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Could it be that the famous question "why is there something instead of nothing" is misplaced?
This question presupposes that nothingness is the opposite of something but, metaphysically speaking, this may not be the case.

Let me clarify:

From a mathematical point of view we usually say that the opposite of "no object" is "at least one object" but from an ontological point of view there may be no such thing as "no object".
If the basis of reality (be it God, consciousness, quantum fluctuations or others) have always existed and always will exist, how can one even formulate the initial question?

After all, there is the possibility that nothingness is a logic contradiction, at the same level of 2 + 2 = 5.

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  • The issue is with the word "nothing": "something" is because it is the subject in predication: we predicate some attribute/property of it. We "speak" of a subject. What about "nothing": what are the properties we attribute to it? Dec 30, 2020 at 16:34
  • Jean-Paul Sartre has written at length that in the world Negation appeared through existence of consciousness, that is, thinking is otherwise impossible. Also Alain Badiou has argued that "many things" is the negation of "nothing" or "non being". Reading and pondering all that just these two have to say on this problem is not a small task .
    – sand1
    Dec 30, 2020 at 17:09
  • Then how will you explain your dissapointment when you wanted to pay for one more item in the store and just have opened your wallet, - and you find nothing (no money) in it?
    – ttnphns
    Dec 30, 2020 at 23:55
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    What does formulating the question have to do with actual ontology? The question is not about what actually exists or existed, but why it is not otherwise given that the otherwise is logically possible. We can formulate questions about possibilities completely regardless of what the basis of reality happens to be.
    – Conifold
    Dec 31, 2020 at 0:05
  • See also philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/8251/28067
    – ttnphns
    Jan 2, 2021 at 9:49

3 Answers 3

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"Why is there something rather than nothing?" is a special case of the question "Why does the universe behave this way instead of some other way?" Answers to questions of this kind appeal to some model of the universe, providing general rules that apply in a specific case; for example, apples fall because of the general rule of gravity.

Better answers are both simpler and explanatory of a wider range of phenomena. An ultimate Theory of Everything (TOE) would explain every phenomenon. The TOE would be an answer to "Why is there something rather than nothing?" - the answer being, because the universe follows these equations laid out in the TOE, and the equations predict something rather than nothing.

But that might seem unsatisfying. You might demand some reason the TOE is the way it is. This would be some formula or proposition - simpler or more fundamental than the TOE - that has the TOE as its consequence. In effect, this formula or proposition would itself be a simpler TOE.

But there is going to be some irreducible complexity. The TOE is not going to be a formula of length 0. It's going to be at least a few equations.

And this irreducible complexity is the limit of our ability to ask "Why is the universe like this?" We can't give any simpler or more fundamental answer than the simplest possible TOE, and the simplest possible TOE has nonzero complexity.

So ultimately the answer to a chain of "whys" has to be "just because that's how it is." At the end of a chain of "whys" you will always find some irreducible complexity that can't be explained in terms of anything simpler.

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  • I can't see how this exercise in reductionism answers the question about nothingness.
    – ttnphns
    Dec 31, 2020 at 0:04
  • That's not a very specific objection. To restate in brief: "why is there something rather than nothing?" would be a corollary of a TOE that answers the more specific question, "why are things the way they are?" But there is a limit to how simple such an explanation can get. You ask why the TOE is the way it is and the only possible answer would be a simpler TOE that explains the first one... at some point you hit a limit of simplicity.
    – causative
    Dec 31, 2020 at 5:53
  • and when you hit that limit of simplicity the only answer remaining is, "because that's just the way it is." So in the end that's the answer to why there is something rather than nothing: the universe has irreducible complexity that we cannot answer any more whys about, even in principle.
    – causative
    Dec 31, 2020 at 6:11
  • I've decided to downvote it because the answer does not consider nothingness. It speaks about a potential physical theory to express fundamental relations among things/events in physical universe. It is unclear from the answer how "nothing" can emerge in the world populated with things.
    – ttnphns
    Jan 7, 2021 at 7:50
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In Meinongian theory, objects that do not exist still have being. And hence we can formulate their opposite: objects that do have existence.

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I suppose one way to try to paraphrase the idea is to say, "What if, for all variables x, x does not equal zero?" That there are no zero-cases? Then we'd see the problem: for then there'd be zero zero-cases. "Contradiction," as they say.

Another way to think of it is to ask what happens when we take the complement of a universe of discourse. This reduces to the empty discourse, and it seems to be an operation we can mentally perform, so the abstract possibility of "nothingness" seems apparent to us. Alternatively, we'd be claiming something like "reducing down infinitesimally to zero but never reaching it" as our closest equivalent to "ceasing to exist." I don't think that that would work, though, since at the end of the day, the iteration of the negative hyperoperators from the predecessor/subtraction base cases revolves around zero nevertheless (e.g. division is iterated subtraction "with an eye towards" zero), and the balance of any negative and positive number (including counterpart infinitesimals) is also still zero.

I think we'd effectively have to lack the concepts of negation, absence, emptiness, etc. for "nonexistence is impossible" to go through in the intended way, here. Ironically, the concept of nothingness as such would be proven to exist (externally) by our very lack of the concept, though (although then I guess we wouldn't ever "know" this).

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