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A simple but fundamental question.


The "something" means the whole Universe (known and unknown), it could be represented as the reality version of the set of all sets, which is itself debated. It includes all the Multiverses and such.

A better version of the whole Universe could be described with a Grothendieck universe.

The "nothing" means an absence of the whole Universe, not a particular void or emptiness in the whole Universe but a nonexistent whole Universe.


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Cf. The complete works of Heidegger... –  Tom Boardman Jul 21 '11 at 14:04
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@Tom: You could probably turn that comment into a very good answer... –  Cody Gray Jul 27 '11 at 11:57
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no offense, but when you find yourself asking "why is there something instead of nothing" you may enjoy adressing a psychologist for potential suicidal behaviour –  propaganda Jan 23 '12 at 0:23
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This is a meaningless question in the sense of Carnap. –  Ron Maimon Apr 17 '12 at 6:00
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Neither Grothendieck universe nor the "set of all sets" has anything whatsoever to do with your original question, the first has a well defined meaning in mathematics, the second does not. –  orbifold Jul 3 '12 at 20:17

17 Answers 17

Before anything else one should be aware of the instrument used to answer questions. That instrument is human language. While there is no guarantee that such a system of patterns is powerful and expressive enough to reason about the necessity of all that is, we can still examine what can we reasonably say and understand about this.

Let us begin by finding out the difference between Something and Nothing.

Obviously they are opposites - first word denotes the present state of affairs of all that is and the other one its negation. We can be fairly confident that right now Something is and Nothing is not.

So why is it this way? Could there be Nothing instead of Something? Turns out the answer is surprisingly simple and straightforward: if Nothing could be, then it would inevitably be Something - giving us a contradiction with our initial premises, thus demonstrating that Nothing cannot be.

In other words, there is Something because it cannot be otherwise - it is an inevitability that arises from the complete, utter and total incapacity of Nothing to exist as such.

A more formal version of the same argument can be found from @anon's answer.

In short: Something is because Nothing is not.

Or to quote "The Way Of Truth" by Parmenides: For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are.


  • An update in response to comment by OP

This is not circular reasoning. You are missing the point that we reason only through language which is a limited system of rules. Breaking a rule results in error.

The above question makes the error of assuming that non-being can be. It is self-contradictory. In the same way one can ask why is there no darkness in light or why is there no silence in sound.

Apparently you presume that if there is a word ("nothing"), then it must have an object, i.e. a correspondence with something beyond your own imagination. Not true!

Nothing is the opposite of Something, it does not and can not be.

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@Saul: excellent answer, especially the addendum. –  Decent Dabbler Aug 7 '11 at 1:48
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@Saul - You're playing word games. The question doesn't assume nothing is something in any meaningful way. The word "nothing" is indeed a noun, but it is understood by every sane person to be a mere placeholder. If that bothers you, then cut away the last three words of the question and we're off to the main argument. I don't understand the remainder of your response. Perhaps we've misunderstood one another. True nothingness is not impossible. It is only impossible for true nothingness to have been, so to speak. Thus we come to the question of the first (metaphysical) cause that always was. –  danielm Oct 14 '12 at 22:53
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@Jon - Something and Nothing are opposites. Something is but Nothing is not. If Nothing could be, then it would inevitably be Something - giving us a contradiction with our initial premises, thus showing that Nothing cannot be. Which part of this are you failing to understand? –  Saul Oct 17 '12 at 6:13
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You nailed the issue: language. But that is exactly what is holding you from tackling the question. You are attached to the strutcture of the language, ignoring the meaning of the question. Simply rephrase: "There is something. Why is that the case?" –  Koeng Oct 17 '12 at 15:04
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@Saul To address the more logical part of your comment, you state that "there is Something because it cannot be otherwise - it is an inevitability that arises from the complete, utter and total incapacity of nothingness to exist". But for that you assume that the existence of reality is reflected in logic. Yes, if we assume that, you are right. But what reason do we have to assume that the ultimate existence of reality is defined by what we understand as logical? Did logic exist before the reality bounds to it and say "well, if it must be non-contradictory, then I must also exist"? –  Koeng Oct 17 '12 at 16:31

We don't know.

There are some very valiant attempts to engage the question here, and many of them even explore concepts well worth exploring. But just because we live in such a complex, information-packed age doesn't mean we need to pretend we know things we don't. The oracle at Delphi said that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens simply because he realised that he knew nothing, and supposedly that one statement is responsible for the existence of Western philosophy in the first place. She had a pretty good point.

I've never heard a good reason offered for why there is a universe/multiverse instead of there not being one. I may one day hear such a reason, but I couldn't begin to imagine how it might proceed. Nor can I think of an ultimate reason why "me" began. This is contrast, of course, to the scientific observations and models I can build of how a big bang might have lead to stars, galaxies and planets, a human being might have evolved on one of them, how physics could give rise to consciousness, and so on. But as to why that entire business is busily, well, businessing--a complete mystery. Sometimes the most honest thing you can do is admit that. Is it really so hard to do?

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A good answer. This is similar to anon's answer but in layman's terms. But even if we don't/can't know with 100% certainty, maybe we can list several possibilities? That's how I imagine the ideal answer. –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 23 '11 at 19:36
    
Actually, a great answer. Most of the other answers here are really interesting and insightfull, but they don't tackle the question. The question lies in (or maybe outside) the limits of human reasoning, and simply trying to keep everything inside is not an answer. –  Koeng Oct 17 '12 at 15:16
    
Matter and energy can not be created or destroyed according to Physics laws so assuming this can be applied back through ALL history does this imply there has always been matter and energy? So there has always been something.... –  user128932 Jul 13 at 7:09
    
Every explanation for why something has to exist would have to start with the assumption that something exists - we can't very well find prior principles to derive that fact from. –  Brilliand Jul 14 at 18:06

Douglas Adams said:

A guy said to me, 'yes, but the whole theory of evolution is based on a tautology: that which survives, survives' This is tautological, therefore it doesn't mean anything.

I thought about that for a while and it finally occurred to me that a tautology is something that if it means nothing, not only that no information has gone into it but that no consequence has come out of it.

So, we may have accidentally stumbled upon the ultimate answer; it's the only thing, the only force, arguably the most powerful of which we are aware, which requires no other input, no other support from any other place, is self evident, hence tautological, but nevertheless astonishingly powerful in its effects. It's hard to find anything that corresponds to that and I therefore put it at the beginning of one of my books. I reduced it to what I thought were the bare essentials, which are very similar to the ones you came up with earlier, which were:

  • anything that happens, happens
  • anything that in happening causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen
  • anything that in happening causes itself to happen again, happens again

In fact you don't even need the second two because they flow from the first one, which is self-evident and there's nothing else you need to say; everything else flows from that.

So, I think we have in our grasp here a fundamental, ultimate truth, against which there is no gain-saying. It was spotted by the guy who said this is a tautology. Yes, it is, but it's a unique tautology in that it requires no information to go in but an infinite amount of information comes out of it. So I think that it is arguably therefore the prime cause of everything in the Universe. Big claim, but I feel I'm talking to a sympathetic audience.

To my mind what D.A. was getting at is that the origin-of-life question is the same as the origin-of-everything question: in both cases it seems counter-intuitive that stable systems can bootstrap themselves into existence. And that maybe these questions have the same answer: natural selection. Lee Smolin discussed his evolving universes idea with Richard Dawkins (who was a good friend of D.A.) here.

In both the origin-of-life and the origin-of-everything there were earlier proto forms that were very ropey and odd and inefficient and not what we think of as an actual universe/lifeform at all. Things like matter and indeed causality are highly-evolved end-products under this hypothesis.

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My first thought about answering this question was just to write 42. but that was not long enough. –  Chad Jul 20 '11 at 17:11
    
...and then again, some of us find colossal contentment with truisms merely because they were true –  Peter Turner Jul 20 '11 at 17:37
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@Chad: "In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move." –  Karoly Horvath Jul 20 '11 at 17:45
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The Universe might be the ultimate tautology, in more than one way. Example: Big Bang, stars appear, planets appear, life appears, life evolves, conscious beings appear and evolve, expand and reach extraordinary levels of knowledge and power, maybe involving something akin to a cosmic Singularity (as close to a secular concept of God as is possible), eventually learn to control space and time - and reach back in time all the way, triggering the Big Bang. In fact, I believe this is the simplest explanation of all. –  Florin Andrei Jul 21 '11 at 0:32
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I do like the idea of evolving Universe. But in order to evolve, it needs some materials to begin with. With the "nothing" case, there is no materials at all. –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 5 '11 at 16:07

Definition: We say X is logically impossible if it entails a contradiction, and logically possible otherwise.

Definition: Given a set of assumptions, a sufficient explanation for X is a demonstration that not-X is logically impossible within those assumptions.

Lemma: If not-X is logically possible within a set of assumptions, then there does not exist a sufficient explanation for X (via reductio ad absurdum).

Assumption: An absence of affairs is logically possible.

Conclusion: There is no sufficient explanation for why there is something rather than nothing.

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+1 for the formal proof :) –  Joseph Weissman Aug 23 '11 at 0:56
    
Thank you for your logical proof. Your conclusion would then refute the I think then the whole Universe is axiom, and underline the antagonism nature of the 2 discussed states. Your answer is then: We can't know. By the way, by absence of affairs you mean nothingness? –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 23 '11 at 17:33
    
@Geoffroy: Thanks, yes I mean nothing(ness), empty set, ontological void, what have you. –  anon Aug 23 '11 at 17:42
    
But if there is a set of assumptions, there is something (namely that very set of assumptions) and thus there is not nothing. Therefore given any set of assumptions, you can conclude there is not nothing. –  celtschk Oct 21 '12 at 13:43
    
@celtschk That sounds like magical thinking somehow. To investigate what an absence of affairs would entail, one does not postulate the existence of someone investigating that idea or holding that assumption (which would indeed be counterfactual to nothingness). Frankly, I feel absolute logic is transcendent in the sense that it does not "exist" in any particular world, because to say it "exists" is simply to say that it holds true or corresponds to possibility, which is not the same as our speaking of the "existence" of other things. –  anon Oct 21 '12 at 16:45

I think a typical answer to that question is the Anthropic Principle: if there was nothing instead of something, then we wouldn't be here to ask the question. So, even if the odds of something to nothing is one in a trillion, we're always going to be in the universe with something rather than the one with nothing. (This still leaves open the question as to why the odds wouldn't be zero in a trillion, however.)

Additional answers to this question (none of which are particularly satisfying), include:

  • An argument by Leibniz involving something similar to the Anthropic Principle combined with reductio ad absurdum
  • Why not?
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The Anthropic principle is a valid answer but the problem is that it is answering it by avoiding it. But what if I really want to answer it? I would like a more precise and practical solution. –  Geoffroy CALA Jul 20 '11 at 11:27
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@Geoffroy CALA: It isn't really avoiding it. There has to be something for you to ask the question. It is however pointing out that maybe it is The Wrong Question (tm). Reformulate it to "How did the universe come into existence" instead, and you get a better question. The answer still is "We have no idea, and we most likely will never have any idea". –  Lennart Regebro Jul 20 '11 at 13:20
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@Geoffroy CALA: No, I don't want to reformulate it, I'm just pointing out that you ask the wrong question. If you ask another one you might get a more useful answer. And that is not avoiding it. The question has been answered. You don't like the answer, but that's hardly my fault. –  Lennart Regebro Jul 20 '11 at 19:00
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-1: If you came home one day and saw your house floating twenty feet in the air, would you tell yourself: "This is because if it were otherwise, I wouldn't be seeing a floating house - but I am, so here it is." This is not an explanation! The question is not asking how we know there is something (which is what this is actually answering), it is asking why there is something rather than nothing. –  anon Aug 21 '11 at 23:19
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@anon: You're not understanding the anthropic principle. Whether house is floating does determine whether you can ask why your house is floating. Whether you exist determines uniquely whether you can ask why you exist. Consider this: the odds of getting 20 heads in a row are approximately one in a million. However, if ten million people flipped a coin 20 times, you would expect that several of them would get heads 20 times in a row. Now, if you only looked at the end result (not understanding how those people were selected), you'd be amazed that several people got 20 heads in a row. –  Ben Hocking Aug 22 '11 at 21:52

What do you mean by "why"?

Do you mean "how did 'things' come to be?". That is a scientific question, and can be attacked by gathering and interpreting data (like what the physicists do).

If you mean, "what is a justification (a proof) that there is something (and not nothing)?", then the justification is that if there were nothing, you wouldn't be able to formulate such a question.

I think such a question is more figuratively motivated, a searching for psychological satisfaction in the consciousness of one's own consciousness, the existence of one's own thoughts. The answer to that, of resolving that tension, is to just get used to it.

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By "how did things come to be", you assume there must have been a beginning, why? About the second reformulation, I don't need it because I already accept the axiom that something really exist by this reasonningm: I think then the Universe is. Finally, you're right that this question serve a purpose in some psychological effects it has on us. Some ignore the question, others wants to reformulate it, deny it, –  Geoffroy CALA Jul 27 '11 at 20:22
    
@Geoffroy: To point 1, I don't think there is that assumption, only that things do exist now (which you also accept) and that there is a scientific process for finding out -something- about how some things some into being if they do at all (possibly discovering that they -always- existed). Can you elaborate on what you intend by 'why' if it doesn't match well any of three I suggested? –  Mitch Jul 27 '11 at 20:37
    
But I think this question leads to a world of valid interrogations and moreover, this question helps to answer several important questions; by imagining what could be a non-existent Universe, we realize how queer our actual Something is but only if we can subtract ourselves (humanity) from the equation. –  Geoffroy CALA Jul 27 '11 at 20:45
    
I am gonna try to be more explicit about the why: This is not a anthropocentric why so it is very close to your first "how did things come to be', just replace the past tense by present tense as with: How do things can be? –  Geoffroy CALA Jul 27 '11 at 20:52

Nothing is a word. That something exists can be verified by observation. Taking a word like existence (as in existence of everything), and then negating it, does not necessarily produce a meaningful concept. There is no meaning to the nonexistence of everything. In this case, it really makes no sense outside the context of our language's grammar and lexicon. It's just a word that refers to no observable facts (to NULL in a certain respect).

If you limit the context of the original concept of existence to a certain thing, or collection of things, then it becomes a statement of fact. That statement necessarily must have an inverse. If I state I wear a purple shirt, then either there is a purple shirt on my torso or there is not. So to say there does not exist that shirt is still a meaningful statement. One or the other statement is true, but not both. I cannot disentangle the word existence from meaningful facts without delving into absurdity. The moment you do that with any words, you end up with ridiculous statements that, though they may sound deep or illuminating, lack all meaning. They are just statements without any connection to the world outside of our own thoughts.

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Yes, I understand that logically, the word nothing (in the context) is an absurdity. But does this means that nothingness (of the whole Universe) is definitely an impossibility, just because of a semantic argument? I mean, can we prove such a big fundamental physics statement (nothing does not exist) just with a semantic argument? –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 11 '11 at 11:54
    
By nothing does not exist I really meant nothingness could not exist instead of something –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 23 '11 at 17:44

This sort of question reminds me of an article I read about Einstein's theories on light (sorry, can't re-find the source). Back in early 19s, there were serious debates on light in order to understand if it was matter of if it was waves.

Newton's experimentations show light has matter-like properties but Max Planck's show wave-like properties. Who's right ? ... no-one known until Einstein came up with the hypothesis of light being both wave and matter.

Perhaps this situation is similare and the answer is : there are both present. Maybe there is a duality of both somethingness and emptyness whithin the same univers (or multivers). Our current model of reality tells us there is somthingness, but since human have a tendency to develop model-dependent realities (Stephen Hawking - The Grand Design), probabilities of "being right" with our current model of somethingness are very low, almost impossible.

In Breif, my answer to "why there is somethingness instead of nothing?" is "because somethingness fits better with our current understanding of univers" ... It will fit until a new model of reality comes up and enlarge our understanding to introduce emptyness in it. Those new models of reality are normally brought by fundamental scientific discoveries.

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Thanks for your answer. Maybe you are right when you say they are both present, it's an idea I had already thought, but I could not be certain of its validity. My (debatable) idea was that maybe this question was invalid (as Louzer's answer) but only because our Universe is not in fact a TRUE something nor a TRUE nothing. Maybe a true something Universe would mean a infinitely dense Universe and a nothing Universe would mean a Zero density Universe. When our Universe is in fact something in between with a actual real (number) density. This notion is highly experimental! –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 5 '11 at 18:18
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Nitpick: Part of your physics explanation is incorrect. You say that "Einstein came up with the hypothesis of light being both wave and matter." Well, not really. That's called "wave-particle duality" in physics circles, and Einstein rejected that theory. Louis de Broglie is probably better credited as the "inventor" of the wave-particle duality thesis. –  Cody Gray Aug 19 '11 at 11:31
    
I am not a physics expert, so thanks for the note. The whole Einstein reference was more to point out that we trend to split concepts that can ultimatelly coexist. It's simply the use of an AND instead of a XOR in the philosophical-questionning process. –  ChrisEve Aug 24 '11 at 14:39

It seems to me that the term nothingness can't even be defined. So, how can you say something is not nothing if you don't even know what nothing is.

But, as soon as you define nothing as a subset of U or partition any part of U to make room for nothing, then you have thereby defined nothing and defined it as separate from U. You then know what nothing is.

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You are right when you say it's complicated to define both something and nothing. Maybe this is the key to solve or at least clarify this particular problem. –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 14 '11 at 19:59

My answer to the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing involves first providing a reason for why anything exists and then showing that what has traditionally been called "nothing" meets this reasoning and therefore really isn't "nothing" but actually exists.

In regard to the question of "Why do things exist?", I suggest that a thing exists if the contents of, or what is meant by, that thing are completely defined. A complete definition is equivalent to an edge or boundary defining what is contained within and giving "substance" and existence to the thing.

In regard to the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?", "nothing", or "non-existence" is first defined to mean: no energy, matter, volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc.; and no minds to think about this lack-of-all. Next, I propose that this "non-existence" itself, and not our mind's conception of non-existence, in and of itself completely describes or defines the entirety of all that is present. Therefore, as a complete definition of what is present, what has traditionally been called "nothing", or "non-existence", is actually an existent state. That is, what has traditionally been called "nothing" is, when seen from a different perspective, an existent state or "something".

Another way to reach this same conclusion is by saying that in regard to the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?", there are two choices for answering this question:

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. With choice B, if "something" has not always been here, then "nothing" must have been here before it. "Nothing" is defined as above. But, in this complete "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.

Now, instead of saying "That can't be. Something and nothing are not the same", it's better to try and figure out how these two logically-required equivalent things can really be the same. The reason, I believe, is as described above that what has traditionally been called "nothing" completely describes, or defines, the entirety of what is present, and is therefore actually not "nothing", but is really an existent state.

Overall, I come to the conclusion that many others have come to which is that having true non-existence is not possible because even what we have traditionally thought of as true non-existence is really an existent state when seen from a different angle. Non-existence is basically a misnomer that has come about because we've been thinking of non-existence in our minds, which exist. Next to our existent minds, nothing just looks like nothing. But, nothing, or non-existence, itself, and not our mind's conception of non-existence, isn't dependent on being defined as the lack of existence. It's on its own and, on its own, completely describes the entirety of what is there and is thus really an existent state. In this (and all) areas, it's very important to distinguish between our mind's conception of non-existence and non-existence itself in which all minds along with everything else are gone.

This may all seem to be a waste of time, but the above reasoning provides a reason for why things exist and by trying to figure out the properties of the particular existent state previously referred to as non-existence allows one to build a model of the universe that is based on these properties via what I call "philosophical engineering". This model has symmetry breaking, a natural reason for why energy exists and a big bang like expansion of space.

A more thorough discussion of the above idea along with some responses to critiques is at my website at: https://sites.google.com/site/ralphthewebsite/filecabinet/why-things-exist-something-nothing

Also, some discussion of this has also taken place recently at google.com/groups in the epistemology and everything-list groups and many years ago at a digital philosophy group.

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A rich answer in which I like several parts (but not all): When you say that nothing exists as well as something, I actually agree. And most of the answer is dedicated to define the 2 main concepts, that's good. Now sorry for the criticizing part: You say something may exist when it is completely defined (with boundaries). What about an infinite Universe with infinite mass and volume? Why do you totally ignore choice A "something has always been there", is it because your can't visualize/model/see it that your prefer the anthropomorphic birth view of Universe? –  Geoffroy CALA Sep 4 '11 at 14:59
    
I don't really understand your argument about admitting that the nothing existing as an 'existent state'. But then you say that 'true non-existence' is impossible, isn't it contradicting with your former argument for its existence? And in that part you also use our mind point of view to aid in your idea; well, I don't like using mind/consciousness tools to help formulate an argument, it's an anthropic type of answer which as value only in our limited lifetime, what about asking this question as if we never (humanity) existed? –  Geoffroy CALA Sep 4 '11 at 15:03
    
I do think the Universe has been there before the humans and will be there after our possible extinction, no need to include our subjective (naturally anthropomorphic) personal mind to the complex Universe equation. Finally, you make a reference to show how your paradigm fits well with the current Big-bang cosmology but that is supposing this model will never evolve and is right, (after millenaries of making Universe models, has humanity at last found the true model, well, that’s very improbable), moreover it is an ad-hoc reasoning. –  Geoffroy CALA Sep 4 '11 at 15:04
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5.) I was purposely pointing out that it's important to NOT mix in our mind's conception of non-existence in trying to figure out what non-existence itself is like. One of the ways people think incorrectly about non-existence is to confuse our mind's conception of non-existence with non-existence itself. Next to our existent minds, nothing just looks like nothing. But, non-existence itself, not our mind's conception of it, isn't dependent on being defined as the lack of existence. It's on its own, and, on its own, completely defines the entirety of what is there and thus exists. –  Roger Sep 5 '11 at 3:36
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Response 5.) I didn't claim that my model wouldn't evolve. You read that into it. I'm constantly working on it, and when someone can give me logical reasons why it's not right or why another model is better, I'll go with that. But, given that, if one has faith in one's reasoning and no better reason has come along, it's perfectly warranted to think it's right, for now, and try to develop it further until it's proven wrong. So far, it seems to fit well with what I know of physics. It's good to have faith in one's reasoning and not trust too much to the value of group work, IMHO. –  Roger Sep 5 '11 at 3:49

This is ultimately a meaningless question in light of logical positivism. One cannot ask questions which have no translation to observations, and in this case, one cannot ask "what would it be like if there were nothing?" Nor can we ask "what is the relative probability of something rather than nothing?" other than in the trivial sense of 100% certainty of something, because here it is.

It is very easy to fool your brain into asking nonsense questions. These are question which cannot be translated into sense impressions, whose answers have no bearing on the observations. Examples of these questions:

  • Do the He atoms in the sun support the Republican or Democratic candidate for US president?
  • Where is the number 7 located?
  • How much does Mac OSX software weigh?

Questions of this sort come up in physics all the time, and physicists have become exceptionally good at smelling when a question is nonsense:

  • What is the precise position of an electron in the ground state of an H atom?
  • Does the object thrown into a black hole really cross the horizon, or just get smeared out on the surface?
  • Are quarks actually particles, or do the hadrons simply appear as if they are made out of quarks?
  • Which is the true value of the photon propagator Feynman's or Landau's ( $g_{\mu\nu}\over k^2$ or ${g_{\mu\nu} - {k_\mu k_\nu\over k^2} \over k^2$)?

These questions are completely ridiculous, physics doesn't answer them and doesn't admit that they need an answer. There are tons more, and you find as many as you like the more you delve into physics. This comes up right at the start, with the question "where is the coordinate zero in the Cartesian coordinates of the world located, really?" But these questions can fool the brain into thinking they are real questions, so physicists, starting with Ernst Mach, developed positivism to deal with them.

Positivism says, whenever you ask a question, ask yourself the following:

  • Assuming the answer is this ot that, is there any effect on empirical observation? Do any sensory impressions change depending on the answer?
  • Does any chain of reasoning depend on the assumption of the answer? Can this reasoning always be translated to another assumption?

If the answer is no and yes respectively, then the question is meaningless.

The principle of positivism moots many questions, including that of "existence". If I have an cup, and it keeps all its attributes (visibility, water-holding, hardness,etc) but loses the property of "existence", how does it change? It obviously doesn't. So I can imagine that the cup is winking in and out of existence, and this does nothing to the empirical relations, so it does nothing at all to sense impression, and the question of existence is meaningless.

Carnap noted that the positivism has the effect of culling away many traditional philosophical questions:

  • If the world is deterministic, how can we have free will?
  • Where did the universe come from?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?

These and many others, essentially all of classical philosophy, are mooted or answered by applying logical positivist principles. This is codified in Carnap's book on the nonsensical nature of metaphysics. In the 1950s this was considered revolutionary, but by the 1970s, philosopers missed the old questions, so they quietly killed positivism and buried Carnap.

The notion of positivism is alive and well in physics, past quantum mecanics at least, but going back much further. The positivism is the source of all the influential philosophy and most of the influential physics of the 20th century, and it really is impossible to go back.

Your question is meaningless in light of positivism, and has no answer, nor does it need an answer.

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I think there is a good point in here somewhere, Ron. Carnap and his positivist view of logical semantics is interesting, but the relevant aspect of his positivism for this question is his separation of Internal and External questions. Consider: Propositional logic does not require that we stipulate object domains other than the truth values of sentences. Why, then, should we prefer a model that actually does use objects? It seems like that's a matter of practical expressibility, and hence an External question of theory choice, rather than one Internal to any particular philosophical theory. –  Paul Ross Oct 29 '12 at 16:47
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@PaulRoss: I don't prefer a model that uses object domains, I have no problem with using predicate domains only, it is equivalent. You can make a formal language with one noun, "thing", and then my cup on the table is "thing of a white cuplike nature which is on the thing-supporting thing with four legs". You can omit thing by making it implicit and make a predicate only language. It really makes no difference, and one should accept and celebrate this freedom. Only the relationship between the truth values of formal sentences, given the translation from formalism to formalism, is invariant. –  Ron Maimon Oct 29 '12 at 16:51
    
Sure; I agree that the freedom for alternative mathematical frameworks for theories is a great virtue. This external ability to play around with the formal underpinning of our theories is one of the key strengths of Carnap's philosophy. The point relative to this particular question is to note that the "meaninglessness" to which Carnap would attribute the OP's question of "why there is something rather than nothing" is an internal one. Since, qua Scientific Realism, we work in an internal mode, the question is dissolved; but relativising to the Internal mode is the crucial step. –  Paul Ross Oct 29 '12 at 17:01
    
@PaulRoss: It took me forever to understand you, because you used the word "internal" in a way I didn't recognize. You mean "it is meaningless in and of itself" when you say "internal" above. That is, you can't assign meaning to this question without a whole bunch of metaphysical speculations. Then the "internal mode" just means you aren't allowing answers to questions that are internally meaningless. Well duh. If they're meaningless, they're meaningless, and there's no two ways about it. You don't need to relativise, there is no other mode. Carnap is just saying what Mach found self-evident. –  Ron Maimon Oct 30 '12 at 5:26
    
Ron, that's not what I mean at all! I mean Internal in the sense of Carnap's "Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology" (1950) (I assumed you were familiar), shades of which also exist in Putnam's notion of Internal Realism; the idea that the questions are interpreted in terms of the framework of the theory, rather than as "meta" questions about such frameworks. "Being in itself" doesn't have much (if anything) to do with this idea; if anything, it's probably the example par excellence of External metaphysical theorising. –  Paul Ross Oct 30 '12 at 14:35

Because nothing is a state of void being. This is an unnatural and unstable state. If you release something into a void it attempts to quickly disperse filling the void as much as possible. Similarly upon creation objects try to disperse. In a strange coincodence or maybe design things also attract each other. So while nature wants voids filled, matter wants to be together. As a result you end up with collections of particles scattered through out the universe.

Space is not truely empty. There are an effectively infintite number of atoms and particles out there. They are mostly dispersed so as to have an effective pressure approaching 0 through out the majority of the universe. But there are particles there. When they get close enough together and have enough attraction they couple. Eventually that couple collects more or becomes part of a larger collection.

So there is something because that is a more stable state. There are theories that there is antimatter collections in the universe that would cancel out most matter but the dispersal of matter/antimatter sometimes happens before the 2 can cancel each other out.

-- Edit addressing some Ben Hockings concerns

I propose that you can not sum space time. Thus there can be no totality of spacetime. That it may be infinite and immeasurable. That we indeed exist because that is a more natural state. That the universe as you have defined it expands to fill a limitless nothing because that is a more natural state than containing nothing.

Limitless is not the same as being infinitely large. It is nothing thus it has no size, and is not defined by our space time. No displacement is neccessary as there is nothing to displace. The universe expands to fill something that has no volume, or capacity thus can not be filled.

In some ways we agree that the void does not exist as part of our space time. But I deny that our spacetime contains the totality of all that is. The scientist in me would love to limit everything to the limits that transcribe. That would imply that the potential is there to understand everything even if the reality of that approaches the impossible. But logically that makes no sense. I can accept that we exist as statistical anomaly. But if we exist as a statisical anomoly of a cycle of creation/annialation what is the chance that that anomaly only exists once?

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I agree, the OP has been operating under a false dichotomy since he was 10 years old (as have many Star Wars fans like me) that the opposite of the light is dark and the opposite of stuff is nothing. –  Peter Turner Jul 20 '11 at 13:34
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I'd argue that there is a difference between nothing and a void, although it is arguable. Not that it requires general relativity to argue, but since that's my reference frame (so to speak), I'd argue that a void still contains spacetime whereas "nothing" does not even contain that. As Stephen Hawking would argue it is an invalid question to ask what happened "before" the beginning of the Universe in the same manner that it is invalid to ask what is South of the South Pole. –  Ben Hocking Jul 20 '11 at 13:47
    
@Ben Hocking - And I would argue that just because we require something to measure space time that does not mean that space time requires something to exist. Your premise requires a containment of infinty. What if the universe truely is limitless. You assume that because we can not measure, comprehend, or appreciate the concept of a truely limitless void that it can not exist. We often contstrain our universe to that which was created by the big bang. What if there are an infinite number of big bang type events. –  Chad Jul 20 '11 at 14:08
    
@Ben Hocking I agree with you that nothing is not a void and it follows that Chad answer does not satisfy me. He already supposes existing matter dispersing into an unnatural void, but what if there was no matter, no space, no Universe? Chad also says that "Space is not truly empty" so then a true empty void would not even exist in our Universe, and it is also my opinion. My imagined "Nothing" does not exist in our Universe. Our know Universe is "something", OK. But why something exists at all? –  Geoffroy CALA Jul 20 '11 at 14:13
    
@Chad: actually, I'm not assuming that for the reasons you posit that I'm assuming that. I'm assuming that the spacetime of the universe is limited because that agrees with the predictions of General Relativity and observed measurements. (I.e., the combination of both of those, not either one by themselves.) General Relativity draws a distinction between nothing, a void of limited size, and a void of unlimited size. –  Ben Hocking Jul 20 '11 at 14:26

I'll be mostly repeating other good answers, but I'll be using different words, semantics and concepts.

It's only a matter of grouping.

Let's suppose you meant time (or space time) itself greater than the universe. Then it might make sense asking that question, because then nothing could have existed outside the "universe group" at sometime. Though it may also be the case that nothing never existed. If we define universe as everything that can possibly affect us somehow, it doesn't matter what exists outside of it.

But then we have two different groups, which seem to be the premise of your question, the nothing and the something (the universe defined above). If we were at the nothing group, we couldn't possibly be reasoning about it, by definition. So we are in the something group. It's that simple. There is something right now, there was, there will or there might be nothing at a place and time out of our universe - it can't matter.

Now let's go to the other possibility and assume your grouping is of universe greater than time, for whatever that mean. Then the universe includes everything, that is nothing and something. All of it. In such a universe, nothing does exist regardless of something, somewhere at sometime. Thankfully the question isn't asking when or where, but this definition does make the question invalid and automatically contraditory.

We can go on and reason about the question in so many different ways. What I'm actually trying to do here is randomly and luckily connect a synapse in the OP's brain that makes sense to him. Because, in all truth, there is just nothing (instead of something) that can be said to answer the question whole! :-)

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Thanks for your answer: so there is both something and nothing at "same time in the same place", thus making the question invalid. As you said, you repeat stuff already said. So, I'll assume your grouping is of time greater than universe But you can't assume that because my definition of the whole Universe include everything, time included. –  Geoffroy CALA Apr 14 '12 at 12:22
    
And thanks for your hints, @GeoffroyCALA, on how I can improve my answer. I'm editing it now. –  Cawas Apr 15 '12 at 21:46

No matter how one will want to answer this question, one would have to appeal, at least implicitly, to that which exists (or to what supposedly exists). Otherwise, one would put himself in the dubious position of assuming that the appeal to non-existence somehow explains existence. (The trend in philosophy since Plato, and perhaps long before him, is to posit some form of consciousness as the “answer” to such questions, even though this tactic is irrescindably incoherent.)

Thus, by posing this question and assuming that it is valid, you implicitly (but unavoidably) commits yourself to the fallacy of the stolen concept. If we ask why something is, but simply turn around and posit that something in our explanation of that something, what mileage have we gained? Indeed, we’re back to where we started, yet we don’t admit it to ourselves. This is what you do in assuming that the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (or “Why does existence exist?”) is a valid question. One will have to assume the fact of existence in order to answer the question. But in so doing, he will have to deny the fact of existence in order to validate his assumption that there must be a reason why there is something rather than nothing. He must assume the very concept his argument wants to deny, thus ‘stealing’ it from the objective hierarchy of knowledge, and rendering invalid any conclusion he hopes to draw from his argument.

Existence exists. We must start somewhere. The theist wants to start with a form of consciousness. He wants to posit a mind (albeit supernatural) which is responsible for creating all its objects. This is called metaphysical subjectivism, a view which holds that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness.

Some may object to my characterization of the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as fallacious, contesting that there is no such thing as a fallacious question. However, it is true when we examine issues in epistemology and logic, that there is a such thing as an invalid question. The fallacy known as ‘complex question‘, for instance, is a species of invalid question. It is a question which operates on a false assumption and expects the reader to accept that false assumption in order to answer it. The typical example is the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The question assumes that one is a married man and that he beats or has beaten his wife; indeed, it implies such beatings are a regular occurrence. Contrary to these assumptions, however, it could be the case a) that he is not married, or b) that he is married but has never beaten his wife. Since the question is asked in a manner in which a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response can be the only appropriate reply, one cannot answer it on its own terms and avoid affirming its erroneous premises. One would implicate himself simply by answering. The question is fallacious because it leads one to accept a false premise, assuming either a) or b) are the actual case, if he should choose to take it seriously.

Likewise, a question which leads one to commit a fallacy in order to answer it is also invalid. If taken seriously, the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” will lead one to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept; indeed, the fallacy of the stolen concept is unavoidable on the question’s own terms, as we saw above. One would have both to assume and deny existence in order to address the question. If Martin Heidegger ,who originally asked this question, did not recognize this, it was principally because he was not operating on a fully rational philosophy. Yet, today we have theists assuming this question is valid all the time in the construction of their apologetic ruses. What is it that theists want to posit in response to their invalid questions so as to appear to satisfy them? Of course, they assume that the only logical answer is to assert a universe-creating, reality-ruling form of consciousness, which they call God, and delight themselves with this as their answer, never allowing themselves to recognize that the question leads them to accepting a stolen concept, and assuming that their arguments justifying this illicit move make it valid.

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Interesting answer. In short you say it is an invalid question, logically, but your argument didn't convince me. Could you be more specific here? "commits yourself to the fallacy of the stolen concept", what stolen concept? And I suppose the Universe already existed before my birth, so I don't need a human consciousness to prove it'll exist after my death (even if I proved the Universe does exist in the present thanks to my Consciousness, I take for granted it has/will forever existed/exist) –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 3 '11 at 17:00
    
When one or more concepts on which an argument logically depends are denied in the argument then that argument commits the fallacy of stolen concept. e.g. 1. There are absolutely no absolutely true statements. 2. Physics has proven science is incapable of telling us anything true. 3. It is impossible for people to communicate with one another. –  louzer Aug 5 '11 at 5:14
    
Yes. But these are statements, not questions. I can clearly see logical fallacies in your examples, but I see none in my question. Why natural chlorophyll is green instead of blue? we know natural chlorophyll is green, we know why it's green (cause on Earth surface green is the more efficient color to catch more energy from the Sun) so we also know why it isn't blue. No logical fallacies in the question. –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 5 '11 at 15:41
    
When you ask Why is there something instead of nothing, the ONLY answer you will accept is of the form: "There is something instead of nothing because there was <something> before there was something". Since you force the person who answers it to commit the fallacy of stolen concept, the question you asked is fallacious. I have explained it in detail above. –  louzer Aug 5 '11 at 16:39
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Thank you. I now better understand your point. But the question remains valid for some class of answers as with notably Leo's answer: "There is something because nothing can't exist." or ChrisEve's "they are both present" The fallacy of the stolen concept doesn't seem to appy here. –  Geoffroy CALA Aug 5 '11 at 18:32

Since the empty set is also a set and therefore you have the whole set theory and nearly everthing logic requires. {} is the null statement and the empty set. Therefore there is a set and there is something. Here are more empty sets {<>,<>,<>} in fact 3 sets and there exists 3 things actually 4 things since the set of 3 sets is also a set and so on.

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This doesn't explain why we observe nonempty "set." –  anon Aug 21 '11 at 23:22

One additional interesting facet to consider, and apologies if I missed it in the earlier answers, comes from looking at the sum total of energy in the observable universe. As far as we've been able to measure so far, all the positive energy sources in the universe (positive electrical charges, mass, etc.) are exactly cancelled out by their equivalent negative energy source (negative electrical charges, gravity, etc.).

If the nature of the universe is such that the sum total of all energy actually IS exactly zero, we have the fascinating situation where the universe is, in a sense, 'nothing' - at least in the manner of:

1 - 1 + 2 - 2 + 3 - 3 = 0

Further support for this idea comes from physicists who are studying 'virtual particles'. It turns out that a pure vacuum is unstable, and 'virtual particles' can appear out of 'nothing' for a brief moment of time before re-combining and cancelling each other out again: a Nothing -> Something -> Nothing progression of the form: 0 = 1 - 1 = 0

In short, one of the unexpected answers to the ancient question is that, just maybe:

Σ(Universe) = 0

... Meaning once again, the universe appears to be turning our intuitions on their head: the 'something' that we see might actually be an expression of 'nothing'!

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There is no equality at all in between "something" and "nothingness", and it asserts absolute differentiation (there is no the sameness at all) in between "something" and "nothingness".

Absolute differentiation in between "something" and "nothingness, it asserts essential differentiation (it’s not “i am different than you but we have the sameness a little bit”, but it’s strictly “there is nothing on me that exist within you”), therefore there is consequence:

  • If "something" has dimensional, then there will be no dimensional at all on another “nothingness”, and another “nothingness” is equal to “not exist” (we can ignore it, we consider it as “not exist”, since it requires no basic dimensional at all), and vice versa,

  • Whichever we choose, eventually it asserts there is only "dimensional", which asserts there is only "something" rather than "nothingness"

Why is there something instead of nothing?

  • Both "something" Versus "nothingness" asserts (consequence that there is) only "dimensional" (which left behind) that must be related to "something".

It may be considered incomparable in between "something" Versus "nothingness" (whether it maybe considered "doesn't make sense", contradiction in between both or whatever), but it can be considered as our trial to push our logical to the farthest extent and see where is it going to? And eventually it asserts there is only "dimensional" which assert "something".

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protected by Joseph Weissman Sep 3 '11 at 18:06

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