Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?


In the early 1970s, when I was an undergraduate philosophy student, I was introduced to the writing of German philosopher Martin Heidegger. By Heidegger scholar Michael Gelven. Gelven had a great influence on me. Some of the way I now teach is indebted to him. Then, in seminary, I was privileged to do an independent study class on Heidegger with theologian Tom Finger. I read Heidegger's Being and Time. What a difficult book! Tom met with me and taught me - thank you!

I was intrigued by Heidegger. It was then that I came across his famous question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" (Introduction to Metaphysics) This is, arguably THE BIG QUESTION. But, alas, Heidegger was not always helpful. he raised the question, but his writing was abstruse. Rudolf Carnap thought his writing was metaphysical nonsense. To illustrate, Carnap asks us to consider this, from Heidegger.

"What is to be investigated is being only and—nothing else; being alone and further—nothing; solely being, and beyond being-nothing. What about this Nothing? … Does the Nothing exist only because the Not, i.e. the Negation, exists? Or is it the other way around? Does Negation and the Not exist only because the Nothing exists? … We assert: the Nothing is prior to the Not and the Negation…. Where do we seek the Nothing? How do we find the Nothing…. We know the Nothing…. Anxiety reveals the Nothing…. That for which and because of which we were anxious, was 'really'—nothing. Indeed: the Nothing itself—as such—was present…. What about this Nothing?—The Nothing itself nothings. (Heidegger as quoted by Carnap 1932, 69)"

OK. (While others play "free cell" I study quotes like this.)

So yesterday I came across this: "Schulz on Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?" So I picked up the new book by Jim Holt, called Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story. It concerns THE BIG QUESTION: Why is there something rather than nothing?

40 years after my introduction to Heidegger and THE QUESTION, I'm still with it, intrigued by how certain people might respond to it. Holt's book features extended interviews with cosmologists, from Adolph Gr├╝nbaum (a philosopher and atheist) to Richard Swinburne (philosopher, theist) to Roger Penrose (mathematician) to Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize–winning physicist). Holt offers additional thoughts in between, such as a chapter dedicated to giving us a "Philosophical Tour D'Horizon."

So far it's a good read.