Why does the universe exist?

ANIL MITRA © NOVEMBER  2017—November 2017

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Why does the universe exist?


This was written as https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-reason-for-everything-1/answer/Anil-Mitra-2.

Here, I will be improving the foregoing answer.


11.26.2017 — “What is the reason for everything?” I begin with a terse answer, and then elaborate.

The reason for a thing cannot be the thing itself.

Therefore if there is a reason for everything, then it must be in the void—i.e. in nothing or the absence of all being.

And this requires no reason because one of the void, thing-hood, or both must exist.

But the void must generate everything because an internal constraint on the void would be a thing and therefore not possible in the void.

The following elaborates this terse and perhaps cryptic argument.

The elaboration is long; therefore read at your peril. Be warned that, if you agree with my argument, you may have to give up some entrenched and cherished notions of what the real is like. But you stand to gain an ultimate view of the universe and your own Being.

If the question is asking about an ultimate reason or cause then neither physics nor God would be adequate.

That is because we would then want to know what ‘caused’ physics or God. Even if we knew the cause or source of physics or the cosmos we would then want to know the cause of the cause, and so on. Some people might say God is an uncaused cause. But while of course there may be uncaused causes, just asserting the case is not demonstration of its truth. An uncaused cause is possible, if outside the realms of experience and physics, but possibility and necessity or proof are not the same.

How then can we inquire into the cause of ‘everything’?

In a trivial sense every thing can be seen as its own cause. That is in fact an interesting line of thought because it cuts out the eternal search for depth. But it is not a satisfactory response to the question because it tells us not why the thing exists but the trivial fact that it does exist.

So a satisfactory explanation or cause of a thing will be something other than the thing (but it’s not necessary to be exclusive about this—as so many purist thinkers are—we can continue to contemplate the idea of the thing as its own cause as something that perhaps with appropriate interpretation might turn out to be fruitful).

A satisfactory explanation or cause of everything that is known to exist must go beyond known existence to some hypothesized substrate.

That is one reason that the notion of substance, though elusive, has had such appeal in the history of philosophy.

But still, substance is problematic—(i) What is substance? (ii) Why does it exist? The latter would seem to lead to just positing a final substance or to infinite regress.

To satisfactorily answer what substance is, it would be ultimately simple. Thus some ideals of substance is that they are eternal, unchanging, and indivisible. But suppose we fix on either matter / physicality or on mind / mentality as the model of substance. Though such substances are simple, we still do not know really what they are or why they exist. They must exist / something must (not does) exist is not an explanation. Even though satisfactory in some ways as the best (perhaps) terminus of explanation that has been come up with, substance remains tentative unless it should be proven necessary.

I know of no necessary reason for or proof of the existence of substance.

What is more, all our notions of substance from Aristotle, to Descartes, to Spinoza, to the idealists are projections and therefore likely distortions.

The notion of everything as its own cause, even though we cannot accept that as an ultimate explanation, becomes more attractive.

Heidegger reformulated the issue of substance as a question What has Being? It is important in two ways. First, and after all, Being is not a thing or substance. It is simply (something like) the quality of existence (Heidegger’s thought seemed to search for the essential quality of existence which is precariously close to substance and which he found to ‘Being There’ or Dasein but which he (prematurely in my view) identified as the Being that can ask the question of its own Being or ‘Man’—it is an interesting thought but still premature and tinged with substance thinking). But the idea of Being, which Heidegger claimed to resurrect and not invent, de-invested of what had been invested in it after Plato, i.e. Being simply as the quality of existing, is a good one. The second way in which the issue of What has Being is important is that starts the investigation with a question rather than an answer which is what is done in most metaphysics including the metaphysics of Spinoza (Plato was perhaps an exception*).

Perhaps we must leave the question “What is the reason for everything?” as a question. That is better than a spurious answer. And maybe we can find an interpretation of the question as its answer. That is what some thinkers do in existentialism; otherwise they may be relegated to wallowing in nihilism**.

But we should not give up so easily. We came to nihilism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries because of the convergence of a number of events. The death of God, i.e. of external purpose to the universe. That science seemed to displace all modes of thought about Being (I do not think science does that but many people, thinkers included, seem to think so; that is not a mark against science but against the thoughts). That the ‘grand narratives’ of philosophy were at most speculative (especially Hegel’s philosophy of spirit). That promising new political systems, especially Marxism, seemed to fail spectacularly, except of course for their brutality. The Great Depression was caused apparently by unbridled capitalism which was also a political-economic system. Two brutal world wars. The critique of philosophy itself starting perhaps with Wittgenstein and continuing through analytic philosophy, especially when it emphasized piece meal thought. and then modernism and post-modernism which question even concept meaning (except post modernist meaning).

But go back over the previous paragraph. Not one of those failures is a true failure of thought.

Am I rambling? Let me get back to the point.

If the explanation of a thing should be in something else, preferably simpler, then perhaps the explanation of everything should be in ‘no thing’, ‘nothing’, ‘nothingness’ or ‘the void’ as ‘absence of Being’ (I prefer ‘the void’ because I do not like to be associated with Sartre’s use of nothingness).

Now of course that is not proof. But it does give us something to investigate. What is the void? To begin, it is not the quantum vacuum which is far from nothing, perhaps invested with infinite energy and the laws of quantum fields. A true void would have not even laws.

If you are thinking but giving up on all laws and regarding the void as the source of manifest existence would be to give up on universal cause or mechanism or form or order—then I think you would be correct.

But remember that you are asking for an explanation of everything. That is you are not only asking for the material world or mind to be explained but you are also asking for explanations of its patterns—causality etc (which by the way are known empirically and not universally or of necessity). In fact to ask for an explanation of ‘everything’ is to also ask for an explanation of explanation—i.e., particularly of reason itself.

To walk into all that would take me far afield. Too far, perhaps, for the purpose of this Quora answer. I’ve taken a bit of that walk here, it’s taken a few years; peruse it at your own risk—my friends inform me that it is not light reading.

Briefly, then, the void has no law and so every possibility must emerge from the void for the contrary would be a law; though brief, that has, at least, the form of proof. Note that the argument excludes universal cause and so on from the void for those features that we associate with our part of the world are law like or patterns which are not nothing. Naturally you will ask Are you sure about your ‘proof’***?What does this mean? How is it consistent with experience / science / itself? Can this principle engender principles of reason—at all? What are some objections—for example, does the void exist? And of course you should say to me are you not doing metaphysics and then what is metaphysics and then if I respond it is knowledge of the real you would respond what is your justification for even the possibility metaphysics? And what are the responses? What are its consequences for human meaning and destiny? You will find my answers at the essay linked in the previous paragraph.

I suggest the void as one sufficient reason for everything.

This requires us to give up many of our notions (cause etc) but only universally; locally they may still obtain (in pockets of existence such as our cosmos). It also turns out, as explained in the previous link, that any ‘particle’ of Being can / must be taken to be an explanation for all Being.

I hope I have given an answer that is not devoid of reason, that is not merely speculative, and that makes it reasonably clear that any explanation of everything will have to go beyond paradigms of cause, substance, and even existence.

I also hope I may have shown why, in the search for ultimate explanations, science as we understand it today is not enough and we must necessarily engage in metaphysics. Particularly rational metaphysics (which allows imagination, of course, but requires that the imagined be subject to reason). In the work linked a few paragraphs ago, I have shown how science and metaphysics, disparate though they may seem, can be united in a single explanatory system****.

* In his metaphysical thought he was significantly about intelligent questions rather than answers.

** This interpretation of existentialism as a positive face of nihilism was suggested to me by another Quora answer. Unfortunately, I do not remember the writer or the answer.

*** The question of proof will be better addressed after the next footnote.

**** It is important to note that the metaphysical side of this system explains everything only in principle. This remains true even when the metaphysics is supplemented by science. It is then pertinent to ask if the metaphysics has any value at all. It does. First, it tells us something ideal about the nature of the universe which we did not know before the derivation from the properties of the void. Second, it shows that there must limitlessly many cosmoses such as ours with sentient intelligence; that there are many other kinds of cosmos, and for any intelligence there is a higher intelligence; and, finally, it suggests that all intelligence is unity, which gives us much to aim for from within even an initial rational-material perspective, without which mere materialism may lead to nihilism. Still, we must ask—What shall we do about this knowledge? It’s pretty but once absorbed it’s still just an idea. It informs us about destiny but not how to be part of it. Should we just wait? Third, then, in combination with our traditions, including the modern, we are informed that it is precisely our tradition and our Being that are to be the pivots and agents of change. This is of course getting rather idealistic in the direction of universal consciousness. But it’s a consequence of what we have thought and not of mere speculation. And perhaps a final question might be Does not this grand view negate the intimacy, the pleasure, and the pain of our ordinary lives? Fourthly and finally, there is no negation of this present life in itself; and the metaphysical picture reminds us that it worthwhile living this life well on its own terms and from the larger view. Note that it ought to be clear that on the imaginative side, I have drawn from a number of sources, especially the Advaita Vedanta (non dual) philosophy of India. However, note that the interpretation and proof here are original.

Let us now address the issue of proof. Am I sure of the proof? Not 100%. But it is important that (i) the given proof has weight and though the result is seemingly paradoxical it is, as seen above, consistent with science and experience, (ii) the previous link provides a number of alternative proofs and plausibility arguments, (iii) consider the objection that the proof is a proof by meaning—well it is not for as developed in the earlier link, it is based in the perfect givens such as existence, universe, and the void, (iv) consider another objection that the proof is a mere ontological argument; well it is—an ontological argument is one that appeals to the properties of being; however the objection derives from the common and mistaken ontological argument of Anselm but which does not imply that all ontological arguments are invalid or mistaken, (v) consider the objection that ‘it is possible that the possible is impossible’—this should clearly be a semantic violation of the meaning of possibility and, further, it is short circuited in the foregoing link, by the identification of the most inclusive possibility as the logically possible, (iv) from the previous point, even if one continues to object to the proof, the result remains plausible and externally (empirically) and internally (logically) consistent and therefore it is both existential and optimal to follow the suggestion that we search for and engage in the revealed ultimate.