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Can everything that exists have no beginning?

I'm not asking about religious notions (as all the other questions I saw on here seemed to be about), if there must be a God to create a universe that has a beginning. But, whether everything that exists can have no beginning or end?

Surely, I'm thinking, the Greeks asked that question, and had an argument.


I'm not asking if it's possible that everything has no beginning and no end, in the sense that could be shown to be true with any thing which has a beginning or end. But if "everything", as in that object that would fall under the universal set, could have no beginning and no end. I'm sorry, but I don't know how to express that any clearer

  • Sub specie aeternitatis it would be a platonic form, I think, which makes me suspicious, as an idea I mean – user6917 Feb 2 '17 at 7:54
  • By "can" do you mean "is it possible?" In the sense that you're asking for a truth value to the sentence "It is possible that for all things they have no beginning" something like "d(x) ~Bx" where d is the modal operator for possibility, (x) is the universal quantifier applied to x, and B is the predicate "had a beginning" which is negated? – Not_Here Feb 2 '17 at 8:45
  • I'm not saying that you aren't, I'm just trying to make sure I understand what it is you're asking before I answer because I don't want to write an answer to a completely different question than what you're asking. It sounds like you wrote the question out as you were thinking about it and didn't go back to format it into a cohesive formal question, so I just want to make sure I understand what it is you're asking. Are you asking "Is it possible for everything that exists to have no beginning or no end?" – Not_Here Feb 2 '17 at 9:50
  • chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/52920/… I'm gonna move this conversation over to a chat so we can talk about this and not fill up the comments section – Not_Here Feb 2 '17 at 9:58
  • @Not_Here sorry for my slowness. your forumula seems to ask if there is any possible thing which has no beginning. that isn't obviously what i'm asking, but whether is possible that for all things they have no beginning. i don't think these are equivalent, because i think your forumula includes possible things which do not exist, which i'm not asking about – user6917 Feb 2 '17 at 10:10
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Greeks did ask the question, and did give answers. To ancient atomists "everything that exists" were atoms in motion, and they had no beginning or end. Lucretius phrases it as follows in De Rerum Natura:

"No visible object ever suffers total destruction, since nature renews one thing from another, and does not sanction the birth of anything, unless she receives the compensation of another's death. [...] Each thing springs from the source that has the matter that it needs, the primary particles, and comes into the boundaries of light, and that's the reason every thing cannot give rise to every other thing, because there is a separate power in distinct things".

On this issue Parmenides concurred, nihil fit ex nihilo (nothing comes from nothing) is attributed to him. The idea of cyclic time, and more specifically of eternal recurrence, was also widespread, Pythagoreans, Heraclitus, Stoics, possibly even Aristotle subscribed to it, although the last is disputed. But his revolving Cosmos eternally powered by the unmoved mover certainly suggests it. In fact the idea of linear time, where the beginning and end of things becomes thinkable, does not even get articulated until the rise of Christianity, particularly in Augustine, who was an adamant anti-cyclist.

However, there are ambiguities in the question on "everything" and "exists". Above I interpreted them narrowly in the "fundamental" sense. But if "everything" includes transient atomic composites or each recurrence cycle separately, etc., and their dissolutions count as terminations of their existence, then obviously one can always find some "formations" that do have beginning and end. Whether they count as "objects that would fall under the universal set" depends on one's notion of the "universal set". E.g. whether it includes its own subsets and other combinations of its elements as elements.

  • i'm pretty sure you answered the question i meant to ask, though the last sentence was a tiny bit unclear. would've liked a greek argument against eternal recurrence, but thanks – user6917 Feb 3 '17 at 16:19
  • i think your list of greeks who believed in eternal recurrence is deceptive, that only the stoics are generally thought to – user6917 Feb 3 '17 at 16:25
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    @MATHEMETICIAN Stoics and Pythagoreans are most commonly mentioned. Plato is generally believed to be close to Pythagoreans on cosmology, but I removed him to be safe. Heraclitus is credited by Stoics as their precursor, and some fragments are interpreted as about "cosmic cycle", but there is some controversy. Aristotle does give an argument for eternity of the world in On Philosophy, although not specifically for eternal recurrence, but there are secondary sources suggesting that he leaned in that direction. – Conifold Feb 3 '17 at 22:09
  • @MATHEMETICIAN I also changed "eternal recurrence", that has more specific Nietzschean connotations to more neutral "cyclic time", which, according to Losev's study of time in antiquity, was very broadly accepted in Greek cosmology (it was inspired by the motion of heavenly bodies). I am not familiar with arguments against cyclic time before Christianity took hold. Augustine, who attributed the idea to "pagan philosophers", like Plato and Aristotle, argued against it forcefully (see the linked book). – Conifold Feb 3 '17 at 22:23
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In McTaggartian philosophy of time,

  • An A-series ordering is an ordering in terms of the following predicates: is past, is present, and is future.
  • A B-series ordering is an ordering in terms of the following predicates: comes before and comes after.
  • A C-series ordering simply is the very simple concept of any ordering of things.

Only the A-series has direction, but the A-series (according to McTaggart) has no order without the C-series. The conjunction of A-series and C-series produces the B-series. "Beginning" is a B-series concept because it refers to that which comes before all else in time. Yet, B-series depends on A-series and C-series. According to McTaggart, A-series ordering is essential to the reality of time such that, likewise, A-series is essential to the reality of beginnings. Therein, the reality of beginnings depends on the reality of time. I will not take a position either way, but I implore you [impersonal pronoun] to read McTaggart's "The Unreality of Time" and make a judgment on the matter for yourself.

~

Much more generally, if beginnings exist then, categorically, time exists, and if time begins then something that begins exists, but whether or not anything other than time has a beginning is a separate matter. Additionally, whether or not something that exists is real is another matter entirely (and one that is quite relevant for a realist).

In keeping with Kantian thought, the position expressed herein is that existence/being is not a predicate—“Sein ist offenbar kein reales Prädikat” (Kant 1781). Rather, it merely is copular. It indicates something’s inclusion/exclusion in/from a particular domain of discourse (or universe of objects)—“Es ist bloß die Position eines Dinges oder gewisser Bestimmungen an sich selbst” (Kant 1781). Russell’s (1903) Lotzean distinction between being and existence is rejected on the grounds that it amounts to contradictions (e.g. “nonexistent things must exist as something and every thing is something”) and ill-formed propositions (e.g. “it is”). Moreover, conjugations of "to be" are more versatile than conjugations of "to exist" such that the former can substitute for the latter in virtually every case whereas the latter cannot substitute for the former in many cases.

Thinkers like Parmenides denied the reality of time (and space) such that nothing real begins or ends because beginnings and endings are references to time. Beginnings and endings are illusory; they exist as illusions (i.e. unreal things). Mactaggart argued against the reality of time on the basis of the unreality of referents of time-orderings in terms of past, present, and future (i.e. A-series time-ordering).

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Plotinus argues this question in his Six Enneads, specifically the Third Ennead, Second Tractate. In it he says:

Of course the belief that after a certain lapse of time a Kosmos previously non-existent came into being would imply a foreseeing and a reasoned plan in the part of God providing for the production of the Universe and securing all possible perfection in it- a guidance and partial providence, therefore, such as is indicated. But since we hold the eternal existence of the Universe, the utter absence of a beginning to it, we are forced, in sound and sequent reasoning, to explain the providence ruling in the Universe as a universal consonance with the divine Intelligence to which the Kosmos is subsequent not in time but in the fact of derivation, in the fact that the Divine Intelligence, preceding it is Kind, is its cause as being the Archtype and Model which it merely images, the primal by which, from all eternity, it has its existence and subsistence.

Buddhist and Hindu scriptures are in agreement on this also. The universe had no beginning and has no end; it is infinite and eternal. What we think of as the 'beginning' of the universe is simply the start of a new cycle. The Universe is like a wave or a pulsation which rises and falls.

  • the 14 unanswerabe questions include the question of whether the world is eternal en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_unanswered_questions i.e. whether it has a beginning is unanswerable – user6917 Feb 4 '17 at 12:30
  • @MATHEMETICIAN A non-eternal cause cannot give rise to an eternal effect...only an eternal cause can give rise to an eternal effect. To argue that an eternal something came out of an non- eternal cause is not logical. To argue that nothing can give rise to something is also not logical. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 5 '17 at 5:28
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    @MATHEMETICIAN they were called unanswerable because Buddha did not want his disciples becoming involved in philosophical arguments. If your house is burning down, is it profitable to ask how the fire got started, how fast it will spread, and how long before the building is burnt down? No, it is better to get out of the house immediately before becoming consumed by the flames. Likewise, our bodies are 'burning down'. It is a waste of precious time to argue about how it all started, it is best to escape samsara, and attain Nirvana before our body burns down. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 5 '17 at 15:14
  • hmm yeah i know that's definitely one response to those questions. i voted +1 cos you answer the question directly with a perfect quote "the utter absence of a beginning to it," – user6917 Feb 5 '17 at 15:15
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The universe (everything that exists) had a beginning and may have an end. Every single thing or collection of things that exists or once existed had its beginning: the moment, in the vastness of time, at which it was brought into being or created. Nothing exists without an act of creation or cause. The destruction or modification of any thing ends that existence as it was through an act of creation of the new reality.

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Scientists have never explained convincingly how everything started nor indeed how it will end.

If there were this big bang firstly where was whatever went bang and what was it? If the universe is continually expanding from that bang then what is it expanding into? Was there a nothingness?

Our perception of a beginning and an end does not make sense. So perhaps the simple answer is there was no beginning nor will there be an end. There's just an always. Then everything makes more sense. We are energy and use vessels to experience the world and move on to another when the vessel wears out. Maybe?

  • I made some edits hopefully for clarity. You may roll these back or continue editing. If you have any references to support the idea that there was no beginning nor end they would be good to quote and cite. It would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information about your position. – Frank Hubeny Aug 7 '18 at 16:55
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Some people argue that the universe must have had a beginning because of the impossibility of infinite regress. They say that if you start in the infinite past and try to get to the present you will never arrive. But this is not so. If you draw a line with the present set as 0 and each past year as a negative number on into infinity, you can pick a number such at -10 and in 10 years you will be at the present. On this time line every part of the line has identical characteristics. So no matter how large its number, if you take any point in the line its distance to 0 will be finite and can be traversed.

  • However, one can keep going back indefinitely. If you have a reference to someone who takes a similar view that would give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome! – Frank Hubeny Aug 26 at 23:27

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