Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt. Our universe may have started as a hack in a physicist’s lab.

Why is there something rather than nothing? Any world view worth its salt needs an answer to this question. I recently read two books on the subject: Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt, and A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss. Of the two, I preferred Holt’s “existential detective story” because of its humbler, broader approach.

There are creation myths, Christian and otherwise. A creator brings the world into being out of nothing or out of chaos. People generally think creation myths are just nice stories, but any move to take them literally invokes quick criticism. There is a problem with creation theories. Where did the creator come from? Self-created of course, or eternal, but then why can’t the universe be self-created or eternal?

A logical person might argue, look, there is either going to be nothing or something. When there’s nothing, there’s nobody there to notice. Something is bound to turn up sooner or later. See, there’s something. A Buddhist would not agree. Is there something, really? One does not get something from nothing. The substance of things is an illusion. The universe never came into being.

Does nothing exist? Heidegger said you can’t use the verb, “is”, when it comes to nothing, as in, “nothing is”. As usual, he invented a new word, “noths”, “nothing noths.” It may be nonsensical to try to talk or think about nothing. Logical positivists preferred formal logic and empiricism to account for the world. One of Wittgenstein’s main propositions is poetical and wise, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.

Physics proposes a new answer. Our knowledge of the universe has expanded. We have empirical proof that there was a big bang, a point in time when the universe began, likely from a random quantum fluctuation. If the sum of energy in the universe can be accounted for, there is no need to invoke a creator. This answer introduces the notion of the multiverse, the possibility that many different universes can exist, each with its own set of physical laws and constants. I am intrigued by the cheeky suggestion that our universe may have started as a hack in a physicist’s lab in another universe, initialized with values then launched for expansion. I begin to think of physics as religion, only better because it can be proven. Consider entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, energy always dissipates, nothing lasts. It’s a good explanation of just about everything, the fate of the universe and my balding head.

Of course each solution sets up its own problem. If our universe came into being because of a hack in another universe, where did the first universe come from? We circle back to the beginning. Does it even make sense to talk about other universes? Doesn’t the definition of universe necessarily include everything? Recursion is the trick and curse of origin questions.

3 Replies to “Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt. Our universe may have started as a hack in a physicist’s lab.”

    1. Glad to have you along, Brian. I like the high readability of your posts. Very personal and engaging. It’s a good online writing style and I try to be more like that.

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