I came across this thinking today when I was reading some evolutionary biology writings. Human beings tend to accept that everything must be traced back to something else, or an origin, starting point; on the contrary, we can very easily accept the fact that something may exist and proliferate forever in the future. Why is that?

For an analogy (though not scientifically correct), it is very acceptable that human will theoretically be in this world forever, because every man is capable of producing some new people, as long as we figure out some ways to avoid disasters; However, we cannot accept the fact that human beings may have existed forever in the past---although every man is derived from another human being---we always try to figure out who is the first being that can be called human, or life.

It is the same with universe---we want to know the starting point of this universe, but not the end, and we often assume this universe can last forever in the future. Why we couldn't accept the fact that this universe can last forever in the PAST? Does it have something to do with human's perception of time as a directional process?

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    We couldn't accept the fact, that this universe lasted forever in the past, because it isn't a fact, at least, if you trust in science. Depending on which theory you trust, time itself has a starting point. But leaving that aside, I guess, most people look for a starting point in everything, because of our causal way of thinking. – user33648 Jun 4 '18 at 6:47
  • @Geshode has it correct - it's widely accepted that the universe has a finite age. Therefore, everything that has ever existed or occurred has happened some finite period of time in the past. I completely disagree with your assessment that people implicitly believe the universe will last forever and that there's currently no scientific inquiry into this topic. – Nuclear Hoagie Jun 4 '18 at 19:18
  • The Buddhist view is that nothing has a truly discrete beginning or end, there is only endless dependent origination en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pratītyasamutpāda – CriglCragl Jun 4 '18 at 23:27
  • I reject the premise that everything must have an origin. But, well, your question is about relations between origins and ends. In fact, I'd say origin and end are human constructs, which just are namings for specific types of changes. But many astrophysicists think the universe will stop to exist. Or, at least, no interaction will be in the universe and therefore no agent to proclaim the existence, which means time stop and really the end of the universe. At the same time there always will be question why did our universe start to exist? And here you go to non-original existence. – rus9384 Jun 7 '18 at 8:43
  • Thanks everyone. I think my original question is more of a psychological nature, rather than concerning about the astrophysics model of our universe. Our brain has a remarkable ability that helps us memorize things in their linear order---which we perceive as time. What if our brain is not designed perfectly such that our memory is not ordered at all? I guess we can still reconstruct the time dimension since we can put similar memories closer to each other, but in this case, the directionality is lost. – yixianshuiesuan Jun 16 '18 at 3:44

There are many things which we are confident at some point in the past did not exist, like the language "English", or "flying Earth creatures", or "human beings", or Dubstep. Since these things exist now, there must have been a time when they came into existence. Hence, they each had a beginning (though the exact moment of "beginning" is vague and unclear in most of these examples).

Since all of the above still exist, and we do not have proof that any of them will ever cease to exist, we do not assume they will have an end. Though it is highly likely in each case.

  • in what sense can English exist eternally? – nir Jun 11 '18 at 15:39

If you do some research, you'll find that the assumption that starts and ends exist is not always the default. For example, many religions have a cyclical model of time which explicitly does not permit a beginning nor an end. Also, you will find that the assumption that we do not have an end is not always assumed either. Even in recent times, one of the standing hypotheses scientific cosmologists were working with was "the big crunch," when everything comes to a halt.

As for why you perceive people looking for beginnings and not ends, it may be cultural. You may have to look at the people around you. I know science is currently focused on the idea that there was a beginning (a big bang) but no ending (no big crunch) not because they have some preference for that, but because the evidence they observe best matches models which have a beginning and no end.

On the flip side, consider this: no human being alive has died yet. Many of us have witnessed another human die, and we've read about the concept, but not one of us has died, ourselves. Yet we are utterly confident that we will die in the future.


Human beings tend to accept that everything must be traced back to something else, or an origin, starting point; on the contrary, we can very easily accept the fact that something may exist and proliferate forever in the future. Why is that?

Perhaps (an intuitive/implicit) understanding (of) the concept of entropy helps (some) humans accepting world views where things must have a start, but can continue forever into some form of heat death or final state of the universe.

Why must everything have an origin, but not an ending?

As Cort Ammon indicated, that might not necessarily be a valid (implicit) assumption.


It's presupposed by how we speak of something. Generally we are talking of something in time; and most things are mortal and subject to birth and decay, generation & corruption, beginnings and endings: men, mountains and planets too - if you can wait long enough.

But somethings - if we can use the term - are not subject to this, or their relationship to time is more difficult to understand; like time itself? Can it have a beginning, when time is that by which we measure beginnings and endings, and everything else in between?


Kant's reasoning is that our demand for closure of past chains is asymmetrically justified vs. future closure since the order of inference, as an "image" of temporal order, justifies inferences up to the present moment (as a conclusion) but doesn't require us to complete the "image" of all implications of given conclusions. That is, a finite argument has a "past" in the premises and a "present" in the conclusion, but no part of it corresponds to a closed future (even closed and unbounded).

Now Kant goes on to say that the subjectivity of this fact means that for full-fledged objects, it is not even true that past closure is justifiably asserted. Rather, there is a vague boundary "around" time, indefinite in extent, so that we only need indefinite closure vs. the past (enough to explain the time we are given and not some incomprehensible infinite chain pastwards).


This assumption rests on the often cited phrase Ex nihilo nihil fit, which dates back to Parmenides, but was a cornerstone of Aristotelian metaphysics as well.

The latter is the reason why the Latin phrasing is most common, since it carried from Aristotelian philosophy into Scholastics and from there into early modern philosophy.

The phrase means "nothing comes from nothing". It is important in philosophy because when it comes to causation, especially of existence, this means that all causal chains are necessarily finite in the past. That's because there has to be a determination of something that started the chain at some point or the causal chain would hang in the air and be ex nihilo. On the other hand, depending on your conception of time, there may be nothing inherently problematic when it comes to the causal chains carrying on into the future infinitely as soon as there is a determinate chain of cause and effect.

If you like, it seems to be about how we think or, at least, how we are used to think about the concept of causation in the western world.

That being said, it is also very important in theological thought (across the boundaries of a particular religion) since the whole idea of creation and the principle ex nihilo nihil fit have to be reconciled in some way or another.


Most of us know only about changing things. But a changeless thing that almost all of us are unaware of must be there always 'behind' the changing. A changing thing must have an origin and must have an ending also.

We make postulates only from what we already have. So postulates about the past and future vary. The past has already happened but the future is yet to come. I mean, postulates about the past is comparatively reliable. Since the studies in future affect the discoveries after that and also we are aware of this defect, we are helpless to anticipate about future/end. This is the reason for your thought about this 'single-ended' idea.

If a thing has an origin it must certainly have an ending. If an object gets name and form it also loses them in due course. Actually its name and form also disappear or end after a certain period. That implies, the thing disappears which means it has an ending.

So I mean if you think that something has an origin, it has an end also. The thing comes from somewhere and goes to somewhere.Though time may vary, if there is continuity on one end, it must have a continuity on the other end also.

You may verify whether there was similar thoughts in the past also. See this verse from the Bhagavad Gita.


I don't think that the statement that everything must have an origin is a given at all. It is a version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and whether the PSR is actually true is an open and (I think) very deep question.

Re why there is an asymmetry between origins and endings, this is implicit in the PSR; there is no application of PSR to argue that 'all things must come to an end' or some such.

The temporal aspect of this topic is of course made more challenging because the concept of time in modern physics is more complicated than it was when 'ex nihil nihil fit' was first formulated. But contrary to some claims on here, contemporary cosmology does not the settle the question of whether the universe had an ultimate origin: we know that about 13.7bn years ago the observed universe was in a very dense compact hot state, from which it expanded and continues to expand at an increasing rate. But to the very first few moments (I can't remember whether it's a few years or minutes or seconds or whatever) of the universe, our science cannot yet go. So we cannot say confidently that there was actually a singularity or whatever, or whether the universe got into its hot dense state in some other way, and we don't know that there aren't other unobserved regions.


This has nothing to do with time, so we'll leave this aspect out of the discussion.

"Something may exist and proliferate forever in the future" has a logic behind. The reason is that things evolve and naturally adapt. All living things adapt to be better and better fitted for the environment they exist and evolve in. If temperature, for example, will generally get gradually colder in an environment with living creatures, after a few generations the creatures will adapt (like growing thicker fur). Due to this, there is no logical reason to assume the evolution of something just ends by itself. Of course, a catastrophe is the thing that can actually interfere with the natural evolution process.

From a human perspective, things are worse. Humans stopped adapting to the environment and started to alter the environment for their comfort. This, from an evolutionary perspective is worse than the alternative. If that synthetic environment fails (i.e. you're out of power and can no longer use AC or heating systems) the consequences are much more drastic because the modern humans no longer adapted to the environment and it is way more likely that they will fail to survive compared to anything living naturally. (As example: humans have now way less resistance to temperature variations than they used to). What humans actually bet on is their ability to keep all artificial environments they created functional and keeping them functional is something tech-dependent. Since technology evolves, there is no reason to think this won't work indefinitely (again, ignoring possible catastrophes).

In support of the un-evolving part: enter image description here

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    This has something to do with time, i.e. the very nature of it: Time runs from the past to the present. Causal chains are conceived as being directional because of that. And as long as they are not interrupted by predicted events - predictions being a thing we are startlingly bad at still - there is nothing that should make us assume they will end. Also, your premise that humans "stopped adapting to the environment" is plainly false. Both physically and culturally (culture being accepted as a way of evolutionary adaption by science), humans continue to evolve faster than any known species. – Philip Klöcking Jun 7 '18 at 11:08
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    With all due respect, I rather go with the vast amounts of literature written by experts in the field. Any distinction between "natural" (or innate) and "cultural/social" (or acquired) factors that claim only the former ones being relevant for evolution is with good reason challenged since the 50s (Lehrman 1953), even if many, especially not scientifically informed, authors (I hate to say it, but this includes many philosophers) still make the mistake of thinking in terms of first and second nature in the discussion of evolution and nature (e.g. Machery 2008). – Philip Klöcking Jun 10 '18 at 11:20
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    Read the article, read the sources. This is rubbish, scientifically speaking. Just read up on the Flynn-Effect. "Humanity" is de-evolving? I beg to differ. Also, I see no mentions of how it was even taken into consideration that IQ tests are constantly recalibrated (to better outcomes) and highly reliant on the group of comparison. They sometimes are not even comparable between Germany and the US. If you think otherwise, I dare you to ask on Sceptics.SE if your assumptions are true. – Philip Klöcking Jun 11 '18 at 15:08
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    "IQ scores in 1933/36, 1997/98, and 2006 clearly do not have the same meaning, making a direct comparison of mean IQ scores of various cohorts impossible" - Quote on page 32 in: Olev Must, Jan te Nijenhuis, Aasa Must, Annelies E.M. van Vianen, 'Comparability of IQ scores over time', Intelligence, Volume 37, Issue 1, 2009, Pages 25-33 – Philip Klöcking Jun 11 '18 at 20:26
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    You clearly have no idea what IQ is, nor have you ever read any scientific paper on it or cared to understand the statistics behind it. You pull a picture the Daily Mail (!) fabricated from a private website of a lecturer and think that proves anything. That is not how the IQ or science work. That is how conspiracy theories develop. – Philip Klöcking Jun 12 '18 at 7:26

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