a matter of minutes.

    This question I think makes Elon Musk’s mars mission even more important. There is so much we have achieved, and so much more to achieve. If it would be a damn shame if we lost it all because an asteroid decided to be a dick and hit us or we did it to our self.

    Good question though. I’m going to ask everyone I talk to this week this question.

  • Nathalie Gil

    What if… There is a third option beyond ‘nothing’? Or perhaps a forth, fifth, infinite ones?

    • DailySuicide

      I would bet on the beyond nothing option. Maybe. This question makes me feel like a child. I want to pitch tantrums.

  • Simon Maclean

    The existence of existence, the cause of causation, the meaning of meaning… Like some posters below, I see the deep ‘ponderment’ of these ideas as a way of launching our mind into the great beyond, causing, if we’re lucky, our daily paradoxical belief systems to break down for just a millisecond, allowing a glimpse into our pure calm sea of non-duality.

  • Dan Wood

    Great idea for an article! Also, I always wondered what nothing is made of. Maybe nothing is also something. I think all that empty space in space is called the ether? Maybe it’s something also

  • Nicolas

    Maybe we are created by something who is doing exeriences to know the answer to that question ^^

  • Pulay

    The concept of nothing is absolute stability. It is simply impossible for something to happen if there is nothing. That’s the idea. Therefore, if there is something (and there is) there never was nothing. Because if there was REALY nothing, then something never could have happened :p

  • Alan Watts is the best for these types of questions!! Just spend an evening listening to his talks, you won’t regret it.

    This one touches specifically on nothingness… although there are so many others that discuss variations on the topic. I urge you to listen and be hooked (if you aren’t already a fan).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJHI7JPO0Z8

    • Tim Urban

      Listening to this now. He has an absurd amount of gravitas.

      • DailySuicide

        Watts reminds me of Ken Wilber that way. Both curiously seek sagehood instead of answers.

        • David Swanson

          Ha, yes!

  • Stevan Marinkovic

    Nothing is something that is still outside our senses or understanding, the moment it is sensed or understood we figure out it is something and that is exactly what it becomes from nothing.

  • Erik V

    well obviously, nothing by definition does not exist.. mathematically nothing is 0, and I think that’s the basis for the idea, because you cannot imagine nothing.

    So how about no-thing. What is a thing? where does one thing end and another start? To quote Alan Watts loosely, how big is the sun? is it as big as the visible fire? or as big as the heat it give of, or as big as it’s gravitational force? Why do we choose one attribute to define where the sun starts and ends, rather than another?

    So there really is no-thing, except for an arbitrary choice we make in common. Everything is one thing, and with only one thing there is no contrast, so it might as well be no-thing.

    My favorite theory of everything being one is that it’s all one particle. Not one type of particle, just one particle. So imagine then if you wish, a universe with “nothing” but one particle. Since there is only one, it can move at infinite speed, and appear to be everywhere at once. Which rises the next question for me, is it all really real? What if the only real thing is the experience? (and not the experienced “stuff”)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXi_ldNRNtM

    • Hmmm, I like this. It then though still leaves us with the question, why did we ever get 1, 2, 3, why didn’t everything just stay at 0?

  • Adam

    Infinite regress is the answer to everything. It’s a very unsatisfying answer.

  • Zach

    We are here to observe it, so it must exist. If we werent here to
    observe it, who knows whether or not there would be stuff or not, but
    then we wouldnt be here to wonder so it doesnt much matter

  • tweinstre

    The real question is: do you actually want to hear an answer?
    One of the greatest logicians,Aristotle,eventually arrived to the principle of “unmoved mover”.
    It just has to be there somewhere.
    Concerning quantum fluctuations,I have another interesting question…
    “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.”
    What does “by the laws of quantum physics” mean?
    Why those laws exist?
    Why are there any laws?

  • Luka

    Will I become nothing when I die, and was I nothing before I became this that I am? You could extend the same problem for the existence of yourself, the existence of conscious experience, and life in general, it gets even weirder then. Or imagine this, the whole universe is as it is, but there is no one to experience it, life never ‘occurred’, than the total sum of conscious experience of the universe is “nothing”. I like to confuse my self with these kinds of questions too.

  • Josh Kravetsky

    If there were nothing, no one would be here to observe it, therefore the only possible outcome is for something to exist. Consider the microcosm of this same question. Why do YOU exist? There is no reason why you needed to be born or why you need to exist at this moment. If you had not been born, you wouldn’t exist to ponder how it was possible you came into existence. The “anthropic principal” is something Tim would probably think of as “icky”. Because nothing can not be observed it can not exist.

  • darryl

    Perhaps watching The Matrix while under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms could help. But most likely, it would make you realize just how complicated this non nothingness we live in is.

    -d

  • SpectralSpective

    I spent a lot of time pondering this myself. One day it struck me that “nothing” negates all things: it is the absence of everything. In order for there to even be such a concept of “nothing,” there has to be at least “something” to be absent or negate, and it actually makes more sense to me that “everything” that can be is, &/or “everything” that can happen does.

    To me, that’s what monotheism is trying to point at from various paths & systems of metaphors: the sum of all realities & perspectives, all positivity/creation/existence/unity/love, as opposed to all negativity/destruction/nonexistence/separation/hate.

  • Russell Scott Wollman

    God was lonely, so he got to work on a few things. It may be just that simple.

  • Jacob Nestle

    Okay, my answer is, in addition to being based on science, both philosophical and religious, and therefore probably not something you’d accept. Fine. But I’m putting it out there, and maybe the Great Tim will see it:

    According to quantum physics, something must exist, and inevitably something will – that much is clear. But that only answers why what is perceivable exists, and doesn’t answer many metaphysical questions. So what then? We now have a total of five options:
    1. Assume that only the physical perception exists, and reject all spirituality
    2. Assume that only the physical perception exists, and accept that we can’t understand it right now and do something a lot like your post “Religion for the Nonreligious”
    3. Assume that something beyond our physical perception exists, but assume it’s entirely natural and still reject spirituality
    4. Assume that something beyond our physical perception exists and embrace spirituality.
    5. Admit we don’t know what the frick is going on and pretend that it doesn’t matter.

    Clearly #1 and #4 are the most opposite and the most common. #5 is lazy. Your assumption dictates what you think about this question.
    I personally vary between #2 and #4 – #2 is attractive because it is just straightforward: bam, there you go, and also improve yourself. #4 allows for much more leeway, and is a lot more fun – I daydream a lot. Basically, it appeals to the side of me that kinda wants there to be much, much more than just, well, this?

    Why is there something? Because there has to be. That’s the answer whether you’re a scientist or a religious fanatic; either God has a purpose, or it’s inevitable, or (my preference) both.
    This gets into the definition of God and all, which I’m down for, but that’s my (much shortened) take on it.

    TL;DR: It’s a fricking complex question, but it’s inevitable, just read my whole post k?

    • Keir

      Uh, five options?

      • Jacob Nestle

        Girlfriend distracted me, I accidentally hit post before it was finished. Edited.

        • Keir

          Cheers for the TL;DR, very nice touch 😉

    • Chris Wizzard Williams

      I love this comment. Oddly enough my mind dances through all five options weekly. I cant stop on one. Spinning the wheel of something and nothingness constantly

  • matt

    Bubbling multiverses are just theories thrown out there by physicists asking their contemporaries “prove this is impossible”.
    Hawking states in his Brief History of Time that we know that we cannot know what happened before the big bang (or big expansion) because time didn’t exist then.
    Can something exist before time does?

  • David Swanson

    First of all, thank you for sharing this question – just knowing that thousands of others have experienced this makes is a little less frustrating. I’ve also had these moments since I was a kid.. wondering why is life so ARBITRARY? If there had to be something, then why is that chair over there, of all places? Or that cat, what the fuck? Why is the word “chair” “chair”? Even the aggregate of all the words for “chair” in every other language is the most pitiful sampling of the infinite possibilities for what could have been. So what the hell is this?

    In recent years, I’m starting to enjoy asking the question again. I think it is a healthy part of our development to ask it. I think it is a way of remembering something we all forgot as we became adults: our true nature. When a baby is born, their conscious experience is (mostly) undifferentiated. A baby IS nothing, but a baby doesn’t know it!! As an adult, I (we) have the opportunity to discover that I am nothing, and KNOW IT this time.

    If you can find a way to see, right now at this moment, that in addition to all the “something” out there, that you are *simultaneously* Nothing, but a miraculous Nothing which has the capacity to know itself, then the frustration of this question turns to joy and satisfaction. I still don’t know the answer to the question, but in my satisfaction, having remembered my essential nothingness, the question either doesn’t arise, or isn’t a problem when it does.

    Yeah yeah yeah, “Nothing can’t know itself, or it would be something”, but please see that this is just a thought. Rather than following that thought, let it dissolve into nothingness. To see that nothing and something coexist and also do not exist at the same time, which is right now (not really a time) – that is real meditation.

    Anyway, let me conclude by sharing the most powerful technique I’ve encountered for Seeing Nothing. It is an experiment you have to DO, not just read about. Point at some object in your field of view. Notice what you’re pointing at. Right now I’m pointing at a chair. Then point at some distant part of your body, like your foot or knee. Then point at your stomach. Then point at your chest. THEN, point directly where your “head” is supposed to be, directly back at yourself. What do you see???

    If you “get it”, you will see nothing, and KNOW it, and you may be shocked to realize that you have.. no.. head. This is from a book called “On Having No Head”.

    • Except I see part of my nose.

      • David Swanson

        just like Ernst Mach’s self-portrait, which was the inspiration for “On Having No Head”. the nose thing is the starting point of a great discussion!

    • marisheba

      I don’t get it. Would you mind explaining a bit more?

      SO with you on the arbitrariness thing though!

      • David Swanson

        Well, I’m still not that great at explaining it, but go to http://www.headless.org and do the experiments. If that doesn’t work, then read the book “on having no head”.. you’ll get it! There are no degrees of it, and nobody is “better at it” than anybody else.

  • ayyyy
  • sadpumpkin

    I’m not sure this is a meaningful answer, and I have no background in philosophy, but I like to think of all possibilities as simultaneously existing and not existing across different dimensions (or you could think of it as across the infinite stretch of time, anything that ever can be will be). The chance of nothing existing could be BILLIONS of times more likely than the chance of something existing, but that means that once in every few billion alternate realities, there is existence. We might think, wow, we ended up in one of the very few realities that has existence, let alone life, let alone life capable of higher-level reasoning, what are the chances! But that’s only because only in those realities is anyone asking the question, so the chance of having a positive answer to the question “do I exist”, “or am I alive”, or “am I conscious” is 100%.

  • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

    I am religious, so yes, I have a quick answer. I don’t think your followup question is as tricky as you think. God is the reason that everything else is. Through him and by him came all things. Asking “Why was there an original creator?” makes as much sense as asking “Why is blue blue?” There is no why to it, no sinister or benevolent reason behind it. God is, hence everything.

    • Yaroslav

      Do you believe that there was beginning to universe as we perceive it? And if you do, then what was god doing through eternity before the beginning? And what after the end of human race?

      • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

        Yes, I believe there was a beginning to the universe. And the problem with talking about what God does outside of this universe (before, after, etc) is that outside of our universe is also outside of time. There is no before or after. God is above, within, and surrounding the universe, but we don’t have the right terminology to describe what it was and will be like before and after, because ‘before’ and ‘after’ are time words, and time started with the universe, and will end with it.

        • Yaroslav

          so, then you can still think about whether are we the first universe created by God.

          I’m trying to say that even if you are religious you can think about this more, you’ll have different aproach, but your goal is still the same, to understand the world better.

          • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

            I see what you mean, yes. I thought you were trying to start an argument, not trying to make me think. Too long on /r/debateachristian! 🙂 I agree, we can definitely always stand to think more on these issues, to try to understand the world better.

    • Blrp

      Sorry, we only accept real answers at this time. Try again later.

      (don’t, actually)

      • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

        Good to see that the open minded, discussion friendly Internet is alive and well.

        • People are so friendly, aren’t they?

        • Blrp

          What is there to be discussed? You made a bunch of assertions without backing them up with facts or reasoning.

          • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

            I used reasoning, I simply started from a point that assumed my religion was true. Given that in his post, Tim talked about how religious people have (paraphrasing) “a quick answer, except for question X,” I didn’t think I’d need to present a complete apologetic argument for my faith in order to attempt to answer question X. And you jumped on my response with derision. Not exactly discussion friendly, is it?

            • Blrp

              God is the reason that everything else is. Through him and by him came all things. This is an assertion.

              Asking “Why was there an original creator?” makes as much sense as asking “Why is blue blue?” This is another assertion.

              There is no why to it, no sinister or benevolent reason behind it. This is a slight elaboration of the previous assertion, but it is not reasoning; it is an assertion of its own that is as much in need of reasoning to back it up as the others.

              God is, hence everything. This is a reformulation of the first assertion.

              Even if you had provided reasoning for why your religion being correct would mean that you had an answer to the question, it would still be unwarranted and arrogant to say that “I don’t think your followup question is as tricky as you think”, because you’d only have an answer under a gigantic assumption.

            • Emily White

              I don’t think the point was that you were wrong, I think the point made was that you were rude about it which, while tempting, is not necessary

    • I am a Deist, so I appreciate your answer, but there are very specific reasons for blue being blue, so that’s a very bad comparison..

      • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

        Fair enough. I was trying to pick something obvious and self proving, but blue was perhaps a bad idea, you’re right. 🙂

    • Emily White

      I feel like this is a cop-out. ‘God is’ is not an answer to why. It might not be a comfortable thing to think about, and there’s certainly no easy answer, but saying things exist because they exist, or indeed that something is blue because it is blue, is not an answer at all. Restating the fact is not and never will be an answer. I’m not at all religious, but i don’t think religion really comes into it. Nobody can ever know /why/, and I think believing that anyone can have any sort of answer to an impossible question is the pinnicle of human arrogance

      • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

        You’re right, “God is” isn’t an answer to why. I wasn’t trying to answer “why,” I was trying to explain why asking why doesn’t really work. (A lot of whys in that sentence…) And you are certainly entitled to thinking that nobody can have an answer to a certain question, but it’s a little bit much to go on and say that believing in an answer to the question is the pinnacle of human arrogance… you don’t think that anybody can ever know why, and I think that they can. We believe the opposite, but I don’t think believing the opposite thing means the other person is arrogant… merely that they have a different point of view.

        • Emily White

          I didn’t mean that you per se were arrogant, and i’m sorry if this felt like I was attacking you specifically – that was not my intention. I do however think that it is arrogant to claim that you know the answer to a question that cannot possibly be answered. You can certainly believe in an answer, and I have no right to argue with your beliefs, but belief and knowledge are entirely different things. (for example, I believe that consciousness is an illusion and something that ends when our bodies stop working, but i would never claim to know such a thing) I think this is more a case of poor word-choice than anything more

          • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

            I understand where you’re coming from, but my problem is when you say that it’s a question that cannot possibly be answered. Your response seems to hinge on how we can’t know these things, and that the answer (if there is one) is one that none of us will ever know. So none of us can be absolutely sure. You are absolutely sure of that. Do you see the problem? You are absolutely sure that we will never be absolutely sure. So you have your answer then- it’s just that your answer is “We don’t and can’t know.” My answer is that we can know. We’re not so different as you might think.

            • Emily White

              By it’s very definition no one can possibly know how or why things came to exist. You believe in a theory, but you do not know. You cannot possibly know. And that is a fact, it is an objective truth that you do not know. I am absolutely sure that no one can possibly know. Because they were not there, and if you have not seen it or cannot prove it then you do not know. Maybe i’m not understanding your point, but i know that just because something is believed, that does not make it fact

            • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

              Yes, we might be crossing wires. More to say on this, but I have to be somewhere in 11 minutes, so I’ll try to respond later tonight.

            • Emily White

              I assume we’re in different time zones because for me it is after 11pm (unless of course you’re nocturnal), so while I look forward to your reply, I will most probably not reply until the morning.

            • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

              Haha, yes, I’m in the Eastern time zone. You were saying absolutely that you couldn’t know the answer to a certain question, and I was trying to suggest that perhaps you can know the answer to that question. While you might think the answer is unknowable (merely believable), your thinking it unknowable does not make it so. It’s like the analogy of religion to an elephant, and the different blind men feeling different parts representing people from different religions. It only works if you start out knowing the end product- that religion looks like an elephant, or in your case, that the question is unanswerable.

            • Emily White

              Im not sure that analogy works here. The elephant analogy implies (correctly) that only experiencing part of something means you cannot fully understand it. Im not sure exactly how that relates here? (having this conversation at 1am may prove to be a bad idea but we shall see how it pans out)

            • Kellyanne Fitzgerald

              Okay, but see– you’re starting with the knowledge that they only feel part of the elephant. So you know for sure that they are only experiencing part of it. That’s what I’m getting at- you’re starting with the assumption that the question is unanswerable. So anything from there out has to be wrong, not because it itself is wrong, but because of one of your axioms. Does that make sense, how they relate? And wow, 1am on a school/work night! You are braver than I.

            • Emily White

              I don’t feel like whether or not you can answer the question is a matter of opinion – there either is a definite answer or there isn’t. Also i’m moving on wednesday so i actually have nowhere to be for the next couple of days

  • Jean-Michel

    Science can’t answer this one, and religion is just a guess. I’m just hoping that we get to meet who-whatever created this universe because it’s beautiful beyond words, whethere you look to the tiniest quarks or the farthest galaxies. But my guess is that we’re meeting it-them right now while we’re alive, and that’s all we’ll get, so I’m trying to make the most of it.

    • Nathan M

      “Religion is just a guess.” That would be true if all religions were made by man as an attempt to get an answer. According to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, God was the one who sought after us, not the other way around. If those scriptures were telling the truth, it would make quite a bit of difference to the terms on which you’ll meet the Creator.

  • David Phillips

    Tim, whenever I want to feel like a helpless child, I think about this. Usually happens about once per week.

    • David Swanson

      Awesome, increase the frequency then. This is how you become young again! I’m not being sarcastic.

  • AnnaQS

    ok! So we get to the roots of physics here. Any one of you ever tried looking up at the night sky and imagining the size of the universe, billions of stars? And then, imagining that ALL OF IT came from ONE POINT? All this space shrinking into one point? And then, what was around that one point? Nothing, there was no space, as it was space itself that was expanding. Now I would like to hear ONE person saying how they can really, really truly embrace that fact and not only “understand” it. I understand it too, but no way can I imagine the beginning of TIME. Come on, really? I do understand it, it makes sense, but when I try to imagine……….

    To answer the question: I believe there are two options: one – there was always something or two – the existence of something is an incident (don’t make me explain how something can arise from nothing). Also, I am an atheist, but even if there was a god, he would have to start at some point, right?

  • Sj

    A simple exercise: – Imagine “nothing”. …Right. You imagined “something”, which is what your mind represents and understands as being “nothing”.
    We create our thoughts and conversations using concepts that were previously defined. All of them were learned and stored in our brains (or somewhere else, who knows where) as images, with associations (something) attached. Unless, we become able to take a step back and start thinking without using representations and defined concepts / go beyond the logical and rational thoughts, we will never be capable to give sense to those “things” that we labelled as “empty” or “nothing”.

  • d

    If we can conceptually conceive of infinity, then there can never really be a definitive answer to any question (for given quality of “us”, if you have to make it mathematical to feel comfortable)

  • v43

    . we are
    . the universe is
    . the universe is infinite
    . we are in space and time
    . time started with the universe
    hence nothing, is inconceivable. it has no space, it has no time, it does not exist.

    There might have been *something* else, though, but then you would wonder where that came from.
    There’s no solution;
    It’s a losing game;
    So my suggestion is, don’t play, it’s pointless.
    You’d better choose something to believe in and stick with it, or change your beliefs on your death bed for the most comfortable option, whatever..

    Personally, I’m convinced there’s no god. Whatever the reason why the universe exists, it will remain a mystery by the time I’m dead. And when I’ll dye, I’ll simply shut down and never boot up again. So I try to make the most of my up time and ignore problems which are so out of scope. Just giving this answer feels like a waste of time. I wish you felt the same.
    cheers

    • Blrp

      Yeah, we’re all aware that there is something rather than nothing. That doesn’t mean nothing is invalid as a concept.

      • v43

        as a concept, of the mind

        • Blrp

          what

  • Jonathan
    • Blrp

      Embarrassingly terrible. I get what he’s getting at, though, which is something like “the fact that a question can be asked, doesn’t mean that it deserves an answer”. But he views the question as a scientist, which is incorrect.

  • Phusion755

    Going to go with Edgar Allan Poe for this one

    “Take this kiss upon the brow!
    And, in parting from you now,
    Thus much let me avow —
    You are not wrong, who deem
    That my days have been a dream;
    Yet if hope has flown away
    In a night, or in a day,
    In a vision, or in none,
    Is it therefore the less gone?
    All that we see or seem
    Is but a dream within a dream.

    I stand amid the roar
    Of a surf-tormented shore,
    And I hold within my hand
    Grains of the golden sand —
    How few! yet how they creep
    Through my fingers to the deep,
    While I weep — while I weep!
    O God! Can I not grasp
    Them with a tighter clasp?
    O God! can I not save
    One from the pitiless wave?
    Is all that we see or seem
    But a dream within a dream?”

  • Green0Photon

    My guess? The universe and everything is described using math, and I think that eventually we’ll be able to describe everything with pure math and constants. Hell, those constants might arise because of math (like the way pi arises).

    In math, is something can exist, it does. (That sounds weird, but if I write any equation, this relationship could exist. Because it is using math that is consistent, it exists. In the same way a pattern exists, math does.) Math exists. If our universe is math, it must exist.

    Get what I mean? Our universe can be described and therefore is a subset of math. Therefore it can exist, therefore it does. A subset of this is multiverse theory, where every possible combination of universes exist. Likewise, if every possible combination of math exists, one of those combinations is the set of universes like ours. This set is the multiverse set. The multiverse above that (where physics are different) might be the set of multiverses made of different constants. This set might only include the original level multiverse, because the constants might arise like pi does in the math. This set exists among other complex sets of equations (assuming you can’t just describe our universe in one equation) which may or may not describe universes.

    Does that make sense? Also, it means that we couldn’t interact with anything outside of our own universe, just like how one graph can’t affect another because that doesn’t make sense.

    All possibilities exist. We’re just on one branch. Kinda.

    tl;dr: We are math which can exist so we do.

    • Stathis

      I would really like to read an article on whether maths always existed or we invented them in order to help us understand the world and everything around us.

    • David Swanson

      “2+2=Reality”, a pamphlet by William Samuel.

  • Jerome

    For me this isn’t that hard. There is life and life demands that there is something.
    Now you may think that answer is not much better than the question but it is much better and it is truthful.

    Also for me, I can’t decide which is the bigger load of BS. Is it the biblical story of creation or is it the “scientific” story of the “Big Bang”. They are both nonsense because they both require a pre-existent something to get things started and the pre-existent thing is “undefined”.

    So it’s like this.
    Why does “A” exist?
    “A” exists because of “B”
    Ok, so why does “B” exist?
    Well, we can’t say.
    If you can’t say why “B” exists then your story about “A” is just nonsense.

    So in the above example, if “A” is the universe and “B” is either God or the singularity then you haven’t explained anything.

  • David Schtulberg
    • G. Emswiler

      Does that really leave us any better than the original question? God as an answer leaves us with just as many questions if not creating even more.

  • Shaun

    What if nothing is just another arbitrary point?

  • Kunal Menda

    To ask why there is something instead of nothing is to assume that everything must have a cause. This is the assumption of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). However if one were to follow an empiricist’s (such as Hume) or Kant’s philosophies, they would be skeptical of the fact that the PSR is an a posteriori claim that is only justified through experience and inductive inference. Thereby, it is not a necessary truth and need not extend to the metaphysical realm of explaining reality. And hence our Universal existence need not have a cause or explanation.

    Bonus note: Assume you do accept the PSR as necessary. This would entail that every truth is a necessary truth (search van Inwagen and Bennett), and thus that there is no free will. Between the two, I find it easier to stomach the fact that the PSR is not necessary.

  • Ksenia Kolchina

    The mere fact that things exist means that there has never been or could have been ‘nothing’ as we try envisioning it. Therefore It is a concept that has been coined by us, humans, and we are now trying to apply it to the universe and existence. Which is rather ironic as only we can first come up with something and then get over-obsessed with it

    • Nathan M

      That’s true, but it doesn’t answer the question.

      • Ksenia Kolchina

        Nathan, what I’m saying, in essence, is that I don’t believe it’s a fruitful question to ask in the first place. We came up with a linguistic (nothing) and mathematical (zero) representation of a human idea – it’s all there is to it

        • Nathan M

          What makes a question fruitful?

          • Ksenia Kolchina

            In my mind, the possibility of deriving an answer, or learning something in the process of trying to explore the subject if we cannot answer the question immediately. To me this particular question is akin to debating over whether a god exists, which I don’t think is particularly fruitful. In both cases ‘God’ and ‘nothing/zero’ is simply a name to a an abstract human idea, rooted in our inherent need to created labels in order to make sense of ourselves and everything that’s around us

            • Nathan M

              I find it interesting that you claim A Priori knowledge of the nonexistence of God. If there is a spiritual being who interacts with the physical world, wouldn’t the question of his existence become fruitful?

  • Zoltan

    Consider another question: what if the universe were nothing but pure empty space. Would that qualify as nothing? If yes, then we already have a much richer idea of nothing. A thing that could have contained something, just happened to have nothing. On the other hand if empty space is something, then our original idea of no space and no time may also qualify as something in the context of something bigger that we cannot see and cannot comprehend. What if there’s not even such thing as nothing. It’s just an idea which is relative to something that we know.

  • girly freak

    I’ve asked myself this question of course a thousand times at least as most of the WBW-readers have done looking at the comments below.

    I have accepted now that this is just a law of nature that there is something, just as gravitation. Of course this is not satisfying.

    Maybe there is a logical explaination for that. Taking into consideration that we just see those 3 dimensions (4, if you involve time) and there might be another 7 dimensions (if string theory is right), we might just not be able to understand this question of why there is something without living in all 11 dimensions.

  • Jack Carroll

    Could it be that the universe is an infinite folded fractal? No, then where did infinity come from? Quantum Mechanics created it? No, but then, where the hell did those quantum laws come from? What the fuck, why are we even here?!
    It seems to me that any explanation we could possibly come up with is limited by our stupid primate brains that were built to survive in the wilderness. We literally can’t imagine the concept of Nothing, since it wasn’t necessary for survival. So how the hell are we supposed to come up with an answer?
    No, I’m too stubborn to accept that there isn’t a solution.
    Ah, here’s a good one: what if everything is a hyper-universe? Zogg from Betelgeuse explains it better in his No Edge series on YouTube, but a hyper-cube involves taking a cube of space and connecting opposite sides of it with portals (a la Valve’s Portal series). What if time is like that? What if everything is like that? Maybe a “portal” connects the Heat Death of the universe to the Big Bang somehow.
    Dammit, that doesn’t sound right, either! What started the loop? Shit, this is harder than I thought…
    This sounds stupid, but what if… The Nothing got bored of being Nothing and decided to make Something?
    Hear me out on this one. We’re all conscious, and can agree on that. But what makes us conscious? Tim mentions a Consciousness Scale in one of his articles, and it seems never to end. What if everything is conscious? What if the universe is a shared consciousness, and we just can’t access that level of connection yet? Maybe Nothing shared that consciousness and got really fucking bored. I know I’d get bored of nothing after a while.
    That sounds cool (if REALLY Sci-fi and slightly cheesy), and it might explain a lot, but it runs into a wall. Where does the Nothing get its consciousness from?
    Arrgh, this is driving me crazy. Alright, one more try: maybe what we experience is part of a pool of Nothing, and our universe is a swirling blob of probability among infinite others? We are still surrounded by Nothing, and the Nothing still “exists,” but maybe just being Nothing brings about infinite bubbles of probability, just like simply being massive gives you inertia, and gravity. It’s a part of what we are.
    That last one was close, but it seems a bit off, too. What gives Nothing its properties?
    Bah, I’ve gone and spent an hour on this. Thank you Tim, for this awesome question, but I think I’ll take a rest from trying to solve the universe’s greatest mysteries. That’s ridiculously exhausting.

    • AnnaQS

      I actually believe that consciousness is scalable. Or maybe I’m trying to understand that as a super cool and most probable option.

    • marisheba

      Wonderful job tunneling through the logical conclusions though – I suppose it all amounts to different ways of counting the turtles that go all the way down, but some ways of counting are more interesting or useful than others.

  • Emily White

    I read this post to my parents in the hope that it would spark a meaningful discussion but it ended in the exact opposite. My dad kept saying that the answer was god and refused to acknowledge any other answer (he doesn’t believe in god, he was just being contrary) and my mum got angry at me for posing a question that was pointless and concluded that things exist because we can see them. I don’t exactly know why this is relevant, but i think the point im trying to make is that in trying to find an answer to an unanswerable question, we’ll just find more questions. Example: what is nothing? is it possible to perceive nothing, or is it a concept like infinity where it is something we are aware exists, but will never be able to truly imagine?

    • David Swanson

      Yes, it makes people uncomfortable, doesn’t it?

      You can’t imagine nothing, and you can’t perceive nothing. But nothing is aware. That’s what the awareness reading these words is! You can know this for yourself if you look closely enough.

      • Emily White

        I’m not sure if this is patronising or i’m misinterpreting your tone…but i think i agree with you?

        • David Swanson

          Not patronising – I have noticed that many people just don’t want to think about this. They seem to feel threatened by it even, although it’s just a question.

          • Emily White

            I guess it is just a question, but it’s a big question, and it’s a question that requires a person to question what they believe. From my experience, people generally don’t like to question what they believe to be true

    • Phusion755

      Not to answer your question but as a possible explanation to your mum’s reaction, this might be interesting to watch

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vpqilhW9uI

      • Emily White

        I’m going to be honest, that video is 18 minutes long and i’m probably not going to watch it (sorry) but my mum doesn’t see the point in thinking about things she can’t answer, her response was not at all unexpected and judging by the title of the video, you were implying that this is somehow to do with IQ?

        • marisheba

          It’s a really interesting video, and worth watching in full. But the TL;DW version is that the talk doesn’t suggest it has anything to do with IQ, but with a generational increase in the degree of sophistication of abstract and hypothetical thinking vs concrete thinking–it has nothing to do with peoples’ inherent capacity for intelligence though.

          • Emily White

            I may watch it when it is not 1am, but that makes sense

        • Phusion755

          Nope, the title is pretty misleading in this case. Had more to do with our increasing ability at tackling imaginary problems and thinking more abstract in each succeeding generation

    • Jane Lin

      I don’t need to ask my parents to know that they’d react the same way. I’m not sure if it’s because their age means they’ve moved past all this years ago, or that they genuinely just have no interest in questions like this because there are ‘more practical’ things to be concerned about.

  • jasvisp

    I remember the first time I thought about all of ‘this’. I was a little girl camping out with my family and looking at the sky filled with stars when my Dad said something like ” this is not all there is. The sky goes on and on and on into infinity, it never ends.” I actually had a physical reaction….sort of like a wave of shock and excitement and a bit of fear all rolled together. It was magical. Even now, decades later, I still have the same reaction when I take the time to really think about our existence and the how and why.

  • Jales Naves Júnior

    Tim, check the comments more oftenly. A thousand people had already suggested this as a dinner table things and/or as a whole post (me included). That’s the ultimate question of them all. I’ve started to ponder about this as a very little kid, and it freaked me out.

    I also think of nothing from my something-biased point of view: black vaccuum. Which is innacurate, I know. Since I’ve never reached anywhere in my life, I’ll make sure to refresh this page every 5 minutes.

  • Accepting God moves the argument to the supernatural and metaphysical realm. The supernatural universe and the idea of eternal beings, and the like, makes the material physical universe suddenly seem small and we can accept a lot more possible reasons. The other conclusion from accepting God, is that one accepts the universe was thus “created,” which is quite remarkable, because then we ask …”why” instead of “how”.

  • Joeswam

    The words of Stephen Hawking from his book, “The Grand Design”

    “If the total energy of the universe must always remain zero, and it costs energy to create a body, how can a whole universe be created from nothing? That is why there must be a law like gravity. Because gravity is attractive, gravitational energy is negative: One has to do work to separate a gravitationally bound system, such as the earth and moon. This negative energy can balance the positive energy needed to create matter, but it’s not quite that simple. The negative gravitational energy of the earth, for example, is less than a billionth of the positive energy of the matter particles the earth is made of. A body such as a star will have more negative gravitational energy, and the smaller it is (the closer the different parts of it are to each other), the greater this negative gravitational energy will be. But before it can become greater than the positive energy of the matter, the star will collapse to a black hole, and black holes have positive energy. That’s why empty space is stable. Bodies such as stars or black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can.

    Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable. On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of the matter CAN be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction on the creation of whole universes. Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing… Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue torch paper and set the universe going.”

    Attempt to comprehend at your own risk.

    tl;dr gravitational energy is negative, it takes positive energy to create matter, the gravity of a universe has enough negative energy to balance the positive energy it would take to make a universe, thus universes can spontaneously create themselves

    • Phusion755

      But why is there gravity? Or any other mathematical backbones to our cosmos for that matter?

      • Joeswam

        I think this is what marisheba is getting at when she says it kicks the can down the road, and its one of the questions that came to me, too, after reading Hawking’s explanation. It almost seems to raise more questions than it answers. Why should a physical law of the universe even be a factor before the universe itself exists?
        I’m leaning towards an ‘anthropic principle’-ish answer. If there was a non-zero chance that a universe could exist with natural laws that would allow for it to be spontaneously created, then that universe would HAVE to come into existence, eventually, within the infinite nothingness.

        But again, there is no ‘chance’ or ‘natural laws’ or ‘creation’ in nothingness, there’s just nothing… maybe not even that.

    • marisheba

      This makes a weird kind of sense to me, though I have a sneaking
      suspicion that that only indicates that I’m not actually understanding
      it very well.

      At the same time, I feel it kicks the can down the road a ways. Okay, so maybe it sorta/kinda/vaguely explains why there is *something*, but it leaves the glaring question of why something takes the form it does, follows the relationships it does, how matter “knows”. It highlights that why is there *something* isn’t the ultimate question; rather ultimate question is: “why are there natural laws that dictate the behavior of something and nothing” – which to me is really the same question – thinking of “something” as matter and energy is a bit too literal.

    • Jane Lin

      “Attempt to comprehend at your own risk”
      I feel like you should have put that before the Hawking blurb instead of after, my brain hurts :/

  • epistememe

    Simple probability
    There is only one “true” nothing and possibly an infinite of “somethings”. That there is “something” reaches a probability approaching 1.

  • Nathan M

    I have concluded that it is impossible to answer why there is something instead of nothing.

    What we can say is that all of physical reality either simply IS, or something nonphysical created it. I find it much easier to accept a First Cause outside of causal reality than the idea that it’s “turtles all the way down,” with all of time and space just… existing. In part because it didn’t used to. So what changed that? Quantum fluctuations and laws of physics that only apply to a reality that doesn’t exist “yet”?

    For this topic, mere intellectual honesty should allow you to acknowledge the possibility of the supernatural, even if you call it something something different than I do.

    I have much better reasons for believing there is a God, and many of them, from many areas of science, philosophy, and history. Instead of any of that, I’ll leave you with the following idea:
    It isn’t possible to be instantly and permanently healed of depression just by imagining that God told me that He would heal me at that very moment.

  • Ana

    If the problem is that there is something when there might as well be nothing (so assuming no other prior knowledge or factors, something and nothing would have equal probability), I think you might look at this like selection bias: if or when there actually was nothing, there was no one to think about it. Accidentally we are in this situation when there is something, so we’ll also ask this question.

  • Jonathan

    I find questions like this extremely fun. It’s why I read Wait But Why. Many many bigger smarter books have been written about it than I can. Sorry!

    My one philosophy professor pointed out that you can do math to figure out the length of a hypotenuse. You can “Know” that math. Yet when you bring it into the real world, no line can be that straight… there will always be atomic gigglyness. Thus, the professor told us, you can imagine in your mind something “True” that can never “Exist”

    Maybe nothingness can be “True” but it can’t “Exist”. What I mean is, maybe nothingness is just an impossible “Ideal” just like that straight line hypotenuse. (Though with Entropy its sounds like our universe is speeding towards something close to it) Maybe we’re like the Whos… Caught on a speck of dust in an exploding firework of a universe shooting though space, soon to fade into eternal dark.

    You can now: Obsessively research and become an astrophysicist-philosopher OR find a story to cling to OR go mad OR feel grateful you exist in a time where these sorts of questions are permitted and keep asking and enjoy the thrill of being in unknowing free-fall. (Or a combination of the above)

    “We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world.
    We give little thought to the machinery that generates the sunlight that
    makes life possible, to the gravity that glues us to an Earth that
    would otherwise send us spinning off into space, or to the atoms of
    which we are made and on whose stability we fundamentally depend. Few of
    us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is; where the
    cosmos came from, or whether it was always here; if time will one day
    flow backward and effects precede causes; or whether there are ultimate
    limits to what humans can know. What is the smallest piece of matter.
    Why do we remember the past and not the future. And why there is a
    universe.” – Carl Sagan

  • Sarah Lois Covington

    To explain why Something exists is somewhat a religious question, but you already acknowledged one logical answer….time, space, and matter must come from a source that is timeless, space-less, and immaterial to be the Cause. In our vocabulary, that would be a godlike force, necessitating a god.

    I’ve been engaged in two books that logically seek to demolish fog and follow Truism as you call it and follow the logical path you’re traveling and facing the questions you are running into… and i think you would find them interesting “Stealing From God” by Frank Turek is the first, and yes, it discusses ideas about what a god can and cannot be just the same as you do: objectively.

    If this question is keeping you up at night, you might as well do some reading. If you don’t want to buy a copy, i’ll ship you mine.

    Religion is anciently expressed and most churches talk to people on Step 1, so that no one is confused except for those of us on Step 2 and Step 3. Then we need real answers. Apologetics has scientific logical answers and admits we don’t know everything. The spiritual crowd really have kept evolving and incorporating science…but everyone stopped listening to us when the fights broke out at the early stages. And just like you’ve point out-i don’t blame them.
    I’m glad you think this is a worthwhile topic. I’d love to send you my copy if you’d like.

  • Paul

    Because even nothing is something, maybe we don’t exist and it all an illusion.

  • Doc c

    The beauty (and the only beauty) of that question, is that we can answer it only with our imaginations. Though our imagination is limited by our experiences, the fact that we can even imagine that there could be nothing cannot arise from any real experience. Therein lies the window to the answer.

  • Adam

    The idea of a ‘multiverse’ (whatever that means, given that the universe by definition contains the entirety of space and everything within it) doesn’t solve anything, nor does a deity. The question “why is there something?” should be just as profound and strange to anyone, whether religious or not, whether they believe the universe is finite or infinite etc.

    And I don’t have a clue why there is something, so I won’t pretend I do. Sorry Tim.

  • patrick

    Tim,

    I think Joel’s answer makes a lot of sense. You are being too metaphysical with your thinking. When we look at the world and see stuff, we call them “things” and put it into our brains as a concept. Like “this is a thing”. And then when a thing isn’t there, we say “nothing is here”. So then the concept of “no-thing” arises. Even though what we were really talking about is the absence of an object in a room or cupboard or whatever.

    If you get philosophical, you can look at the world and be like “why are there things?”, but stuff is just there. Like you said, quantum physics dictates that shit has to be there. The concept of “nothing” is just a mind-exercise and nothing more. Look to science for what vacuums are, but otherwise, the world doesn’t care about what you think constitutes as “nothing”.

    As for why those rules are set up, and what’s outside the universe, idk lol

    • marisheba

      I would argue that your last line amounts to the same question that Tim is already asking. If quantum mechanics dictates there must be something, then the question of “why is there something instead of nothing” is the same as asking “why is there quantum mechanics”–I think this is the sort of question that always ends up down a rabbit hole if you chase it far enough.

  • Hannah Jones

    I’ve thought about this too! I believe in God and that Earth is just a kind of simulation compared to the eternal world (so to speak) but yes, I don’t know why that larger world exists of itself.
    I’m just glad there is stuff. Not that if there wasn’t, I’d be conscious of it, but anyway.

  • LiliHikari

    When we think about Nothing, we imagine something. Some vacuum, or some empty space…anything, so it would be easier (hah -.-) to explain, and maybe eventually understand Nothing. But if we present Nothing as an opposite of Something, it could mean that we also don’t really understand what
    Something is.
    Knowing what Something IS, doesn’t mean knowing what Nothing is. But not knowing what Nothing is, means not knowing what Something is. How can we know that something isn’t Nothing if we don’t know what Something is. Of course, this sounds stupid from the point of existence: If something exists, than it’s Something. And Nothing is an opposite of that. But what that opposite means? What ‘exists’ mean? (I don’t feel like thinking in this direction right now… :P)
    Let’s say that this existence thing up there is right. And let’s imagine (or not xD) that universe has its ending. And that someone somehow got to the end of it. What would happen there, at that end, after which is, presumably Nothing? If it’s truly Nothing, than how can you even perceive that? No human sense could truly understand that.
    Let’s look at this from another perspective. Imagine a person without senses. How would a world be like to that person? How could any existance be perceivable (if that’s a real word :P) to that person? For that person there wouldn’t be anything, for him/her being incapable to sense it. And if being like that, how could they ever perceive Something, if only thing for them is Nothing, they don’t have opposite, they cannot compare….If you cannot see color, there isn’t red and not-red to you. Everything is the same. Maybe not the same from some other points, but from the point of color – same.
    And from the point of existence, couldn’t it be that Nothing and Something is the same for humans, because we don’t have the power, ability or the sense to perceive the difference?
    Like always, this kind of thinking ends with question :/

  • marisheba

    I agree with Tim that this is THE question. And that it is the question to make you crazy. And a question that is intimately intwined with the other crazy-making 3-in-the-morning questions about consciousness and death and self.

    But for me the question of why there is *stuff*: matter and energy, is too literal. Physicists sort of have answers for that (there’s a great Steven Hawking quote in a comment below), but those explanations avoid a yet deeper question about where the laws of the universe come from. If something can come from nothing, then clearly that nothing had some of kind of potentiality for laws or somethingness – hence it was never nothing after all. And once that somethingness emerges, it seems to come into being already understanding and being subject to an incredibly complex, specific set of laws about energy, mass, force and gravity, and knows how to organize itself. Why is THAT the case? That, to me, is the real meaning of why is there something and not nothing–it forces you to ask what something is, and why the things in our universe take the forms they do.

    I don’t have any good answers, but here’s the closest I can get: Sometimes the arbitrariness of everything around me gives me a near panic attack–why is it that that chair over there (to take another commenter’s example) is where it is, and not two inches to the left, or two atoms to the left, or a different chair entirely? What does it *mean*? But of course meaning isn’t necessary, most things simply are. And while it’s incredibly improbable that the chair should be in its exactly location, it is *more* improbable that the chair should wink out of existence entirely, so it ends up in the most probable place. And so it goes with everything, and it’s not such a big deal, and I can calm down and stop having a panic attack. And maybe the arbitrariness of the physical laws of the universe, and of the existence of a whole lot of *something*, is much the same.

  • Dillon

    Does nothing have to be an infinite amount of nothing? Like, wouldn’t any bounds on nothingness be grounds for something? So, assuming actual nothingness has to be infinite, then maybe something is bound to come from nothing due to nothingness being infinite?

    • Sarah Lois Covington

      either
      1 no one created something out of nothing,
      or
      2 someone created something out of nothing

      but we have Something, and Nothing is unable to conceive.

      • Dillon

        No, you don’t know that. Nothingness might be able to.

        Our brains might not be able to digest the ideas of an actual infinity and an actual boundless nothingness. It totally could spawn something, maybe a truly infinite amount of anything or nothing is likely to eventually spawn something, maybe even everything, since it has unlimited span of opportunities to do so.

        Like, maybe if you had a goldfish that lived forever in a bowl. Eventually that goldfish could just turn blue, out of nowhere, for no reason. Because it has an infinite amount of opportunity to do so. Maybe like that, the everything that is anything spawned from complete nothingness because complete nothingness is infinite, meaning there is an unlimited amount of opportunity for something to come from nothing so it eventually did.

  • Casey

    It follows from our understanding of the universe that every single
    possible program exists including every possible kind of simulated
    universe. Why is that? The state of any point in space requires an
    infinite amount of information to describe (since QM says this state is
    given by a function in a Hilbert space). Then, we can interpret this
    infinite amount of wiggle as implementing every single program on some
    universal Turing machine (in the same way as we interpret flipping
    magnet switches on our computers as writing to the tape of some
    particular universal Turing machine). So a tiny bit of our own reality
    already spits out every possible reality, including our own if it is
    computable!

  • Richard Anders

    Everything is something. Nothing is just an idea and ideas are nothing…. Like Plato’s perfect forms. If existence wasn’t observed in a universe without life, like a tree falling in the woods would it really exist?

    The nothing would have nothing if it wasn’t for the something and the something would be nothing if it wasn’t for the nothing.

  • ericsp23

    I think I understand what Achenbach is saying. I think he’s saying Nothingness is a concept that only exists in the minds of sentient beings that exists in the “something” of our universe. There isn’t any really scientifically valid reason that, because there is something now, the opposite condition must have existed in reality. The laws of the universe as we understand them right now don’t require that, so there isn’t really any need to tie ourselves up in logical knots trying to come to terms with the idea.

  • marisheba

    One other thought: because the existence of the universe and its laws, the existence of anything at all, is so utterly inexplicable–truly the greatest mystery of all time–I think it is equally logical to believe that the universe has meaning (in whatever metaphysical form you understand that meaning), as not. If we can’t explain the most basic basics of reality, then how can we know one way or the other whether there is intentionality or meaning hidden somewhere inside of it?

    My imagination has been pretty captured by ideas such as: that consciousness, curiosity, and even playfulness being inherent properties of reality (after all, they exist in us – so where did they come from? Just spontaneously from nowhere?), buddhist-type ideas about the connection and oneness of all things, and other ideas that verge on the metaphysical (though, if true, would just be science we don’t yet understand). While I’m not sure it could be said that I “believe” any of these things, I find it comforting that there is no reason to rule out a universe with meaning, and that conclusion directly follows from realizing how hopeless we are at explaining our own existence and reality.

  • Nic

    I think one can define ‘God’ as “an entity that the human race is not only incapable of emulating, but also incapable of understanding”. When you look at the universe, there are lots of questions that not only do we not understand, we are *incapable* of ever understanding. “Why is there space?”, “What is time and why are we in it?” and “What is the deepest question about the existence of our universe that humans will ever ask?” are all questions that can never be answered. In particular, we all become 4 year olds with the question “why?” – in some cases, it will always only lead to more questions.

    If God is something humans are incapable of ever understanding, and there are things humans are incapable of understanding, then by that definition, there is a God. It may not be sentient, it may not even have aims, but it must exist. And the answer to all of these questions is “God” (i.e. we do not and will never know).

    • Scott

      Are you saying that if we don’t understand something and are never able to understand it, then that thing must exist? That allows us to spontaneously bring things to existence just by our incomprehension of them. I don’t see the validity in that argument.

      • Nic

        Not causation, no. My argument is that there *does* exist a set of things that are outside our ability to comprehend (and that God could be defined as that set), not that incomprehension causes existence. The thought that *some* have that correlation does not mean that *all* do.

        • Scott

          Ah ok. That makes sense as long as you mean that there is a set of “concepts” that exist outside of our comprehension. The concept of god certainly exists, but that does not mean that God itself does exist, just the concept of him.

          • Nic

            So I defined God there as “the set of things outside the realm of human comprehension”. You could also think of it as God = Paradox. Logically then, if something exists that is outside of our ability to comprehend, then that definition of God must exist. So it’s a really weak proof of God because it relies on that definition. By that definition God MUST exist (maybe not logically speaking, but in practical terms, there have to be things out there we are unable to comprehend). But it’s also really easy to say that the definition I proposed isn’t how you think of God. You could just as easily say it’s proof of the existence of paradox, or proof that humans are not smart enough. The point I’m trying to make is that there have to be things that we will never understand – those things may have meaning or they may not. But it’s enough evidence to suggest that you at least can’t prove God *doesn’t* exist.

            And to bring it back to the topic, you can’t prove that “nothing” exists or doesn’t exist either.

            It’s similar to hypothesis testing – something has to be rejectable to be testable. “Nothing” is not confirmable in this sense. It’s like trying to prove that man will always have two feet – you might be able to eventually prove that man *won’t*, by showing that we will evolve to have flippers, say. But you can’t prove that we will always have feet, because there isn’t a test to confirm it won’t change. You can’t confirm nothing actually exists, because maybe everything is something and you just haven’t seen it yet. And when you boil it down, the fundamental questions of the universe will always fail the scientific method, because the really important stuff cannot be tested in that way.

            • Scott

              Ok well that makes sense if you define God in that sense, but I think you have to qualify that more clearly since most people don’t define God in that way, and you first defining God as an “entity” threw me off.
              As for not ever being able to understand the really important stuff, I wouldn’t discredit the human race that quickly. There are many things that we have discovered and done that were once written off as impossible and unknowable. We don’t know the extent of our extent, so it’s tough to make hard claims that there are things that we will never know, which by your own logic is not provable. I’m sure many once said the same thing about the explanation of life before Darwin.

            • Nic

              Agreed that the human race is suprisingly capable. However, this is a fundamental breakdown in a number of different ways of reasoning. Let’s take two examples:

              (1) Logic – logic requires reasoning based on a set of assumptions, and manipulating those assumptions to “prove” new things (assuming those assumptions are true). However, logic has no way to go “backward” – given assumptions, find the thing those assumptions came from. There’s no way to really trace backwards to an original source of truth.

              (2) Science suffers a similar problem – we can go “forward” by disproving things, but we can never completely “prove” anything. The scientific method just doesn’t allow it.

              One of the first rules of epistemology is that when it comes to what we truly know, the answer is “nothing”. As a race, we have proven completely unable to get to a single source of truth. Does that mean it won’t happen? Not *technically*, but I and many others don’t see how it would. There are just too many rabbit holes that seem to be infinitely deep.

              As far as the definition of “God”, the reason I am defining it that way is that it’s the deciding factor in whether you believe in a God or not. Lots of things are unsolved, and many will probably never be. Is that eternal mysteriousness God? Or is it just something else far beyond our understanding? The answer to that question is the only thing that can really determine your beliefs.

            • Scott

              In logic you can work backwards, as in premises of one argument can be conclusions from a previous argument, but yes I accept that you will always run into the infinite regress issue (turtles all the way down…). I also accept that we can never prove anything with 100% certainty, which you go on to say that means we “truly know nothing”. But I really don’t like this jump because it’s not the way we actually live our lives.

              Do I accept that any belief has to have some level of doubt, absolutely. But does that mean that I know nothing?? Only if you say to “know” something is to be 100% certain, which I think is a pointless definition of the word.

              Certainty in a belief is a scale, from 0% to 100% (with both 0 and 100 not obtainable). For me, as I become more and more certain in a belief, which the scientific method allow for exactly that, it crosses a threshold where I accept it as true, and live my life as if it were true. This to me, is knowledge. Can knowledge be wrong, change, be open to interpretation? Of course, but that shouldn’t stop us from attempting to ascertaining the truth, which the scientific method has empirically proved to be a fantastic way to do this, and accepting certain beliefs as true knowledge.

  • Luke

    I think one of the best answers is offered via the ‘Anthropic Principle’. Simply stated, the principle asserts that in order to observe anything, an observer must exist. This principle comes in lots of shapes and sizes and is discussed a little in Hawking’s “A brief history of time”.

  • Tom Miller

    Of course, the “something from nothing” theory (see Larry Kraus – excellent book by the same name) suggests that nothing isn’t really nothing. There is no such thing as nothing – what we think of as nothing (empty space, no gravity, no time, no particles) is actually still “something” (unstable quantum timey wimey stuff). If that’s the case, then nothing is merely a human construct that doesn’t actually exist (except for within mathematics).

    As for “WHY is there something”, again that can be thought of as a human construct. There are answers, but the answers are “how did something come to be”, not really “*why* is there something”.

    It’s a bit like “why are we here?”. That question, when asked by most, would be better phrased “what is the purpose of us being here”. There is an answer for that (we evolved), and you can go backwards and backwards – which is why kids just keep saying “but why?” 🙂 every answers is unsatisfying in the purpose context.

    And purpose suggests design, which is why God and Creationist theory is so appealing to humans.

    Richard Dawkins has a great seminar on this very subject (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT4EWCRfdUg) – “The purpose of purpose”, which is well worth a watch.

  • Frank

    well then.. just smile 🙂

  • Josh

    Saying that nothing is inherently unstable attributes a character to nothingness, turning it into something. So then the unstable nothing is something.

  • Lee Harrison

    If there weren’t a physical world, does that mean that there would be nothing? Is there nothing beyond the natural? In the strictest scientific sense, that is an a priori assumption which can neither be proved nor disproved. Your argument that the “religious explanation inevitably hits the same wall” implicitly makes that same assumption, that the “creator” is still somehow within the realm of the natural and therefore falls victim to the same conundrum. Why do we (some of us, anyway) even ponder this question that truly has no bearing or significance on our physical existence or survival in this world? Maybe it a very faint reflection of that world that could be beyond the “natural”.

  • Innocent Bystander

    I refuse to post an answer to this question.

  • ScHmo

    sure this has been thought/said before but is something and nothing, or being and not being the only two states of existence? or are there other states we cannot even fathom? what if this big bang, expanding universe and/or multi-verse is the birth – a rapid birth, instantaneous but billions of years to us and it is just a construct to nothingness? but that’s something, isn’t it?
    ok. been sitting here watching the cursor flash for… ten minutes?
    if there is nothing, i would love to experience it. what a massive, free, crushing feeling. but then that would be something. i don’t think we can even imagine anything but something.

  • Bradley

    I think the reason this question is so puzzling is because nothing cannot exist without something, and vice versa. In order to be aware of nothing there has to be something, so ultimately it’s just a paradox.

    In my personal opinion religion answers this question the best, there’s a God out there who created things for his enjoyment and because why not? You’re a God. That’s what I think most will probably disagree with the religion side, feel free to reply with your opinions of my opinion!

  • Natalia

    I like to think of death as nothingness. If we finally reach the point in society where we overcome death and prolong life indefinitely, would we still find this question as important?

  • JustSayin

    Tim, you’ll get over this. Contemplating the universe and all things related to it is a rite of passage. Maybe I’m too old to be butting in on you youngsters while you mull these things over, but since I can’t resist your posts, I find myself weighing in. When I was a teen (17 in ’65) I once heard that it would take 400 years to learn everything there was to know at that point in time. Made me want to give up. Why bother going to college? That wouldn’t even make a dent in what I didn’t know. But I kept keepin’ on, and when I got to the “something/nothing” point where you are now, it suddenly made sense to just “be”. Now, go get some sleep 😉

    • jasvisp

      We should never feel we are too old to weigh in on anything. Ageism is the last “ism” which needs to go…..and I am a Conservative.

  • Tamas Kalman

    Solipsism was first recorded by the Greek presocratic sophist, Gorgias (c. 483–375 BC) who is quoted by the Roman skeptic Sextus Empiricus as having stated:

    1. Nothing exists.
    2. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it.
    3. Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.

    Much of the point of the Sophists was to show that “objective” knowledge was a literal impossibility.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism

  • Jasieu

    -> Birp

    Is “nothing” really a mental concept? I don’t think so. Here’s why.

    As an example of a mental concept, let’s consider “darkness”, generally defined as the absence of “light”.

    While we can create “light”, we cannot in the same sense create “darkness”. We can only remove “light” and call the result “darkness”, because it is a condition which we can sense, i.e. a mental concept. But there is no flashlight (flashdark?) which creates darkness when you turn it on.

    We can create “something” just as we can create “light”. But we cannot create “nothing” any more than we can create “darkness”: we can only remove “something” and call the result “nothing”.

    The problem is that the absence of “something” really isn’t “nothing”. We may not be able to be aware of what really comprises what we are calling “nothing”, but it’s a safe bet that “nothing” is not the absense of “something”. In other words, “nothing” really is “something”.

    So it would seem that “awareness” is the key, and it would then follow that “something” and “nothing” are not conditions, not mental concepts, as are “light” and “darkness”. The conditions, the mental concepts, are really “awareness” and “unawareness”, with “something” and “nothing” being what our senses can detect within those conditions.

    That means that what we are calling “nothing” is really our “unawareness”. The failure of our senses to detect “something” does not mean that there is “nothing” there.

    😉

    • Jane Lin

      On a side note, a flashdark would be so totally cool! I imagine a device shaped vaguely like a flashlight but when you turn it on it sucks all the light from the nearby area of some radius (depending on how powerful the flashdark is).

      Oh wait, J.K. Rowling has already invented that…

      • Nic

        There actually is such a thing as a flashdark. You might refer to it as a black hole. But it’s not exactly shaped like a flashlight… 😉

    • Roman Fedoryshchak

      As much as I agree with the argument, I don’t agree with the conclusion here. You’ve drawn a nice parallel between light and darkness but then followed the logic with the phrase ‘the absence of “something” really isn’t “nothing” ‘. Which to me sounds like a rhetorical twist that confuses the real question about ‘nothing’ with a mental concept of ‘nothing’ that exists in our brains.

      I believe the answer to the question lies beyond our comprehension and here is why: we don’t encounter ‘nothing’ in our lives ever! It is inconceivably hard to imagine ‘nothing’ that has no time, no spacial dimensions and no laws of physics. Nothing is where quantum mechanics, and any other concept such as awareness, does not apply because there there is no space, energy, particles etc. to apply it to.

      Still, I wouldn’t have a slightest idea how something became into existence out of nothing, so only a comment from me – no real answer 😉

  • plutoandchamp

    Isn’t the problem that we think in opposites, that if there is black there must be white? The universe IS, and that’s all we know. Our understanding of it will become more sophisticated as we continue to evolve. We can either relax and wait for that point, in some future millennium, or decide that the unknowable will always be beyond our grasp. No problem.

  • Atdhe Shala

    What’s a whole number that lies between two and three? Can you imagine Pi having a different value? Or Euler’s number for that matter? How can we ever wrap our minds around the fact that there are different kinds of infinities? That some are larger than others? In the same way, can we really understand zero?

    We can maybe think up of different universes with different laws and try to represent them somehow, like writing down the rules of a four-dimensional universe (spatial dimensions) even though we cannot wrap our heads around that kind of universe like 2D beings can’t about ours, but we cannot think, imagine or even write down different rules of the basic logic that runs our universe (Math being our best tool for understanding of that logic).

    Nothingness is just a representation of the same unimaginable thing. We cannot imagine what infinity looks like, why should we be able to wrap our heads around nothingness?

    • Nic

      Because it exists (can nothing really ‘exist’? question for another time), and that means we feel a need to understand it because that’s what we do? But I agree with you – it’s futile.

      We also can’t imagine a world without time, or a world that wasn’t ’caused’ by something. I bet there are a lot of other questions in this category.

  • Peter Kotenko

    Welcome to DPDR

    • jonathan

      Oh man, I just looked that up. I’ve had it in passing, but to have a chronic disorder sounds like a nightmare.

      • Peter Kotenko

        The worst part is it doesn’t feel like a disorder, it feels like you just have a new and more accurate perspective on existence and you realize how much of a paradox it actually is where before you just didn’t notice any of it. It’s horrible. What’s worse is if someone asked me if I wanted to go back to how I was before, I would have a hard time accepting. It would feel like willingly going back into the matrix.

        TL;DR: fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

        • David Swanson

          I’m curious now – what is it about this new and more accurate perspective that is troubling?

          • Peter Kotenko

            I’ve thought a lot about the best way to explain DPDR to someone, it’s kind of hard because you can’t really understand it without feeling what I feel on some level.. But here’s the best I got

            Think about the weirdest, most bizarre thing you’ve ever witnessed in your life, something you can’t explain. If something like that ever happened to you it probably made you feel pretty uncomfortable. Well, to me, existence and my consciousness is the weirdest, most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to me. I feel extremely uncomfortable in my skin. Some days I can forget about it if I’m distracted but other days I literally think I’m inside some kind of a dream and I’m hallucinating. Some days I truly think that people around me is just my mind imagining them, the same way my mind imagines people when I’m dreaming while also convincing me that they’re real until I wake up.

            TL;DR: Inception IRL

            • David Swanson

              Thanks for the reply, that’s really interesting to me. It probably isn’t possible for me to understand how you feel, but these days I am sometimes taken by a feeling that I am not here. Like, everything is happening, but there is no reference point, no me. But this doesn’t ever last – I think it doesn’t last because I’m afraid of it lasting. So when I think of that (or something equally bizarre) being lasting and involuntary for you, I can see how it would be very weird and uncomfortable.

              I can’t help but think that you really are seeing things as they are, without much of the distortion that blinds most of us. But then, who is it that is uncomfortable? Can the discomfort be felt physically in the body? I could go on and on with the questions, but this is probably not the place. So yeah, thanks

    • jasvisp

      Peter, have you heard of AIWS? Alice In Wonderland Syndrome? It’s very hard to explain and the symptoms are varied……some extreme, others not so much, but it’s very rare. Any insight?

      • Peter Kotenko

        Funny thing I actually have that too, had it since I was a kid. But i don’t think it’s related at all. I get it every couple months and it lasts for about 5 min tops usually when i’m tired and getting ready to sleep. Everything just looks tiny, but I can still do most normal things and my coordination doesn’t suffer too much. It’s just trippy. And as far as I know not life threatening or anything..

  • Erik Martin

    The quantum physics explanation is bogus. The whole idea of quantum physics presupposes fields that operate in spacetime according to certain mathematics. Maybe those things lead to spacetime bubbles, but those things aren’t nothing.

  • visakh

    This image keeps coming back to my mind:

    A line of women walking with pots on their head.

    Water doesn’t splosh around on pots that are full and that are empty. So, it’s as if there’s nothing in them.

    In semi full containers, water splosh around giving us an idea there’s something in it.

    Applying the same line of thought. What if this “container” that has our universe in it had some in-equillibrium that made all these events like bigbang (that turned all that energy into mass) and made everything seem to exist?

    Maybe there are other “containers” with as much energy, but with perfect equilibrium, so that it seems there’s nothing in it.

    • Vogura1720

      holy shit, that’sa pretty good idea. not sure how it fits everything together, and of course it doesn’t answer every question but its definitely getting somewhere

    • David Swanson

      Feels right to me too. It’s said that when you realize the self, the world vanishes.

  • makeuswait

    I remember many sleepless nights as a young girl contemplating nothingness. I would lie awake in bed trying to picture what the universe would look like after earth is gone, just pitch cold darkness, for infinity. It would always send a cold shiver down my spine, and an uncomfortable sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. There is nothing more anxiety provoking than the contemplation of nothingness. I didn’t know what to make of those thoughts, and I’m still now quite sure, but I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    • Mike

      As a kid I would have the same sleepness night regarding my own mortality. I think everyone experiences this at some point in their life. I would try to entertain the thought of what death will be like if religion is wrong, and it is as science says: that you just cease to exist. I tried to wrap my mind around what that nothingness would be like, simply not existing any more, forever.

      Yep.. many a sleepless night. Weird how I got older and just ignore the whole thing now. It was a huge deal to Kid-me, but adult-me just shrugs it off now. “I’ll deal with all that later. Much later”

  • Roger

    The physicists’ explanation of nothing being unstable assumes that the laws of quantum physics exist and they cause the nothing to be unstable. In other words, they have no clue either as to why something is here instead of the classical, absolute nothing. Neither do the academic philosophers.

    Here’s my answer to the question “Why is there something rather than
    nothing?” Others, like science writer Amanda Gefter (1) have suggested
    that the seeming insolubility of this question is based not on the
    question itself being insoluble but instead on a flawed assumption. I
    agree and propose the following. Traditionally, when we imagine getting
    rid of all existent entities including matter, energy, fields, forces,
    space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws or constructs of physics and
    math as well as minds to consider this supposed lack of all, we think
    what is left is the lack of all existent entities, or “nothing”. This
    is the “nothing” we often think of in the question “Why is there
    something rather than nothing?”. But, I suggest that this situation,
    the supposed lack of all existent entities, is itself an existent
    entity. That is, it is a “something”. This means that the original
    question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, is based on a
    false distinction between “something” and “nothing”. It also means that
    because even “nothing” is a “something”, then “something” is necessary
    or non-contingent. Two arguments supporting the claim that “nothing”
    is actually a “something” as well as a mechanism for how this could be
    are presented below.

    Two arguments for how the supposed lack of all is itself an existent entity, or a “something”, are as follows.

    1. Consider the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. Two choices for addressing this question are:

    A. “Something” has always been here.

    B. “Something” has not always been here.

    Choice A is possible but does not explain anything. Therefore, choice B is the
    only choice with any explanatory power. So, let’s explore this choice
    to see where it leads. With choice B, if “something” has not always been
    here, then “nothing” must have been here before it. By “nothing”, I
    mean the same supposed “absolute lack-of-all” (no energy, matter,
    volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc., and
    no minds to consider this complete “lack-of-all”) described above. In
    this “absolute nothing”, there would be no mechanism present to change
    this “nothingness” into the “something” that is here now. Because we can
    see that “something” is here now, the only possible choice then is that
    “nothing” and “something” are one and the same thing. This is logically
    required if we go with choice B.

    2. I think that a thing exists if it’s a grouping defining what is
    contained within (e.g., the surface of a book, the definition of what
    elements are contained in a set, the mental/neural construct called the
    concept of love defines what other mental constructs are contained in
    it, etc.). The grouping is equivalent to an edge or boundary that gives
    substance and existence to the thing. Try to imagine a book without a
    surface defining what is contained within. By this, if there is a
    grouping defining what is contained within, this grouping is an existent
    entity. Now, applying this to the question “Why is there something
    rather than nothing?”, if we consider what we’ve traditionally thought
    of as “the absolute lack-of-all” (no energy, matter, volume, space,
    time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc.; and no minds to
    think about this “absolute lack-of-all”), and not our mind’s conception
    of “the absolute lack-of-all”, this “absolute lack-of-all” would be the
    entirety, or whole amount, of all that is present. That’s it; that’s
    everything; there’s nothing else; it would be everything that is
    present. It is the all. An entirety, whole amount or an “all” is a
    grouping defining what is contained within and is therefore a surface,
    an edge and an existent entity. In other words, because the absolute
    lack-of-all is the entirety of all that is present, it functions as both
    what is contained within and the grouping defining what is contained
    within. It defines itself and is, therefore, the beginning point in the
    chain of being able to define existent entities in terms of other
    existent entities. The grouping/edge of the absolute lack-of-all is not
    some separate thing; it is just the “entirety”, “the all” relationship,
    inherent in this absolute lack-of-all, that defines what is contained
    within.

    Three notes on visualizing and talking about “non-existence” are 1.)
    It’s very easy to confuse the mind’s conception of “non-existence” with
    “non-existence” itself, in which neither the mind nor anything else is
    present. Because our minds exist, our mind’s conception of
    “non-existence” is dependent on existence; that is, we must define
    “non-existence” as the lack of existence (this is why, to the mind,
    non-existence just looks like nothing at all). But, “non-existence”
    itself, and not our mind’s conception of “non-existence”, does not have
    this requirement; it is independent of our mind, and of existence, and
    of being defined as the lack of existence. “Non-existence” is on its
    own and, on its own, completely describes the entirety of what is there
    and is thus an existent entity; 2.) It’s very difficult to visualize
    “non-existence” because it entails visualizing, with our mind, what it
    would look like if everything, including the mind, were gone. But, only
    once everything is gone, including the mind, does “non-existence”
    become the all, the entirety of all that is present, and thus an
    existent entity.; and 3.) Some might say that in the above, just by
    using the word “nothing”, I’m reifying, or giving existence to,
    something that’s not there at all. But, this ignores the point about
    our mind’s conception of “nothing” (and therefore the use of the word
    “nothing”) being different than “nothing” itself in which no minds are
    present. It also ignores the fact that in order to even discuss the
    topic, we have have to talk about “nothing” as if it’s a thing. It’s
    okay to do this; our talking about it won’t affect whether or not
    “nothing” itself, and not our mind’s conception of “nothing”, exists.
    That is, we’re not reifying “nothing” itself by talking about it
    because our talking wouldn’t even be there in the case of “nothing”
    itself.

    What is all of this good for? Like all proposed solutions to the
    question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, I can never
    prove the above hypothesis because I can never actually directly see
    whether the “absolute lack-of-all” is an existent entity, but what I can
    do is to use the above thinking to develop a model of the universe and
    eventually make testable predictions. This assertion is based on the
    thinking that because the hypothesis proposed here is about the most
    fundamental of existent entities, because the universe exists and seems
    to be composed of existent entities, and because physics is the study of
    how the universe works, then the laws of physics and of the universe
    should be derivable from the properties of the fundamental existent
    entity proposed here. I refer to this type of thinking as a
    metaphysics-to-physics approach or philosophical engineering. I believe
    that using this type of thinking, physicists and philosophers would be
    able to make faster progress towards a deeper understanding of the
    universe than by using the more top-down approach they currently use.

    Anyways, that’s my argument. If you’re interested, I’ve got more at my websites at:

    https://sites.google.com/site/whydoesanythingexist/

    (4 page summary)

    https://sites.google.com/site/ralphthewebsite/

    (click
    on 3rd link. This one is longer, has more philosophical stuff and uses
    the ideas to build a very simple model of the universe)

    Thanks for listening!

    1. Gefter, A., Nautulus, 2014, 16; http://nautil.us/issue/16/nothingness/the-bridge-from-nowhere

  • Scott

    As someone who has failed many times to conceive of the concept of nothing, the only thing I can do is provide an analogy of what happens when I try:

    Picture the concept of nothing as a weird object in the middle of the street. The second my brain stumbled on the topic is when I first saw this object. I wondered what this strange object was, so I walked over to it for a closer look. The closer I get the more bizarre this thing becomes. I am still a safe distance from it but still have no understanding of it. As a creature of curiosity, I go in for a real close look (i.e. think harder about it), and that’s when I feel a punch right in the face that makes me stumble back. Every time I go in for a close look I get punched. And this punch is not entirely figurative; whenever I wonder hard enough on why anything exists at all, my brain does this weird pump-fake/wig-out thing, kind of like it just zoomed in and out really fast (does anyone else get this or just me?). It’s the only topic where this happens. The concept of evolution comes close with just how insane it is that a single cell evolved into a human being via a natural process, but it is a concept I can very much understand and grasp.

    While I have no answers, I will offer different way of thinking about it: Instead of laying awake tormented at the mystery, embrace how awesome it is that it is a mystery. For me, there are two “THE” questions:
    1. How did humans/life get here?
    2. How is anything (matter/space/time) here?

    I am so thankful that I know (most of) the answer to #1 with Darwin’s theory of evolution. And while I am dying to know the answer to #2, I also realize that there is value in remaining curious about things that are still a mystery. So instead of thinking of it as torment, I’ll enjoy these punches to the face while I still can, because if some scientist comes along and figures it all out (just like Darwin did for question 1), I know some part of me will miss them.

    • Kurt Zoltek

      I get the punch thing.

    • Alejandro Rojas

      Yea me too, Also when thinking about some paradoxes or infinity.

  • jasvisp

    After reading many of the posts this evening I took a break to have dinner and watch a movie. One of the first movies I saw on Netflix was “God’s Not Dead”. After reading the plot, which is the argument for/against creationism, our existence, atheism, Christianity, etc., I decided to give it a go. Those of us who post here and aren’t interested in one-up-man-ship might find this insightful movie to be enlightening and helpful in addressing Tim’s question.

  • Kurt Zoltek

    I think we can alleviate our stress over this conundrum by choosing to believe that there is an answer to this question -that there has to be. It is okay that we don’t know it. But there is an answer, an explanation, a reason things exist the way they do – however that is. That is the answer we mere humans have to resolve ourselves to live with. But knowing and accepting our limit in that capacity gives us freedom to step outside of the pain of not knowing, out from the pain that this unanswered conundrum can leave in, dare I say, our intellectual souls. But there is an answer out there. If we could comprehend it, we would bask in its absoluteness, and perfection. Even though we don’t know the answer, it’s there. You have to come to a place where you are content with knowing that it’s there, but it’s not our place to know.

    I agree that it is a rite of passage. This article and thread helped free me from the frustration of believing that I can get close to knowing it. Of course, we all know it is fun to float through this existential realm of thought, conjuring up theories and exploring other people’s. There are a lot of solid answers on this thread that show human’s ability to push our logic right up to the boundary of the conundrums of this world, but when it comes down to it, it’s anyone’s guess. I think the best way to get close to this truth is to be in the moment – in our bodies. To imagine ourselves as the atoms and quarks that we are made of. To spiritually embrace ourselves as not part of the universe, but The Universe – in the Alan Watts sense. Seriously. Just, be. Exist. Live in the moment, and savour the gift. Laugh, love, feel the pain, and try to be stronger than it in the end. “Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”
    Alan W. Watts

    The power of human thought can not answer the questions we have posed here. It’s funny that our brain can even conceive this ultimate unanswerable question in the first place. Even mathematically, perhaps we can’t know completely, because math is still a construct of the physical world, and yes, quarks – even as small as they are – are still part of our world because we can observe them. I will say, however, that I am jealous of quantum physicists like Witten. To see the universe in perfect math like they do. They get close to the truth -the core – in a way like no other. It must be like seeing a beautiful white light and feeling am absolute awe. Through math they are standing next to the most fundamental understanding we have of this universe, one that transcends all words.

    I am excited about BioNeuroConcious science. That is the next Frontier where humans can reach new lands of understanding. Maybe I will go back to school to study it, and get out of my boring job.

  • Kyle Nieman

    The only “beings” capable of contemplating the answer to this question necessarily exist in a universe where something exists.

    Who knows? Maybe the amount of stuff that exists in THIS universe is so little close to nothing that a being in a much (much) “fuller” universe would look at ours and conclude we rounded to zero.

    I couldn’t say how little stuff a universe can have and still be “a universe with something”.

  • Koh Jun Dong

    I have been thinking about this for such a long time.
    Why is there life and what if there’s no life?
    Why is there the universe and what if there’s no universe?
    What is space then? Will it even exist? What about time?

    This is confusing and yet utterly amazing.
    It shows how precious we are. There could be nothing, but instead something happened.

  • Mario Hego

    Amigo:
    There is something AND nothing. They are two angles of the same phenomena.
    Alan talks about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLrMVous0Ac

    Love your blog. Cheers from Mexico 😉

  • Jack Frost

    I believe you nailed it when you said we have no context. I believe the reason is scale.We have no idea how big everything is. It could be a matter of size, time, dimension. Who really knows. A fungal spore, were it sentient, lying under the fake turf of a football stadium, would have no conception of the stadium. Imagine explaining the city in which the stadium sits, let alone the Moon. We are simply far too small to even begin to explore this question.

  • Esther Kang

    Because if there was nothing, the question wouldn’t exist. This could send your mind off on another endless tangent. Or we could just accept that there is something, hence the question of why there is.

  • JT Abate

    While thinking of things to do other than study for my Calculus exam tomorrow I unfortunately decided to check the site, and well yeah, now we’re here… here are a couple thoughts I had to add the conversation.

    Hypothesis: Something can never come from nothing (think in terms of our universe)

    -Even if nothing is “inherently unstable” and will eventually create something, there must exist something within that nothing because something can’t come from nothing (no evidence, just a man’s logic)
    -The situation in which something is added to nothing, is impossible. Because there was something the whole time, just outside of the previous parameters of the situation.

    The more and more and more I think about it, the more I err on the side of nothing not even being possible. Because we are something and no matter how far we widen the parameters (distance, time, reality, dimension) I am still here thinking about this, which is something, Inside of nothing, which actually means there is something….. and not nothing

  • Rodney Goodall

    Time is something – are you sure about that?
    Go dig into the existence of time if you really want to mess with your head.

  • Daniel Graham

    Nothing can’t exist. It is the opposite of existing.

    • Rodney Goodall

      If nothing can not exist, how can it be the opposite to existing?

  • Tomek

    You weirdos with your english language. 😉 Talking about nothing and stuff. Where you have to ask yourself few questions to say “there isn’t nothing”. In polish it’s legit grammatic rule, you won’t say “nobody is here”, you will say “nobody isn’t here”, and of course there isn’t possibility to say “there is nothing” and don’t feel uncomfortable about it (I actually wonder if “there isn’t nothing” is for english speaking people so much weird because “there is nothing” or the other form don’t make me feel that something is wrong). There was a time when I thought that this is illogical, double negative, but now I’m pretty sure that you (tea drinkers and democracy providers) are wrong.

  • Gabor Olah

    Being able to ask the question “Why is there something instead of nothing” requires that we are in a reality where we exist and are able to ask questions. So, the answer is, there is something because of nothing because you asked the question in the first place!

  • James Nimmons

    its funny but in every situation..you are everything..not nothing.. we have more than something..we have Everything. If you are a fan of Alan Watts youd think of it this way (and if you arent..look him up on youtube) – the universe has life in it. all life experiences the universe as “I” surrounded by the universe. Its the SAME “I” just using all possible perspectives of looking at itself.. Now think about Quantum mechanics of Electrons..they are basically a field that unites all matter..almost physically.. everything. …I… one I.. the universe is present in every consciousness so much that You and I are the universe together.. we are glowing the stars..and waving the winds..moving the worlds and everything else.. just like we are breathing but unaware of it.. we are using our kidneys and pancreas and liver but are not conscious of it.. when you meet the grumpy neighbor who wants to get short with you about some neighborly problem you can tell yourself… “oh i get it..i see you Brahma old fellow.. pretending to be the angry neighbor…and going a good job of it too! but you cant fool me!”

    • Michał Kaleniecki

      Thank You for writing this excellent post! Very thought provoking

  • Jonathan Wells

    Joel Achenbach makes sense to me. “Why does there have to be a physical world at all?” There simply is one. When you ask why you are looking for a cause for the something, which would have to be outside the something. Why is that ball rolling across the floor? Because the cat just outside the frame of view hit it with its paw. But with the universe, there is nothing except something. Because there is only something, there is no possibility for anything else to act on this something. If there were anything beyond something, it would seem that there could also be the lack of something, that something could take some of the something away, or there could have been a time when it didn’t exist, but because there isn’t something beyond the something, there can be no nothing, and everything is just part of the big something.

  • “Nothing” has no duration.
    Everything else has a lifetime ranging from a few nanoseconds to a few billion years.
    If there ever was “Nothing”, it ceased to be nothing a long time ago because it reached its expiry date 🙂
    And no – you can’t concatenate a whole series of nothings – infinity times zero is still zero. This is similar to saying that “nothing” is a logical fallacy. If it did exist, it wouldn’t exist because it had zero duration.

    While you’re tackling hard questions would you please ponder why I am conscious and only experience my view of the universe? Sentient beings have been popping into existence for a long time – how come after such a long time, one of them suddenly feels like “me”? How come no one else has my first-person p.o.v? How come I don’t experience anyone else’s first peron p.o.v? This concept is so hard to wrap one’s head around that it’s also very hard to pose as a question 🙂

    • Psychedelicist

      Thanks for this post. And, actually, thanks for many other posts. Truly great philosophical things going on in here. Also, how do you know that no one else experiences your point of view? What if someone does, but you just haven’t met them yet (don’t ask me how that is possible, but let’s not exclude the possibility). And, as a matter of fact, how do you know that you are not actually experiencing someone else’s point of view, but are just under the illusion that it’s your ‘own’ (again, whatever that may be). The ‘universe’ truly is a very strange and fascinating place, and I think that understanding consciousness will help us to better understand our place in it.

  • jc

    i believe the consciousness goes some way to explaining things, not sure how, but the answers to your question i believe lie within (and without ).

    Think about it: The consciousness is the universe’s truly fundamental independent variable.. every thing we use to ask these questions are a function of consciousness , time itself, needs someone/something to count.. science , in all its glory, is a function of peoples consciousness .. without some form of it, there can be no existence , as the word and concept of existence is again a conscious one.. A universe without ever having a consciousness or the possibility of one, cannot exist, if nothing will ever be aware then it will never be.

    Therefore i personally believe the universe is in some way conscious, just not of course in the way we are, i also believe there are many forms of conscious life higher up the scale then us .. if one thinks about it , what really puts at the top of the food chain ? its not our bodies. Its this right now, having these discussions, our consciousness has evolved the greatest in comparison , and he’s highly likely there are beings who have been around a lot longer than us.

    Also we must not forget , we can only see, touch , feel what our brains allow us too, either directly or indirectly via our instruments, there could be whole different planes of existence right in front of us but we simply don’t have the biological hardware yet to see it or feel it.

    so if there was no consciousness anywhere in this universe or any other , then there would be truly nothing , the fact that there is gives us something , i believe its the most intrinsic part of the universe , even more than the 4 forces that we know of.

    lastly: think about this: Which force is consciously allowing me to move my fingers to type my ideas just though will alone, which force is converting the trillions of neuron activity in my brain (or basically ions swapping electrons ) to the thoughts, vision , music, pain, joy, ideas , disappointments etc i feel , hear or see on a daily basis.

    Does anyone think our knowledge of the electromagnetic force , or even the laws of thermodynamics is anywhere close to being sufficient to explain how I’m able to type this message and think about the excellent article posted above???

  • pau

    Why is there something you ask?
    Why would there be nothing?

  • Aviv Stern

    Nothing is indeed something merely because you can define it. Nothing in that very basic sense could be formulated as such: (nothing = something + anti-something) which leaves a lot of room for stuff to happen while at the same time still allow for this stuff to be nothing. Also, existence and reality could be consequences of absolute mathematical truths that are correct regardless of conditions.

  • The whole “Truly Nothing” concept is bullshit, even in a multi-verse where every thing that is possible, will exist!
    If there would ever be the possibility for this “Truly without a doubt final NOTHING” to exist, we would not have, had or will ever have, this conversation! (No past, because time is a thing)
    Same goes for those BBC “Scientists”, laws of quantum physics are a THING. In the concept of “Nothing at all” there would be NO Quantum physics.

    Tl:dr We have NOTHING to worry about

  • T

    It is just more likely that there is something instead of nothing. Consider the following options:

    1) There is nothing. No matter, no quantum foam etc. (This could have happened but it didn’t because it wasn’t likely for some reasons that are related to the conditions outside our universe. We exist so there must be something.)

    2) There is something and there is a single universe. (It would have been a huge coincidence that the universe that we live in has conditions that support life.)

    3) There is something and there are multiple universes. (Most of them don’t have conditions that support life. We happen to live in a one of those universes that does support life.)
    This option could be actually divided to different sub-options: 3.1) There are 2 universes … 3.1000000000) There are 1000000001 universes … etc.

    4) There is something and there are are all possible universes. (Maybe this has the same probability as option 2 so it is not very likely.)

    The option 3 has the highest probability and that’s why it was “selected” and there doesn’t have to be any other big reason WHY it happened. HOW quantum foam, strings and other weird stuff outside our universe was formed is another question and it is hard or impossible to answer that because we can’t make observations outside our universe…

  • human5197

    What is a carrot? What isn’t a carrot?

  • James Heffernan

    Tim, if you have time, and your head monkey allows it, I heartily suggest you take look at this article. It attempts to answer this very question (and I think it succeeds). I know that is a bold claim, and because it has religious tones you may feel leery of trying it, but give it a shot. At worst, you will have something to chew on.
    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/first-cause.htm

  • Hamsta

    I love the Idea in Neil Ennis commen, that “”Nothing” has no duration.” but I still think that “why” is the wrong question, as we can see it makes no sense.
    “how” is what we should concentrate on, how can there be something instead of nothing.

  • Alejandro Rojas

    I have wonderered exactly the same! For years. I love this guy.
    I think this question cannot be tought/felt by anyone, you have to be a certain philosophical level or state.
    I also share this guy’s terror of not-being, like after dying.

    • Alejandro Rojas

      The problem is that the very concept of “something” “nothing” “happening” “time flow” “space” “reality” “context”, are how our puny brains can get along with reality. The uneasyness we feel with this question, arises from the fact that we are looking at a step-4 (or maybe further) question, and we don’t have the ability to even conceibe an answer. Like an ant trying to unserdtand the internet.
      This reminds me of the works of biologist Humberto Maturana, who says (among other things) that all that we know/do, has to be considered from the point of view that is only happening inside a brain, biologically.

      • tweinstre

        If everything we think,feel,discuss…is only a matter of particles interacting in our brain,we have absolutely no reason to believe any of our theories (including scientific ones) is true.
        Our brains in that case evolved merely to serve us in survival,finding food and reproduction mates,and not to have access to any “objective” truth.
        But be very careful with this.
        Because,in that case,you have every reason to doubt what you just said!
        If you don’t trust your brain,you should also doubt that “we aren’t able to concieve an answer” or “all that we do is happening only inside our brains” and “those concepts are how our puny brains can get along with reality”.
        This is very tricky attitude because it is,in a way,self-refuting.

    • Alejandro Rojas

      The uneasyness I feel each time I think about this, is similar to what I’ve felt thinking of this other two things:
      – ponder about the paradox “this sentence is false”
      – try to think about “what I’m thinking right now”. The answer to that would be “I’m thinking about what I’m thinking right now” But as soon as that is true, the answer becomes “I’m thinking about that I’m thinking about what I’m thinking right now” and instantly diverges in the head and you cannot have a grasp.

      I imagine some aliens of higher conscience level saying “how cute, the answer to those questions are so easy, and look at them struggling with that”

  • Mr Ryall

    Think about the paradox of infinity. Like, really think about it. Not just time or space, but every combination of everything in every pattern in every point in time. The concept itself is even infinite. Maybe we’re just one iteration of this infinite plane. Maybe “nothing” is just another. I don’t see any viable explanation other than infinity to explain us. With every moment, infinite more planes are created, which infinitely branch into infinite branches of their own, infinitely.

    But it also has flaws. Why do things seem to make sense to us? Why isn’t it raining elephants today? Are we just on a pretty boring plane? This leads me to think more in terms of “rules” of a universe. In our case, physics. Maybe, rather than infinite everything there is only an infinite amount of base conditions, and this is our set. Infinite base conditions, would include no base conditions, aka “nothing”.

    • Alejandro Rojas

      That wouldn’t be a true nothing, in the sense Tim explains. If that ‘nothing’ is only one plane, then there are more planes, somewhere, so there is something in the ‘cosmos’ anyway. A true nothing implies no other dimentions, no possibilities, none, never, nowhere.

      • Mr Ryall

        Maybe it’s the closest we can ever get to nothing. We could say that a true nothing cannot actually exist as it implies no possibilities ever, and it’s proven by the fact that we live in a possibility. Lots of other posts discuss nothing as a concept created by something, and I think I agree.

  • Daniel

    Think of a geometric shape, say a triangle. The triangle defines not just the two dimensional space it occupies but also the inverted space it doesn’t occupy. The same is true for any shape. I’m thinking of nothing as a shape as well and it too defines the anathema which, in this case, is something.
    The question was a source of insomnia for me too and while this answer may be more philosophical then scientific it helped me sleep.

  • Alejandro Rojas

    The uneasyness I feel each time I think about this, is similar to what I’ve felt thinking of this other two things:
    – ponder about the paradox “this sentence is false”
    – try to think about “what I’m thinking right now”. The answer to that
    would be “I’m thinking about what I’m thinking right now” But as soon as
    that is true, the answer becomes “I’m thinking about that I’m thinking
    about what I’m thinking right now” and instantly diverges in the head
    and you cannot have a grasp.

    It feels like hitting a wall. I imagine some aliens of higher
    conscience level saying “how cute, the answer to those questions are so
    easy, and look at them struggling with that”

  • Daniel Reaney

    To me, everything is just opposites, ‘nothing’ isn’t even define able without ‘something’. So by definition, you always have to have ‘something’ for ‘nothing’ to be possible. The ‘nothing’ then contains and surrounds the ‘something’ to make it finite.

    I believe everything is a fragment of the same thing, which gives this thing (God, source energy, whatever you want to call it) omniscience. There is no relativity in this state, there is all good and all bad, all sound, all light, it is total awareness and therefore not much fun (due to a lack of relativity). So, this thing, let’s say God, implodes itself into a limited, finite experience, like the human experience that we are enjoying here on Earth. To limit oneself is to create problems and therefore provide relativity and the potential to achieve (the potential for good and happiness is only created when the potential for badness and unhappiness is created as well).

    It frustrates me when people say “if there is a God, how can children be born with aids”. Well because creating a utopia is impossible, if you only have good, you lose the ability to define it. So a universal experience has been created which is governed by laws and provides the experience of fragmented free will. So when our experience ends, we all just return to source energy.

    This existence of ‘something’ is therefore like anything else. You could not have ‘good’ without ‘bad’ or ‘light’ without ‘dark’ and you cannot have ‘nothing’ without ‘something’. There will always be ‘something’ and there will always be ‘nothing’, it’s just the ‘something’ will manifest in an infinite number of ways and it will never stop doing it.

    • Daniel Reaney

      ‘Nothing’ is conceptual only. Nothing defines the ‘something’ by enabling the something to have parameters or edges. Outside of our universe is ‘nothing’, enabling the universe to exist by giving it an edge. There is only ‘something’ and ‘nothing’, which is distinguished by the observer. Outside of the observer’s ability to detect ‘something’ is ‘nothing’. ‘Nothing’ will never be seen and it will never be felt but ‘nothing’ enables ‘something’ to exist.

      • David Swanson

        Yes void as a concept is useless, but it is much more than a concept. You can experience nothing, but be forewarned that it doesn’t really feel like anything 😉 I’ll show you how: hold up your hands in front of you and start moving them back on either side of your head. Keep moving them back while still looking straight ahead. Pay special attention to when your hands vanish on the periphery of your field of vision. Your hands just vanished into nothing! And it is not a sharp edge. The more you look at the supposed edge of your field of vision in this manner, the more slippery it becomes. There’s no border! No edge. If you think there is an edge, then do the experiment again and try to observe it. Your hand is there, then it’s not.. and yet I can’t pin down the edge. That is my experience. You try it!

        • Daniel Reaney

          There is only ‘something’ and ‘nothing’, which is distinguished by the observer.

          Your observational abilities have been impaired by the position of your hands, your hands are not ‘nothing’ when they leave your peripheral vision, you have just lost the ability to see them. At this point when the edge becomes slippery, can you still feel your hands? If you place your attention on your hands, you can feel them, their temperature and the environment around them. So I return to my point, ‘nothing’ cannot be felt and ‘nothing’ is distinguished by the observer. ‘Nothing’ is also indescribable and you can describe your hands.

          I would argue that you are experiencing a phenomena created by the interaction between your hands, light and your visual capabilities, rather than experiencing ‘nothing’.

          • David Swanson

            Thanks, I can tell you actually did it! I do agree that you cannot experience nothing. I know I said the opposite above! But since nothing cannot be described, as you say, I am bound to contradict myself or otherwise fail to communicate it. It can only be pointed to, which is what this experiment (and many others besides) does.

            The word “orange juice” doesn’t have anything to do with the taste of it, and orange juice certainly doesn’t care what you call it. “Orange juice” is what we use to talk about it in the 3rd person. The taste is what you experience in the 1st person. The point of the experiment is to put the experimenter (you) back into 1st-person mode, so that you’re only going by what you observe directly. Once you’ve been snapped back into the mode of direct observation, you could choose to have a discussion about whether the hand exists. That discussion will only pull you back out into third-person mode, the domain of conditioned thinking. When I pull my hands back, I’m only going by what I see and feel (1st person). When I try to decide if the hand is still there, why then I’m back to deducing, judging, analyzing, debating etc. (3rd person). Learning to draw this distinction in each successive moment has been quite valuable to me in my investigations.

            • Daniel Reaney

              Interesting, thanks. My head hurts now.

    • If you border your “something” with “nothing” it cannot manifest in an infinite number of ways.
      Bordered = Finite

      • Daniel Reaney

        Your ‘nothing’ is your own ‘nothing’ and has the potential to be different to my own. ‘Nothing’ is that which cannot be assigned a description by the observer. So this universe borders our existence so our ‘nothing’ exists outside of it. This universe could collapse and convert its energy in an infinite number of ways though, creating existence after existence. The energy in this universe has infinite possibility, rather than infinite universes existing at one time.

        Although time does not exist outside of the universe so they are all actually happening, happened, will happen.

        • quote”Your ‘nothing’ is your own ‘nothing’ and has the potential TO BE different to my own.” Emphasis mine!
          You state Nothing has the potential TO BE, which is false (IMO).
          Nothing cannot BE, because it isn´t there in the first place 😉

          • Daniel Reaney

            Haha true! The problem with these conversations is that they just becomes about semantics after a couple of exchanges, you have to contradict yourself to express an opinion. I don’t think I’m expressing anything of value anymore though, maybe there isn’t value in discussing ‘nothing’, maybe there’s nothing to discuss.

            • Lol, NP.. In the end, we have nothing to worry about! (which can be read in so many ways 😉

  • Alejandro Rojas

    When I really freak out is not at the concept of matter never existing, or even unexistence of an space to put things, but what if time never existed on first place. Then this emptyness is worse that eternal, all verbs stop having meaning, It cant’ even “not be” or “never will be something”. Just a static 0-dimentional un-existence state.

  • Lubomír Bureš

    Well, I believe this is one of the really un-answerable questions (in the scientific sense). It is like if you were living in a constantly lit light-bulb and tried to figure out how the world without light looks like. I know it is a boring thing to say but…how can you figure out something outside of a framework while your own mind has developed *inside* the actual framework? The concept of continuous existence is innately woven in our minds.

  • Hoda Hefzy

    sometimes, I think everything is in our brains .. our brains create all the things .. and without it there will be nothing ..maybe we will never understand nothing … anything that our brains can’t see or comprehend will be nothing ..

  • lldemats

    Take a happy drop and fuggedaboutit!

  • Ben Yacobi

    The idea that we’re in an artificial simulation is a disturbing one because if such things CAN exist – even in the distant future – then they almost certainly will exist and in very large numbers. And we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between reality and the simulation. Therefore the chances that we are in reality rather than a simulation are actually very tiny indeed.

  • Niklas Carlsson
    • Ezo

      But that still don’t explain why concept of energy exists.

      I think that, well, it might be all mathematics. Universe is just a single formula, which starts from nothing and describes it’s behavior from there. It might be just logical construct. In that case, it would kinda explain nothing vs anything dilemma. Mathematics is self contained system, so maybe it doesn’t need to “exist”? As in, it must exist because it’s self contained logical system? I don’t even know how to say what I mean…

  • François P.

    We do not even understand what “time” is. The time has been created with our particular universe. Inside this universe, it does not even flow at the same speed everywhere.

    Physicists do not completely understand it, and why does it seem to flow in only one direction. Maybe the flow of time is an illusion created by our brain (like colors: colors are created by our eyes and our brain, while actually they are just different frequencies of the light).

    The notions of “cause” and “consequence” are linked to time. When you see an object or an event, you can ask “where does this come from” or “why does it exist” because you are used to search for chains of causality.
    If there is no time, there cannot be a chain of causes and consequences.

    This obviously does not help answering your question “why is there something instead of nothing”: on the opposite, I try to emphasizes how poorly our brain is equipped to answer this question.
    (Sorry for poor English)

    • Carlos Ruiz-Vargas

      Agreed. But even though we won’t be able to answer the question, at least not any time soon, people should continue to ask it. It’s kinda awesome that we ask the question (or maybe it’s kinda awesome how there is so much that distracts us most of the time from asking this question?).

      • François P.

        Indeed. I used to think that asking this question was useless, because we would hit a wall immediately. We have more clues than the prehistoric men, but still far from enough.

        But actually, just asking and trying to get a grip on the problem generates an interesting discussion!

  • Carlos Ruiz-Vargas

    I am going to paraphrase something a physicist recently wrote (I am stealing the metaphor). To answer questions of this magnitude, we are still not able to speak the language (not because we are missing a few words, but because we would need a new grammar).

  • Diego De Vita

    it was said for sure in other words somewhere here or elsewhere. .anyway the point is that we use the logic and language to describe this concepts and that’s something that make sense in this world only. Thinking about an outer box (or context) containing the world we live and understand, still relies on logic and that’s “something”. Nothing is the opposite of the spectrum of something.. nothing is actually “something” as long as something exits somewhere. Anyway time, space, something, somewhere, anytime, before, after, ever, never are words that just lose any meaning when abstracting the existence word. And to make it simple, nothing doesn’t make sense when there is only nothing. Because it wouldn’t have any comparing term to describe it as the opposite of something. But if there’s something, it wouldn’t still make any sense.. because nothing cannot exist(!!) by design in a box (as long a box is something!). So what is nothing? a conceptual idea to create the opposite of something. But again we face the old question: what does existence even mean???

  • Willian Sousa

    Even nothing IS something (a word, a concept, etc), so there’s that.

    • David Antonini

      Many hours in highschool spent on this exact idea…

  • Mary Revery

    A little research into the number zero, its history and mathematical properties, about equilibrium/ symmetric states, matter and antimatter, about the fact that, in our universe, there is more matter than antimatter (an asymmetric state), and you will obtain a more esoteric understanding of nothing (pun intended).

  • Dallien

    This question reminds me of a child that asks you a question and when you answers replies “okay, but why?” every time, ultimately there is no way (that I can imagine) of ever giving an answer that cannot be countered with “okay, but why?”

    On non-existence though one thing that always fucks with me is the question “if everything exists within space, what space does space exist within?”

    • Schroumph

      i think the kid actually says “wait, but why?”

  • Marcos Takeshi Honda

    Anything is the exact opposite of nothing, for nothing to be able to exists even as a concept, it should have an counterpart which was something, the exact moment “nothing” was able to exist as a concept, something was able to manifest itself, there was never a moment when “nothing” was dominant, but when it happened, something ate the whole pie, that’s what I like to think; to make an simple analogy on this way of thinking, just think of how we’d never know how happiness felt like if we never experienced sadness, something was possible just because nothing… wtf!?

    • Marcos Takeshi Honda

      I thought it was logical for an perfect and absolute nothingness be dominant, and nothing even the concept of nothing be unable to manifest itself, but then I asked, “Was it possible to such condition happen?”. The answer I got was “No”, it was impossible for such condition to prevail and that was why something happened instead.

  • disqus_HQl9LwTw0e

    A new response just came to my mind. (you check out this minute physics video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrTsvn9usVQ)

    As your image suggests (and loads of people seem to think), our Universe is a bubble of something drifting in nothingness.

    This is tottally not what is going on. The Universe, BY DEFINITION, is the set of everything that exists. That is important because in this definition you take space and time into account. What I mean is: There is no such thing as an universe created out of nothing, or sapce filled with nothing, because there isn’t space “outside” the Universe, and also there is no before, because there was no time !

  • Ezo

    I see you have gotten exactly as far as I did…

    I don’t think there is even a point pondering it now; we are all too stupid to get any explaination. If it even exist…

    Here’s my pet theory(not in scientific sense, ofc.). It still doesn’t answer the question, unfortunately. But get’s a bit closer:

    Reality is all possible bitstrings. For example: 1, 0, 11, 11101010100101010101,
    111010101010100101010 etc. There is infinite amount of these bitstrings: every
    possible state of every possible length bitstring exists. Why it exists? Maybe
    because it can, and it’s enough? Platonic math?

    What we describe as universe is algorithm, logical progression between these bitstrings. Laws of
    physics. Logical entity. Number of these universes is infinite. Every
    progression between states is possible. Universes could be recursive: wider
    bitstring could contain other bitstring. For example, game. A videogame is an
    embedded universe. It’s set of bitstrings, with some rules governing
    progression between these bitstrings. The same universe exists both within some
    other universe and outside. There is no difference, so, in principle, it’s
    single universe with multiple(infinite) references. When playing some instance
    of GTA V, we’re accessing this universe. It exists independiently of ours.

    Something interesting: after thinking about it, I’ve decided to make a Google search for ‘bitsting universe’ or something. Surprisingly, it’s a thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bit-string_physics

  • David Olsen

    First, I think we need to define what “nothing” even means. It’s not obvious and I think a lot of confusion arises when we talk about “nothing” if my meaning differs from yours. So, may I present some basic levels of nothing where each subsequent level strips away even more until you are truly left with absolutely nothing.

    Level 1: No Visible Objects
    Level 2: No Matter
    Level 3: No Matter-Energy
    Level 4: No Matter-Energy Permanently
    Level 5: No Space Time
    Level 6: No Laws of Physics
    Level 7: No God No Consciousness
    Level 8: No Abstract Objects
    Level 9: No Possibilities

    Try as I might, I can’t strip reality down to level 9, due to my sheer existence. The scenario is too absurd and meaningless to contemplate.

    • Kingfisher12

      Personally I find Level 3 absurd, by the time you reach 9 it is plain nonsense (there is a difference).

      • David Olsen

        I can visualize level 3 by just imagining a vast emptiness. Level 5, however, really strains my imagination, but can essentially be described by physical equations (this is essentially the nothing cosmologists describe before the big bang, but even their nothing stops there).

        • Kingfisher12

          I agree with that. Up to level 5 the nothingness is at least conceivable and describable. But level 3 and above are only conceivable mathematically. At level 3 all meaningful definitions of ‘is’ and ‘nothing’ become mutually exclusive, hence any positive pairing of them is absurd.

    • David Swanson

      I like this post! It is mind-destroying. For me, only #1 is important here, although I would expand it to include other senses besides vision. Above #1 is all concepts that were hammered into us at some point in the process of conditioning (education). I would say that everything above #1 only seems to exist while you’re thinking about it. Even #2, Matter. If you are seeing matter right now, then you are actually on the level of #1. The concept of matter is just that, a concept.

      Now, is there ever a time when you are not observing visible objects, or otherwise sensing something? When you are in deep sleep, you may say. But you have never experienced deep sleep, have you. All you have experienced is feeling drowsy, closing your eyes, and then.. maybe some dream.. then feeling the pillow again, opening your eyes. Deep sleep (nothing) is no more real to you than any other concept.

  • Kingfisher12

    I’ve settled on Achenbach’s reasoning myself, that the very concept of absolute nothing is nonsense.

    There are two sorts of nonsense – there is the absurd; concepts devoid of meaning. And there is true nonsense – concepts that are simply invalid.

    The absurd sort of nonsense is everywhere, as life is full of contradictions and random events that might as well not be, as be. When we consider the concept of ‘something instead of nothing’ this is merely absurd.

    But the concept of absolute nothingness is a special sort of nonsense, where the concept itself simply is not.

    The best example I can think of is to ask ‘why is 3 not the same as 4?’ It is an invalid nonsense because 3 and 4 are different because they are different, and there isn’t any other way to explain that.

  • qwerty

    Well if there was nothing you wouldn’t be set up this website, I wouldn’t be able to post, and universe would be extremely boring quantum foam.

    • girly freak

      The question is not if there was nothing. The question is WHY there is something instead of nothing.

  • Luisa

    I get the “nothing” doesn’t exist argument. There isn’t a “nothing”. Anywhere. Outside the universe there is vacuum. It’s not nothing. It relates to the “something” the universe is, therefore it’s something itself.
    Is like hot X cold or light X darkness. There isn’t cold or darkness, there is only heat and light. So there’s something, but there isn’t nothing.

    • Daniel Reaney

      ‘Nothing’ is devoid of anything.

      For things to exist, ‘nothing’ must also exist to enable the things to be distinguishable from one another.

      I agree that ‘nothing’ only exists in the sense that it relates to ‘something’ but surely that only reaffirms the necessity for ‘nothing’.

      • Luisa

        No, I don’t think there has to be “nothing” for “something” to exist.
        There doesn’t have to be coldness for heat to exist, heat just is. It is in itsellf. That’s how I feel of something. There is something.

        If there is, there is something.

        Something is in itself. We call the other nothing, because we like opposites, but the other doesn’t exist.

        As to why there is “something”, I guess it’s because of us. And everything else, planets, stars, matter, anti-matter, energy. If it weren’t for everything, then there wouldn’t be something.
        There has to be something, otherwise it doesn’t exist.

        It only exists when there’s something.

        • David Swanson

          There comes a point I don’t feel myself developing any further by discussing nothing with others, using the limitations of language. At this point all you have to go on is your sense experience, which is prior to your inner monologue. In my sense experience I am an infinitely transparent and open glass orb filled with the world, which includes a chest, arms and legs stretching down and away from the center. And who is it that sees all this? I’ll give you a hint, it starts with N

    • hayley

      It’s as mind boggling as a blind person saying they don’t see black–they see nothing.

  • Mother Ruth

    I think it’s all a joke you’re pulling on yourself. At some point — maybe after death, or after thousands of deaths, or in the last moment of this one life, which it turns out is really the only one you had even though you also had thousands — you get the punch line, or a curtain is lifted, and you see how you were messed with. It’s hilarious, but at the same time you’re laughing — you’re also halfway mad at yourself yelling “hey, that’s not funny — someone could have been hurt!” Also note: The first sentence of this paragraph could be “we’re pulling on ourselves,” or “God’s pulling on himself” — in the end, it’s all just Consciousness being beautiful and funny. Why? Because it’s just too classic to resist. We shake our heads and say “good one” and then we nod off and are immediately back in the middle of something that is just completely mind-bogglingly crazy until the next time which never happens/has always been/was the same as the last time. And so on.

    • Psychedelicist

      Wow. Excellently put. I subscribe to the same view. Totally. 🙂

  • Harel Thapro Yee

    If you believe that there are more ways to equate a circle other than using pi, then there’s probably a god out there. Why do we spend so much time and energy thinking about these philosophical questions when really, there is no meaning to find in “something-ness” or “nothingness” because these questions don’t even exist! I believe that we are acutely limited by what we can experience so I’m not going to wring my brain for an answer.

  • Niall McCaffrey
  • Ali Eftekhari Milani

    Looking for a context for something to happen in, can go on forever or it can stop somewhere. We live on Earth that is in Solar System. That itself is in Milky Way Galaxy which is part of the observable universe. The observable universe exists in a context called space-time. So, what next? Space-time itself can exist in another context. So, are we satisfied now? I don’t think so. Either it can go on forever, or we have to stop somewhere. I don’t know why, but the first one seems to be more logical. Maybe because we cannot fathom the idea that something is the only thing there is, ever.

  • Luis Dominguez

    So, if nothingness is not a valid concept, what was there BEFORE the Big Bang?

    • Daniel VP

      Frustratingly enough, that is not even a valid question, since time was created at the big bang, so there is no “before the big bang”.

      • sleepinlight

        But…there was a point when the Big Bang had not yet occurred, right? So if there was a *before* the Big Bang, then there was time before it.

        • Kingfisher12

          It’s a fuzzy concept. The concept of “before the big bang” is the concept of ‘north of the north pole’. At any singularity, like the big bang, the reference system itself breaks down, so it isn’t a question with an answer.

          We could reasonably ask what is beyond the big bang. In the north pole analogy if you keep going north you eventually end up facing south. For all we know time makes a U-turn at the big bang singularity, but there is no way to find out (so far).

          • In regard to the Big Bang, you might take other dimensions besides the 5 we perceive into account.

  • Writer

    I believe nothingness equates to consciousness, something that cannot be processed by words or thoughts, but rather just exists as is.

  • Kenneth Mui

    I think that you can use logic to prove that nothingness can never exist.

    1) Nothingness cannot act.
    2) Prevention is an action.
    3) Nothingness cannot prevent Something to happen spontaneously without reason. (Double negative makes a positive)

    Nothingness cannot create, it cannot not create either, which implies that something always exists no matter how random it is, because “What’s to stop something from happening?”

  • Zach Manta

    Ahh! Geeking out over here cuz I’ve thought about this a good bit and made a whole website explaining what I think is the best framework for understanding this kind of thing. In short, simply because something is better than nothing and the whole universe is the coolest something that could possibly be. Here’s the site: http://zach.fadn303.net/themodel/index.html

  • The quantum physics explanation hits the same wall as the religious
    explanation: Why is there quantum physics on the first place?

    • tyron hamilton

      even small things are something.

  • Everything is absurd
  • tyron hamilton

    It all a lie and we live in the Matrix! lol

  • Augusto Shearer

    I believe that what Achenbach means is not that there have to be a physical world, but that there is, and “Nothing” is something impossible we only can dream about from our physical world (something).

  • Pierre Pariente
  • Richard Wright

    The question is not “why is there a physical world?” That’s the wrong question. There simply IS a physical world. Big Bang theory aside, I think that an infinite “something” is eternal. There is not, nor can there ever be, nor has there ever been “nothing.”

  • Alex Binz

    As much as I hate to send you down this particular rabbit-trail, I think you really should check out the writings of Thomas Aquinas, particularly the Summa Theologica.

    You wrote that “Religious people have a quick answer” — namely, a bunch of scenarios “that would all entail us having a creator. But in each possible case, the existence of the creator still needs an explanation….” I think this fundamentally misunderstands what Aquinas (and most historical Christian theology) tried to accomplish. To be fair, it is a pretty common misconception.

    Aquinas started with the notion of *contingency* — that is, the things we see and observe around us are not logically and philosophically necessary, in every meaning of the world and every iteration of the universe. It is entirely possible to conceive of a universe in which the dust mite near my computer screen did not exist. It is equally possible to conceive of a universe where my screen does not exist, or I do not exist, or… (etc.)

    Aquinas’ argument is fairly involved, but it boils down to the realization that if everything around us is contingent, then there exists a point in time, space, or logical metareality in which every one of those contingent things was *not* present simultaneously — in other words, if I can conceive of a world in which any particular pieces of matter don’t exist, I can conceive of a world in which all of them don’t exist.

    This, ultimately, led Aquinas to the conclusion that if all that existed were contingent things, then at some point everything contingent would have the ‘no’ switch flipped, and that is a hole out of which nothing could arise. The fact that things *do* exist, therefore, entails that there exists something non-contingent — in other words, something that exists *necessarily*. The remainder of Aquinas’ argument lies in describing and defining and detailing in almost painful precision what exactly that “necessary entity” was. Spoiler: he called it God.

    But this is different than positing an argument where a gap in our understanding exists and filling it in with a big supernatural ‘whatever’. This is arguing from logic that if P is unsufficient to explain a thing, then we must identify something ~P to do so. The other aspects of Aquinas’ theology are derived from this or from other foundations, but he is not inserting a pre-understood concept of ‘God’ into a gap, but deriving the very existence and essence of a thing called God from the shape and contours of the gap.

  • Aleks

    Thank you so much for bringing back all the mental anguish from my teenage years. This is the one mental exercise that gave me sleepless hours, headaches, and panic attacks. The answers below are wonderful and inspiring.

  • String userName=new String();

    [Note: This whole post is a giant IIRC. If you’re a physicist and I said something inaccurate or misleading, please tell me.]

    Quantum physics necessitates the existence of a physical universe. I believe it has something to do with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that some pairs of related quantities (such as position and momentum) can never be observed with certainty–as the level of certainty of one quantity increases, the other MUST decrease proportionally. There is a fundamental uncertainty in the exact values of things in the Universe. Given the math behind quantum physics, it’s possible to use this to show that universes must come into existence, created out of nothing but the laws of physics. So the question can be boiled down to: Where did the laws of physics come from?

    The answer to that may be symmetry. One type of symmetry is called the principle of covariance. This states there is no “special” reference frame; they are all the same. That is, the laws of physics are exactly the same no matter where you are, how fast you’re moving, accelerating, spinning, etc. Given this symmetry and a few others, many laws of physics can be derived. So where do the symmetries come from? Another symmetry, called CPT symmetry, has been mathematically proven to hold true for all physical phenomenon. So where does all of this leave us?

    The ultimate goal is for there to be a Theory of Everything that explains every force, particle, etc. in the universe (and perhaps beyond). This Theory will state exactly how the universe came into existnce, arising out of these laws of nature. The theory will ideally be a mathematical necessity of symmetries such as the principle of covariance. These symmetries, meanwhile, will be a mathematical necessity.

    So why is there something instead of nothing? If we ever discover a satisfactory Theory of Everything, the answer will be, quite simply: Math.

  • Mike

    I feel like this is one of those questions that goes beyond the capability of the human mind to understand. Our concepts of “something” and “nothing” may be as laughably childish to a higher being as the cavemen who call the sky “ceiling” and the world “a room” in the Wait but Why posts. It’s just the closest our minds can come.

    I mean, this is just one of those subjects where the average Joes sitting out on the patio sipping beer have every bit of authority as the world’s foremost physicists and theorists. We don’t even understand how our own brains work, nor some of the most basic fundamental forces of the universe, so how can we even begin to grasp Ultimate questions like this?

    There’s also this: do you really even want to know? Say the truth was something mind-blowing like that our universe actually is a Matrix-like computer simulation. Would you really want to know that? What would the implications be? Would you want to know about the world of the “true universe” that said simulation resides in? Think we’d even be able to comprehend it beyond vague concepts? What if there was another universe outside that one, too?

    What if even knowing destroyed everything. I don’t know much about quantum physics, but I know our observation seems to change how things in our universe behave. What if “observing” the truths to Ultimate Questions like this changed what we know of as reality in some bizarre way that essential “breaks” everything?

    • hayley

      I love this line. “I mean, this is just one of those subjects where the average Joes
      sitting out on the patio sipping beer have every bit of authority as the
      world’s foremost physicists and theorists.”

      • Carlos Ruiz-Vargas

        It’s a nice line, but I disagree with it. I think a physicist (who might also like sitting out on the patio sipping beer) is on average more aware of how much we don’t know.

      • David Swanson

        Yeah that’s a great line. There’s only one you — the one reading this — this will never change. Don’t vest authority in anything or anyone external to you, especially not just because they have a bunch of letters next to their name. Take it from me, I’ve made that mistake too many times already…

  • Yeah, that’s a lovely recursive mindbender. Sometimes I muse that be best answer is likely something akin to this: “Why something? … Just ‘cuz!” }:)

  • Dylan Scott

    The thing about this particular topic is that the constant trail of “why?” continues almost infinitely, and the topic can branch out to many different areas. For example, basic laws of physics seem to be second nature to us. It makes sense to us that every action causes an equal and opposite reaction, or that object in motion tend to stay in motion, or that matter and energy can not be created or destroyed. When we think of these laws, our minds think “of course that’s the way it is, I’m not dumb.” What we do not realize is that it doesn’t ACTUALLY make sense, we just THINK it does because these laws are consistent with what it is we have observed since birth. Humanity has an illusion of understanding the fundamentals of the world around us. This leads me back to my original point of the string of whys attributed with this topic. Why is it really that matter and energy behaves this way? Why is it that matter and energy exist at all? Why does spacetime exist at all? No matter what proposed theory there is to answer these questions, we always will find ourselves asking the exact same question of “why?” And after we figure out an answer, we ask ourselves the same question regarding our previous answer, sticking us in an infinite “why?” loop. With this false understanding loop, our limited brains may never learn the answer to this ultimate question. For now, we can become our own philosophers in an attempt to answer this unanswerable question, or we can simply say that the answer is 42 and live our illusion.

  • Bogdan Ovidiu Gheorghiu

    Dunno if I’m repeating what someone else might have said here (haven’t read all the comments) but:
    by linguistic definition
    “is” implies “something”.
    Nothing, by the same definition, “isn’t”.
    That might be all there is to it :p

  • Alocian Edecar

    http://www.hedweb.com/witherall/existence.htm

    Here is what many philosophers, including Heiddegger, the first one I know who wrote about this question, have to say.

  • Rohit Agarwal

    I don’t think any of the physics theories can explain this since –
    1.This phenomenon of “nothingness” has never been observed
    2. The root of all theories is based on the observation, which means the basic assumption in multiple theories is “We Exist”
    3. Mathematical equations to prove anything is like shooting in the dark
    When it comes to religion, everything is the will of god! I think Hinduism and Buddhism has the best answer – “There is nothing”. Its all Zero. As Lord Buddha said, the more I searched, more I couldn’t find anything. Its Shunya (Zero)

  • the psychedelicist

    Great explanation on how the question of what, if anything, came before the Big Bang is pointless.

    http://aeon.co/video/philosophy/tim-maudlin-on-the-big-bang/

  • Carlos Ruiz-Vargas

    I hope it’s alright to share a link about a mind-blowing question, that is in a fuzzy way related to the something vs. nothing question (it’s one of the most mysterious “somethings” in this universe that people are trying to wrap their heads around): http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150525-a-black-hole-would-clone-you
    The writer of this piece, Amanda Gefter, is also hilarious.

  • Panda

    It just is. There I solved your nightmare. You can sleep in peace now Tim.

  • hal9thou001

    Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
    You gotta have somethin’ if you wanna be with me

    -Billy Preston

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_DV54ddNHE

  • Stijn

    “Nothing” can only “not exist”, it can not “exist”. Only things can exist. To exist means to be part of something. Nothing is not part of somehting. To say “nothing exists” would be a paradox. So only something can exist.

    Done.

    New question: Does everything exist? Or are there things that do not exist? 😛

  • wobster109

    Tim, I totally recommend A Brief History of Time which covers this ropic. Basically, we expect physics to be symmetric in 3 ways.

    1. Charge (C) – If you swapped the signs of all the charges, all the forces should be the same except backwards. For example, if you think of an archetypal magnetic, and you swapped the positive and negative charges, all the magnetic arrows would point the other way, but they would still be the same strength.
    2. Parity (P) – The mirror image of something has the same forces except backwards. So, think of your typical pulley. If you took the mirror reflection and put the anvil on the other side, then the forces you end up with are mirror reflected too.
    3. Time (T) – Going backwards in time has the same physics as going forwards in time. So, imagine your typical ball moving forward. If you know the current speed and direction of the ball, you can calculate where it will be 10 seconds from now. If you cared about where the ball was 10 seconds in the past, you’d use the same rules to calculate that.

    On a big-picture scale, these are all true. But it turns out when we get to very small things at the sub-atomic level, NONE of them are true. In our universe, neutral particles are more likely to decay into matter instead of antimatter. If you reversed all the charges and took the mirror image (both C and P), then neutral particles would form extra antimatter instead.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CP_violation#CP_violation_and_the_matter.E2.80.93antimatter_imbalance

  • Emily Squirrell

    Excellent! I loved this.

    But isn’t nothingness existing all the time? That’s the place from which all something’s emerge, is it not? It is the field of potentiality, as they say. In this way, all the something’s are emergences or variations on the spectrum. Nothingness is as likely as something isn’t it? Is something and nothing happening both at the same time? Are there infinite something’s and nothing’s happening, like parallel universes always existing ad infinitum?

  • Priscilla Burns

    Tim, If it’s any consolation, Martin Heidegger (who may be one of the most brilliant minds our culture has documented the work of) concludes his exploration of this question in his book An Introduction to Metaphysics by naming it the most fundamental question of philosophy, and admitting that it was unfathomable. But, I think that demands we chew on it anyways.

    Metaphysically, even with the validity of the argument of nothing being unstable, the question still is unanswered. We can infer that the universe’s development was one of
    growth and not decay:
    1. The development of our universe from a non-preexistence would be a transition from
    the most simplistic of states (nothing), to an increasingly complex system (our
    universe).
    2. When simple states move to complex states, we call that growth.
    3. Growth mandates energy.
    -Therefore, there MUST be an initial energy (which is a something) to start the whirlwind
    that became everything. But we still don’t know what that something is. I’d even go far enough to say that we may never know. But changing the perspective you assume when thinking about it could pacify some of that existential anxiety.

    I think one of the problems is that we are looking at the world like Descartes, when we have to look at it like St. Augustine.

    Descartes thinks the only way to know the properties of a “something” is first negate its existence and then work backwards proving what parts of it are real, or exist concretely. So, if we are trying to know the origin of the something, we start by looking at the preexisting nothing. My problem with this is that we can’t look at an unfathomable, infinite Nothing that our species never observed and make claims on how it worked or what it’s properties are. It goes against the scientific method, there is literally zero epistemological evidence for the Nothing because it inherently didn’t exist. So how can we ever know it?

    St. Augustine approached this question not by trying to stretch his mind bigger than all of existence (and therefore his own mind), but by starting with what we already have. We make decisions on subjects that aren’t explicit by taking the explicit knowledge we already have, and then applying it.

    Time’s only real existence is right now. The future does not exist, and the past only exists now in our memories. We cannot remember Zero, just like humans cannot remember conception. And there is no one (to our concrete, epistemological, experiential knowledge) bigger than us to tell us how it happened.

    We are left with only one truth: we are. We cannot know which spark started the fire, but we have scars from the flames. This world is in constant motion, it flows and crashes and decays and grows at ever fluctuating speeds. And with all our “concrete knowledge,” we still can’t know it.

    And that is the only answer we have. And it will keep you up at night, it has for as long as our species has dug themselves into existential pits and wallowed on the stone floor, unable to dig any farther. We are finite, therefore our minds are also. We cannot comprehend infinity. My only response to the cleaving stare from the beast of infinite nothing is to lift my eyes and stare back.

  • AnnaQS

    How about the idea that there isn’t any nothing. And never was. Let’s assume that there was never a state when there was nothing, before the beginning of time or so. Maybe time and space was always and all the balance of energy and mass in the universe was always the same. No beginning ever, nice idea, right?

    • Priscilla Burns

      But our universe is slowing down, not maintaining speed. If there never was nothing, our universe would be infinite. Which means it wouldn’t be decaying.

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