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Non-philosopher here, though I enjoy reading about it. Without getting into complex deductive arguments, suppose I say the following: Define the entities of the material world however one likes (maybe at bottom, to keep it simple: energy and forces of nature). Considered in it's entirety, it seems fair to inquire about the "cause" (define cause however you like) of this category of stuff, taken as a whole.

Now, to me it seems nonsensical to posit that something within this category is the cause of this category itself. More precisely, even if we have an infinite series of causal relations, possibly a loop, I would maintain that it's fair to ask "Why this particular series of causal relations and not another", and so even if each part of the series is accounted for, I would still maintain that a regress is an unsatisfactory answer.

It therefore seems that all one is left with is a "brute fact" argument. Maybe the series of causal relations is simply a necessary fact, or one which literally has no explanation. But physical states of the universe don't seem to be necessary, and one may be comfortable with countering a "brute fact" with a "brute rejection": it's quite unsatisfactory intellectually.

What is one left with? To me, it seems that some entity which "transcends" the property of physical existence would be the most parsimonious solution.

Again, I made no real deductive argument, and am just trying to understand the options, and what one is left to force to believe if we reject this or that premise.

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  • Maybe... The issue is that scientific understanding is limited and up to now it failed to produce an "ultimate" explanation of all known fact (at least because the range of "known facts" is continuously increasing). From a metaphysical point of view, many attempts have been developed to produce a "purely rational" world picture; see e.g Descartes, which failed poorly. Jun 14, 2021 at 17:32
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    You might like The Mystery of Existence by Leslie and Kuhn. They survey a range of possible answers (no answer needed, brute fact, God, etc.) offered by philosophers through the ages. Jun 14, 2021 at 19:45
  • One very relevant and parsimonious option is "I don't have any evidence one way or the other and I know extreme cases physics (relativistic, quantic, very early universe...) defy my intuitions, therefore I don't know". Which does not mean we shouldn't endeavour to gather more evidence. See cosmological argument and its rebuttals.
    – armand
    Jun 15, 2021 at 2:23
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    @armand I understand that position. But the point is, everything you just named would fall under the term "physical stuff". Then we would be pointing to physical stuff in order to explain physical stuff. That is the conundrum.
    – Mark
    Jun 15, 2021 at 2:52
  • @mark seems to beat pointing at "non physical" stuff that you dont even know if it's there in the first place. Either case, we can only acknowledge our ignorance.
    – armand
    Jun 15, 2021 at 3:27

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The question of where the material world came from in the first place, is one that can't be answered by reference to this material world. The cause of this world is not a material one, even if you think that it is eternal, in which case a first cause is not necessary.
But who knows where it all came from? Theories are abundant. Most of the time they are connected with a god(s), so even scientific thought can be regarded as thinking that a god exists. Because god is in that case the whole system of explanations of how spacetime came into being. It emerged from a singularity. But from here came the singularity? It can be argued that spacetime is infinite in temporal as well as spatial extent, but that doesn't take away the question of where the infinite spacetime came from. This could be solved by the already mentioned assumption that there is no first cause. If that's what you want, okay.
For those not satisfied by this approach, the existence of gods is welcome. In non-western societies (more connected to Nature still), these even give a face to the questions of existence. This can't be said of the three main religions, which forbid even imagining the creator.
It depends on your view of the material world how existence is explained. god(s) can be connected to this view or not. The Nature of elementary particles can be involved. If you considered them without containing a soul it can get very depressing. People like Richard Dawkins consider people and all living beings to be mere machines designed by the genes (or in the case of people also memes) to ensure their survival. If he wants to think like that, okay, but he's trying to convert others too. Especially if religion is involved. Now he has the right to try to convert but the thing is that his views are taught in our schools (obligatory!) and universities. Colorful young people are turned into obedient slaves of his thoughts. Like all of the scientific thought, which denies the existence of the soul for the major part of the scientists.
Luckily, his views (repeated over and over again in his books, which can't even be considered as memes, but thoughts about memes) can easily be debunked. People and all living things simply are not machines. Machines are man-made. And we surely can't be programmed, though Dawkins and the likes show programmed behavior and thought. Evolution (which is what Dawkins talks about) has taken place, which can't be denied, but his interpretation is what he thinks about it. Aboriginals (while not thinking scientifically) have a far better understanding of evolution than he has if you ask me. You just have to read the Dreamtime stories for that. They normally don't write things up, but luckily others have. It shows a feeling of connectedness with all of Nature, past and present, that is rarely found in scientific views on Nature.
So, there are many non-scientific views that make sense. Even the scientific view if you don't confine yourself to elementary particles and fields of them. If you don't confine yourself to the view that all can be reduced to these soulless fields. One is of course free to think like this, but in my eyes, this gives a rather shallow experience of life. It's an easy view though, that basically answers everything which is why a theory of everything is so hard sought for, I guess. I like it too to think about such a theory, but to say that that answers everything? To a certain extent yes but to a larger extent no...

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    Dawkins sees humans as participating in a meme-sphere (eg tools), as well as being genes tuned to replicate. Constructor theory seeks to provide a more truly common framework for quantum behaviour, life, and machines aeon.co/essays/how-constructor-theory-solves-the-riddle-of-life A kind of practical pansychism, in a way.
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:05
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    What do you mean by quantum behavior? Nice link, by the way. Looks interesting!
    – user52804
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:12
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    Quantum behaviour - because the people developing thus theory are doing so primarily for quantum computing, basically merging coding or algorithms, and fundamental physics in a deep way, to use the latter to ask questions (currently there is only one useful quantum algorithm, for factoring large numbers).
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:35
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We discussed something similar here: Why should there be nothing rather than something?

I like the observation that all you need is the uncertainty principle: In the beginning there was nothing, which had absolutely no way to be sure what was there, so it exploded (into the universe).

Perhaps something like the octonion-based mathematical structure E8, as the 'super geometry' of possible sets of laws/symmetries/fundamental-constants, can be pictured as 'outside': as the phase-space of all possible universes.

Perhaps we need to recognise this is not truly a question about 'out there', but more about taking a stance, an attitude. In that context, I like the mystic Rumi's picture, in the poem Subtle Degrees: "over the ocean of non-being, droplets of spray tear loose, and fall back", an answer of a kind, and an attitude that can rearrange everything, towards direct experience of the unity of all things.

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    +1 for naming Rumi and his beautiful poem. What a way to express the uncertainty principle, way before its time.
    – user52804
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:28
  • The idea that nothingness is somehow logically unstable is elegant, but it seems that it would be a case of something abstract, like logic (the idea itself being a contradiction of some sort) giving rise to something material (the world). What do you make of this?
    – Mark
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:34
  • @Mark: I only mean that colloquially. In practical terms I'd relate it to say Conformal Cyclic Cosmology & a cyclic return to minimum entropy & timelessness, with an array of possible physical laws and particles possible each time, emerging from dynamics early in the differentiation
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:40
  • @Mark: I only mean that colloquially. In practical terms I'd relate it to say Conformal Cyclic Cosmology & a cyclic return to minimum entropy & timelessness, with an array of possible physical laws and particles possible each time, emerging from dynamics early in the differentiation
    – CriglCragl
    Jun 14, 2021 at 21:40

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