While this question sounds like this one, bear with me and I'll explain why it's more of a revised version of this one instead (and to be honest I wasn't sure if I should've just edited it, but I think it'll need a complete rewrite and would be better off to just post a new one instead).

So, when people ask the question "is there something rather than nothing" (which some would claim to be "the root of philosophy") it seems like they assume that "nothing" is the 'default' status, while "something" would require an explanation - and an extensive question on this would be Does a negative claimant have a burden of proof?

Now, what I'm asking is, why - on the epistemological level - would we ask the question that way (putting "nothing" on the root of it) rather than, for example "why would there be nothing rather than something"? Why do we assume that nothing comes first and something has to "fill the void"? In other words (those in my original question) - isn't "nothing" and "something" equivalent on the epistemological level? (maybe Spinoza on God would be a good example, although I'm not exactly sure how much of this is my own interpretation and how much is what Spinoza actually meant because it's from memory - when Spinoza puts God and Nature as equals, the theological equivalent would mean that you can either take God as completely ontological, meaning "everything is God", or you can take God out of the equation - because you can say that Nature is exactly it. This would mean that "God" or "without-God" [similar to "something" and "nothing"] means exactly the same epistemology-wise - although definitely not the same theology-wise).

I hope this is clear enough. Tell me if you think this question should be closed and the original edited instead.


I just want to emphasize the statement in my question by phrasing it a bit more radically - why do we even ask the "why there is something rather than nothing" question? Why isn't it obvious that this question is meaningless because there both "something" and "nothing" are equal? In maybe a bit odd example - isn't it the same as asking why is the result of some calculation is 1 instead of 0? And although it may have philosophical significant, is it really that big as it is usually being portrait to be?

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    I'm not sure but probably some philosophical theories suggest there is no nothing but an absolute chaos instead it.
    – rus9384
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 17:53
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    @Yecchiam Weiss I consider it rather difficult to follow your argumentation, because you assume that the two sentences 1) "there is nothing" and 2) "there is something" are analogous statements. But in sentence 1) "nothing" does not have the meaning of a noun, Instead it is used as negation of the verb to be = to exist. Hence there is no common context for both sentences. Therefore one cannot compare the two sentences 1) and 2) with respect to this same context.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 19:49
  • @JoWehler that's exactly the question. Is "not having the meaning of a noun" really doesn't have a meaning, or it's simply a negative meaning, like "-1" is to "1"? Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 19:58
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    We do not assume that nothing comes first, or comes at all, the second half of "why is there something rather than nothing?" is a turn of phrase for rhetorical emphasis. They are not equivalent, one is a general noun, the other verbal device for convenience of forming sentences and cobbling them together. This is of the same nature as the paradox of "nothing is", nominalized negation is treated on a par with what nouns are typically used for, "bewitchment by means of language", as Wittgenstein called it. Withholding assertion, unlike an assertion, does not require an explanation.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 21:39
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    Heidegger would resist any analyzing of the question in this way, his model for philosophy is poetry. But leaving that aside "why something?" might as well be a question about our language/concepts as about reality itself, and "nothing" might as well be an empty turn of phrase rather than a thought experiment about an especially hollowed out something. "Questioning the reason for existence" need not fall into dichotomous scheme with pre-assertions on both sides, or even on one side. The answer may well be to realize that the question is meaningless, or that it should be asked differently, etc.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 23:40

3 Answers 3


Why should there be nothing ? If there is nothing, this needs no explanation unless something should be there. If there is a void, there just is a void : a void needs no sufficient reason for its existence unless something should be there.

By contrast, if there is something then we do need a sufficient reason for its being there. Did it self-create ? Was it brought into existence ? If so, by whom or what and why ? If there is something, this does need explanation.

Tentative but that's my answer to your cleverly reversed question. Nothing I say depends on any supposed temporal priority of nothing - that nothing 'comes first'. If I'm trading on anything it's economy of explanation. But this is a place where false moves are ruthlessly exposed, and quite right too : so if I'm wrong we're both sure to know and pretty soon.

  • Just saw the edit while writing the comment, and it reminded me that you did something here that I missed entirely- you put the light of the question on a different aspect of it, and that's good because we can see another point here: would a void really needn't a sufficient reason to its "existence" - here we really see that the root of the question is the most important question of ontology: What is existence really, and what does "voidness"/"lack of existence" mean? Can we really use it as a concept? Can we really talk about it? Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:08
  • And that's a really important aspect of the question, but it stands on the ontological aspect of it, while I'm looking more for the epistemological one (which you managed to pass through unnoticeably). Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:08
  • @YechiamWeiss, I don't feel at all confused by voidness/emptiness/nothingness on a simple level. It's clear to me that ontological that doesn't exist, by virtue of something (my hand, the computer, me thinking, etc.) existing. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:18
  • @elliotsvensson so, you say that doesn't exist. Can you talk about it? Can we have this conversation properly then? Can the question "why is there something rather than nothing" have any meaning? Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:20
  • Sure, just like I can talk about good presidents, unicorns, and square circles. A unicorn is usually depicted as a white horse with a single horn protruding from its head. Ontological nothingness is the state of nonbeing which is falsified by the existence of the universe, an object, or a person's mind. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:22

Entropy. Where did it all come from? In just over 7000 times the current age of the universe, the last star will extinguish, ending the stelliferous era and dramatically decreasing the universes habitability, in one more step in an apparently endless decline. Statistically, based on current physics, we might expect infinitely more times of a decayed state, a 'heat-dead' universe, than an active stelliferous one.

The anthropic principle requires, that for us to be here now discussing this, there has to be a mechanism to start things off, and it had to be in such a 'fine tuned' way, in this timeline/universe, that sufficiently complicated states could occur for biological evolution and minds to occur, observers. Given the 22 constants that needed to be exactly at or 9+ decimal places close to their measured values for this to happen, it is speculated many universes may have happened with different laws, but there was no possibility for an observer to ask questions, so it is like they don't exist, are beyond a kind of mental event horizon. Of course, that would make the current something even less likely than the average nothing, even though it places us by necessity in this bit. The question becomes, why is there this kind of complex something, rather than simpler more chaotic and stabler states which from our perspective is equivalent to nothing.

isn't "nothing" and "something" equivalent on the epistemological level

In Taoism, the signifier 'nothing' is just one of the ten thousand things. Emptiness (slightly different) is seen as intrinsically full of potential, and fully containing The Way; whereas arising things inevitably limit that potential in some way.

In Buddhism the Dharmakaya is a kind of background of potential for liberation, on top of which infinite causal chains have been giving rise to new subjective beings for eternity. Everything is seen as contingent and lacking in self-nature, so I guess the potential for liberation and arising things are non-dual. Being and nothingness are one.

In Sanatam Dharma or Hinduism there is the great cycle of the breath of Brahman (the ultimate reality), in which shiva began the cosmic dance of creation.

Everything is a kind of nothing. Everything and nothing are sides of the same coin. And cyclical change between something and nothing. Some of the long standing answers. What answer we choose probably says more about our cognitive biases, than it does the universe, though.

  • The first part of the answer (talking about entropy) doesn't seem very related, as I'm questioning the question itself, not asking for an answer to it. The second part (the Buddhism part) is more relevant, but it has one crucial problem- you already use a definition of "something" and "nothing", taking that definition for granted, while I question those definitions as well. Although I like what Buddhism has to say on this subject. Maybe you could edit the answer to reflect this comment? Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 10:45
  • @Yechiam Weiss: The balance of probabilities is on nothing, and the something we have seems suspiciously complex, validating the question, why is there this rather than nothing or something simpler or more chaotic. Seems relevant to me. The question arises out of a causal scientific view, because metaphysical systems and cosmologies explain the nature of what is rather than explore the landscape of counterfactuals
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 21:44

If somebody claimed to be smart but didn't have an answer to Why is there something rather than nothing?, it would be easy to make them look foolish for not having an answer to this simple question.

Why can't we just reverse the challenge?

Something rather than nothing is a category broad enough to be verified by absolutely anything. If you were to ask, why is there nothing rather than something? ...you would be the one looking foolish, because your first example ("There is nothing") is so easily falsifiable.

Why isn't this symmetric?

Explanation is when we can see why something is or how it came to be, from a past state of not being.

To me, this suggests that explanations favor something over nothing. As long as we are in the business of explaining things, even a difficult something is better than a pure nothing.

After all, what would be the null hypothesis to nothing?

Some thoughts on nothing

It seems to me that we can confirm that asking "why?" is biased toward something by examining the Buddhist practice of using koans. When a koan is functioning, the demand for logic and the constantly asking of "why?" ceases, bringing a person's mind closer to nothing, non-self, emptiness.

  • I never said that "something need no explanation", I only said that the other way around is also true - "nothing needs an explanation as well". Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 22:57
  • I think there's sort of a bias between nothing and something. Something can't come from nothing, but I think it's even less logical to say that nothing can come from something--- i.e. that something could cease to exist so completely as to negate itself "in all dimensions". This bias is why explanations are directional toward something, away from nothing. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 22:59
  • I'm reminded of the "trivial solution" in parabolas from college physics. Of course the equations are satisfied if all the variables are set to zero, but it's not a very satisfying answer to the question. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 23:24
  • Energy can't be created or destroyed only transformed, is arguably a restatement of philosophical atomism, of eternal constituents - able to be something eternally, but never nothing. Though, we expect void will also turn out to be a kind of energy once general relativity is unified with the quantum world, which will probably throw a spanner in those works. Could spacetime and matter arise together, and cease together?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 1:48
  • That's the proposition of cosmological symmetry, i.e. that matter and anti-matter, energy and anti-energy, are all balanced such that given enough time, everything will coalesce together again and cease to exist. But even in that unlikely case, what's left will still be "something"--- physical laws, history, matter/antimatter pairs jumping in and out of existence... Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 13:25

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