One of the best and worst questions one could ever ask is, “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?”
In one sense, it is the best question ever! It is THEE question, right? Where did all this stuff come from?? What caused it all? Did it have to be here? The question is the ultimate of ultimates, the most fundamental of fundamentals. It cuts to the heart of existence…it is asking about why anything exists at all!
But now for the buzz-kill, this question is also the worst question ever because it is literally meaningless—we can never experience pure nothingness. Damn. I knew there was a limit to our thought. If we equate “nothing” as that which is “not something,” then it is impossible for us to conceive what that nothing would be. In fact, it is impossible for us to conceive of the conception of what that nothing would be, because we cannot say that that nothing is anything. To say that nothing is anything is to say that it is something, which violates our parameters that it is ‘not something’. Therefore, the question, “why is there something rather than nothing at all?” is not a valid question. It is literally nonsense.
We think we know something about the question because we understand absence and lack, and knowing that one thing is not another. In our experience – our phenomenal experience (the qualitative nature of our experience, images, representations) – we are aware of things present; we know presence. The computer is present to me right now. Since these things go away, we are also aware of absence, of lack. If someone took my computer away right now (I’d be pissed!), but I would be left with a lack. Our experience is a collage of presences and absences. We can also compare these presences and absences with other presences and absences to know that not all are equal to each other; hence we know that some things are not other things. But no matter how hard we try, this would never mean that we really know something about absolute nothingness. That, if anything, seems to be something outside of our conceptual grasp.
But then I learned something today. Mindblowing (at least to me).
0 = 1 + -1
What? Does that not do it for you? You learned that in fourth grade and it didn’t rock your world? Follow along.
The equation can be rewritten as, “0 = 1 and -1.” If I can use a conjunction adding two things together, they must be somethings or else the additive function would be meaningless. So “1” and “-1” are definitely somethings, although they negate each other. Zero is the symbol for nothing. So in essence, we have nothing = something that negates itself.
Let me say that again, we have “nothing is something that negates itself.” We just said that which didn’t seem to be meaningful to say above, but the mathematics of it makes perfect sense. Nothing is something. Something is nothing. Something just came from nothing.
Still not convinced this means anything? Ok, here goes…
If nothing is something that negates itself, why not consider our present universe in such a state? We could think of matter + anti-matter or our universe counterposed to an equal and opposite universe – in short, think of our universe in some sort of yin/yang state that would satisfy “1 + -1.” That would mean that the present state of things really is just nothing, though from our point of view, it kind of feels like something since we experience only one of the conjuncts. Somebody proposed that maybe it is the element of time that seems to peel apart the “is” from the “is not,” but in the end, it is all but nothing taken all together.
So something can come from nothing, but it is still ultimately nothing. We no longer have to look for causes or reasons for existence because it is a matter of definition. Existence must be counterposed to nonexistence, which is just to say that this is all nothing.
Our mistake was to separate nothing from something in the first place and think we were speaking about something different.