One thought that keeps me up at night is when I start to think about the world "before" the universe existed and "beyond" the universe itself. I know that it doesn't really make sense to speak about "before time" and "beyond space" but still... I think the mind-blowing thing is that "the world" had to find a "solution" of how to "organize" a world without any boundaries (of "time" and "space"). Those necessary (?) infinities have always haunted me.

My question
Does my feeling of uneasiness resonate with somebody and did philosophical authors address this issue? I think the real matter is that even in a world of complete nothingness "the problem of the missing boundaries" had to be solved somehow... but can something that already had to solve such fundamental "problems" of reality really be called "nothingness". So my question is whether something sensible can be said about this issue?


3 Answers 3


There is no reason to suppose that nothingness is more fundamental than being. In the Hegelian system, being and nothingness are unified in becoming. In a sense, neither being nor nothingness is the condition for the possibility of the other as they merely express different aspects of one and the same absolute identity. Dialectically understood, we would say that being (the whole or single) is becoming (the universal) in-and-through nothingness (the particular). In other words, being is a kind of irreducible subject that essentially destroys itself in the process of creating existence.

Note, however, that there is no inherent notion of space or time in this picture. A process does not require a concrete manifestation where that process is immediate, or perfectly simultaneous. That is, these categories could exist in-and-for themselves without reference to conventional notions of dimensionality, as might be the case with an unconditional first principle or necessary being. What we would have then is an eternalist conception of transcendental reality that would, in its own self, be the absolute ground for the immanent spatio-temporal development of the universe. Notions of "boundary" could, in the same way, be purely logical or mathematical existents.

This perspective was shared to different extents by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Spinoza, but it was most explicitly and convincingly demonstrated by Hegel. When I think about these issues, it is this view that has resonated most deeply with me and, in very broad outlines, it is the one that has seemed the most plausible. In contrast, I think the idea of the universe merely springing into being ex nihilo is the limit case of absurdity. It makes me very uneasy and I find it explains nothing about the pre-existent conditions which made such an uncanny singularity possible in the first place.

This is not the whole story, of course. None of the above really gets at the problem of causality or answers the question about why there might be a Platonic realm beyond the appearances. In this respect, I've found Terence McKenna to be the most illuminating. While he's often portrayed more as an esoteric mystic than a philosopher, I do believe he's on to something when he speaks about the "transcendental attractor at the end of time". Basically, McKenna argued that the singularity is actually the eschatological state in which the end of the universe is identical to its beginning. That is, he believed the height of disorder and complexity which is necessarily expressed at the end of time is simultaneously the origin of the purest order and simplicity at the beginning of time.

In a sense, all existence is in the shape of an uroboros: a snake eating its own tail. The totality of all that is, therefore, is something that exists in-itself completely formed in some exotic and utterly imperceptible non-dimensional state. In this state, one may speculate about reciprocal influences being possible across space and time. If this were true, the future could be directing the course of past events in some incomprehensible sense. With respect to ultimate reality, it could be the case that our present universe is merely one iteration in a potentially infinite sequence. We might even say that ultimate reality is conserving or perfecting itself through its prior developments. And thus, what seems impossible about the beginning could be explained by an infinite circular recurrence wherein the origin of all things is called forth by the final destination of all things.

While this is highly speculative, I don't consider this to be religion or mysticism. As I see it, this is simply an inference to the most plausible explanation given our current state of knowledge.


Consider that existence has always existed. To speak of nothingness cannot be to speak of something metaphysically salient or ontologically robust, but rather to speak of some queer (non-)existence conditions, or to in effect reify zero. I think we can successfully refer (through Meinongian semantic ontology) to non-existents, even non-existence, both intensionally and extensionally but the properties it bears are wholly negative, and it (nothingness) is again not something that exists of course.

  • "Existence has always existed"?? A thing exists in one dimension if it occupies a place on it. Something could have existed between 1980 and 2060. Other objects exist in other dimensions, as the mandelbrot fractal that does not exceed a distance of 2 to the center on the complex plane. Existence is a relation of a system and a dimension. What does "existence has always existed" means? You probably refer only to the existence of things on a physical dimension, but still then, it can be false.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 0:48
  • @RodolfoAP we should not permit non-natural or non-spatiotemporal/abstract entities into our ontologies. They are dispensable. Something in one dimension cannot come from nothing in that same dimension. If there is to be something in one dimension, either it came from another dimension or it has always existed. This can be extended to any meta-dimension until it becomes clear that the meta-dimension did not come from nowhere, so it has always existed. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 0:50
  • Ok, I got this. Some types of philosophy don't need formal basis, but are purely argumentative (e.g. existentialism). This is the same. "existence has always existed" is like saying "weakness has been always weak". On formal knowledge, qualities need an object. But on pure argumentative rhetorics, this can be true and false at the same time because rhetorics accept it and it is true while someone sustains it. Then, your wisdom is wise.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 1:20
  • @RodolfoAP there has always been at least one object in space and time Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 1:21
  • Rhetorically, sounds awesome. But that's not a scientific fact. For example, see profmattstrassler.com/2014/03/21/…
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 2:02

Because of the logical non-existence of Nothing, as user24828 says, we should consider that something/existence has always existed. However, since it is undiscriminated space-dust and formations, it is itself, as Albert Camus puts it, "everlasting nothingness":

Please, let’s sit down. Well, what do you think of it? Isn’t it the most beautiful negative landscape? Just see on the left that pile of ashes they call a dune here, the gray dike on the right, the livid beach at our feet, and in front of us, the sea the color of a weak lye-solution with vast sky reflecting the colorless waters. A soggy hell, indeed! Everything horizontal, no relief; space is colorless, and life dead. Is it not universal obliteration, everlasting nothingness made visible? No human beings, above all, no human beings! You and I alone facing the planet at last deserted!

Albert Camus, The Fall, 1956

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