Levels of Nothing: There Are Multiple Answers to the Question of Why the Universe Exists

By Kuhn, Robert Lawrence | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Levels of Nothing: There Are Multiple Answers to the Question of Why the Universe Exists


Kuhn, Robert Lawrence, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


NOTHING, OF LATE, IS SOMETHING OF A SCANDAL. Physicists and philosophers debate the efficacy of quantum physics, and the value of philosophical analysis, to explain why there is Something rather than Nothing. (1) In the Vol. 13 No. 2 (2007) issue of SKEPTIC, I confronted my life-long obsession with Nothing. Entitled "Why This Universe: Toward a Taxonomy of Ultimate Explanations," the article described my existential angst and offered some 27 possible "ultimate explanations." I suggested that while "Why Not Nothing?" may seem impenetrable, "Why This Universe?", energized by remarkable advances in cosmology, may be accessible. While they are not at all the same question, perhaps if we can begin to decipher the latter, we can begin to decrypt the former.

After the article was published, SKEPTIC editor Michael Shermer encouraged me to expand the article into a book. I approached the philosopher John Leslie, who for decades had focused on Something/ Nothing and whom I had come to know through our discussions on Closer To Truth, the PBS television series that I created and host, and we set about to co-edit a book of readings and commentaries on the ultimate question.

The Mystery of Existence: Why is there Anything At All? (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), long in gestation, presents the ideas of contemporary thinkers as well as some others throughout intellectual history, grouped under five possible "solutions" to the "Why-is-there-Something-rather-than-Nothing?" puzzle: (1) a blank is absurd; (2) no explanation needed; (3) chance; (4) value/perfection as ultimate; and (5) mind/consciousness as ultimate.

In this article I shall explore the essence of Nothing, or what I call "Levels of Nothing" especially in light of recent debates and public interest. (2) Why "Levels" of Nothing? That's where the confusion lies.

What is it About Nothing?

Lump together everything that exists and might exist--physical, mental, platonic, spiritual, God, other nonphysicals. As for the physical, include all matter, energy, space and time, and all the laws and principles that govern them (known and unknown); as for the mental, imagine all kinds of consciousness and awareness (known and unknown); as for the platonic, gather all forms of abstract objects (numbers, logic, forms, propositions, possibilities--known and unknown); as for the spiritual and God, embrace anything that could possibly fit these nonphysical categories (if anything does); and as for "other nonphysicals;' well, I just want to be sure not to leave anything unclassified. Lump together literally everything contained in ultimate reality. Now call it all by the simple name "Something." Why is there "Something" rather than "Nothing"?

Why Not Nothing? What guides me here is gut feeling, not clever reasoning, which is why no argument has ever dissuaded me from continuing to think, following Leibniz, (3) that Nothing, no world, would be simpler and easier than any world, that Nothing would have been the least arbitrary and "most natural" state of affairs.

As I have continued to think about Nothing, I have continued to think that Nothing "should;' in some sense, have obtained, and the only reason I accept the fact that Nothing does not obtain is not because of any of the arguments against Nothing, (4) but because of the raw existence of Something--because in my private consciousness I am forced to recognize that real existents compose Something. In other words, an a priori weighing of Nothing v. Something (from a timeless, explanatorily earlier perspective) would, for me, tip the balance heavily to Nothing, but for the fact of the matter.

Thus, since I have no choice but to recognize that there is Something, I have no choice but to conclude that there is foundational force, selector, productive principle or type of necessity--some deep reason--that brings about the absence of Nothing. I cannot rid myself of the conviction that Nothing would have obtained had not something special somehow superseded or counteracted it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Levels of Nothing: There Are Multiple Answers to the Question of Why the Universe Exists
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.