Why are we here? What came before the Big Bang? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is Santa Claus real?
These are the questions that have been bothering philosophers (and me) for ages. Luckily, I stumbled upon an article from Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine, that might help us think through those baffling questions.
The article, naturally titled, Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
“The argument that asks why there is something rather than nothing underlies all the other arguments, and is cognitively challenging because it is simply not possible for existing beings to imagine not existing, not just themselves (which forms the cognitive foundation of afterlife beliefs), but to imagine nothing existing at all.”
Imagine nothing existing, at all. That is preposterous.
“Go ahead and try it. Picture nothing.”
Okay, Michael. Whatever you say. I’ll give it a try.
That was interesting. All I saw was Santa holding a sword while riding on a unicorn and flying through space. Which is crazy, because everyone knows Santa and his unicorn-reindeer wouldn’t be able to breath in space.
How about you, Mike – what do you picture when you think of nothing, you non-believing, atheist sinner?
“When I ask myself this question I start by visualizing dark empty space bereft of galaxies, stars, and planets, along with molecules and atoms. But this picture is incorrect because if there were no universe there would not only be no matter, but there would be no space or time (or space-time) either. There would be absolutely nothing, including no conscious being to observe the nothingness. Just… nothing. Whatever that is. This presents us with what is arguably the deepest of deep questions: why is there something rather than nothing?“
I’ll give you a deep question: why is it that every time I buy a pack of pistachios, all of them are half open?
My favorite section of the paper, “Explanations for Our Universe” gives nine explanations for why our universe exists at all. Some explanations include:
Grand Unified Theory:
[Sean Carroll] “Possibly general relativity is not the correct theory of gravity, at least in the context of the extremely early universe. Most physicists suspect that a quantum theory of gravity, reconciling the framework of quantum mechanics with Einstein’s ideas about curved spacetime, will ultimately be required to make sense of what happens at the very earliest times.”
“Like its biological counterpart, [Lee] Smolin hypothesizes that there might be a selection from different “species” of universes, each containing different laws of nature….The result of this cosmic evolutionary process would be a preponderance of universes like ours, so we should not be surprised to find ourselves in a universe fine-tuned for life.”
Not to mention, thanks to this essay, I finally (barely) know the differences between Bubble universes, Many-worlds Multiverse, and the Membrane universes.
Additionally, Michael provides us with some history lessons:
“Plagues formerly ascribed to women cavorting with the devil are today known to be caused by bacteria and viruses.”
It’s good to know we’ve come a long way from witchcraft.
Michael’s essay dives into the natural and supernatural, the heavens and earth, God and Genesis, math and physics, and universes made of quantum foam (insert dirty joke here).
If you have time this holiday season, I recommenced grabbing some spiked eggnog, getting cozy by the fire, and having your mind blown this Christmas by reading Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?