# Ultimate question: Why anything at all?

by bohm2
Tags: ultimate
P: 259
 Quote by apeiron So some like to believe everything is essentially random, chance, meaningless, etc. Others that existence is purposeful, rational, etc.
"Random" simply means "unpredicatable." I see no dichotomy here.
PF Gold
P: 2,432
 Quote by PatrickPowers Probability zero does not mean impossible and probability one does not mean certainty. There is no other reasonable way to do it. The fact that something exists does not imply that its probability is greater than zero. Get used to it.
Do you understand the argument? If nothingness is deemed to be an ultimately simple state, then there is only one way it can be. Whereas somethingness would have an apparent infinity of ways of being. There is no obvious limit on its variety.

So the probablity of nothing is such that it almost surely does not exist, while the probability of something is such that it almost surely exists.

One may find all sorts of reasons to dispute the probabilities being assumed (is nothingness in fact infinitely varied? Is somethingness indeed somehow inherently limited). But this handwaving probability argument seems a good enough place to start a metaphysical discussion on the issue.

For your point to have any meaning here, you would have to show us first why somethingness must be limited to just one way of being.
 P: n/a Nothingness it is not empty space it is not infinite or boundless variety whatever that means, and not even the potential of what is yet to come... There´s nothing to nothingness...no thing to talk about. The only valid use of nothingness as a concept intends to refer to the relative absence on something which exists and that it is not present in X space time frame.
P: 259
 Quote by apeiron Do you understand the argument? If nothingness is deemed to be an ultimately simple state, then there is only one way it can be. Whereas somethingness would have an apparent infinity of ways of being. There is no obvious limit on its variety. So the probablity of nothing is such that it almost surely does not exist, while the probability of something is such that it almost surely exists. One may find all sorts of reasons to dispute the probabilities being assumed (is nothingness in fact infinitely varied? Is somethingness indeed somehow inherently limited). But this handwaving probability argument seems a good enough place to start a metaphysical discussion on the issue. For your point to have any meaning here, you would have to show us first why somethingness must be limited to just one way of being.
As best I can understand it, your argument is that each way of being is equally likely. Nothingness is one way of being. Somethingness includes virtually infinite ways of being. Therefore Somethingness is much more likely than nothingness.

The part I don't accept is that idea that each way of being is equally likely.
 P: n/a The comparison of likelihood of probability in between nothingness and something is absurd ! Nothingness or shall we clarify, NO-THING, does not qualify as an object with property´s such as "being"/existing...and thus it is a false question ! It simply if it is the case that Something does exist then Nothingness cannot be conceptualized as an absolute any more...the assertion of the first immediately excludes the second... By the same token not everything that exists necessarily had a beginning ! Thus if its is the case, as it seams, that the Universe had a beginning, to prevent an infinite regression in the causal chain, its final cause, must necessarily to not have had a beginning...from where it follows, and granting that the best known rational mechanical explanation in so far asserts a Multiverse as the cause of our Universe, a place where all possible worlds do exist, seams rather natural to conclude, that the Multiverse has no cause nor it did begun to exist...
P: 259
 Quote by Albuquerque The comparison of likelihood of probability in between nothingness and something is absurd ! Nothingness or shall we clarify, NO-THING, does not qualify as an object with property´s such as "being"/existing...and thus it is a false question ! It simply if it is the case that Something does exist then Nothingness cannot be conceptualized as an absolute any more...the assertion of the first immediately excludes the second... By the same token not everything that exists necessarily had a beginning ! Thus if its is the case, as it seams, that the Universe had a beginning, to prevent an infinite regression in the causal chain, its final cause, must necessarily to not have had a beginning...from where it follows, and granting that the best known rational mechanical explanation in so far asserts a Multiverse as the cause of our Universe, a place where all possible worlds do exist, seams rather natural to conclude, that the Multiverse has no cause nor it did begun to exist...
You are absolutely correct. The probability that nothing exists, given that something exists, is zero.
 P: n/a ...Someone should had explained to William Lane Craig that his second premiss on the Cosmological Argument for God is plain wrong...not everything that exists begins to exist !
PF Gold
P: 2,432
 Quote by PatrickPowers As best I can understand it, your argument is that each way of being is equally likely. Nothingness is one way of being. Somethingness includes virtually infinite ways of being. Therefore Somethingness is much more likely than nothingness. The part I don't accept is that idea that each way of being is equally likely.
It's the OP rather than my argument. I don't personally believe a probability argument is going to offer any safe conclusions here.

That's why we discuss these things. To discover their weaknesses.

And you still seem to have it wrong. If nothingness did have one way of being, and somethingness an unlimited number of ways, then they are not equally likely. That is the basis of the OP. So at least you are right if you also don't view one vs infinity as equivalent.

And even if you were to take an a priori position that nothingness and somethingness should be treated initially as a simple 50/50 probability, there is still an argument against that. Here is Apostel's view, for instance.

 In section 8 we applied the principle of sufficient reason. Its negative counterpart is the principle of insufficient reason. We are familiar with this from the fundamentals of the probability theory. "If n possibilities are given and there is no sufficient reason to choose one of these in preference to another, then they are all equally probable". If "el or e2 ... or en" has a probability factor of 1 (or is even necessary), and if there is no SR to make el preferable to e2, all e, will have a probability of l/n. We shall apply this to the set of possible worlds. In the most unfavourable case for the refutation of "Nothing exists", we place the empty worlds (which we shall call L) on one side and the not empty worlds (which we shall call B) on the other side. We consider the two sets as a unity and assume there is no reason to choose empty in preference to not empty, or not empty in preference to empty. Assuming that there have to be "worlds", then L has a probability of 1/2 and B too. This is an extreme case, however. There is only one way of being "empty" , whereas there are many ways of being not empty. We can therefore assume that there are 1, 2, 3, 4, ... n, infinity, different non-empty worlds. In each of these assumptions, assuming that we have no reason to suppose that one of these worlds is more probable than another, the principle of insufficient reason determines that the probability of L always decreases (from 1/2 to l/n) and that the probability of B always increases (from 1/2 to 1/3+1/3 to 1/4+ 1/ 4+ 1/4 etc.). If an infinite number of possible worlds exist, the probability of L will approach the limit zero. We shall now apply the principle of insufficient reason to the totality of all these distributions of probabilities over possible worlds. In one distribution L has a probability of 1/2. In all the other distributions L has a lower probability, and in an infinite number of distributions the probability of L is arbitrarily close to the limit zero. All this follows if we can apply the principle of insufficient reason both to the individual 2, 3, ... n possible worlds and to the assumptions about the number of possible worlds, and if our ignorance or ontological indifference (or both) are so great that there is no known and/or existing reason to choose one world in preference to another. In concrete terms, all the foregoing follows from the fact that being can offer more variety than nothingness.
 P: n/a ...you seam to have misunderstood my argument...my point was that there is no likelihood on anything in the first place, less alone a value for it...probability does not even apply to the problem once the first premiss, something, excludes the second, nothingness ...
 P: n/a My position on this regard is that the idea that nothingness precedes something is absurd ! The very qualification of no-thing only makes sense by referring to the absence of something...the term excludes an absolute value in its very own definition....
PF Gold
P: 2,432
 Quote by Albuquerque My position on this regard is that the idea that nothingness precedes something is absurd ! The very qualification of no-thing only makes sense by referring to the absence of something...the term excludes an absolute value in its very own definition....
I agree - for quite different reasons most probably - that the idea of something arising from nothing is absurd. But that is a subtly different question from the OP.

The question here is about the possibility of there being just nothing - period. Now we know that isn't in fact the case. But was it ever even an honest possibility?

How can logic rule that out? Logic may rule out the kind of nothingness that spawns a somethingness, but it does not appear to rule out a nothingness of the kind that spawns...nothing.

This seems a rather coherent and self-consistent concept of nothingness - more so than the fecund kind. And the OP is about why we actually do have something rather than that kind of nothingness.
P: n/a
 Quote by apeiron I agree - for quite different reasons most probably - that the idea of something arising from nothing is absurd. But that is a subtly different question from the OP. The question here is about the possibility of there being just nothing - period. Now we know that isn't in fact the case. But was it ever even an honest possibility? How can logic rule that out? Logic may rule out the kind of nothingness that spawns a somethingness, but it does not appear to rule out a nothingness of the kind that spawns...nothing. This seems a rather coherent and self-consistent concept of nothingness - more so than the fecund kind. And the OP is about why we actually do have something rather than that kind of nothingness.
It seams to me that we must assume such kind of nothingness is possible in the first place and yet we don´t have any good reason to believe so...on its own premiss nothingness cannot be time dependent thus it does not follow a moment from where it can transit to something without contradicting its own conceptual terms...

(I apologise for my far from bright English which is not my first language)
PF Gold
P: 2,432
 Quote by Albuquerque It seams to me that we must assume such kind of nothingness is possible in the first place and yet we don´t have any good reason to believe so...on its own premiss nothingness cannot be time dependent thus it does not follow a moment from where it can transit to something without contradicting its own conceptual terms... (I apologise for my far from bright English which is not my first language)
They are still two separate arguments. In one, the debate is whether nothingness is itself a true possibility. In the other, the debate is whether nothingness actually existed (for a while, until something arose).

So in considering nothingness as a possibility, we can agree it must have no properties at all - no time, no space. It is not even an empty world.

And there is where the probability argument in fact slips up. It depends on some firm notion of countable worlds to get off the ground. And true nothingness could have nothing that smacks of a worldliness, such as change or development - any kind of temporal progression.

True nothingness, by its definition could never spawn an actual world. So the existence of something proves that there was never "a time of nothing". And yet is still seems an active possibility. There could still have been a nothing (as an alternative to our existence and how it came about).

To finally eliminate nothingness as even a possibility, further work is needed. We have to have an argument which says our world came about through this process, and logically this is the only kind of origin it could have had. And look, as the "complementary other" to existence, it exhausts all other possibilities. There is now no room for nothingness even as a logical possibility.

In other words, we employ the usual logic of metaphysical dichotomies.

Nothing vs something is a very weak kind of dichotomy. For the reasons discussed, it does not really work as the terms are not mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. No-thing is a simple negation, based on trying to subtract away all things (or actually, just the "some" that are taken to exist). And as you point out, we cannot finally subtract away time or space, or at least the potential for change, the potential for stability too, in any intelligible way. We can subtract to create an empty world, but not a non-world.

What we need is the kind of complex negation that is a strong dichotomy. In which the two polar alternatives cover every possibility and are definitely related by their very lack of relation - it is the total metaphysical exclusivity that exhausts the need for any further consideration of other possibilities.

As I said earlier in the thread, this leads us to some form of the arguments of Anaximander, Aristotle, Hegel and Peirce. Where what are opposed are vagueness and crispness, replacing the weaker thesis and antithesis of nothing and something.

The vague is a notion of a fundamental state that admits to development - the vague can always become something. As a state of pure potential, it is not a nothing (that is a possibility it excludes). But it is also as near a nothing as possible. Likewise, a pure potential can become anything. So it is also as near an everythingness as possible. It is an infinity of degrees of freedom as yet unconstrained, but by the same token, unformed.

Somethingness then becomes the emergence of constraints, of limits, of form. And the cause of this emergence employs all four of Aristotle's causes (whereas the "something from nothing" kinds of argument usually just appeal to some kind of local effective cause - a triggering event).

With the notion of vagueness, we can not only subtract away all things, we can also dissolve away any idea of space and time - so get rid of both the contents and the container to have less than an "empty world".

All sorts of things flow from this view. For instance, when now asking the question "why anything", the only alternative is that things might have remained forever vague. But this is illogical, forbidden, because constraints could also exist. The question can now be answered in terms of the inevitabilty of constraints.

Of course, you still have to construct that model. And people like Peirce, or Geoffrey Chew with his bootstrap approach to particle physics, have attempted such models. But at least the metaphysics gives a clear idea of what the model needs to be about - the development of global systems constraints.

So the Why Anything? argument is useful because it reveals the inadequacy of nothingness as a global concept (no-things can only be localised particulars of some crisply actual world). And even of effective causes as the way to get everything started (again, effective causes are only local and particular).
P: 724
 Quote by apeiron They are still two separate arguments. In one, the debate is whether nothingness is itself a true possibility. In the other, the debate is whether nothingness actually existed (for a while, until something arose). So in considering nothingness as a possibility, we can agree it must have no properties at all - no time, no space. It is not even an empty world. And there is where the probability argument in fact slips up. It depends on some firm notion of countable worlds to get off the ground. And true nothingness could have nothing that smacks of a worldliness, such as change or development - any kind of temporal progression. True nothingness, by its definition could never spawn an actual world. So the existence of something proves that there was never "a time of nothing". And yet is still seems an active possibility. There could still have been a nothing (as an alternative to our existence and how it came about). To finally eliminate nothingness as even a possibility, further work is needed. We have to have an argument which says our world came about through this process, and logically this is the only kind of origin it could have had. And look, as the "complementary other" to existence, it exhausts all other possibilities. There is now no room for nothingness even as a logical possibility. In other words, we employ the usual logic of metaphysical dichotomies. Nothing vs something is a very weak kind of dichotomy. For the reasons discussed, it does not really work as the terms are not mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. No-thing is a simple negation, based on trying to subtract away all things (or actually, just the "some" that are taken to exist). And as you point out, we cannot finally subtract away time or space, or at least the potential for change, the potential for stability too, in any intelligible way. We can subtract to create an empty world, but not a non-world. What we need is the kind of complex negation that is a strong dichotomy. In which the two polar alternatives cover every possibility and are definitely related by their very lack of relation - it is the total metaphysical exclusivity that exhausts the need for any further consideration of other possibilities. As I said earlier in the thread, this leads us to some form of the arguments of Anaximander, Aristotle, Hegel and Peirce. Where what are opposed are vagueness and crispness, replacing the weaker thesis and antithesis of nothing and something. The vague is a notion of a fundamental state that admits to development - the vague can always become something. As a state of pure potential, it is not a nothing (that is a possibility it excludes). But it is also as near a nothing as possible. Likewise, a pure potential can become anything. So it is also as near an everythingness as possible. It is an infinity of degrees of freedom as yet unconstrained, but by the same token, unformed. Somethingness then becomes the emergence of constraints, of limits, of form. And the cause of this emergence employs all four of Aristotle's causes (whereas the "something from nothing" kinds of argument usually just appeal to some kind of local effective cause - a triggering event). With the notion of vagueness, we can not only subtract away all things, we can also dissolve away any idea of space and time - so get rid of both the contents and the container to have less than an "empty world". All sorts of things flow from this view. For instance, when now asking the question "why anything", the only alternative is that things might have remained forever vague. But this is illogical, forbidden, because constraints could also exist. The question can now be answered in terms of the inevitabilty of constraints. Of course, you still have to construct that model. And people like Peirce, or Geoffrey Chew with his bootstrap approach to particle physics, have attempted such models. But at least the metaphysics gives a clear idea of what the model needs to be about - the development of global systems constraints. So the Why Anything? argument is useful because it reveals the inadequacy of nothingness as a global concept (no-things can only be localised particulars of some crisply actual world). And even of effective causes as the way to get everything started (again, effective causes are only local and particular).

Great post!

This is a murky area and probably a very difficult question but have you thought on ways to introduce time in this model, especially after SR and its blockworld view(the blockworld view seems to nullify all attempts at understanding).
PF Gold
P: 680
 Quote by apeiron With the notion of vagueness, we can not only subtract away all things, we can also dissolve away any idea of space and time - so get rid of both the contents and the container to have less than an "empty world".

But isn't a relational or antisubstantivalist interpretation of spacetime capable of doing just that? I thought Mach favoured this approach but that's not important:

 According to the relational theory…what we call “space” is simply the totality of actual (and perhaps possible) spatial relations between material objects and/or concrete material events. If there were no material objects and concrete material events, space would not exist, for the relata of the relations constitutive of space would not exist, just as a family tree cannot exist without there being people to bear the family relations to each other that are constitutive of the tree.
de Broglie waves as the “Bridge of Becoming” between quantum theory and relativity
http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1107/1107.1678.pdf
PF Gold
P: 2,432
 Quote by Maui Great post! This is a murky area and probably a very difficult question but have you thought on how to introduce time in this model, especially after SR and its blockworld view(the blockworld view seems to nullify all attempts at understanding).
Yes, indeed that is something I've put a lot of effort into. But it would have to have its own thread.

Suffice to say, I think a thermodynamic approach to time is the key - seeing it as a gradient of change which gets dissipated. So a phase transition model in which we go from one kind of equilbrium (the instability of vagueness) to the more stable one (of a heat death universe).

There is a lot of thinking in this direction. For example, Prigogine's The End of Certainty is a stimulating read here. As the Nobellist father of dissipative structure theory, that should be no surprise.

But you also have loop quantum gravity theorists going in the same direction, because they must also make time (and space) emerge from vagueness (their quantum foam). And people like Rovelli are coming out with thermal time models.

So there is certainly a literature to ground speculation here.

SR leads to a blockworld in the same way that QM leads to MWI. They are models that have no constraints to break their internal symmetries. Yet clearly, the world as we experience it is not like these models. Those claimed symmetries are in fact broken.

This does not falsify SR or QM - so long as the models do not make a claim to be complete. The something missing (the further contraints) may get put in by hand, but it is not that difficult in practice to do that. So the models don't get us into trouble. SR and QM are fine in themselves.

However, when doing metaphysics, that is when we have to talk about what the models omit, as well as what they include, and so what kinds of further deductions would be valid.

Blockworld is one of the false pathways of thought that arise if you "believe" some particular model too religiously. At least, IMO.
PF Gold
P: 2,432
 Quote by bohm2 But isn't a relational or antisubstantivalist interpretation of spacetime capable of doing just that? I thought Mach favoured this approach but that's not important:
Yes it should. That is what I said about loop approaches - they presume some kind of vagueness as their ground. The unoriented roil of a spin-foam, or whatever. Then space and time emerge from this via the evolution of constraints - a network of concrete relationships that solidify the generality of possibility into something specific and actual, with a definite history, and so a definite future.

This is also Peircean. It is all about self-creation via relationships. Contraints must arise as the "sum over histories" or least mean path. The least action principle is also the basis of dissipative structure theory and so a thermodynamic approach.

So Mach, Peirce, Rovelli, Chew. Many see the essential story. But science picks the low hanging fruit first (a further example of the least action principle, hey? ).
P: 724
 Quote by apeiron SR leads to a blockworld in the same way that QM leads to MWI. They are models that have no constraints to break their internal symmetries. Yet clearly, the world as we experience it is not like these models. Those claimed symmetries are in fact broken.

Philosophically, I agree somewhat with your point, that it's always good to keep an open-mind and be aware that we are discussing models, yet, when discussing reality we only have our models to rest upon(it's been a tradition to regard everything else as empty talk). Yet, if we don't believe what they strongly suggest, it would seem that absolutely everyone on PF is talking mumbo-jumbo when they refer to reality. There is some truth, as far as it's attainable, that reality is relative to a frame of reference, as evidenced by clocks on the satellites orbiting the Earth and the experiments run at CERN which rely on the veracity of SR. So even if truths don't exist, it's more of a fact that reality is relative(and time is relative which lead to a blockworld), than it's a fact that reality is split at every quantum interaction(this is more of phantasy than a fact). I am far from dogmatic on it, but i'd put my money on the blockworld than on MWI any day of the week(even if it doesn't tell the whole story because no model is complete).

Time holds the key to most troubles in fundamental physics(that's Smolin's opinion in "The trouble with physics", as my own opinion is hardly worth much)

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