Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some Philosophical Musings

Consider the concept of the “multi-verse” . There are, of course many other equivalent, or at least closely related theories, such as “parallel universes theory”, “the many worlds interpretation”, etc. (the wikipedia site just referenced has some good descriptions of these related ideas). But all of them, as far as I can tell, do not admit of any kind of empirical verification, and hence it is dubious to consider them science. One almost wonders if this kind of speculation should be considered “religion”, since I suspect a strong motivation for it is to avoid the implications of this universe seeming to be the product or creation of some kind of mind (whether a deity, deities, or something not yet even imagined by humankind).
Now, I am not saying that the existence of parallel worlds is necessarily wrong, just that we will never know if it is right or not. It is beyond the methods of science. Perhaps this is a good example of how something like “Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem” has applicability applies to physics and metaphysics as well as to mathematics. That is, there may be truths that can not be broached by the scientific method.
Perhaps this seems a “duh”—but I don’t think it is, because I often find that people imply that ideas that can be shown to be unverifiable are thereby false. Now maybe it is rational to decide that we can’t know whether they are true of false, and therefore decide that they do not matter in our practical everyday lives.

I noted with interest the other day that the Templeton Foundation offers grants to study and make progress on the subject of “Free Will”.
How, I wonder, would one propose to investigate that? I am inclined to think that most people, and even many philosophers, do not fully realize the deep mysteries and paradoxes involved in this subject. Determinism in some form seems inescapable, but impractical, since it seems we cannot act upon it, and we all assume that we are not determined. Indeed, the assumption of absolute determinism seems to render absurd any of moral notions, and hence any kind of blame or punishment. Everyone learns in a college “Ethics 101” that “ought implies can” (a Google search on this phrase will bring up thousands of hits on the topic).
The odd thing is that we cannot coherently specify what the concept of “free will” would even mean. It seems that everything a system does is either the result of its physical makeup (i.e., for animals, genes), external forces, or previously stored information (this latter being the result of delayed external forces). And yet, we all assume in practice, even the “deterministic philosophers”, that we have free will. I am inclined to say that we “know” that we do. This is an odd thing, that there seem to be two all inclusive opposites, free will and determinism, and yet neither seems quite right. Is there some “third way” out of this that no one has yet thought of?

When we ask, “Why is there Something and not Nothing” are we committing a fallacy of sorts? (Again, one gets thousands of hits with a Google search on this phrase, so there are a lot of us that wonder about this question.)
Within our experience, that is, within the part of the universe that we inhabit, we have observed that when something is “there”---that is, in some region of space and time---then there is some reason for it to be there. Someone has put there, some inanimate object has knocked it there, and so on. But can such a cause and effect relationship be expected to hold for “Existence Itself”? No, from a purely rational perspective, it seems we must accept the fact of existence as axiomatic. But this will never satisfy most of us psychologically. And, along the lines of the “multi-verse” idea mentioned above, it may be that there is a reason for “Why is there something and not nothing”, it is just that we can never know, using any kind of exploration or verification methods we have, what that reason is.

1 comment:

Roger said...

Hi. In regard to "Why is there something rather than nothing?", my proposed solution is that what we usually think of as "nothing" (the lack of all matter, energy, space/volume, time, abstract concepts, laws of physics/math/logic, and all minds that would consider this supposed lack of all) is not really the lack of all existent entities. There must be something that can't be gotten rid of. Because we got rid of all the things we can think of (matter, energy, space, time, laws of physics, minds), the one thing left is the "nothing" itself. That is, "nothing" must itself be an existent entity. An argument supporting this is:

Two choices for answering the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" are:

A. "Something” has always been here.

B. "Something” has not always been here.

Choice A is possible but doesn't explain anything. If we go with choice B, if “something” has not always been here, then “nothing” must have been here before it (by "before", I don't mean "before" as in time, but "before" as in a perceived transformation from "nothing" to "something"). If this supposed "nothing” were truly the lack of all existent entities, though, there would be no mechanism present to change, or transform, this “nothingness” into the “something” that is here now. But, because we can see that “something” is here now, the only possible choice then is that the supposed “nothing” we were thinking of was not the lack of all existent entities, or absolute "nothing". There must have been some existent entity, or "something", present. Because we got rid of all the existent entities we could think of, the only thing that could be an existent entity would be the supposed "nothing" itself. That is, it must in fact be a "something". This is logically required if we go with choice B, and I don't think there's a way around that. What this means is that the situation we visualize as being the lack of all existent entities, or "nothing" is not the true lack of all existent entities and is, in fact, a "something". This also means that it's not possible to have the true lack of all existent entities because even the resultant "nothing" is a "something". In philosophy language, this means that "something" is necessary, or non-contingent.

Said another way: Let's say that you start with "nothing", which you kind of have to do if you want a satisfying answer to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?". Also, let's accept "From nothing, nothing comes" as correct. The only way out of this is to say that the supposed "nothing" we're thinking of cannot be the lack of all existent entities, or "somethings". It, itself, must be an existent entity.

That's my two cents. For how "nothing" can be a "something", I think it's important to first understand how any "normal" thing like a book or a car exists. If you're interested, I've got more on this at my website at

Thanks for listening.