12

Could it be possible that the universe doesn't exist? That nothing exists, not even you or me?

And by not existing, I mean totally not existing, as in not even existing as a computer simulation, or a holographic projection, or a dream by a God. Not existing as in nothing at all existing. As in even consciousness doesn't exist. I refer to metaphysical nihilism and nothingness. And I don't even mean it in the sense that some other possible world is nothing, but in the sense that this nonexistant world is nothing. And furthermore, "Nothing exists" and "Nothing doesn't exist". Even abstract concepts like philosophy, mathematics, Boolean logic, Indian logic, language games, mysticism, paradoxes, metaphysical nihilism and existance do not exist.

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    Yes, it is possible; but in this case you are not entitled to ask questions, nor to expect answers ... – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 22 '14 at 9:12
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    just because there is a possibility for something doest make it real or worth spending time to think about it. – yamm Dec 22 '14 at 9:33
  • And if it only exists in your imagination, so what? – gnasher729 Dec 22 '14 at 11:13
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    I agree with @nir. If (for example by Mauro's reasoning) the nature of asking questions and expecting answers requires existence, and we are in fact doing that, then it is very much impossible. – stoicfury Dec 24 '14 at 18:49
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    Depends... Who's asking? – Neil Meyer Jan 20 '15 at 18:38
10

I believe it is impossible. I recommend you read (if you haven't already) Descartes' meditations where he famously concludes I think therefore I am - http://www.sacred-texts.com/phi/desc/med.txt:

Archimedes, in order that he might draw the terrestrial globe out of its place, and transport it elsewhere, demanded only that one point should be fixed and immoveable; in the same way I shall have the right to conceive high hopes if I am happy enough to discover one thing only which is certain and indubitable.

I suppose, then, that all the things that I see are false; I persuade myself that nothing has ever existed of all that my fallacious memory represents to me. I consider that I possess no senses; I imagine that body, figure, extension, movement and place are but the fictions of my mind. What, then, can be esteemed as true? Perhaps nothing at all, unless that there is nothing in the world that is certain.

But how can I know there is not something different from those things that I have just considered, of which one cannot have the slightest doubt? Is there not some God, or some other being by whatever name we call it, who puts these reflections into my mind? That is not necessary, for is it not possible that I am capable of producing them myself? I myself, am I not at least something? But I have already denied that I had senses and body. Yet I hesitate, for what follows from that? Am I so dependent on body and senses that I cannot exist without these? But I was persuaded that there was nothing in all the world, that there was no heaven, no earth, that there were no minds, nor any bodies: was I not then likewise persuaded that I did not exist? Not at all; of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something [or merely because I thought of something]. But there is some deceiver or other, very powerful and very cunning, who ever employs his ingenuity in deceiving me. Then without doubt I exist also if he deceives me, and let him deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I think that I am something. So that after having reflected well and carefully examined all things, we must come to the definite conclusion that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it.

In case you believe it is conceivable that nothing actually exists, I would be really interested in your reasoning.

  • This is the correct answer. Whether or not you agree with all of Descartes, he is unanswerable on the point that the fact that there seems to be a universe is proof that something "exists," even in the case that we are utterly mistaken about the nature of that thing and what it means for it to exist. – Chris Sunami Dec 22 '14 at 16:26
  • Well, it's all in the semantics, essentially. Buddhist philosophy uses the word "exist" to mean "inherently existing". I find Descartes' "answer" a cheat, which answered nothing. I like the Buddhist way of separating conventional reality from ultimate reality. Conventionally, all things are exactly as seen or defined by the local language. Ultimately, nothing is exactly as seen as there are always "causes and conditions", which, incidentally is one form of their proof for "no beginnings, and no ends" of reality, for infinite time in both the past and the future. – PFS32 Dec 23 '14 at 19:34
  • @PFS32, how is you comment related to the OP question or this answer? why do you find Descartes' answer a cheat? – nir Dec 23 '14 at 20:48
  • But Descartes could have been a nonexistent zombie! I might have a strong gut feeling I am conscious right now, even if I am not sure if I existed a short time ago. But upon further reflection, I now realize that some time has passed, and what I thought of as "I AM" is now "I WAS", which could be a nonexistent memory. Upon further reflection, I also realize what I think of as "I AM" will also become a "I WAS", which might also become nonexistent. So, it is possible that "I AM Nothing", or "I AM not". – just a lil kid Dec 30 '14 at 7:33
  • Might it also be possible that I am a nonexistent zombie "having" nonexistent thoughts? – just a lil kid Dec 30 '14 at 7:57
4

According to a strict advaita vedanta view, a sub-school of the Vedanta school of Vedic or Hindu philosophy and religious practice, you are correct. It doesn't exist. The only thing that exists is Brahman, one without a second. Gaudapada's Karika chapter IV argues for its non-existence and gives non-scriptural logic as proof with no fall-backs to scripture.

Some sample verses from chapter IV.:

verse 22: "Nothing whatsoever is born, either of itself or of another entity. Nothing is ever produced, whether it be being or non-being or both being and non-being."

verse 26: "The mind is not related to [external] objects or to ideas that appear as such objects. This is so because objects are non-existent and the ideas [that appear as external objects] are not distinct from the mind."

verse 38: "All entities are said to be unborn, since birth cannot be established [as a fact]. It is utterly impossible for the unreal to be born of the real."

verse 43: "Those who because of their fear of the truth of absolute non-creation and also because of their perception [of external objects], deny ajati (non-creation) are not affected by the evil consequent on the belief in creation. This evil, if there is any, is insignificant."

verse 46: "Thus the mind [Brahman, or Pure Consciousness] is never subject to birth. All beings, too, are free from birth. Those who know this do not fall into false knowledge."

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    While those are beautiful examples, my knowledge fails me. Is Brahman considered "nonexistent?" I can only work from the English translations, but those verses seem to describe idealism, where all things are consciousness. Nihilism would suggest that Brahman does not exist as well. – Cort Ammon Dec 22 '14 at 16:07
  • the inconceivability of the birth of consciousness does not entail that it existed before you were conceived, nor that it will survive your physical death; when Newton published his theory of gravity, the scientists of his time considered that form of "action at a distance" inconceivable and absurd; nevertheless, it was a matter of fact. – nir Dec 22 '14 at 19:49
  • @CortAmmon Brahman is neither existent nor non-existent. All that can be said is - Brahman is. There is only one Consciousness that exists, there are not multiple consciousnesses. The universe exists; but it does not exist as 'the universe'. It is all Brahman. When you see it as 'the universe' you are seeing an illusion. There were nihilistic philosophers in India that suggested that Brahman did not exist. The particular chapter referenced gives nihilistic arguments and Gaudapada's counter-arguments to them. – Swami Vishwananda Dec 23 '14 at 5:36
  • @nir The arguments in Gaudapada's Karika are too long and extensive for a comment on here. But basically he argues that how can that (Pure Consciousness) which is eternal (birthless) become born? To be born implies non-eternal. If something is eternal it cannot become non-eternal. Something that is non-eternal cannot become eternal. If something is born, then it is non-eternal. Birth is an illusion. He also argues on the point of what is birth? From a relative standpoint did not everything that makes up 'you' exist before your 'birth'? Were you conscious at your 'birth'? – Swami Vishwananda Dec 23 '14 at 5:51
  • @SwamiVishwananda, this kind of argumentation reminds me of Buddhism according to which (I think) existence is an endless change in which nothing can be said to be separate (nor created or destroyed); nevertheless "pure" consciousness does not seem to change (only the objects change, but the watching doesn't) and it is separate in the sense that you and I have distinct (separate) "pure" consciousnesses. Something can be infinite and yet have both a beginning and an end - just consider the infinite set of rational numbers between 0 and 1. – nir Dec 23 '14 at 9:48
3

You may want to check out Peter Rowlands' book and lectures, which describe how the universe and its physical laws can come into existence from nothing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2XdhzCORbo

0

There is a philosophical Buddhist doctrine of False Imagination described in Dwight Goddard's epitomisation of The Lankavatara Sutra. This is the basis for the Zen saying "all is illusion". It is rather like Heidegger putting Being under erasure (crossed-out) because an attempt is being made to describe something without actually knowing what it is to begin with. Related to the universe, what is being described by 'universe' is a personal sense perception. One person's conception of the universe may be different from another's. To imbue it with reality is to be deluded, but as long as one is aware of the personal or social artificiality of the 'universe' construct the matter is reasonably grounded. The possibility of knowing the universe as a 'thing-in-itself' (Ding an sich) is a matter for experiential speculation.

False-Imagination and Knowledge of Appearances (Lankavatara Sutra, chapter 2)

So long as people do not understand the true nature of the objective world, they fall into the dualistic view of things. They imagine the multiplicity of external objects to be real and become attached to them ...

False-imaginations rise from the consideration of appearances: things are discriminated as to form, signs and shape; as to having color, warmth, humidity, motility or rigidity. ...

To illustrate: when a magician depending on grass, wood, shrubs and creepers, exercises his art, many shapes and beings take form that are only magically created; sometimes they even make figures that have bodies and that move and act like human beings; they are variously and fancifully discriminated but there is no reality in them; everyone but children and the simple-minded know that they are not real. ...

Maya ... is not an unreality because it only has the appearance of reality; all things have the nature of maya.

  • Suppose all is an illusion; is it possible that nothing exists? – nir Dec 24 '14 at 10:03
  • That would depend on how existence is defined, which, as far as I know, is not definitively established. – Chris Degnen Dec 24 '14 at 10:09
  • How would you roughly define existence so that it would be possible for nothing at all to exist? – nir Dec 24 '14 at 10:23
  • You could separate the material existence of things (like furniture) from the interior existence of living phenomena (like thoughts and sense perceptions). The former are distinguished by being 'extant' not existent. Then, if your definition is only concerned with extant reality, their objective existence could be deconstructed by Maya. – Chris Degnen Dec 24 '14 at 10:50
  • but my I am naturally concerned with my internal experience as well; does it not entail that something exists? if not why? – nir Dec 24 '14 at 10:56
0

It is in fact possible; and in a certain way - (I'm not arguing for this) plausible.

Consider each word in this paragraph - they are composed of letters that are composed of (in this case) pixels - that are composed of .... well, it's turtles all the way down ... but at some point you get to nothing. Now, given that there is nothing that can be composed of nothing, the fact that nothing exists underneath everything could make possible absolute non-existence.

Next point. There is no "thing". What we call something is merely a convenience. Calling a "bird" such does not begin to capture the essence of the thing. It is more like a linguistic straight jacket imposed on a mass of fluid particles. There is no "thing" in the universe; all so called things fail to have any individual existence, but instead form in a congruent dance with other "things" in their space (the Buddhists call this Pratītyasamutpāda or "dependent arising"). Given that there is no thing existent that one can point to separately, it is possible that there is no existence that can be pointed to.

Descartes is often used to invalidate these thought experiments; but Descartes has done nothing but demonstrate that even his reasoning begs questions. Descartes could not escape the fact that he was there thinking. But this is merely a corrupted conclusion. There were sentences floating about in nothingness (remember what a sentence is made of) that coalesced into a point that called itself "I". "I" decided it was doing something called thinking; and "I" represented itself as having existence and the power of observation. "I" also believes it is the source of thoughts; independent from the thoughts themselves and also independent from "me" (another invention of "I"). Given that "I" doesn't in any observable way exist temporally, its existence at all proves very problematic when considered rigorously.

Indeed; whether or not anything exists is not something resolvable (or askable or answerable for that matter); but the question itself illuminates the difficulty one would have in proving the opposite.

0

This may be more of an opinion than fact, but I can't leave comments so..

Relative existence

Existence of X is a relation between X and either a specifically mentioned set S, or if left out, implicitly usually the universe, sometimes the Earth. Meaning the same as "S contains X" or "X fulfills the criteria for an element that define S". Henceforth we'll call S the reference set.

In order have a conclusive answer to a question of existence, the reference set should be explicitly mentioned with the question. For example, if someone says that gigantic fire-breathing flying lizards don't exist, they probably mean they don't exist in the set of creatures living on Earth. They wouldn't be so sure if the set was extended to the observable and unobservable universe. And they'd certainly be wrong if we were talking about the universes of fantasy literature.

So I take it that your question is actually "Does the universe exist in the universe?"
Or in other words: Is the universe a set that contains itself?

If a different reference set was implied, such as "the set of all possible alternate universes with similar physics to those observed by us", our universe does indeed exist.

What is the universe

The English wikipedia article contains these:

The Universe is all of time and space and its contents

The Universe can be defined as everything that exists, everything that has existed, and everything that will exist

Unfortunately, if (our) Universe is also the default implicit reference set, the second definition is circular and thus not very useful. Ultimately the universe depends on the observer. It's all the time, space and content in the structure that permeates their observations.

About nihilism

Just a thought. If nothing exists, but there's no reference either against which not to exist, it's not the same as nothing absolutely existing. It's the relation of nothing to undefined. Like zero divided by zero (0/0), this can be anything, not just any number.

-2

No, it is not possible that the universe doesn't exist. It would take the consensus of "around 7 billion people" to agree that they don't exist. Let me put it another way. What ever the size of the group, I am one of them, and since I would never agree that I don't exist, there would never be a "consensus" (a unanimous agreement) of all the people. Therefore, it is not possible that the universe does not exist.

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    And if 7 billion people agreed on not existing that would somehow cause the universe to vanish? – Chris Sunami Dec 23 '14 at 22:49
  • @ChrisSunami: What my statement is meant to say is that since it is impossible for that many people to agree (on any thing), then, it is impossible that the universe does not exist! The provability that all the people on earth would agree that they don't exist, is as close to zero as you can get. The same for the universe not existing! If the universe exists but there is no one to perceive it, it is the same as if it did not exist. – Guill Dec 28 '14 at 23:18
  • Why would you never agree that you don't exist? may there be a consensus if you are eliminated or forced to agree? What happens then? – nir Dec 29 '14 at 9:39
  • @Guill I'm afraid I don't find this coherent at all. Are you arguing for consensus reality --whatever most people agree is so is so? Also, while I'm personally sympathetic to your claim that the universe only exists if someone perceives it, it certainly isn't a non-controversial statement. – Chris Sunami Dec 29 '14 at 14:40

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