Saturday, May 05, 2012

Why is there anything at all?

The Maverick has been banging on about why there is anything at all, and I have been following it but not commenting (one of those questions that are just too difficult, although that did not stop Wittgenstein having a go*). However I did find something about this by Siger of Brabant**. I give his Latin below, together with my rough translation, made hastily over breakfast. I'm not sure how Siger's reply falls into the categories given by Bill.

LatinEnglish
Non enim omne ens entitatis suae causam habet nec omnis quaestio de esse habet causam. Si enim quaeratur quare magis est aliquid in rerum natura quam nihil, in rebus causatis loquendo, contingit respondere quia est aliquod Primum Movens immobile et Prima Causa intransmutabilis. Si vero quaeratur de tota universitate entium quare magis est in eis aliquid quam nihil, non contingit dare causam, quia idem est quaerere hoc et quaerere quare magis est Deus quam non est, et hoc non habet causam. Unde non omnis quaestio habet causam nec etiam omne ens.For not every being has a cause of its being, nor does every question about being have a cause. For if it is asked why there is something in the natural world rather than nothing, speaking about the world of created things, it can be replied that there is a First immoveable Mover, and a first unchangeable cause. But if it is asked about the whole universe of beings why there is something there rather than nothing, it is not possible to give a cause, for it's the same to ask this as to ask why there is a God or not, and this does not have a cause. Hence not every question has a cause, nor even every being.


*According to Norman Malcolm, Wittgenstein said that he sometimes had a certain experience which could best be described by saying that "when I have it, I wonder at the existence of the world. I am then inclined to use such phrases as 'How extraordinary that anything should exist!'"
**Questions on Metaphysics 4 (ed. W. Dunphy, editions de l'Institut superieur de philosophie, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1981 pp. 169-170)

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11 Comments:

Blogger Cristian Pascu said...

The least we can say, I think, is that of all objects that exist, a subset must have existed since forever, for no reason and no cause.

Depending on how the rest of the objects came into being, we have different understandings on what existed by itself (necessarily) in the first place.

2:04 pm  
Blogger Cristian Pascu said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:04 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>a subset must have existed since forever

Not if time itself came into existence at some point.

2:21 pm  
Blogger Cristian Pascu said...

"since forever" is just another way to say "self-existing". I don't think that expressions like "forever" and "since forever" introduce the concept of time as we normally conceive it.

2:42 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> >>a subset must have existed since forever

>> Not if time itself came into existence at some point.

If something exists at all times in the past, hasn't it existed "since forever"?

Put another way, if time itself came into existence at some point, can't we still say that time has existed forever? Forever means "at all times", right?

In any case, I'm not sure if time came into existence at some *point*. But it certainly seems to be the case that nothing happened more than 14 billion years ago.

3:51 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Put another way, if time itself came into existence at some point, can't we still say that time has existed forever? Forever means "at all times", right?

Good point. However this must be distinguished from the 'forever' where there is no beginning point assumed.

3:56 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> >> Forever means "at all times", right?

>> Good point. However this must be distinguished from the 'forever' where there is no beginning point assumed.

To my mind that is a wholly different position which is not captured by the word "forever". But yeah, I see what you mean.

But moreover, there are two different forms of "no beginning point assumed". One is that time is infinite. The other is that time is finite, but that the interval is open (does not contain an endpoint).

This, I believe, is what Mav meant when he said "There is no first state despite the fact that the universe is metrically finite in age: 13.7 billion years old. There is no first state because of the continuity of time and causation: for every state there are earlier states in its causal ancestry."

That is what I was getting at, before reading Mav's post. Fortunately he explained it better than I (though I think my "open interval" explanation helps).

4:07 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> The other is that time is finite, but that the interval is open (does not contain an endpoint).

Put another way, if one looks at the current theories of the beginning of the universe, they get closer and closer to the "beginning point", but never reach it.

If one believes that these subdivisions could be repeated indefinitely, then past time is potentially, but not actually infinite. The interval is bounded, but it is an open bound. Nothing happened more than 14 billion years ago, but there is no *point* between 14 billion and 13 billion years ago when time came into existence.

4:12 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

Position 1: Given any X, the universe existed X years ago.

Problem: How does one define "14 billion years ago"?

Position 2: There is a point X such that the universe came into existence X years ago.

Problem: What caused it to come into existence? Isn't that itself part of the universe?

Position 3: There are Xs such that the universe did not exist X years ago (one such X is 14 billion), however, there is no point X such that the universe came into existence X years ago. In other words, given any X, if the universe existed X years ago, then there is a Y which is greater than X and for which the universe existed Y years ago.

Problem: See Zeno's paradox

Solution: See Zeno's paradox

4:36 pm  
Blogger Cristian Pascu said...

Be careful when when speaking about time. If you define time with the help of a particular form of existence (the space we exist in), then you don't answer the general question, but rather a particular variant of it.

But the question does not ask why or since when our Universe exists. It doesn't assume a certain kind of existents. It just asks about existence as such. It's a philosophical question and, as a physicist, I'm surprised to find references to the physical time and Universe in any potential answer to that question.

8:03 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

>> If you define time with the help of a particular form of existence (the space we exist in)...

Time is a relationship between the motion of entities.

How else can you define it?

If there are no entities, there is no time.

>> It's a philosophical question and, as a physicist, I'm surprised to find references to the physical time and Universe in any potential answer to that question.

The Universe is everything. What are philosophers philosophizing about if they aren't philosophizing about the Universe?

11:23 am  

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