I'm wondering if the question

Why is there something rather than nothing?

is like the question

Why is there up rather than down?

In the latter, I think it becomes clear that the implicit intended meaning is:

Why is there up rather than only down?

Which is to suggest that in the original question, the asker really means

Why is there something rather than only nothing?

But it's obvious that up and down are dependent notions, just like something and nothing. So does the original question simply misunderstand the nature of something and nothing, is there information lost in the analogy, or is there something deeper here that I'm missing? Is it not self-evident that you couldn't possibly have only nothing, since it by definition depends on the notion of something? It feels trivial when we compare it to the intuitive notions of up and down: of course you have to have both, and couldn't have either at the exclusion of the other.

To be clear, I still feel deeply unsatisfied here, but I'm wondering why I do. What specifically is missing here, where is the mystery emerging from that makes the nagging question persist? How is it different than the analogy of up and down?

  • 1
    It is only "playing with words" ??? Apr 27, 2017 at 7:30
  • 1
    "something from nothing" != "something rather than nothing"
    – user20153
    Apr 27, 2017 at 17:33
  • Because if there were only down, up would seize to exist and loose it's meaning? What should be different? Keep in mind that nothing is the true relative term here, because it can only be defined negatively by logic, but not signify anything (sic!). Therefore we need to signify confined spaces containing no-thing. Up and down both are relative to a third.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 27, 2017 at 18:46
  • 1
    No issue can be resolved by analogy, because every analogy is flawed in one way or another. The analogy simply shifts the question to why something/nothing is relevantly analogous to up/down. They are semantically dependent terms, but it is conceivable that there could be nothing at all (I am not so sure about "only down"). "Why is there something rather than nothing?" was Leibniz's way of asking why not. It stems from his principle of sufficient reason:"we can find no true or existent fact, no true assertion, without there being a sufficient reason why it is thus and not otherwise".
    – Conifold
    Apr 27, 2017 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


Up and down are words we know because we observed a world where we feel the need for them. Same with something and nothing (though more of something and less of something are better parallels since up and down are relative).

The question of why there is 'something' rather than nothing can only be asked in our world where our language evolved to include words for the two.

So complaining about the use of words which have been developed in our world of somethings is like...lets take another analogy:

You move to grass-land...all around is grass. The first person you meet asks:

"Why is there some grass rather than no grass?"

(In grass-land there are the words some-grass and no-grass as parallels to something and nothing).

Now (translating for grass-man from your question) you would say:

"Is it not self-evident that you couldn't possibly have only no-grass, since it by definition depends on the notion of some-grass?"

Except we know there are parts of the world with no grass, so just because grass-man has had his language evolve with the word no-grass doesn't mean it cannot be that there could have been no grass. We just use different words to describe it, it doesn't mean it is a logical impossibility to have only no-grass.

So we can now expand this analogy, making words for every object you can thing of....and then bunching these things into the words no-thing and some-thing. Then we expand it to imagine we get visitors from a world where there are no things...and they will see your question in the same way as you saw the grass-man's question.


You should change the title of your question since the title and the question you ask in your post are different. Up and down exist in terms of measurement in a 3D world. Nothing by definition cannot exist because even its existence would be something. Something implies existence. For example, you don't need to say, "Red apples exist." "Red apples" already implies existence.

I find the question of why something exists rather than not exists to be muddled because of my aforementioned reason. My answer to the question is that something exists because nothing cannot. The only time nothing is even meaningful is when it's used to refer to something of no significance.

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