Something Rather Than Nothing II

Off-site someone linked me to this post by Richard Carrier, in which he comes to much the same conclusions as I did, but in much more depth, and also provides a more formal logical proof.

  • P1: In the beginning, there was absolutely nothing.
  • P2: If there was absolutely nothing, then (apart from logical necessity) nothing existed to prevent anything from happening or to make any one thing happening more likely than any other thing.
  • C1: Therefore, in the beginning, nothing existed to prevent anything from happening or to make any one thing happening more likely than any other thing.
  • P3: Of all the logically possible things that can happen when nothing exists to prevent them from happening, continuing to be nothing is one thing, one universe popping into existence is another thing, two universes popping into existence is yet another thing, and so on all the way to infinitely many universes popping into existence, and likewise for every cardinality of infinity, and every configuration of universes.
  • C2: Therefore*, continuing to be nothing was no more likely than one universe popping into existence, which was no more likely than two universes popping into existence, which was no more likely than infinitely many universes popping into existence, which was no more likely than any other particular number or cardinality of universes popping into existence.
  • P4: If each outcome (0 universes, 1 universe, 2 universes, etc. all the way toaleph-0 universes, aleph-1 universes, etc. [note that there is more than one infinity in this sequence]) is no more likely than the next, then the probability of any finite number of universes (including zero universes) or less having popped into existence is infinitely close to zero, and the probability of some infinite number of universes having popped into existence is infinitely close to one hundred percent.
  • C3: Therefore, the probability of some infinite number of universes having popped into existence is infinitely close to one hundred percent.
  • P5: If there are infinitely many universes, and our universe has a nonzero probability of existing (as by existing it proves it does, via cogito ergo sum), then the probability that our universe would exist is infinitely close to one hundred percent (because any nonzero probability approaches one hundred percent as the number of selections approaches infinity, via the law of large numbers).
  • C4: Therefore, if in the beginning there was absolutely nothing, then the probability that our universe would exist is infinitely close to one hundred percent.
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6 thoughts on “Something Rather Than Nothing II

  1. I wonder if, by this same logic, something (the universe) could just as easily become nothing, just as randomly as nothing became something. In which case, the universe (in fact, every universe) randomly ceasing to exist would also be a possibility, with every milli-second of every second, of every minute, of every hour, etc. adding to the probability of the universe ceasing to exist. This, I think, would make the continuance of existence itself extremely unlikely. If there is the chance of something coming into existence at any given point in time, there is also the chance of it ceasing to exist, no?

  2. I see where you’re coming from, but there’s actually a good reason why this isn’t the case. And that’s because a vital feature of the argument is the fact that if there is nothing, then nothing exists to prevent something from existing. That is where we get the conclusion that all possible individual somethings are equally likely (and so, a multiverse even more likely). However, once you have something, then the laws governing that something also exist, and so it no longer is a case of spontaneously existing or not existing, now it is case of what is permissible under the laws of that something.

  3. Ah, I see, thank you. That makes sense 🙂 I think I still have trouble with “nothingness” begetting “something”, based on differences that I think reach beyond any probabilities or logical reasoning, but this certainly answers my original question.

    I’ve been exploring other debates on this issue and was wondering if you had any thoughts on this post I made on another site (concerning the proof that nothingness cannot exist), since it’s related to some of the assertions made in the above proof:

    I think we have to define existence as not only being physical, but also temporal. Nothingness is not only the absence of anything physical, but it is also the absence of time, something I don’t think we’re capable of experiencing, observing or comprehending. Since it exists outside of time, nothingness lacks any possibility of changing, so the chance of it begetting something is 0. It’s nothing, so it cannot be observed or understood, and it doesn’t even have the possibility of existing or not existing itself. Therefore, trying to define nothingness, and trying to prove that nothingness cannot exist through a framework of laws that apply to existence (or even through the logic of a being that exists) seems impossible.

    I’d propose that since everything we know and understand about existence is based upon our observations, studies, and thoughts (which are all based in a temporal existence themselves), our attempts to present, challenge, prove, disprove, or even contemplate “nothingness” would be futile.

    It seems problematic, then, to try to answer the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” by attempting to define and disprove the second option. I’m not sure that was Leibniz’s intent. The only remotely scientifically observable part of the question is the first half, “Why is there something?” which is what I think Leibniz was getting at in the first place: we cannot scientifically explain “why”. We’re not equipped to do so in our temporal state of existence. Only something eternal (existing outside of time) could comprehend both existence and nothingness and give an answer. And the eternal is either nothingness (since nothingness exists outside of time, as stated before) meaning there is no “why”, no reason for existence, that it exists because it does, because it’s more stable than a vacuum, because there can be no uncaused cause, or any other law/reason that somehow precedes existence itself…Or it’s something.

  4. I don’t quite agree with your assertion that because there is no time, there is therefore no change. Suppose there was nothing. By the proof above, there is an infinite chance that something would begin to exist. Now that something popping into existence would create time, because now we have sequential events, where previously we didn’t. I think what’s wrong is thinking that if there was nothing, it was sitting around for a while and then begat something — because that idea does rely on time existing. But the proof doesn’t propose that that is what happens.

    I personally *highly* doubt that there ever was any such thing as absolute nothing. Presenting this proof is not, for me or for Carrier, an attempt to show what we believe happened. Rather, it is to say to those who propose that there *was* nothing, that our universe’s existence is not unexpected, surprising, or requiring any divine intervention.

    And the eternal is either nothingness (since nothingness exists outside of time, as stated before) meaning there is no “why”, no reason for existence, that it exists because it does, because it’s more stable than a vacuum, because there can be no uncaused cause, or any other law/reason that somehow precedes existence itself

    But then it would not be nothing, because a law: “there can be no uncaused cause” or something else would exist. And that law is *something* — or rather, it requires something in order to function. (What process does that law describe? What, exactly, stops an uncaused cause from existing? Well, if the law is true then something must, but then something exists, and then we don’t have nothing.)

    EDITED TO ADD: But you are also absolutely right that science cannot answer “why.” In fact, it probably would have been better for me to name these posts “how is there something rather than nothing” — but the question is usually stated “why”, so I repeated that. But you are correct.

    ADDENDUM #2: I also have a bit of a problem with proposing that “the eternal” could be nothing. Simply by the fact that we and our universe exist, we know that there isn’t always nothing, because there is currently something. Ergo, even if there was nothing, even if there might again be nothing (which I don’t think is possible, both by the proof above and the indications of physics), we know it isn’t eternal, because as long as we exist, there is something, not nothing.

  5. I’m glad that we can agree that absolute nothingness was probably never an option, if only by way of our own existence. I attempted to elude to that in my last paragragh (which you commented on), and I think you’re right, even the laws themselves require a something to exist in order to function.

    I still think that, theoretically, with absolute nothingness, there are no possibilities, no other options, and therefore no chances for other universes to pop up (if just by the definition of “nothing”, which is pretty weak coming from a being within existence) but I certainly understand and respect your argument as well, and again, I guess it doesn’t really help us answer the original question, other than possibly helping us eliminate the discussion of nothing as we attempt to answer “how” or “why” there is something.

    From here, though, I think we might still be stuck with an uncaused cause, if there was never absolute nothing. Existence, in some fashion or another (albeit perhaps in a very different mode than we experience now) would have to be infinite, and therefore an uncaused cause itself, or it must be caused by another uncaused cause (or perhaps by a cause which was caused which was caused, ad infinitum until we reach an uncaused cause, which is basically the same thing). This is probably as far my mind reaches as far as understanding the origins of existence, but again, I’d be open to other answers. I’m just hoping to figure this out, which is probably impossible anyway 🙂

  6. Haha, yeah, I don’t think anyone has the answer yet. But I don’t think we have any reason (as a lot of people claim) for entirely ruling out an uncaused cause. It doesn’t fit with our intuition of how the universe exists, but what we’re talking about is pre-universe, so we can’t really trust our intuition.

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