Victor J. Stenger: Nuthin’ To Explain

Philosopher David Albert’s recent critical review of Lawrence Krauss’ ‘A Universe from Nothing has gained widespread attention and approval in diverse quarters (including Jerry Coyne’s).  Here Professor Victor J. Stenger offers his own response.

 

Nuthin’ to Explain

Victor J. Stenger

When you ain’t got nuthin’

You got nuthin’ to explain

Bob Dylan (paraphrase)

In a recent book called A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, cosmologist Larry Krauss describes how our universe could have arisen naturally from a pre-existing structureless void he calls “nothing.”[1] He bases his argument on quantum physics, along with now well-established results from elementary particle physics and cosmology. In an afterword, atheist Richard Dawkins exults, “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages.”[2]

Philosopher David Albert will have none of it. In a review in the New York Times,[3] he asks, “Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?” Krauss admits he does not know, but suggests they may arise randomly, in which case some universe like ours would have arisen without a prescribed cause. In my 2006 book The Comprehensible Cosmos, I attempt to show that the laws of physics arise naturally from the symmetries of the void.[4]

In any case, Albert asserts that it doesn’t matter what the laws of physics are. They “have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.”

Krauss says that the reason there is something rather than nothing is that the quantum vacuum state is unstable. His theological and philosophical critics claim that what he discusses is not really “nothing.” Krauss dismisses this criticism and says that the “nothing” of his critics is some “vague and ill-defined” and “intellectually bankrupt” notion of “nonbeing.”[5] Albert insists, “Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.”

In fact, Krauss’s book is a good introduction to the latest in cosmology suitable for a layperson. If you, as Albert, do not find Krauss’s philosophical or theological views congenial, you should read the book anyway because these views are typical among theoretical particle physicists and cosmologists. If you want to dispute them, you should at least know where they stand.

Clearly, no academic consensus exists on how to define “nothing.” It may be impossible. To define “nothing” you have to give it some defining property, but, then, if it has a property it is not nothing!

Krauss shows that our universe could have arisen naturally without violating any known laws of physics. While this has been well known for a quarter century,[6] Krauss brings the arguments up-to-date

The “nothing” that Krauss mainly talks about throughout the book is, in fact, precisely definable. It should perhaps be better termed as a “void,” which is what you get when you apply quantum theory to space-time itself. It’s about as nothing as nothing can be. This void can be described mathematically. It has an explicit wave function. This void is the quantum gravity equivalent of the quantum vacuum in quantum field theory.

Krauss also describes how cosmology now strongly suggests that a “multiverse” exists in which our universe is just one member. So, the real issue is not where our particular universe came from but where the multiverse came from. This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.

Albert is not satisfied that Krauss has answered the fundamental question: Why there is something rather than nothing, that is, being rather than nonbeing? Again, there is a simple retort: Why should nothing, no matter how defined, be the default state of existence rather than something? And, to bring religion into the picture, one could ask: Why is there God rather than nothing? Once theologians assert that there is a God (as opposed to nothing), they can’t turn around and ask a cosmologist why there is a universe (as opposed to nothing). They claim God is a necessary entity. But then, why can’t a godless multiverse be a necessary entity?

Now, one might still ask why there is something rather than nothing, where nothing means nonbeing including the absence of God. Here at least we can provide a suggestion based on our knowledge of the quantum void. As Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek put it in a Scientific American article back in 1980, which Krauss quotes, “Nothing is unstable.”[7]

The issues Albert raises are legitimate, but they can be addressed within existing physics and philosophical knowledge.

 

References

[1] Lawrence Maxwell Krauss, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, (New York: Free Press, 2012).

[2] Richard Dawkins in Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, p. 191.

[3] David Albert, New York Times Book Reviews, March 25, 2012

[4] Victor J. Stenger, The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2006).

[5] Krauss, A Universe From Nothing, pp. xiii-xiv.

[6] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, (Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1988); Victor J. Stenger, Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe, (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988).

[7] Frank Wilczek, “The Cosmic Asymmetry Between Matter and Antimatter,” Scientific American 243, no. 6 (1980): 82-90.

 –

Victor J. Stenger is emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. His latest book is God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.

As well as Albert’s review, interested readers are pointed towards Sam Harris’ interview with Lawrence Krauss.  For more of Lawrence Krauss’ thoughts on philosophy and physics, you can find a more recent interview with him at ‘The Atlantic’ – you can go also go to the New Scientist for another review of his book by science writer Michael Brooks. Hopefully conversation will extend beyond the merits of Albert’s review and Krauss’ book  – your thoughts on the ‘Primordial Existential Question‘ , cosmological arguments and the relationship between philosophy and physics are all most welcome here. As, of course, are substantive criticisms of Professor Stenger’s argument from atheists and theists alike.

181 Comments.

  1. Call that a spade which resembles nothing.

    Call nothing a spade.

  2. I was glad to find another inanity by Richard Dawkins. The first inanity I found was his statement in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because of the sun. Here, Dawkins attributes the question, “Why there is something, rather than nothing” to theologians. The question, in fact, comes from Martin Heidegger, who was an atheists and Nazi collaborator.

    The question Catholic theologians ask is, “Why do finite beings exists?” It is this question that leads to the existence of an infinite being, which is called God in the west. The discovery of the Big Bang is not evidence that God exists. Rather, it is evidence that God has communicated Himself to mankind through the Bible. The Bible says, especially John 1:1, that God created the universe from nothing.

    I was amazed to discover that there is an article in the American Journal of Physics titled “Evolution and entropy” (November 2008) saying exactly the same thing about evolution that Dawkins said and justifying it with a fake equation. I am demanding that the AJP retract the article because it has no value at all. I told Victor Stenger about this article in an email. Professor Stenger has not yet responded.

  3. David,

    The question of why there is something rather than nothing is found a couple of hundred years before Heidegger in Leibniz. He was concerned with the question of why (finite) contingent beings exist and argued that this was because of the existence of an (infinite) necessary being (God) which is the sufficient reason for the existence of all contingent beings.

    The atheistic rejoinder Stenger mentions long predates Heidegger too – you’ll find it in Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779):

    “why may not the material universe be the necessarily existent Being, according to this pretended explication of necessity?”

  4. Andres, I’ve commented there, but it’s worth noting here as well;

    Misinterpreting “how can something come from nothing?” and “why is there something rather than nothing?” is a subtle difference that Krauss actually talks about in his book which many seems to miss.

    He talks about a number of different kinds of “nothing”, he’s specific about “something”, and how the very concept of “nothing” has shifted through history and philosophy like the slippery eel of lingustics it is, *especially* in light of how science has pushed the boundaries of our natural world further and further into the territory of the unknown, however “unknown” and “nothing” isn’t the same and we risk falling into a gap of the unknown to explain it, hardly satisfying for *either* side of this debate. To take Krauss to task you need to define *something* that is “nothing” which isn’t also his version.

    I also should point out that in this whole hoopla, no critic has defined what “something” is (another of Krauss’ points worth underlying), which is the only thing we have any knowledge of (a claim for the super-natural or outside of the natural world isn’t enough). “Nothing” is, as far as we can know at this point in time, a mystery of the gaps.

    Also, Wittgenstein the later.

  5. Victor Stenger Blog « New Evangelist, David Roemer - pingback on April 19, 2012 at 7:07 am
  6. All of the comments, including Andres’s link, seem to be based on the idea that God is a “necessary being.” While this concept of God is true in a sense, it represents an incomplete development of the concept of God.

    The principle of sufficient reason is that every being has a sufficient reason for being the particular being that it is and for existing. Either a being’s sufficient reason is in the being itself (self-sufficient being), or in some other being (contingent being). A self-sufficient being can certainly be called a “necessary being,” but what leads logically to God’s existence is the insight that a finite being is contingent because it can’t limit its own existence.

  7. “Larry Krauss describes how our universe could have arisen naturally from a pre-existing structureless void he calls “nothing.”

    I have not read the book and currently do not have time to engage with this fascinating subject fully. However is it not an unwarranted assumption to declare there was once a structureless void? How could he possibly know that? I note he says could have risen, not, did rise. Arisen naturally? How else could it arise? The Big Bang, how many of those have there been?
    The reviews on Amazon are mostly approving. Could be £20.39 well spent.

  8. “Larry Krauss describes how our universe could have arisen naturally from a pre-existing structureless void he calls “nothing.”

    Hi Don,

    Yes there should be some emphasis on could have.

    In his interview with Harris, Krauss does say: “…do we have any reason to suppose the laws themselves came into existence along with our universe? Yes… current ideas coming from particle physics allow a number of possibilities for multiple universes, in each of which some of the laws of physics, at least, would be unique to that universe. Now, do we have any models where all the laws (including even, say, quantum mechanics?) came into being along with the universe? No. But we know so little about the possibilities that this certainly remains one of them.’

    I think both his interview with Harris and the review by Albert are worth a read. Also the talk that was the direct genesis of his book was incredibly popular and is, I think, worth a watch – you can catch it here.

    I have to say that I’m somewhat inclined to think ‘nothing’ should be used to mean ‘not anything’ and not used as a label for various minimal states of affairs however ‘voidy’ and unstructured they are. And I think there’s been some confusion about just what Krauss was arguing given his allusions to philosophical questions and some of the claims made about him defeating theologial arguments. One of things he says he wants to show that the “long-held theological claim” that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes’ (actually attributed to Paremenides I think) is “spurious”. I think he’s on a hiding to nothing there. But as for the chief point of his book – “to describe for the interested layperson the remarkable revolutions that have taken place in our understanding of the universe over the past 50 years” he seems to be on safer ground.

  9. Hi David,
    Certainly the quality of being a ‘necessary being’ is only one of God’s ‘traditional’ attributes. What is meant by ‘necessary’ – whether it is a matter of logical or ‘metaphysical’ necessity is a matter worth discussing. I gather it is the latter sense in which cosmological arguments are generally framed (as opposed to ontological arguments) and that seems to be the sense you are getting at. But being metaphysically necessary seems consistent with existing contingently, a necessary being in this sense arguably isn’t in need of an explanation if it does exist but all that ‘necessary’ means in this sense is that IF it does exist then it cannot cease to exist. I think you’re nodding towards this.

    I can’t pretend to have any expertise in such matters. You would have to say some more on why you feel “the insight that a finite being is contingent because it can’t limit its own existence” does lead ‘logically to God’s existence’ for me, and presumably some others, to get your meaning. Perhaps you’d spell out the logical connection you see between the purported infinitude of a possibly-existing metaphysically necessary being and its actual existence? What’s the argument that you think demonstrates that an infinite being actually exists?

    I do ask in the spirit of honest inquiry – I do genuinely find these arguments interesting.

  10. Dennis Sceviour

    Even a cyclical big bang theory assumes an infinitesimally small something. Something from nothing is akin to Aristotle’s spontaneous generation theory – worms from apples, and frogs from mud. If we imagine ourselves at the farthest point of the expansion of the Big Bang before the Big Crunch, then what exists just a little further? Call it a hunch, but I think there is something else beyond. Current astronomical calculations show the observable universe is going to entropy, so there may not be a Big Crunch. That does not preclude existence beyond.

    [Can I use the word entropy without a feminist misinterpreting what I am saying? Perhaps the word is not politically correct anymore.]

  11. Hi Dennis,

    Before somebody else quotes him, here’s Martin Rees who endorses Krauss’ book but avoids talk of something coming from nothing in doing so:

    Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’ – but they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk to a ‘point’, it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct that the philosophers’ nothing. (Just Six Numbers)

    ex nihilo nihil fit

  12. The cosmological argument begins with the observation that finite beings exist: you exist and I exist, but you are not me and I am not you. The next step is the insight that a finite being needs a cause. A finite being can’t be the cause of its own existence because it can’t exist except as finite. Likewise, a being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause, and a being that is a composition of other beings needs a cause. If all beings in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, there exists an infinite being that is not a composition and that has always existed. This infinite being causes finite beings to exist.

  13. You’re going to need some other premises in there.

    1. The cause of a being must be a being.
    2. Infinite beings are possible.
    3. Uncaused beings are possible.
    4. Beings which have always existed are possible.
    5. The probability that 1, 2, 3, and 4 are true is greater than the probability that my reasoning has gone wrong with respect to finite beings and causes thereof.

  14. @ Patrick,

    Thank you for filling in the missing assumptions. However, I don’t quite see the difference between 2 and 3. Also, 4 is sort of self-evident. As to 5, the cause of a finite being is either another finite being or an infinite being.

  15. “I was glad to find another inanity by Richard Dawkins. The first inanity I found was his statement in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because of the sun.”

    Er, pardon? His statement is correct. The second law of thermodynamics applies only to closed systems, ie where no energy can either enter or leave the system. The earth is not a closed system, because it receives energy from the sun.

  16. There is a sense in which evolution violates the second law. Saying the sun is responsible for evolution is absurd. I was ridiculing Dawkins for this, and someone cited two articles in the American Journal of Physics supporting this idea. I’m in the process of trying to get the AJP to retract the articles. This is my correspondence with that organization:

    http://newevangelist.me/2012/02/23/american-association-of-physics-teachers/

    It was suggested that I contact Victor Stenger about this. He has not responded.

  17. Prof. Stenger writes:

    “the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.”

    Fine. Then Krauss should have titled his book something else and not given the misleading impression that he was addressing the traditional philosophical problem. His book is called “A Universe FROM Nothing” which appears different than the point you’re making here.

  18. David, “Saying the sun is responsible for evolution is absurd.”

    Absurd? How? Your linked article doesn’t explain your position on how the sun somehow magically do *not* interfere with the entropy of the biosphere?

    You may have a Phd in physics, but from your writing on the matter the thing I find most absurd is how you don’t seem to understand what SLTD is saying, at least not in a bigger sense. Now, I don’t have a PhD in physics, so you should have the upper hand here, but it looks to me as you define certain things to be a closed or isolated system (ie. evolution, Earth, biosphere, etc.) and then complain that others don’t. This is akin to hanging on to Pythagorian axioms while discussing Quantum Mechanics; it makes you look you’re hanging on to some old or constrained concept because bringing in the new would violate some idea you have, and in this case it should be pointed out that you’re a creationist and that bias is shining through.

    The closest we get to a truly closed system is following the universe right back to the big bang, and even then we’re not hitting the hard constraints of a closed system, only hitting the uncertainty of unknowns. And, to bring this back to the original discussion, Krauss talks about the entropy of the universe in his book quite a bit; it’s part of the crux of the subject, when matter and anti-matter cancel eachother out to create a total energy output of the universe (as a closed system) equal to … 0, or ie. ‘nothing.’ (This reversed model of entropy is essential to the understanding of what Krauss is on about, btw)

    Here’s something from your linked post: “A deck of playing cards has neither entropy nor temperature.”

    Yes, yes they do. Why you would make such a statement is really puzzling to me, because it demonstrates some weird limitations to your explanations, but maybe you’re using some badly shaped allegory and wasn’t thinking straight about what you said, maybe you had some idea in your head that didn’t make it well in print, but to make this abundantly clear; claiming that a deck of cards don’t have temperature is alone – for every layman – just obscenely wrong! So, can you explain your disagreement with the second law while not using allegories that are obviously flawed?

    But maybe this gives us a clue: “The second law of thermodynamics only applies to a system of non-interacting entities. It does not apply to “all physical systems.””

    You’re defining the second law of thermodynamics to be something that suits your world view, not the consensus of scientists nor the reality of quantum mechanics. From the early days of its definition, even Clasius declared thus; ‘The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.’ He’s talking about the entropy of everything known to science, just like Krauss does, and slicing and dicing systems down and put constraints where there are none is a fallacy of the law itself; whatever closed system you think you are defining, the universe will prove you wrong, and entropy laws has been shown all the way down to the quantum level, there’s just no way of avoiding its influence no matter how hard you try to put up a wall. Those walls are made from quantum foam, too, and even if you use those walls to make some humans sense out of a complex universe, it doesn’t mean those human walls are correct, only approximate to the scales we define.

    There is no way that evolution violates the second law, no matter what objections you have to using Boltzman constants in calculating the biosphere (and I don’t really understand your objection as putting in energy and thus increase temperature pushing entropy along a Gibbs distribution [entropy follows the equilibrium distribution], because the biosphere is not a closed system). Such complaints sounds like assertion I doubt scientist will take very seriously. And maybe that’s why you haven’t heard anything more on the matter, or are not getting anywhere with your complaints?

  19. A Reader: As explained elsewhere in the thread, understanding the complete entropy of the universe is vital; it’s not about us here now billions of years later trying to define “something” and “nothing”, but it’s also about quantum mechanics all the way back the the beginning of the known universe; there, “nothing” *is* the same as the folksy mythological “nothing” people think they think of.

  20. “…in which case some universe like ours would have arisen without a prescribed cause.”

    So Krauss is saying the universe had no cause?

  21. Alexander,

    The easiest thermodynamic variable to understand is the temperature (T) of a gas. It is the sensation of hot and cold and is measured with a thermometer. From temperature you get the heat variable and the entropy variable (S). These variables are related to the motion and location of the molecules with the equations: KE = (3/2)kT and S = k log W. KE is the average kinetic energy of the molecules, W is the probability of the distribution of molecules, and k is the Boltzmann constant. A Boeing 707 does not have a temperature or an entropy because it is a collection of parts. A seed planted in the ground about to grow into a tree also does not have a temperature or entropy. A seed is more complex than an airplane because it has more parts. Applying the entropy equation to a biological system is just as absurd as applying it to an airplane. What part of this don’t you understand?

    What you don’t understand is how a peer-reviewed science article can contain a phony equation. To understand this, you should look at the behavior of David Jackson, Emory Bunn, and Robert Richardson. Richardson is a physicist I consulted with. These are physicists whose behavior has been dishonest and deceptive. David Jackson should have referred my criticism to the authors, who have a reputation to defend and who might be able to explain what their reasoning was. Maybe they got the idea of using the entropy equation for the biosphere from another peer-reviewed article? Instead, Jackson referred my critique to an anonymous reviewer with no reputation to protect. For all anyone knows the reviewer might have been one of authors or peer-reviewers.

    The other absurd thing in the articles is the implication that adding heat to a system can decrease its entropy. The sun produces photons which are absorbed by molecules and converted into kinetic energy. In other words, the sun heats up the biosphere. Adding heat to a thermodynamic system always increases the entropy of the thermodynamic system. When you compress a gas and extract heat from the gas, the entropy of the gas decreases. This decrease in entropy does not violate the second law because the gas is not an isolated system.

    The third mistake in the article is that it ignores the sense in which evolution does violate the second law. Physicists label the molecules in a gas No. 1, No. 2, No 3, etc. in order to calculate the probabilities of distributions. Biologists perform the same type of probability calculations on proteins. The primary structure of a protein consists of hundreds of amino acids, of which there are 20. A protein is like an English sonnet because each amino acid has to be in exactly the right place. Biologists calculate the probability of getting a sonnet by the random selection of letters and words in 3 billion years. This is why natural selection explains only adaptation, not common descent.

  22. David: “What part of this don’t you understand?”

    By this reasoning, there are no things in the universe, only quantum foam, so what I don’t understand – and, perhaps I didn’t make this clear enough – is what about it is *absurd*? You talk a lot about things being absurd, but never seem to explain why that is. In other words, why is it absurd to apply entropy variables to a thing with many parts? Its complexity doesn’t stand in the way of the reality that the thing *has* entropy, only the difficulty in getting accurate results.

    “What you don’t understand is how a peer-reviewed science article can contain a phony equation.”

    Of the many things I admittedly don’t understand, I don’t think this is one of them. I understand peer-review quite well, including how mistakes slip in and how they get fixed. However, at this point, only you seem to think there *is* a phony algorithm there. You might even be correct about that, and still I don’t agree about your referred correspondence as bad in any way; it’s business as usual. If you’ve got a strong point, the process will fix it. But I also get the feeling that they disagree with your sentiment, even if not outright saying so. And pestering Richardson with this is just stupid; all he’s saying is, his time is costly, and he doubts a) you’ll pay him for his help, and b) his help might not be to your advantage, and c) if you have all the answers and are correct, why do you need his help? Science is self-correcting, and all that is needed is for you to get the agreement from other physicists that you are right, write a letter to the editor refuting the original claim, and the rest will happen as if magic. Why don’t you just do that?

    As to your last claim, abiogenesis is, as you’re well aware, a field awash with theory and little evidence. Probabilities do not reflect reality, only a model of it, and no matter what you call it or allegories you use you cannot escape the possibility that a chance event kickstarted the process. Just because probabilities needs 3 billion years (if that is a correct value; *who* calculates this?) doesn’t mean that it actually happened that way. This is still a mystery, and in *no* way break the second law of thermodynamics just because you’ve got some model stating so. I’m baffled to the certainty you place on these probabilities. Have you tried calculating the probability for your God as well? Are you ready to refute him if the probability is smaller than X?

  23. The reason it is absurd to say a Boeing 707 has a temperature is that there is no way to measure the temperature of a Boeing 707. Where do you put the thermometer?

    I did not pester Prof. Richardson. I sent him two emails and he sent me two emails. What is dishonest is his statement that he was “unable to make an informed comment.” He already said something that showed he knows my criticism of the AJP articles was correct.

    In my last criticism, I was explaining that the connection between evolution and the second law is that physicists and biologists do the same probability calculation. I also said that natural selection only explains the adaptation of species to the environment. It does not explain the increase in the complexity of life as it evolved. I am aware that many laymen think natural selection explains common descent. But PhDs in biology know better.

  24. ReJim P Houston April 19,
    Jim, Re:-
    “do we have any reason to suppose the laws themselves came into existence along with our universe? Yes… “
    I am not sure this statement is quite correct. The so called Laws came about as a human construct, that is to say evolved from human brains in the attempt to explain Nature. All scientific knowledge is tentative, likely to be adjusted, modified in the light of further research. If you are a scientific realist you will hold that the Laws and what we glean from them describe Nature as it is, outside of the human mind. If you are an anti-realist in this connection as I am, you will have doubts, maybe substantial doubts concerning this.
    I will make time to watch the video it is obviously a MUST in this connection.

  25. Dennis you said “[Can I use the word entropy without a feminist misinterpreting what I am saying? Perhaps the word is not politically correct anymore.]
    Why is that,I don’t understand maybe I am being more stupid than usual.

  26. David & Alexander – Please tone down the rhetoric a little (no remarks about “stupidity”, for example).

    And David, on this site please do not ever accuse people of being “dishonest and deceptive”. We’re a UK-based operation, subject to UK libel laws – that sort of thing can get us into trouble.

    Thanks.

  27. Jim,

    As always, nothing new under the sun. New stuff, of course, hides out over the sun. :)

  28. Dennis Sceviour

    Don Bird,
    Somebody in the comments section did not seem to know what they were talking about: :???:
    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=2393#comment-32780

  29. So Krauss is saying the universe had no cause?

    P,

    Thanks for posing that question. Its thought-provoking even if I can’t pretend to be able to answer it.

    Suggesting our universe had no ‘prescribed cause’ seems different from saying it had no cause. We may need to think about what a ‘cause’ is – or ‘cause talk’ means –especially once we get into the territory of talking about universes ‘popping’ into existence as ‘bubbles’ of space-time from ‘states’ devoid of space and time (Krauss’ second type of ‘nothing’). But going to the third type of ‘nothing’ and what Stenger says in relation to Albert’s question about where the laws come from, perhaps the relevant question is: ‘what hangs on ‘prescribed’”? Perhaps the universe is born in accordance with the laws of quantum mechanics as in the above case? Or perhaps, as Krauss suggests, the universe and the laws that govern it, arise randomly from a multiverse in which there are (perhaps) no laws, only randomness. In which case everything that can happen – including our universe – does. But it doesn’t happen in accordance with any laws – prescriptions. So perhaps the universe has a cause (an explanation at least) but not a ‘prescribed’ law-governed cause. Or perhaps, as you suggest, in that case it’s better thought of as a scenario in which our universe itself has no cause.

    It’s exciting stuff – way beyond my comprehension – and perhaps the philosophically-minded ought to give Krauss more credit for his thoughts in this area and not focus so much on some of the apparent confusions that seem to occur when he seems to be tackling philosophical issues or theological arguments.

    In any case, all of this seems to give philosophers of science a lot to think about and they’ve already got a lot on their plate arguing about what ‘laws of nature’ might be…

  30. How can Krauss call a quantum ground state nothing when it’ll always give rise to a Casimir force between two metal plates?

  31. Nothing plus two metal plates is two metal plates.

  32. Hi P/Steamy Ray,

    ‘Nothing plus two metal plates is two metal plates.’

    I can’t argue with that though, it seems, there couldn’t be two metal plates and nothing else.

    ‘How can Krauss call a quantum ground state nothing when it’ll always give rise to a Casimir force between two metal plates?’

    To be charitable, if there were two metal plates out in the vacuum of space Krauss wouldn’t suggest that what lies between them is ‘nothing’ (though most people would happily talk like that). Even if all that existed was a quantum vacuum he’s quick to point out that “such a version of nothing can quickly be dispensed with as easily leading to something [being, as it is, unstable in his account], and not really that different from something.”

    He spends more time talking about the two other states he thinks physicists might operationally call ‘nothing’ from which a universe might arise– those that I mentioned in my previous reply to you – one without space and time and one possibly without even laws. Personally, I’m inclined to think one shouldn’t call either of those states ‘nothing’ – I’m still wedded to the idea that ‘nothing’ equates to ‘not anything’ and isn’t a label one should attach to minimal ‘somethings’ or ‘almost nothings’ and I don’t think he should say that in either scenario a universe comes from nothing – it comes, apparently, from a multiverse. Still, in fairness, his book is aimed at the general reader not philosophers and there’s only so much philosophical mileage I think one can get out of the fact that Krauss is using the word ‘nothing’ in an unfortunate way instead of ‘void’ or some such (sometimes I think by ‘nothing’ he actually means ‘non-existence’ – how a universe comes from non-existence).

    His allusions to the philosophical question of why there is something rather than nothing (which he seems to admit he isn’t tackling in the Preface) and the suggestion that his findings or speculations cause Cosmological Arguments to shrivel up (which I think good philosophy can do perfectly well without the latest findings in cosmology and theoretical physics – such arguments are fine to introduce to philosophy undergraduates but they don’t deserve a place in serious philosophy) do rather invite criticism. And I think talking in this way does nothing to defeat religious apologists – it just causes them to rub their hands with glee at conceptual confusion. But then again, he isn’t writing for William Lane Craig either. And explaining how universes, like highly complex organisms, can arise without divine intervention does seem worthwhile.

    And again, in fairness, the questions he is actually pursuing may be rather more productive than pondering on the philosophical question of ‘why there is something rather than nothing’ – philosophers seem to have said all that can be usefully said about that already and none of what is usefully said mentions ‘God’. But, yes, some of his remarks show not only a dismissive attitude to philosophy but the cost one incurs from such an attitude.

  33. Once again people get trapped in their concepts.

    Its very easy to navigate through this mess.

    IF you believe in causality as an overarching principle, THEN everything has a cause and presumably causality has a cause so the fact of existence itself implies an extra-natural Prime cause. Including the PRIME CAUSE…..

    But that is in infinite regression, and there are only three ways out of that.

    1/. Truncation: At some point there is something that ‘just is’ that exists without a cause. God. Some law or other.

    2/. Circularity: the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its tail The universe is the cause of the universe.

    3/. Orthogonality. A dimension exists that is outside of causality. Causality is a contingent, not a universal property.

    Personally I feel the third approximation is most useful. That causality arises as the interception of two orthogonal realms.

    Neither of which is directly apprehensible by us.

    *shrug* in the end we are playing with words. We have as little evidence to prove that causality is universal as to refute that it is.

    All is mere conjecture, and the only criterion left is the utility of our conjectures.

    And utility implies a value judgement, for which we have no objective basis, either.

    There is no final solution to this problem by thinking about it because the problem exists inside our thinking.

    The world is… whatever is the case. And our thinking is part of it.. To imagine that the part can encompass the totality of the whole is to make the mind and our thinking somewhat greater than and outside the universe of our contemplation.

    Which I would say is in fact correct, which immediately has the corollary that the world of our contemplation must be a whole lot less than the whole universe.

    :mrgreen:

  34. “I have to say that I’m somewhat inclined to think ‘nothing’ should be used to mean ‘not anything’ and not used as a label for various minimal states of affairs however ‘voidy’ and unstructured they are.” – Jim P Houston

    I fully agree with you. The word “nothing” can function grammatically as an indefinite pronoun, meaning “not anything”, and it can function grammatically as a noun, meaning “nothingness”. But when used as a noun, it had better be combined with the definite or indefinite article so as to avoid confusion and misunderstanding: “a/the nothing”. For example, logicians read “Nothing is unstable” as “Everything is stable”, whereas its intended meaning is “The nothing/nothingness is unstable”. Of course, an unstable nothing(ness) is a pseudo-nothing(ness), since a true nothing(ness) is neither stable nor unstable. But, anyway, there couldn’t have been any nothing(ness), since nothingness is the absence of being; and the absence of being certainly isn’t a possible entity.

  35. “[N]othing isn’t a very minimal something. Minimal worlds there can indeed be. …But nothing much is still something, and there isn’t any world where there’s nothing at all. That makes it necessary that there is something.”

    (Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. p. 73)

    The absence of a world isn’t one of the possible worlds.

  36. The only (onto)logically tenable concept of necessary existence is Swinburne’s concept of factually necessary existence:

    “To say that ‘God exists’ is necessary is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable—not in the sense that we do not know its explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one. …[A]ny terminus to explanation of things logically contingent must be itself something logically contingent. …[T]here are two ways in which God’s existence being an inexplicable brute fact can be spelt out. The first position is to say that God’s essence is an eternal essence. God is a being of a kind such that if he exists at any time he exists at all times; his existence at all remains the one logically contingent fact. The alternative position is to say that the divine essence is a temporal essence; the ultimate brute fact is not God’s existing as such, but his existing for a period of time without beginning. His subsequent existence would be due to his intentional choice at each moment of time to continue to exist subsequently. Theism has traditionally taken the former position, … . In that case God will have the strongest kind of necessity compatible with his being a logically contingent being. Such necessary existence we may term factually necessary existence (in contrast to logically necessary existence).”

    (Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 96)

    “x is a factually necessary being.”
    =def
    “For all possible worlds w, if x exists in w, then x exists eternally, imperishably, and autonomously in w.”

    A factually necessary being exists in some but not in all possible worlds.

  37. In what sense would a space- and timeless world still be a physical world? For instance, the world of loop quantum gravity with its discrete space and time atoms isn’t space- and timeless, is it? Those space and time atoms do not exist in spacetime in the sense of occupying it but in the sense of constituting or composing it. They are part of spacetime, being in it in the same sense as the bricks of a wall are in the wall.

  38. In a nonspatiotemporal world nothing happens, takes place, changes, or moves, since all activities, events, processes, changes, and motions are necessarily time-involving. Is this still a physical world? I don’t think so. A world that doesn’t contain any spatially and temporally extended elements cannot properly be called a physical world, because it’s like an abstract Platonic heaven.

  39. Hi Myron,

    Lots of interesting thoughts, thank you.

    As you say the absence of a world isn’t a possible world – nothing is the absence of world not a relatively ’empty’ one. And the multiverse, whatever it is, isn’t nothing.

    It’s interesting that you bring up David Lewis, given that he maintained that every logically possible world does, in fact, exist. This seems to have some similarity to what cosmologists like Krauss are saying with regard to the ‘multiverse’.

    I’m trying to be charitable to Krauss and also to think about some of the related things that can profitably be talked about beyond his misuse of language – but I think there’s no escaping that he is stubbornly misusing language. It would perhaps go without comment –or be unimportant – if he wasn’t so keen to allude to a philosophical problem, supposedly fight cosmological arguments and disparage philosophy – which he has described as “the field that hasn’t progressed in two thousand years.” He repeatedly says things that are plainly and obviously wrong and which he wouldn’t say if he some minimal knowledge of, and respect for, philosophy.

    In any case, as to your question “In what sense would a space- and timeless world still be a physical world?” In quantum field theory – Krauss’ domain – particles are but arrangements of the fields (as are the more complex atoms) and in principle you could have a quantum vacuum devoid of particles and atoms. I don’t know squat about quantum mechanics and field theory variants but in the absence of particles, and indeed atoms there is perhaps no space and time but ‘physicality’ in the quantum fields? I honestly don’t know.

    As for Swinburne, I had read before that he had qualms with the idea of God’s existence being logically necessary – that “God does not exist” implies no contradiction, and that it would be theologically problematic if God’s existence somehow ‘depended’ on laws of logic. There’s some comments on ‘why there’s something rather than nothing’ here that includes those of Swinburne as well as thoughts from John Leslie, Peter van Inwagen, Bede Rundle, Quentin Smith and Steven Weinberg – perhaps it may be of interest to you.

    One thought that arises, recalling Dawkins’ insistence in TGD that God’s existence (with Him conceived naturalistically, ‘deistically’ and contingently ) was ‘very, very improbable’. If we go back to Lewis and Krauss’ suggestions about the multiverse, I wonder if this means that Dawkins should say that his notion of God has to have actuality in some worlds?

  40. ‘In a nonspatiotemporal world nothing happens, takes place, changes, or moves, since all activities, events, processes, changes, and motions are necessarily time-involving.’

    That would be my natural intuition but i think this may be area where we do have something to learn from cosomologists and theoretical physicists.. some of our intuitions and some of our thoughts about what must be might need to be revised in light of the new science that is, as I say, well beyond me. And for which men like Krauss deserve their due.

  41. In the context of physics, “void” is more appropriate than “nothing(ness)”. For emptiness is not nothingness. Of course, there can be no emptiness if there is nothing that is empty. The question is: If there is emptiness, what is empty of what? Empty space is empty of particles and radiation but not of energy. So we have a relative emptiness here. The physical void turns out to be a vast ocean of energy. But this cosmic ocean cannot consist of energy, since energy is not a kind of stuff but a dispositional property, a power. Therefore, we need to posit as the ground of physical reality a bearer, a substratum of energy, something that has energy but isn’t energy: an energetic/energized ur-matter.

  42. To me there are four possible answer to the question of what caused the Big Bang:
    1) God did it.
    2) An angel did it. There is more evidence for this because an angel would have a motive to do such a thing.
    3) The universe is not intelligible.
    4) The scientific method will eventually lead us to an understanding. This is the answer with the most evidence. But to truly grasp this answer, you need to grasp 1), 2), and 3).

  43. “I’m trying to be charitable to Krauss and also to think about some of the related things that can profitably be talked about beyond his misuse of language – but I think there’s no escaping that he is stubbornly misusing language.” – JP Houston

    Exactly! Apples aren’t pears.

    “It would perhaps go without comment –or be unimportant – if he wasn’t so keen to allude to a philosophical problem, supposedly fight cosmological arguments and disparage philosophy – which he has described as ‘the field that hasn’t progressed in two thousand years.’ He repeatedly says things that are plainly and obviously wrong and which he wouldn’t say if he [had] some minimal knowledge of, and respect for, philosophy” – JP Houston

    Philosophy bashing seems to be fashionable among physicists. Some are even unabashedly proud of their ignorance regarding (contemporary) philosophy. In The Grand Design Stephen Hawking proclaims arrogantly that “philosophy is dead”—and then continues to present his own philosophy called “model-dependent realism”. So “philosophy is dead—except for my own philosophy.” So much for that.
    Jonathan Lowe hits the nail on the head:

    “[T]he deference to empirical science displayed by the Logical Positivists is still a feature of much Anglo-American analytic philosophy, creating an intellectual climate inimical to the pursuit of speculative metaphysics. This hostility is paralleled in the popular writings of many scientists, who seem to think that any legitimate issues once embraced by metaphysics now belong exclusively to the province of empirical science—issues such as the nature of space and time, and the mind-body problem. Such writers are often blithely unaware of the uncritical metaphysical assumptions pervading their works and the philosophical naivety of many of their arguments. But it is ironic that the deference shown by many philosophers to the latest scientific theories is not reciprocated by the popularizing scientists, who do not conceal their contempt for philosophy in general as well as metaphysics in particular.”

    (Lowe, E. J. “Opposition to Metaphysics.” In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, edited by Ted Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. p. 559)

  44. “In any case, as to your question “In what sense would a space- and timeless world still be a physical world?” In quantum field theory – Krauss’ domain – particles are but arrangements of the fields (as are the more complex atoms) and in principle you could have a quantum vacuum devoid of particles and atoms. I don’t know squat about quantum mechanics and field theory variants but in the absence of particles, and indeed atoms there is perhaps no space and time but ‘physicality’ in the quantum fields? I honestly don’t know. – JP Houston

    First of all, ontologically asking, are fields substances or (collections/distributions of) attributes of a substance? In The Problem of Space, Ether, and the Field in Physics Einstein says that “fields are physical states of space.” If he’s right—I think he is—, fields are nonsubstances, with space/spacetime itself being their substantial substratum.
    But no matter whether fields are substances or collections/distributions of attributes (of determinates of a determinable physical quantity), they are essentially spatially/spatiotemporally extended, which means that a space/spacetimeless world is a fieldless world. For the concept of a zero- or adimensional physical field is nonsensical.
    As for the question of the ontological priority with regard to fields and particles, the following scenario may truly depict reality:

    “Matter is where the concentration of energy is great, field where the concentration of energy is small. …What impresses our senses as matter is really a great concentration of energy into a comparatively small space. We could regard matter as the regions in space where the field is extremely strong. In this way a new philosophical background could be created.”

    (Einstein, Albert, and Leopold Infeld. The Evolution of Physics. From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta. 1938. Reprint, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967. pp. 242-3)

    So maybe particles are ontologically reducible to local “energy concentrates” in fields or space itself, but this wouldn’t alter the fact that both fields and space are spatially extended, and thus couldn’t exist in a nonspatiotemporal world. What is more, fields, classical or quantum, are dynamic entities, and there can be no dynamics whatsoever in a nonspatiotemporal world. You really don’t have to be an Einstein in order to be able to grasp these simple metaphysical truths.

  45. “That would be my natural intuition but i think this may be area where we do have something to learn from cosomologists and theoretical physicists.. some of our intuitions and some of our thoughts about what must be might need to be revised in light of the new science that is, as I say, well beyond me. And for which men like Krauss deserve their due.”

    Fine, but sometimes the physicists should have to learn something from the metaphysicians. For example, it is undeniable that the physical world is an inherently dynamic and energetic world; and such a world must be a spatiotemporal world, a world of extension and duration. For only such a world is a world where things can happen, change, and move. To deny this is to commit a scientifically uneliminable category mistake!

  46. “When you ain’t got nuthin’, you got nuthin’ to explain.”

    “If the explanation cannot begin with some entity, then it is hard to see how any explanation is feasible. Some philosophers conclude ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is unanswerable. They think the question stumps us by imposing an impossible explanatory demand, namely, Deduce the existence of something without using any existential premises. Logicians should feel no more ashamed of their inability to perform this deduction than geometers should feel ashamed at being unable to square the circle.” – Roy Sorensen (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness)

  47. Has everyone here read Derek Parfit’s “Why Anything? Why This?”?

    http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/phil3600/parfit.pdf

  48. By the way, the proposition “Nothing exists”/”It is not the case that something exists” is logically necessarily false, since if nothing existed, the proposition wouldn’t exist either; and a nonexistent proposition cannot have the property of being true. But what about the possibility of the negative state of affairs of there being nothing or the negative fact that nothing exists? Well, if negative facts or states of affairs are entities, then it is logically impossible for there to be nothing, since if the fact that nothing exists or the state of affairs of there being nothing existed, it would not be the case that nothing exists. On the other hand, you don’t have to accept negative facts/states of affairs as existents—I don’t. However, we eventually see that nothingness, the absence of being, cannot consistently be characterized as a (possible) truth, fact, state of affairs, case, situation, condition, circumstance, since nothingness is nothing! The absence of being is not a possibility of being. Therefore, no ontological category can be applied to it. Nonbeing is not a possible alternative to being.

  49. “Has everyone here read Derek Parfit’s ‘Why Anything? Why This?’?” – SRV

    I have. Essential reading.

  50. “Why should nothing, no matter how defined, be the default state of existence rather than something?” – VJ Stenger

    To call nothingness a “state of existence” is to contradict oneself, since it is the “nonstate of nonexistence”. Nothingness cannot possibly exist or be real. If it could, it wouldn’t be nothingness but pseudo-nothingness, since an existent or real nothingness is a contradiction in terms.

  51. Thanks SRV, will give it a look.

    Hi Myron,

    It’s hard to keep up with you! Though I’m glad to see this post lead to far-reaching conversation and thought.

    “sometimes the physicists should have to learn something from the metaphysicians”

    Absolutely – I think it’s important there’s a two-way street there.

    Philosopher Hugh Mellor (interviewed for Cogito magazine back in 1993):

    It’s a mistake to think that there has to be a priority one way or the other, that either metaphysics must dictate to physics or vice versa. Physics does indeed show us things which contradict some metaphysical assumptions, as the example of STR shows; and then we must of course tailor our metaphysics to fit those results. But equally, there are perfectly good metaphysical arguments, like those of McTaggart against the reality of tenses, to which physics must accommodate itself. And on the whole, physics does accommodate itself to this. It’s just that many physicists, when they start talking metaphysics, don’t realize that there are other constraints beyond those of physics. So just as it’s important to tell metaphysicians to take account of relevant physics, it’s important to tell physicists to take account of the constraints of logic and metaphysics to which physics is subject.

    Further, I think physicists are often deeply wedded to metaphysical views and carry metaphysical assumptions buried in their language like everybody else and, as Stephen Korner once noted; “Just as some pure mathematics can become applied mathematics, so some speculative metaphysics can find its way into science.”

    There’s too much in your many other comments for me to say much more in response just now, but thanks for all the food for thought.

    PS, here’s another link of possible interest, Sean Carroll on ‘why there is something rather than nothing’ :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2007/08/30/why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing/

  52. “What is the nothing? Our very first approach to this question has something unusual about it. In our asking we posit the nothing in advance as something that ‘is’ such and such; we posit it as a being. But that is exactly what it is distinguished from. Interrogating the nothing—asking what and how it, the nothing, is—turns what is interrogated into its opposite. The question deprives itself of its own object. Accordingly, every answer to this question is also impossible from the start. For it necessarily assumes the form: the nothing ‘is’ this or that. With regard to the nothing question and answer alike are inherently absurd.”

    (Heidegger, Martin. “What is Metaphysics?” 1929. In Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, edited and translated by David F. Krell, 91-112. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. pp. 98-9)

  53. As for the fruitfulness of the cooperation of science and philosophy in general, and of physics and metaphysics in particular:

    “DOES SCIENCE NEED PHILOSOPHY?
    That philosophy is not to be identified with science is not deny the intimate relation between science and philosophy. The positivist idea that all science does is predict the observable results of experiments is still popular with some scientists, but it always leads to the evasion of important foundational questions. For example, the recognition that there is a problem of understanding quantum mechanics, that is, a problem of figuring out just how physical reality must be in order for our most fundamental physical theory to work as successfully as it does, is becoming more widespread, but that recognition was delayed for decades by the claim that something called the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of Niels Bohr had solved all the problems. Yet the ‘Copenhagen interpretation,’ in Bohr’s version, amounted only to the vague philosophical thesis that the human mind couldn’t possibly understand how the quantum universe was in itself and should just confine itself to telling us how to use quantum mechanics to make predictions stateable in the language of classical, that is to say, non-quantum-mechanical, physics! (in my lifetime, I first realized that the ‘mood’ had changed when I heard Murray Gell-Man say in a public lecture sometime around 1975 ‘There is no Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Bohr brainwashed a generation of physicists!’)
    Only after physicists stopped being content to regard quantum mechanics as a mere machine for making predictions and started taking seriously what this theory actually means could real progress be made. Today many new paths for research have opened as a result: string theory, various theories of quantum gravity, and ‘spontaneous collapse’ theory are only the beginning of quite a long list. And Bell’s famous theorem, which has transformed our understanding of the ‘measurement problem,’ would never have been proved if Bell had not had a deep but at the time highly unpopular interest in the meaning of quantum mechanics.
    In cosmology, however, there has unfortunately been somewhat of a revival of the positivist contempt for the question of the meaning of general relativity in recent years, but, owing to the influence of Einstein, who always recognized that physical theories are not mere formal systems, the great majority of astrophysicists continue to try to understand the nature of cosmic spacetime and of the forces that shape the destinies of astronomical objects (including black holes), and not simply to say, as Steven Weinberg now appears to urge, that sometimes it is more convenient to use one theory, and sometimes it is more convenient to use another, and there is no reason to ask which is really true. It is precisely at the level of fundamental physical science, in fact, that it becomes clear that the sharp separation that the positivists thought they saw, and that our culture often takes for granted, between metaphysics and physics is most untenable. Both physics and metaphysics flourish most when they interact and interpenetrate, that is, when they push Sellars’s question, ‘how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.'”

    (Putnam, Hilary. “Science and Philosophy.” In Naturalism and Normativity, edited by Mario de Caro and David Macarthur, 89-99. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. pp. 94-5)

  54. “The inescapability of metaphysics: …One cannot get out of metaphysics. As soon as one admits that something exists—and one must do that—one has to admit that it has some nature or other. For to be is to be somehow or other. And as soon as one admits that it has some nature or other, either one has to hold that one knows what its nature is—in which case one endorses a particular metaphysical claim about the nature of reality—or one has to admit that one might be wrong about its nature, at least in the sense that one might have an incomplete picture of its nature—in which case one admits that there are various metaphysical possibilities, even if one can never know for sure which is correct.
    The great flight from metaphysics culminated in verificationist positivism. But verificationist positivists do not escape from metaphysics. For even they grant that there are sense data. And if they go on to say that sense data are all that exist, they adopt a patently metaphysical position—one of the most amazing on record. They may instead say that sense data are all that we can know to exist, and admit that it is, after all, not actually meaningless or incoherent to suppose that other things may exist, things of which we have no conception, things, perhaps, of which we can have no conception. But if they admit this, they must be prepared to grant that in the case of sense data too, there may possibly be more to them than we know, or can know. Either sense data are mere contents with no hidden nature—and this is a form of radical metaphysical idealism—or they are not mere contents with no hidden natures and there is something more to them, in which case some other unknown and perhaps unknowable metaphysical possibility is realized. Either way, one is metaphysically committed. And yet the illusion persists—the illusion that one can be free of metaphysics.”

    (Strawson, Galen. Mental Reality. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. pp. 78-9)

  55. Recommended:

    * Coggins, Geraldine. Could There Have Been Nothing? Against Metaphysical Nihilism. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

  56. Re:- Leo Smith April 21, 2012
    I think you make some interesting points here. I feel sure that people get, as you say trapped in their concepts. They accept as the case, that what their human senses and reason, suggest to them, is the case. Mostly they act pragmatically that is to say if it works then it is true. A lot of science works, but it is not absolutely true. For instance Newtonian physics works, it gets us to other planets but it needs corrections for Relativistic effects and the constraints of Quantum theory for refinement.
    In this connection causation, is in my opinion not a natural kind, in the sense that Gold, and say Rabbits are. Gold and Rabbits are a part of the Natural world and presumably would continue to exist, in the event that, the Human Race were suddenly extinguished. Not so the case with causation that would disappear with the humans. Causation is a human construct that is to say formulated by the Human Brain in order to Understand what is in fact a continuous system. The speak of cause and effect is to single out two events from what is in fact a continuous system.
    So where does this leave us we cannot get out of our heads to examine Reality whatever it is all we know is constrained by the limits of the human brain and our mathematical skills in making predictions, which again do appear to support certain hypotheses. I cannot help but once again mention Colin Mc Ginn’s assertional that we are presently not sufficiently developed intellectually to solve such problems. You mention that that “the world of our contemplation must be a whole lot less than the whole universe.” To this I would with respect, add ‘and probably a whole lot different’.
    The practice of examining Reality by means of causes and effects has lead to some astounding scientific work. However the problem occurs when we take the small part of ‘reality’ we have examined and make the unwarranted assumption that it represents the whole of Reality. This is surely a fallacy of composition or as A N Whitehead calls it the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. You say “There is no final solution to this problem by thinking about it because the problem exists inside our thinking.” At this juncture of my consideration I think I am in agreement with you here.

  57. Hi Don,

    I’d started replying to you earlier, but, as one might aptly say to somebody who is sceptical about ‘laws of nature’ – it’s just been one damned thing after another…

    Albert points towards the fact that there all sorts of conversations one might want to have about what it is to be a law of nature in response to some of the claims apparently made by, and for, Krauss . In any case, just what a law of nature is a question deserving of serious scientifically-informed but distinctively philosophical thought. Krauss, eminent as he is his own field (and it’s an important and exciting field), is not the guy to go to for that at all.

    I’m not scientifically-informed and what philosophical ability and knowledge I might once have possessed has radically withered. I do know that ‘laws of nature’ is a highly contested notion – and a central concern – in the philosophy of science even if Realism of some form or another seems to be dominant. ‘Laws’ is rather suggestive of a law-maker and at one point scientists – or natural philosophers – were engaged, as they saw it, in trying to discern God’s dictates how about things must ‘go’.

    If we remove a law-giver from the picture then ‘law’ may seem a bad choice of words and it may seem that all there is events and regularities and our expectations. That seems in the territory of Hume as far as both ‘laws’ and ‘causes’ go. And a Humean approach would just be to decide which regularities are fit to be treated, for practical purposes, as if they were ‘laws’ according to varying criteria. Intuitively I find some attraction to that but Realists seem to want more than a Humean approach can give them – they want not just to describe how things have happened to go but to have some scope to say they *must* go in such and such a way. Realists about causes and laws have to make sense of this ‘mysterious’ transcendental ‘necessity’. Anti-realists seem to face what is intuitively a problem – I think we all want to say that a match struck under normal conditions *will* light but anti-realists don’t seem entitled to say any such thing.

    But it’s all beyond my ken…

  58. [...] it seems, there couldn’t be two metal plates and nothing else.

        Jim P. Houston

    I agree, Jim. You can’t separate a unit into two distinct parts without instantly creating a relationship between the parts. Two metal plates can never be just two metal plates. Twoness implies separation, hence something grander: space, the union of the parts, the context in which their relationship can exist. Again we don’t need modern physics, quantized fields and Casimir effects to conceive this.

    Modern physics does not reduce to hard matter, it reduces to mathematics along Platonic views about ultimate reality. The ancient Greeks may not have had the mathematical concepts to formulate current concepts of multiverses, branes and so forth. But sometimes it seems to me that the further away we get from Antiquity, the closer we approach some of their ancient ideas. And the more purist we become in our physicalism, the more absurdly rationalist we become.

    Anyway, so we easily get bootstraped from 2 up to 3 and all the way to infinity and beyond. But how did 1 split into 2? And even more mysterious, why ONE and not …

  59. “Consider first the Null Possibility, in which nothing ever exists. To imagine this possibility, it may help to suppose first that all that ever existed was a single atom. We then imagine that even this atom never existed.”
    (Derek Parfit, in “Why Anything? Why This?”)

    Is the “null possibility” really a possibility?
    First of all, if the atom exists or has existed at some time, it cannot exist or have existed at no time. Now, what happens when we stop imagining the one-atom world? Answer: We either start imagining a point or region of space once occupied by the atom, or we start imagining nothing, i.e. stop imagining something. In the first case, we imagine something rather than nothing, and in the second case we imagine nothing, which is not to imagine a nothing. From the fact that it’s possible to imagine nothing (not to imagine anything) it doesn’t follow that it’s possible to imagine a nothing. Actually, it isn’t possible to imagine a nothing or nothingness, and so it doesn’t follow either that it’s possible for there to be nothing.

    What if we imagine the following scenario:

    There exists only one atom, then this one atom disappears; and then there exists nothing.

    But it’s the word “then” that makes the scenario inconsistent, because there can be no temporal relations between there being something and there being nothing. It is illogical to say that the former state of affairs could obtain earlier than the latter state of affairs, or that the latter state of affairs could obtain later than the former state of affairs. For there can be no time if nothing exists. All temporal relations between objects or facts are necessarily intratemporal/intraspatiotemporal relations. Obviously, there can be no pre-time or post-time time(s). With regard to spacetime as a whole, there is no earlier or later, and no before or after.
    Moreover, one already contradicts oneself when one calls there being nothing a state of affairs, since a state of affairs is something rather than nothing.

  60. “It is this possibility of absolute nothingness that Rundle is mainly concerned to expose as an illusion. He points out that in ordinary speech, when we say there is nothing in the cupboard, or nothing that is both round and square, we are talking about an existing world, none of whose contents meet a certain description. To say nothing is X is to say everything is not X. We can perhaps conceive of the disappearance of everything in the world, so that there are no things left in it, but even then we are not imagining nothing at all, but rather a void, a vacuum, empty space. Taken literally, the hypothesis that there might have been nothing at all seems self-contradictory, since it seems equivalent to the supposition that it might have been the case that nothing was the case. Is there any way of understanding the possibility that there might have been nothing at all without interpreting it incoherently as a way things might have been—a fact, as Rundle puts it, a possible state of affairs, an alternative possible world? Rundle thinks not, and that therefore the question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ does not call for an answer.”

    (Nagel, Thomas. “Why Is There Anything?” In: Thomas Nagel, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002-2008, 27-32. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 29)

    * Rundle, Bede. Why there is Something rather than Nothing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

  61. Now, what happens when we stop imagining the one-atom world?

        Myron

    An atom has gotten a far distance from the original atomos (“the uncuttable”). An atom seems to be a universe onto itself. So, strictly speaking, imagining a single atom world is imagining a quite complex universe.

    I think we rather have to approach the subject like the rationalists that I so often criticize. Speech of alternative worlds is, after all, a purely abstract and rational exercise. And if we approach it as rationalists it boils down to the famous Cartesian conclusion:

      Je doubte, donc je pense, donc je suis.

    With other, less complete words: cogito ergo sum. It is this that demonstrates the impossibility of imagining the absolute absence of everything. And, indeed, how can you explain anything if their is nothing left to explain? The Uncaused is a mystery inaccessible to rational contemplation. Trying to explain why there is something rather than {} is completely futile. The fact is that something simply is, evident by the process of asking why it is.

    The Nothingness that we can imagine and contemplate has to and can only be conceived as the infinite possibility of Anything.

  62. Re Jim Houston April 21st.
    Further back than I care to remember I was highly attracted to philosophy by virtue of reading George Berkeley. I accordingly became an idealist but subject to some worry about Berkeley’s Introduction of God. What an exciting idea I thought the physical world was dependent on its existence by virtue of Mind. Soon after I became a Solipsist hooked on that, for me, a very attractive idea. As time wore on and with many courses from the Open University on science and other subjects in the Humanities including philosophy, a mild scepticism began to grow. This was eventually shaped and nurtured by five years full time attendance at University doing Philosophy full time. I do not purport to be much of a philosopher or scientist. My scepticism is I suppose of a Socratic nature when I say “All that I Know is that I know nothing.” using the word know here in its sense that there can be no false knowledge. Accordingly I am always amazed and perhaps a little envious of those who write with such verve and assuredness that such and such is the case. They will often brook nothing whatsoever to the contrary, an attitude of ‘he who is not with me is against me’ seems to be adopted. For me all there is are Explanations. There are good ones and bad ones you take your choice. The introduction of God into a discussion or argument does not for me provide the best argument. I would bet heavily on this being a fiction but not stake my life, simply because I am not sure.
    If you receive Melvyn Braggs weekly email you will have noticed his comments this week. He says inter alia “ The really interesting thing is not that they thought that gods were angry with each other, but that they sought an explanation.  It’s the seeking of explanations that count and not the explanation itself.  If we think that in five thousand years’ time the explanations that we have of the universe will obtain precisely as they are today, then history suggests we’re not only arrogant and conceited but silly.”
    I think there is something outside of the Human Mind but how it matches what that mind makes of it I would not like to say. I seems to me that all we ever really contemplate are our own ideas and under the pressure of evolutionary pressure we were formed primarily to survive and this, we and many other organism, do very well. Whilst we have an instinct of curiosity even that plays a predominate part in survival. What is left, we use to ponder the mysteries of our own existence. Out of this I suspect we are currently cognitively and intellectually insufficiently developed to gain a full understanding of whatever it is we are trying to understand.
    I think Niels Bohr probably put his finger on it when he said “There is no Quantum world. There is only an abstract Quantum Physical Description. It is wrong to think the task of Physics is to find out how nature is, Physics concerns what we can SAY about nature.”
    You say”Realists about causes and laws have to make sense of this ‘mysterious’ transcendental ‘necessity’. Anti-realists seem to face what is intuitively a problem – I think we all want to say that a match struck under normal conditions *will* light but anti-realists don’t seem entitled to say any such thing.” I am not a Realist about causes and Laws these are for me so far as I can currently understand things, Human constructs. How ever there is I think a fine difference here when we speak of Scientific Realists who believe that science reveals the world as it is and Anti-Scientific realists sometimes called Instrumentalists, much the same as Bohr, who do not believe in the existence, out there, of theoretical entities. It is apparent in accordance with this view that a concept like the Kinetic theory of matter, is merely a convenient device, or a rule, such that calculations and predictions concerning gases and liquids are facilitated. There is accordingly nothing here to suggest that molecules, say, actually exist in the world. This argument extends to the claim that there are no ‘theoretical entities’ that is to say electrons, protons, gravitational fields and so on. From the instrumentalist viewpoint the above entities are to be considered as similar to the terms “equator” and “kilometre” which are of practical use but imaginary nevertheless. Possibly a good analogy here is to consider huge footprints made in some mountainous region. From them we can infer that whatever made them must be of huge size and weight and could probably run as often the prints reveal a greater impression at the “toes” than the “heels”. This creature has never been captured or seen by any reliable witness. It goes under the name of Abominable Snowman or Yeti. We only surmise its existence by the effects that something or the other has made on the ground.
    Out of this I would say the scientific Anti realist will admit the match will light and burn but will deny that the physical explanations of its doing so give any indication that terms such as atoms and particles as they are thought to exist in themselves actually do.
    If this and similar arguments is if interest to you, there is on the Net a recent Phd thesis By Phil Rees called “A Critique of the Arguments for Scientific Realism” You should be able to find it here http://www.phil-rees.demon.co.uk/philosophy/Essays/ThesisPhDAsSubmitted.pdf

  63. Realism in quantum mechanics is possible and coherent, see

    Realism and Objectivism in Quantum Mechanics by Vassilios Karakostas, Forthcoming in Journal for General Philosophy of Science 2012 (Vol. 43, Issue 1). Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&id=doi:10.1007/s10838-012-9173-5&cm_mmc=event-_-articleAuthor-_-onlineFirst-_-0

  64. HI Don,
    As I recall, Bertrand Russell reported meeting a self-declared solipsist who said that she couldn’t understand why more people didn’t think as she did. I also remember hearing Alvin Plantinga talking about how he had met a real-life solipsist – a medically trained Professor. Apparently one of his staff told Plantinga that they took very good care of the good doctor ‘because when he goes, we all do’. From a few details he mentioned I managed to track down who he was talking about: one John Dorsey. (You can read about him here)
    Berkeley deserves attention but ultimately I don’t know that Idealism fits in well with a worldview without God in it and I don’t think introducing God into an explanation is ever helpful, there’s simply no place for Him in science or academically respectable metaphysics.

    It seems to me that one could be a realist about atoms and an anti-realist about laws and, in principle, vice versa. I don’t think I’ve anything useful to say on anti-realism about the former. I think anti-realism about laws really requires anti-realism about causation (and vice versa) – and you consistently endorse both. And I think Hume explains well why we can’t help but think the match will light – but anti-realists *about laws of nature* do seem to me to be in difficult position when it comes to *justifying* their admission that the match *will* light and burn. It seems they can’t say that striking the match would cause it to light, that the match is disposed to light under the right circumstances or anything along those lines at all.

  65. “As I recall, Bertrand Russell reported meeting a self-declared solipsist who said that she couldn’t understand why more people didn’t think as she did. “ – JP Houston

    “As against solipsism it is to be said, in the first place, that it is psychologically impossible to believe, and is rejected in fact even by those who mean to accept it. I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician, this surprise surprised me. The fact that I cannot believe something does not prove that it is false, but it does prove that I am insincere and frivolous if I pretend to believe it. Cartesian doubt has value as a means of articulating our knowledge and showing what depends on what, but if carried too far it becomes a mere technical game in which philosophy loses seriousness. Whatever anybody, even I myself, may argue to the contrary, I shall continue to believe that I am not the whole universe, and in this every one will in fact agree with me, if I am right in my conviction that other people exist.”

    (Russell, Bertrand. Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits. 1948. Reprint, Abingdon: Routledge, 2009. p. 161)

  66. Sounds like Krauss and you have just bought into the concept of the Demiurge. Although you can cloak the concept in mathematics and physics, the laws of physics serve much the same role in fashioning the Something from the Void.

  67. Why on earth would you suppose that if the “multiverse” [sic] always existed, its existence would not need an explanation. If I were to ask “Why do you keep the hammer in the refrigerator?” it would be no answer to say “We have always kept it in the refrigerator.”
    Both Aristotle and Aquinas assumed the universe to be eternal in developing their arguments, the one because he believed the universe actually was eternal, the other because he knew of no philosophical proof that it was not. But if the eternal foot is pressed into the eternal sand, we can easily see that the eternal footprint still has a cause of its being.

  68. Hey, I know: I’m going to write a post making the exact same philosophical mistakes that Krauss does, and then wait for lot’s of mindless atheists to arrive at my blog and praise me for it!

  69. For an explanation of why the universe exists we want something that 1. is pre-physical, 2. is as causal as possible.

    I suggested that there is a certain *logical form* that 1. makes the existence of the universe more probable, and 2. can be looked for within the laws of physics.

    The form, roughly, is an infinite modal sentence ‘this universe implies that necessarily(necessarily(…necessarily(there exists(this universe))…)).

    It would be interesting to consider other candidates that involve neither the laws of physics nor God.

  70. Re Jim Houston I am thanking ‘my you’ for ‘my information’ on ‘my John Dorsey’
    Why does the Universe exist? Because it is mine and mine alone.

  71. > Clearly, no academic consensus exists on how to define “nothing.”

    The problem is not the “academic consensus” on the definition of the word, but that the definition of word “nothing” changes between question and answer.

  72. There’s no problem with “nothing.” It has always been defined as the non-existence of anything. Take the set of statements “vacuum energy exists,” “baryons exist,” “leptons exist,” “quasars exist,” “stars exist,” “carbon exists,” … etc. Then add “not” to the whole collection.

    Physicists, since they deal with the metrical properties of tangible matter, continually confuse “nothing” with “no tangible matter” or “vacuum” or “empty space.” But if I had gone into a room and came out and reported that there was nobody in the room, would a physicist insist on a detailed description of this “nobody”?

  73. Wow really interesting stuff! I have always questioned existence itself and explored the concept of conscious thought. Please, take a look at my blog for some interesting articles

  74. There’s no problem with “nothing.” It has always been defined as the non-existence of anything.

        theofloinn

    The issue is that to conceive *nothing*, you need the conceive the absence of something. You need that anything to place a NOT in front. Even your example uses an empty container that can be filled (the room). You conceive that a body could be in it. In mathematics this is equivalent to the empty set {} with cardinality 0. According to set theory, all numbers are a recursion of this empty set: 0={}, 1 = {0}, 2 = {0,1}, etc.

    The more absolute concept some here seem to attempt to reference is at best a limiting concept since they are trying to conceive a complete absence of all things, including the absence of that absence, which is paradoxical. It might be useful in some sense. But to insist that we must explain that limiting concept is to not realize that it is impossible since explanations require something, which should by the definition of this concept be completely absent. The concept is hence beyond any rational apprehension and thoughtful manipulation. It’s intrinsically a mystery beyond the inherent limits of epistemology. Definable and yet inconceivable.

  75. The issue is that to conceive *nothing*, you need the conceive the absence of something.

    Surely. That is true of all defecti boni. You cannot conceive death without the notion of life; or of sickness without the notion of health. I’m not sure why you think that this is a problem.

    The room was just so you could not see. The nothing in the analogy was the “nobody.” To claim that nothing has properties, as Krauss does, is akin to attempting a police sketch of nobody.

    Math is fun, and it has been many years since Number Theory. But 2={a,b} only if it has the fine topology. Otherwise, it is Sierpinski space or indistinguishable from {a}. But again, I don’t see what relevance number theory has to the long-established definition of “nothing” in philosophy. Krauss may wish to use “nothing” to refer to something (like a quantum vacuum seething with virtual particles, or some such thing), but I keep thinking about Abraham Lincoln.

    He was asked once “How many legs would a dog have if we called a tail a leg?” He said, “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

  76. For more thoughts on AUFN, you can go to the New Scientist and read a review by science writer Michael Brooks (who holds a Phd in Quantum Mechanics I believe).

    Krauss, says Brooks, does want to deliver the ‘knockout blow’ for the idea that a deity must have kicked the universe into being:

    … towards the end of the book, he promises that we really can have something from nothing – “even the laws of physics may not be necessary or required”. Ultimately, though, he has to perform a little sleight of hand. Space and time can indeed come from nothing; nothing, as Krauss explains beautifully, being an extremely unstable state from which the production of “something” is pretty much inevitable… However, the laws of physics can’t be conjured from nothing. In the end, the best answer is that they arise from our existence within a multiverse, where all the universes have their own laws – ours being just so for no particular reason… Krauss contends that the multiverse makes the question of what determined our laws of nature “less significant”. Truthfully, it just puts the question beyond science – for now, at least. That (together with the frustratingly opaque origins of a multiverse) means Krauss can’t quite knock out those who think there must ultimately be a prime mover…

    And for more of Lawrence Krauss’ thoughts on philosophy and physics, you can find a recent interview with him in ‘The Atlantic’:

    Krauss does concede that “there are areas of philosophy that are important” but thinks of them “as being subsumed by other fields”:

    In the case of descriptive philosophy you have literature or logic, which in my view is really mathematics. Formal logic is mathematics, and there are philosophers like Wittgenstein that are very mathematical, but what they’re really doing is mathematics—it’s not talking about things that have affected computer science, it’s mathematical logic. And again, I think of the interesting work in philosophy as being subsumed by other disciplines like history, literature, and to some extent political science insofar as ethics can be said to fall under that heading. To me what philosophy does best is reflect on knowledge that’s generated in other areas.

    Those other areas apparently don’t cover ‘science’ though –

    the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics whatsoever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it’s fairly technical. And so it’s really hard to understand what justifies it.

  77. “[T]he laws are the fundamental ways in which things behave, and ways of behaving depend on the properties of things.”

    (Armstrong, D. M. Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 35)

    So, the basic questions with regard to the laws of nature are the questions as to why the natural things have the natural properties they have, and why they behave the way they behave. That is, what is ultimately responsible for nature’s being and doing? According to theism, the what is a who: God. Nature is what it is and does what it does because God consciously and intentionally created it in such a way that it is what it is and does what it does.

  78. Nothing in particular « Thoughtful Faith - pingback on April 26, 2012 at 10:40 am
  79. nothing, as Krauss explains beautifully, being an extremely unstable state from which the production of “something” is pretty much inevitable…

    If nothing is an unstable state, then it is not nothing. It is an unstable state. Krauss is confusing nothing with something, like the quantum vacuum.

    Nothing does not exist, and that which does not exist cannot do diddly squat, let alone bootstrap itself into existence. Scientists often get confused about this because science involves transformations (what used to be called “kinesis” or “motion” before “motion” was restricted to motion of location). But transformation means simply that Stuff is changed from one form to another; say from a quantum state k=0 of an existing “multiverse” to a quantum state of k=1.

    + + +
    the best answer is that [the laws of physics] arise from our existence within a multiverse…

    Still not nothing. The laws of physics are descriptions of regularities in the behavior of material bodies. (Preferably, metrical regularities.) No material universe, no laws of physics – since there is nothing to describe.

    Fine-tuning is not at issue in this context. And “multiverse” (an oxymoronic term) is something made up simply to avoid that puzzle. It’s like explaining the origin of life by saying “it came from outer space.” That explains nothing; it only moves the explanandum back a step.

    In plain fact, something that does not exist cannot move itself into existence. If it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t act. It must be moved into existence by something which already does exist.

  80. “Nothing does not exist.” – This sentence is logically equivalent to “Everything exists”. But I presume this is not what you meant to say. Presumably, what you meant to say is “Nothingness does not exist” or “The nothing does not exist” or “Nothings don’t exist” or “There is no nothing”.

  81. I marvel at the quickness of your mind. Most people would get stuck on the determinate supposition of nothing and miss the material supposition entirely.

    However, even if we restrict ourselves to the determinate supposition, the logical consequence of “Nothing does not exist” would be that “Something exists,” not that “Everything exists.”

    As to the main point, that
    “That which does not exist cannot be the efficient cause of its own existence” (for the excellent reason that something which does not exist cannot do diddly squat)
    do you agree that Krauss (and Stenger) have totally misunderstood the issue?

  82. “However, even if we restrict ourselves to the determinate supposition, the logical consequence of “Nothing does not exist” would be that “Something exists,” not that “Everything exists.” – theofloinn

    “Nothing does not exist” is equivalent to () “Everything exists”, and “Everything exists” implies (->) but isn’t equivalent to “Something exists”. Therefore, “Nothing does not exist” isn’t equivalent to “Something exists”.

  83. @ David Roemer,

    You write “The other absurd thing in the articles is the implication that adding heat to a system can decrease its entropy.”

    Of course it can. You can see it for yourself with a simple experiment.

    Take a frying pan and fill it with some olive oil. The layer of olive oil should be 1-2 mm thick, not more. Put it on a stove and turn the heat to medium. After a while you will see a honeycomb structure in the olive oil. The oil is “ordered”, entropy has decreased. The temperature difference between the top and the bottom of the oil layer has created small “cells” with (more or less closed) convection currents.

    The point is, of course, that the oil is an open system. The underside of the layer is heated, on the other side heat is escaping to the environment. Adding heat to an open system can decrease the entropy of the system.

  84. Unfortunately, O’Floinn, the knowledge I have achieved does not appear to be as divinely Perfect as yours. I’m plagued by recurring doubt. You seem to dismiss discussions about nihilo as if everything that had been said about the binary nature being and non-being was over since, well, before even Antiquity. And that philosophers (as opposed to “confused” modern physicists like Krauss*) had a good grasp of the (non)nature of absence. I think you’re overreaching a bit, but perhaps that’s simply because I lack your intellectual acumen.

    Math is fun[...] But again, I don’t see what relevance number theory has to the long-established definition of “nothing” in philosophy.

        theofloinn

    I don’t think math is a glass bead game played for the amusement of intellectuals. Philosophy is not some separate magisterium untouched by the world of mathematics. Mathematics is a highly formalized language based on reason, irreducible to logic but seemingly interdependent. Surely philosophy should be informed by mathematics and vice versa, no? Is not Principia Mathematica, at least in part, a philosophical work?

    But 2={a,b} only if it has the fine topology. Otherwise, it is Sierpinski space or indistinguishable from {a}.

        theofloinn

    Though I use a lot of sets and some graph theory in my work, I’m not an expert in topology. With my limited knowledge as a caveat, I suppose since it deals with local neighborhoods and qualitative rather than quantitative measures of geometry, topology probably is a good approach for understanding the essence of existence. I doubt it’s the only approach but we do live in a very spatial world.

    *P.S. I have not read Krauss Book.

  85. @allaspg
    I don’t think the creation of convection currents means a decrease in entropy. Suppose you have a iron frying pan of water at room temperature and you slowly increase the temperature of the water with a regular kitchen stove. The entropy of the water will increase.

    Now suppose you don’t use a stove, but a tiny high temperature blow torch. Bubbles and convection currents will form where the blow torch is located. You will see a structure being created.

    My analysis is that when you use a regular stove, you have one system and you are adding heat to it. When you use a blow torch. You really have two systems: the water over the blow torch and the rest of the water. There is no structure except in your mind.

    Thank you for taking an interest in the American Journal of Physics articles. I think it is big news if the AJP retracts the article, as it should.

    By a funny coincidence Ian Stewart discusses evolution and the second law of thermodynamics in the following pod cast 22 minutes into the podcast. He says flat out that the second law doesn’t apply to biological systems. He gave as an example of another system that does not follow the second law: a gas where the gravitational forces are not negligible, as in the formation of a star.

    http://www.sidrodrigues.com/2012/04/ian-stewart-17-equations-that-changed-the-world/#comment-2055

    I gave Prof. Stewart a copy of the AJP article and asked him if there should be a retraction. No answer yet, as there has been no answer from Victor Stenger. I’m taking the liberty of posting your comments at the Skeptics Society Forum, where we are discussing the AJP articles.

  86. Most people would get stuck on the determinate supposition of nothing and miss the material supposition entirely.

        thefloinn

    Yikes! I feel like a just time warped into the Middle Ages. I do love the work of Chaucer and reading it in Middle English despite speaking (at best) only restaurant Middle English. But I avoid using Chaucer’s prose to order in a Spanish tapas bar. It helps to speak in modern tongues.

    [Andreas grumbles over to his Medieval virtual dictionary: "Supposition theory...supposition theory...Ah! There we go."]

  87. @David Roemer

    A liquid with cells formed by convection currents fills a small corner of phase space, meaning that it’s entropy is low. It’s an improbable state. There are much more states that correspond with undisturbed oil without convection cells.

    Take the pan with the hot oil from the stove and put it in an insulated box. Now it’s (part of) a closed system. Entropy will increase and the convection currents will disappear.

    You write:

    “My analysis is that when you use a regular stove, you have one system and you are adding heat to it. When you use a blow torch. You really have two systems.”

    In general, one doesn’t “really” have systems. You define the system you want to study, and it’s open or closed.

    “Suppose you have a iron frying pan of water at room temperature and you slowly increase the temperature of the water with a regular kitchen stove. The entropy of the water will increase.”

    No, because you will create a temperature gradient in the water: hot at the bottom, cooler at the surface. That is a low entropy state. The water is “ordered” or “structured” by the gradient (I assume “the system” is the water). Take the pan from the stove and put it in the insulated box. Entropy will increase and the temperature gradient will disappear.

  88. Myron: “Nothing does not exist” is equivalent to () “Everything exists”, and “Everything exists” implies (->) but isn’t equivalent to “Something exists”. Therefore, “Nothing does not exist” isn’t equivalent to “Something exists”.

    It’s always fun to read smart people writing about things that interest them, but you’re tripping up here.

    Your first premise is that “Nothing does not exists” is equivalent to “Everything exists”, however this is the point that theofloinn challenged…it’s meaningless to simply restate the challenged position in reply to the challenge.

    Rather than a premise, it needs to be your conclusion for your reply to be at all relevant.

    In any event, I was hoping you would elaborate on the idea that “But, anyway, there couldn’t have been any nothing(ness), since nothingness is the absence of being; and the absence of being certainly isn’t a possible entity.

    I want to agree with this, but I’m worried that it may simply be an artifact of language in the sense that English (or what-have-you) doesn’t seem to have any ways of talking about “nothingness” without using words like ‘is’, or ‘being’, or ‘entity’…why do you seem certain that the contradictions inherent in talking about nothingness carry metaphysical import?

    How can we rule out that these contradictions aren’t simply by-blows of the particular languages we use?

    As a purely conceptual matter, I at least feel as if I have as clear a grasp of ‘nothing’ as I do of ‘something’ or ‘everything’…it doesn’t seem problematic in the way that it does when trying to frame it within a statement.

  89. The opposite of nothing is something.

    “Nothing exists” is an oxymoron. Therefore, “‘Nothing’ does not exist.”

    Any comments on the substance of the comment?

  90. @allaspg
    Be that as it may, the AJP article implies that heat decreases entropy without explaining how. You are explaining how heat can decrease entropy. Is there an explanation of how heat can decrease the entropy of a biological system?

    Also, are you saying the AJP article is not wrong to use the equation S = k log W, where k = Boltzmann constant? Why not? Does a biological system have an entropy and temperature? Does an airplane have a temperature and entropy?

    Also, do you agree that there is a sense in which evolution violates the second law?

  91. And that philosophers (as opposed to “confused” modern physicists like Krauss*) had a good grasp of the (non)nature of absence.

    Everyone sees through the lens of his own specialty. Unlike an earlier generation of scientists – the Einsteins, the Heisenbergs, the Poincares, et al. – our modern breed prides itself not only on ignorance of philosophy but on disdain of philosophy. But this only ensures they become prisoners of bad philosophy. And it trips them up repeatedly, as in the present case.

    Krauss, whom Stenger is defending, claims to have shown how something can come from nothing using physics. But he doesn’t start with nothing. He starts with a quantum vacuum; or he starts with a “multiverse” [sic] in a quantum state of k=0 space-time continua. These are not nothing.

    Nothing, as such, does not have being.
    + + +
    My own long ago training was in mathematics, so I am well aware of the nature of mathematics. My comment on “2” was a bit tongue-in-cheeky.

    You are correct that logic is a branch of philosophy. It is on the logical point of nothing that Krauss and Stenger trip.

  92. Yikes! I feel like a just time warped into the Middle Ages. … Supposition theory….

    The Early Moderns liked to mock the supposition theory of the medievals; but contemporary mathematical philosophers recognize it as an attempt to get a handle on modal logic.

  93. I’m worried that it may simply be an artifact of language in the sense that English (or what-have-you) doesn’t seem to have any ways of talking about “nothingness” without using words like ‘is’, or ‘being’, or ‘entity’.

    Woof. Try Latin, then. Nihilum non est. Much clearer, no? Esp. since in Latin, nihilum has the clear denotation of “that which does not exist.”

    Myron’s confusion can be illustrated by “Nobody is not in the room.” Would this be read as “Everybody is in the room” or as “Somebody is in the room”?

  94. “Myron’s confusion can be illustrated by “Nobody is not in the room.” Would this be read as “Everybody is in the room” or as “Somebody is in the room”?” – theofloinn

    You’re the one who’s confused, because saying that nothing/nobody is not X is in fact logically equivalent to saying that everything/everybody is X: ~Ex~Fx AxFx
    That’s a simple logical truth!

  95. The logical symbol for equivalence is missing in my above post:
    “~Ex~Fx” is equivalent to “AxFx”.

  96. Asur,
    The reason we can’t meaningfully talk about *nothingness* (the absolute absence of everything) is that it leads us into the Cartesian paradox. We can define it and maybe intuit it as a limiting concept. But that’s it. It is by its definition useless and completely mysterious. It isn’t anything.

    The nothing we can talk about is the absence of something. This does not seem like a language issue, but rather like a process issue. I would be interested if you could give us a language that might not force us to define nothing as the negation of something. They seem to inherently have a binary relationship in the few languages I have mastered. Granted, all the languages I know except for standard mathematical notations are Indo-European (except for a few words and sentences in Arabic). Visually, I think negative space is also informative. I know one can say that negative space is always something (and not nothing) because in a Rubin vase it’s unclear what is actually the negative space (the black or the white). Perhaps negative space is just an indication how separation gives rise to things through relationship. But whatever way it’s twisted, it seems to me you can’t get away from something when you speak of nothing. There is simply some type of binary relationship between being and non-being.

    To say, “Nothing was in the room”, implies that something could have been in the room. O’Floinn is right in that it makes no sense to describe (or as he says “attempt a police sketch of”) that something. The absence in the room is an indefinite particular. It’s an unrealized potential and why multiverses are troubling. I’ve criticized people like Max Tegmark for confusing our small m mathematics with some seemingly unknowable Big M Mathematics (see Illusions, The Scientific Copout). At least Big M Math cannot be known in its entirety. Theoretical physicists do seem to spend too much time in front of symbolic languages confusing them with reality. They begin calling the existence that we do experience (such as the passage of time) an “illusion”. Our current assumptions about the nature of our experiences are most probably incomplete and to some extent inaccurate. But that doesn’t make the experiences themselves any less real.

    That said, speculation about the seemingly unknowable have in the past pushed our epistemic boundaries. Multiverses, though, do seem to absurdly push speculations beyond the useful.

  97. I’m a little confused as to what point you are making Myron. But “nothing does not exist” does indeed imply the potential of anything since the something (the ~nothing) is indefinite (and hence the potentiality of everything). But not the actuality of anything (or hence everything). Again a confusion some theoretical physicist seem to fall pray to.

    But it seems this is a very inelegant way to speak about the potentiality of everything and the actuality of somethings. If that is what you are speaking of Myron. Maybe I missed something in the thread.

  98. So if “nobody is in the room” it’s equivalent to “everybody is in the room”?

  99. Hi, just passing by your blog (very nice one, by the way) and decided to contribute. I am a professional artist and have studied languages and their relation to the formation of ideas and cognition for many years. “Nothing” is a difficult term to define (more or less like “god”, but without the emotional bend), because different cultures at different times have different meanings attributed to the word “nothing”. “Nothing” may not necessarily mean nil. It may stay for the absence of something, or the absence of everything; or better said, the present non-existence of something/everything. Theoretically, everything that is or was at some point was not. There is a kind of “nothing” referred to in ancient China that stands for a state of non-manifested-existence of things. In this respect, the universe indeed could have come out of “nothing”. As far as a person in modern western culture would define “nothing”, a whole universe springing forth of it would seem rather implausible. But in the notion of ancient Chinese, a universe coming out of “nothing” would be normal. Nothing and everything, in this context, are just two ways of defining the same “all” in two different states of being, namely unmanifested and manifested.

  100. What does a man love more than life?
    Hate more than death or mortal strife?
    That which contented men desire,
    The poor have, the rich require,
    The miser spends, the spendthrift saves,
    And all men carry to their graves?

  101. O’Floinn,
    Nice tongue-in-cheek. But you’re disregarding modalities you yourself raised through a convoluted medieval reference to suppositions, as well as epistemic uncertainties. If we are talking about an actual room with particular properties, those properties will obviously constrain who could potentially be in the room. If we are talking about the Universe, my knowledge of what such constraints would be is very limited. But I’m sure such constraints are immensely less constraining than that of a standard Earthly room built for humans by humans with earthly resources.

    Nevertheless, let’s stick with the imperfect Earthly room for now. Before I walk into the room, I have no knowledge of what is in the room. I make some basic assumption, such as that the room on the inside is as large as it appears on the outside. And that if there is anything in the room, it isn’t bigger than the room appears. But, who knows, maybe it’s a TARDIS. Unlikely, yes. But not absolutely impossible. My knowledge of what the Universe is actually like is far too limited to say there is ZERO chance that this room is in fact a TARDIS. Whatever I can imagine the inside of the room is like and what might be in the room could be in the room (at least from my epistemic vantage point). You could claim I’m crazy to think that there is, say, a wild bear in the room. But that’s of no import here. Only on actually walking into the room does my epistemic uncertainty resolve into certainty. Yep, there is a wild bear in the room. And it’s wearing a tutu! I wasn’t so crazy after all. It’s good to be prepared. But again, any assumptions about the nature of the phenomenon in front of me (i.e. *the bear*) is imperfect. I could be wrong about it being a bear that lives in the wild. I could even be having a stroke, interpreting sudden stray brain signals as a wild bear in a pink tutu. Yep, probably stray brain signals. But those are pretty sharp claws so I better be on the safe side for now and go to a neurologist later.

    If we expand this analogy to the Universe, then whatever the clever process we call my mind can imagine might be contained within the Universe. It doesn’t mean it is in the Universe. But it could be there. This is what a multiverse envisions: anything that can be mathematically conceived has a possibility of existing. Doesn’t mean it exists. It’s a possibility, but not an actuality. The flaw in modal realism is to assume that because it can be mathematically conceived, that these conceptions are as real as, say, the bagel with cream cheese I’m pretty sure I ate this morning.

  102. “So if “nobody is in the room” it’s equivalent to “everybody is in the room”?” – the ofloinn

    Come on! “Nobody is not in the room” is equivalent to “Everybody is in the room”.

  103. Not talking about the probability that someone is in the room. There is nobody in the room. Describe him.
    + + +
    It gets worse with the universe. If there is nobody (no thing) in the universe, there is no universe. As Einstein noted, time and space are metaphysical intrusions on empirical physics and general relativity stripped them of the last claim to objective existence. If there were no matter, he said, there would be no time and space. (Matter includes energy in relativity theory.)

  104. “Nobody is not in the room” is equivalent to “Everybody is in the room”

    But in my office at this very moment, there is not nobody. There is me. But there is not everybody.

  105. Nothing is better than Champagne
    Beer is better than nothing
    Therefore, beer is better than champagne.

  106. “But in my office at this very moment, there is not nobody. There is me. But there is not everybody.” – theofloinn

    Logic 101…

    1. Nobody is not in the room: ~Ex~Rx
    2. It is not the case that nobody is in the room: ~~ExRx

    1 and 2 are not equivalent. 1 is equivalent to “Everybody is in the room” (AxRx), and 2 is equivalent to “Somebody is in the room” (ExRx).

  107. Consider that there may be a different supposition on “nothing”.

  108. Not talking about the probability that someone is in the room. There is nobody in the room. Describe him.

        theofloinn

    First, what strikes me is that this momentary certainty about the absence of something is extremely fleeting. Most of our lives are lived in varying degrees of epistemic uncertainty about what is not directly in front of us but might be around the corner.

    Secondly, let me try again to illustrate how I think that all absence (or emptiness) is associated with potentiality. Let’s use a cup instead. Surely, on realizing that there is nothing in the cup, we must conclude that something could have been in the cup, no? Anything that fits in the cup. Wine, water, a pair of dice. What have you. You could never have made the statement “nothing is in the cup” if the cup did not have the capacity to contain something. Anything that fits within the constraints of the cup. Even for an instant of instant molten lava. I agree that there are certain things that definitively could NOT have been in the cup. Love, hate, beauty, a political dispute. Small disputing elves perhaps, but not the concept of their dispute. Unless, of course, the elves themselves are in the cup. The something in the cup has to be materially extended.

    Let’s get more general so we are not so constrained by the irrelevant properties of the cup or room (size, shape, etc). Let’s replace them with an abstract boundary. To make it easier to write about, let’s use curly brackets to represent the boundaries: {}. With other words, the empty set. Just like the cup, it’s emptiness implies the set’s capacity to contain something. Saying “{} is empty” or “{} has no elements” again implies that it could have elements. I would call this property potency. Or say, “{} has the potential to contain anything”. It doesn’t contain anything right here right now. But the set could contain anything. Let’s say we blink for an instant of a moment. When our eyes open, what will be inside { and }? Nothing? Or is there a possibility, however small that anything might be in the set, even everything (excluding any paradoxical self-containments)?

    You seem to want to hold Krauss to account for not getting ride of the emptiness itself as well. But then it makes no sense to say “nothing is in the X”. There is nothing for X to be in. There’s not even an X! You would have to say something like “nothing is in nothing”. Yes, and? We again hit an intrinsic epistemic limit. You can’t go beyond the emptiness which could be something in order to get to the *nothingness* which has absolutely no capacity. The latter is a meaningless construct. Why should someone like Krauss have to try deal with such a meaningless construct? What is it you want from him? To admit he can’t explain the inexplicable or fill the unfillable?

  109. @ David Roemer

    I haven’t read the AJP article, but there are a few common misunderstandings about the second law. Many people seem to think that life on earth is made possible by the “heat” or “energy” of the sun, that life “uses” this energy. As far as I know that’s not correct. The earth radiates approximately as much energy as it receives from the sun. What’s important for life is that the radiation from the sun has low entropy. It’s a source of “order”, and life needs order.

    “Also, do you agree that there is a sense in which evolution violates the second law?”

    Every so-called “violation” that I have seen was based on an incorrect application of the second law.

  110. Andreas: The reason we can’t meaningfully talk about *nothingness* (the absolute absence of everything) is that it leads us into the Cartesian paradox. We can define it and maybe intuit it as a limiting concept. But that’s it. It is by its definition useless and completely mysterious. It isn’t anything.

    Andreas,

    I don’t understand why “nothing” is useless or mysterious…or as others have seemed to intend, necessarily meaningless or self-contradictory.

    My comment you’re responding to was directed at the notion that it was not possible for nothing to exist on the grounds that only a ‘something’ can exist.

    This troubled me because it sounds plausible on the surface, but I’m not sure that there’s anything supporting it apart from the conventions of language–in other words, it seems to say something about the world, but it may in fact only say something about linguistic convention.

    ‘Nothing’, ‘Something’, and ‘Everything’ seem to be in the same boat in that they are all just ways to sort the contents of our minds; for example, if we have three ideas (and only three), then ‘nothing’ is the absence of them, ‘something’ is the presence of at least one, and ‘everything’ is the presence of all three.

    They just seem to be sorting concepts, but that function makes them quite clear and useful.

    Hence, when we say that “Nothing exists”, we just mean that anything we can think of is not present in whatever context we are stipulating. Even when the context is the ‘universe’ itself, this usage doesn’t seem at all mysterious to me, nor does it seem at all strange to wonder about why it is not the case that nothing exists…

  111. @allaspg
    The sense in which evolution violates the second law is that biologists think of the primary structure of a protein as being a system of non-interacting entities (amino acids). They calculate how long it takes a computer to generate an English sonnet with the random generation of words and letter. This is why biologists always speak of “adaptive evolution.” Only laymen think that natural selection explains the complexity of life.

  112. David: All this talk of evolution violating natural laws seems quite silly; setting aside the innuendo that those who disagree with you must be ‘laymen’ (uninformed? ignorant?), the strength of evolutionary theory is its extreme consilience with disciplines ranging from physics to geology to molecular biology.

    The notion that it violates the second law of thermodynamics–and that this has somehow gone unnoticed by the majority of practicing scientists–seems so unlikely as to be absurd.

  113. Surely, on realizing that there is nothing in the cup, we must conclude that something could have been in the cup, no? … You seem to want to hold Krauss to account for not getting ride of the emptiness itself as well.

    Nah. I’d be happy if he admitted starting with a cup.

    That is, starting with “something.” A quantum vacuum, or a multiverse perhaps, already in-formed by the laws of physics. Form is what gives shape to potency: “Every thing is some thing.” But one a matter has form, it is in act, not in potency.

    There is common confusion between zero and nothing, which physicist Steven Barr illustrated with the example: a bank account with zero balance versus no bank account. They are, in a quantitative sense, the same. But a bank account with zero balance presupposes an entire banking system and the “laws of banking” as already in existence. In the same manner, imaginary scenarios about “universes” [sic] being quantum states of a “multiverse” [sic] presupposes an entire physical system and the “laws of physics.” At the state k=0 (that is, “no ‘universes’ [recte: 'spacetime continua']) the manifold is simply empty; it is not nothing.

    Since natural science always deals with “something” (i.e., some thing) it has a hard time dealing with no thing. Every law of nature is a transformation, a motion from one form to another. But to be informed is to actually be.

    Your discussion of potency is interesting, since it reflects the Aristotelian concept of “prime matter,” that which persists through change.

  114. @Asur
    The only way to answer you is to give you quotes from mainstream biologists about the second law of thermodynamics and the limitations on the theory of natural selection. I have a YouTube video titled, “The Truth About Evolution and Religion.” This video has many such quotes. The URL is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKaF8vX6HXQ

  115. evolution violating natural laws seems quite silly

    Agreed. We may not know what those natural laws are, or have only a rough first cut at them, but there is no reason to suppose that creation is defective. Evolution is, as the name implies, simply motion, and all material being is in motion. (That’s why there is space and time to evolve through.) In fact, the inherent lawfulness of nature was used by Aquinas as one of his “proofs of God.”

  116. theofloinn: There is common confusion between zero and nothing, which physicist Steven Barr illustrated with the example: a bank account with zero balance versus no bank account. They are, in a quantitative sense, the same. But a bank account with zero balance presupposes an entire banking system and the “laws of banking” as already in existence.

    This is a great example. Thanks for bringing it up.

  117. @theofloinn:
    I couldn’t agree more. Unanswered scientific questions (What caused the Big Bang? What caused life to begin? What caused evolution?) are evidence that the universe is not intelligible and hence evidence that God does not exist. The proof of God comes from the unintelligiblity of the human mind: Humans are embodied spirits and finite beings. Hence, an infinite being exists.

  118. Unanswered scientific questions (What caused the Big Bang? What caused life to begin? What caused evolution?) are evidence that the universe is not intelligible and hence evidence that God does not exist.

    No, they are only evidence that the questions are not answered. That the universe is intelligible is evidenced by the fact that we can and do make sense of it. Otherwise, kiss all scientific laws goodbye and say hello to mysticism.

    It’s funny though how you see these two arguments:
    1. The universe is intelligible through natural laws and so we don’t need the God hypothesis.
    2. The universe is unintelligible and therefore there cannot be a God.

  119. @theofloinn
    The cosmological argument for God’s existence is based on the insight that humans are finite beings and finite beings need a cause. If all beings needed a cause the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, an infinite being exists. In the west, the infinite being is called God.

  120. I don’t think you mean “finite” beings, but rather “contingent” beings. This leads to “necessary” being, iirc. But this has little to do with the Krauss-Stenger sleight of hand in passing off something as nothing.

  121. David: If all beings needed a cause the universe would not be intelligible.

    I assume you mean because this would result in a classic infinite regress?

    If that’s what you mean, it relies on a model of linear causation where ‘A’ causes ‘B’, then ‘B’ causes ‘C’, and so on.

    However, it’s possible that all things mutually participate in causing each other; for example, it’s possible that ‘XY’ causes ‘Z’, ‘YZ’ causes ‘X’, and ‘ZX’ causes ‘Y’.

    You need to be able to rule out something like this latter model in order to obtain that premise you use.

  122. @Asur

    The infinite regress is easily explained away. Suppose you have a finite chain A is caused by B, B is caused by C, C is caused by D. Such a chain is possible if an infinite being (self-sufficient being) exists outside of the chain and gives the entire chain its existence. By induction, the same is true of an infinite chain.

    People get confused about this because they confuse the order of causality with the order of discovery. With an infinite chain, we first know about A, then we discover B, then C, etc and we never reach an infinite being. But the flow of causality is in the opposite direction.

    The XY, YX, ZX business is a new one on me. You figure it out.

  123. it’s possible that all things mutually participate in causing each other; for example, it’s possible that ‘XY’ causes ‘Z’, ‘YZ’ causes ‘X’, and ‘ZX’ causes ‘Y’.

    How exactly is that possible?
    + + +
    Imagine a forwarded email. You receive it and forward it to someone else. You are a “sent sender.” But those who sent it to you also received it from someone else. In fact, everyone is a sent sender, and the sequence of forwarded emails is unending, both past and future. It is still obvious that there must be something outside the sequence in virtue of which the sequence exists. Forwarding does not cause the contents of the email. There must have been an author.

    The other thing to remember is that it is only essentially-ordered sequences of movers/changers that necessarily has a primary mover/changer. Accidentally-ordered sequences may consist of an infinite number of secondary causes, but essentially-ordered sequences cannot.

    But this has nothing to do with nothing.

  124. theofloinn: Since we’re talking about the metaphysical underpinnings of causation, I’m interpreting your example metaphorically; why must there have been an original author? Why could the ‘email’ simply not have always existed?

    There’s need for something outside the circle of senders only if there were a point in time at which the email did not exist.

  125. David: I’m responding to your statement that “If all beings needed a cause the universe would not be intelligible.”

    It’s obvious that the solution to this, once granted, is some sort of first cause; I was pointing out why your quoted statement can’t serve as a premise without argument to support it.

    It’s not obvious that “if all beings needed a cause”, then the universe would be unintelligible.

    I gave you a counterexample.

  126. There is also the possibility that there is a sixth element beyond the fifth element. The fifth element formerly know as the ether is now known as the quantum vacuum. This sixth element, if it does exist, would be the finest of the elements and most certainly devoid of matter.

  127. I don’t understand why “nothing” is useless or mysterious…or as others have seemed to intend, necessarily meaningless or self-contradictory.

        Asur

    I didn’t say that nothing – the absence of something – is meaningless and mysterious. On the contrary, it’s infinitely useful. As I’ve already illustrated, the empty set represents this nothing. It has no elements. That is to say all possible elements are absent from the set. But this is the clincher: you need the possibility of these elements. Otherwise, of what use would nothing be? If there is no cup to pour the wine into, what will hold the wine? We need this empty “set” that can be filled. If the universe is unfillable, how can we fill it with anything? The universe might be empty – absent of all things – but it must have the capacity to NOT be empty.

    I’m making a distinction here between nothing and *nothingness*. It is this latter that is mysterious and meaningless. Some mystics do claim there is utility in trying to deal with the undealable. Consider the following statement:

        The monk contemplated Nothingness.

    That’s a koan if there ever was one. What is the monk contemplating? Not anything, right? But how can the monk contemplate something if there is nothing to contemplate? We get twisted into a paradoxical knot. At best the above sentence demonstrates the limits of thought. Me, for one, I will mostly leave such activity to cloistered monks. I occasionally spent my youth on such things but I no longer think there is much utility in this type of mysticism.

    I differentiate the former statement from the following statement:

        The monk contemplated nothing.

    This simply means that the monk wasn’t contemplating. The monk could have been contemplating, but right then and there didn’t contemplate. Maybe the monk was doing something else, like gardening or sweeping the hall. Again, there is the implication of capacity. There is potency. Of what use is the following sentence:

        The rock contemplated nothing.

    Sure. Of course it didn’t contemplate nothing. It’s a rock! We don’t consider rocks to have the capacity to contemplate. With other words, they have nil contemplative potential. Maybe they do, but it seems quite implausible without altering the meaning of to contemplate. Radioactivity shows that “rocks” are more inherently active than thinkers between post-animism and modernism thought. But contemplating rocks? Highly unlikely.

  128. There is also the possibility that there is a sixth element beyond the fifth element.

        vina

    The five elements? You mean chi, sui, ka, fu and ku? I hope we won’t start discussing phlogiston next. Oy vey, when there’s nothing to talk about, everyone has an opinion…

  129. Why could the ‘email’ simply not have always existed?

    Because it is no answer to the question “Why is the hammer in the refrigerator?” to say “We have always kept the hammer in the refrigerator.”
    + + +
    There’s need for something outside the circle of senders only if there were a point in time at which the email did not exist.

    There need be no “point in time.” Causation is a logical relation, not a temporal one. Consider Plato’s Foot. In the eternal Sand is planted the eternal Foot. Beneath the Foot is an eternal Footprint. There was never a point in time at which Sand, Foot, and Footprint did not exist. Yet the Foot is certainly the Efficient Cause of the Footprint.

    Terms like “first” cause [recte: primary cause] are constantly misinterpreted to mean “first in time.” They often are, of course; but that is not essential.

  130. If the universe is unfillable, how can we fill it with anything? The universe might be empty – absent of all things – but it must have the capacity to NOT be empty.

    It’s like confounding the null set with nothing. The null set is not nothing. It is a set.

    Likewise, the universe does not exist apart from the existence of elements within it. We know this from general relativity. As Einstein said, if matter and energy were to disappear, space and time would disappear with it. The old Newtonian notion of absolute space and time – the universe as an empty room waiting to be filled with Stuff – was blown away in the early years of the 20th century.

    “Universe” simply means “everything that exists.” If nothing exists, there is no universe.

  131. O’Floinn,
    I think you’re misinterpreting the abstract set I mention with physical space. Again, I get back to potency. The set simply means the capacity for something to exist. The concept of space you refer to predates Einstein. As opposed to Newton, Leibniz held that space is a relationship between things. And without this relationship, space is meaningless and non-existent.

    I agree. Without something there is no space. In fact, without several somethings there is no meaningful space. The fillable cup was merely a crude analogy for capacity to exist. Surely you must agree that if something could not exist it would not exist. My “empty set” must be understood as potency, not physical space. It merely represents the capacity to come into existence. This potency can be measured in a very real way on a scale between 0 and 1, and reasoned on with statistics to achieve an understanding of causality.

    As opposed to what you seem to think, I believe causality can only be understood as a likelihood of specific temporal ordering.

  132. I should say specific temporal and spatial ordering. And with spatial I understand an ordering of things. With other words, what neighbors does something have when it comes into existence? We’re getting back to your old specialty here: topology.

  133. I agree that Leibnitz and his followers were critical of Newton and were eventually vindicated by Einstein. For that matter, Aristotle and Aquinas were there before Leibnitz on this issue. I just figured Einstein was the more recognizable name to a postmodern audience and would be less subject to chronocentrism.
    + + +
    Surely you must agree that if something could not exist it would not exist. My “empty set” must be understood as potency, not physical space. It merely represents the capacity to come into existence.

    The term for that is “prime matter,” which was called “as close to nothing as you can get without being nothing.” Unlike physical bodies, which are always compounds of potency and act, prime matter is pure potency. It “could be anything” but is “not actually anything.”

    It would seem very like the aether; or as we call it nowadays, “dark matter” or “quantum vacuum,” depending on where you’re looking. :grin:
    + + +
    This potency can be measured in a very real way on a scale between 0 and 1, and reasoned on with statistics to achieve an understanding of causality.

    This I would have less confidence in, having made my living in statistical practice for the past near thirty years. It’s hard to gather statistics on stuff that isn’t actually there.
    + + +

    As opposed to what you seem to think, I believe causality can only be understood as a likelihood of specific temporal ordering.

    In physics, every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. Yet the action and reaction occur simultaneously. The eternal foot causes the eternal footprint, but there is no temporal ordering between them. I agree that there is often or usually a temporal ordering for accidental series of compound beings; but as Whitehead pointed out in The Principle of Relativity, there is no such thing as instantaneous. So while in some sense, the nerve impulse comes temporally before the muscle contraction, the two are actually contemporary. That’s why Aquinas expressed his first way in the present progressive sense of Latin: Whatever is changing is being changed by another.

  134. It is a gross misunderstanding of the proof to call God the “first cause.” This formulation assumes that there is a chain of contingent beings and God is at the beginning of the chain. As has been shown, there can be an infinitely long chain of contingent beings. God is not at the beginning of the chain, but outside of the chain giving the entire chain its existence.

    The concept of God is that God is an infinite being, or a pure act of existence without a limiting essence.

    The entry for the “cosmological argument for God” in Wikipedia and the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy do not correctly explain the argument. They leave out the idea that God is an infinite being.

  135. “I agree that Leibnitz and his followers were critical of Newton and were eventually vindicated by Einstein.” – theofloinn

    “Its name notwithstanding, Einstein’s theory does not proclaim that everything is relative. Special relativity does claim that some things are relative: velocities are relative; distances across space are relative. But the theory actually introduces a grand, new, sweepingly absolute concept: absolute spacetime. Absolut spacetime is as absolute for special relativity as absolut space and absolute time were for Newton, and partly for this reason Einstein did not suggest or particularly like the name ‘relativity theory’. Instead, he and other physicists suggested ‘invariance theory’, stressing that the theory, at its core, involves something that everyone agrees on, something that is not relative.”

    (Greene, Brian. The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. London: Penguin, 2005. p. 51)

  136. It is a gross misunderstanding of the proof to call God the “first cause.” This formulation assumes that there is a chain of contingent beings and God is at the beginning of the chain.

    Logically at the beginning, but not necessarily temporally so. The term translated as “first” cause is causa prima, but prima has a broader meaning than simply first-in-time. Think of “first” in the phrase “first lady” or as when Gandhi said that nonviolence was the first article of his philosophy. “Prime” or “primary” might be a better translation for Late Moderns and Post Moderns.

    And for the others here, “infinite” in this context does not mean infinite in quantity or infinite in magnitude. That is, it has nothing to do with mathematical infinity or Cantor’s transfinites. (Cont. gent. I:43)

  137. “Its name notwithstanding, Einstein’s theory does not proclaim that everything is relative.

    Of course not. No one here suggested it did. What Einstein asserted was that space and time were not absolute, but contingent. (This is not the same as invariant and relative. Those are terms that refer to phenomena across different reference frames.)

    [T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [general relativity], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality.
    — Albert Einstein, “Explanation of the Movement of Mercury’s Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity,” 1915

    IOW, there is no absolute space and time; i.e., no privileged reference frame for the universe. Both space and time are contingent on the existence of matter. Thus, space cannot be “empty” because then there would not be “space.” Even if all ordinary mass-energy were removed, there would remain that mysterious “dark matter,” whose properties so wonderfully emulate the Aristotelian aether.

  138. [That such potency can be measured and reasoned on to understand causality] I would have less confidence in, having made my living in statistical practice for the past near thirty years. It’s hard to gather statistics on stuff that isn’t actually there

        theofloinn

    Gathering data in dynamic environments you have marginal control over is indeed difficult. I have engineered a system that extracts, transforms, integrates and correlates semantic data about enterprise networks over the last 10 years. So I have direct experience regarding data analysis and turning such analysis into meaningful and digestible information. Almost all incoming information has to be considered suspect, a claim that has to be authenticated and verified.

    When talking about complex social systems, it gets even worse. But my point is that even classical experiments in physics that are still stubbornly perceived as mechanistic have to be considered special cases of processes that have specific likelihoods of temporal and spatial ordering. The only difference is that the variance in the dataset is narrower, sometimes so narrow that these systems appear purely mechanistic.

    The number of systems that are stochastic seem to far outweigh the purely determinate systems. Why this is can be argued about (insufficient knowledge, etc). My conjecture is because of a fundamental something I can only refer to as potency (or potential). I don’t want to get into quantum this or quantum that. I think it’s sufficient to say that all systems are inherently stochastic, including “classical” systems.

    So when people like Krauss (who’s book, again, I need to point out I haven’t read) talk about quantum vacuums, it doesn’t really bother me that they fail to point out that their nothing is not some *nothingness* but only a near nothing. I am bothered, though, by talk of a mutliverse as if it was something more real than that which we experience. Just as bothered as I am about people who talk about God as if they knew what God was and wanted (and that it had been literally reveled in a specific book seemingly written by human beings).

  139. Well, good luck on that stochastic potential thingie. Though I’m not sure that stochastic and deterministic exhaust all possibilities. I know others who say that with complete knowledge, an apparently stochastic process would be seen as deterministic. Copenhagen quantum theory holds that the probabilities are built into reality; but I don’t know that that is true of other quantum theories like many-worlds or standing wave or transactional. All of them predict the same appearances – unless the Afshar experiment really did confirm transactional quantum over Copenhagen. I guess the physicists are still arguing. I need to get ahold of Wolfgang Smith’s book and see what Aristotelian quantum theory looks like.

    it doesn’t really bother me that [Krauss et al] fail to point out that their nothing is not some *nothingness* but only a near nothing.

    It wouldn’t bother me, either; except that they bill themselves as answering or rebutting propositions in which the terms are used in the strict sense. They can be as loosey-goosey as they please in physics; but not in philosophy. It would be as if one were to say “Man is a biological species,” and they were to answer, “No, man is a noun.” A true statement, but ‘man’ is being used in a different supposition.

    Just as bothered as I am about people who talk about God as if they knew what God was

    That’s why Aquinas said you could only know what God was not, and only by analogy. But of course there are many things that can be deduced logically; such that there is only one God.

  140. David Albert has made some further comments that may interest some:

    …the discussions of quantum mechanics in A Universe From Nothing are – from a purely scientific point of view – very badly confused. Let me mention just one example. Professor Kraus’ argument for the ‘reality’ of virtual particles, and for the instability of the quantum-mechanical vacuum, and for the larger and more imposing proposition that ‘nothing is something’, hinges on the claim that “the uncertainty in the measured energy of a system is inversely proportional to the length of time over which you observe it”. And it happens that we have known, for more than half a century now, from a beautiful and seminal and widely cited and justly famous paper by Yakir Aharonov and David Bohm, that this claim is false.

    Of course, the physical literature is full of sloppy and misleading talk about the ‘energy-time uncertainty relation’, and about the effects of ‘virtual particles’, and so on – and none of that does much harm in the context of calculations of scattering cross-sections or atomic energy levels or radioactive decay rates. But the business of pontificating about why there is something rather than nothing without bothering to get crucial pieces of the physics right, or to think about them carefully, or to present them honestly, strikes me as something of a scandal.

  141. I know others who say that with complete knowledge, an apparently stochastic process would be seen as deterministic.

        theofloinn

    I’m aware of that but I reject such arguments because Perfect Knowledge is impossible. Saying that we could have Perfect Knowledge is the same as saying that we could be be God(s). It’s Laplace little demon sitting on our shoulder whispering eternal truths into our fallible little mortal ears.

    Perfect Knowledge might exist for some hypothetical being at the inconceivable limits of eternity, when all potentials have been resolved and determined. Most Christians have conceived Necessary Being as some intervening force we can supplicate. I conceive Necessary Being as that which comes into being at the limits of the infinite. If I’m right, it would seem we are not the supplicants but a small part of the determinants of Absolute Perfection, Absolute Perfection being a truly Universal state existing only in an unimaginably distant future when everything that could have been will have been. Or expressed differently, when evolution comes to an end and there can no longer be a distinction between predator, prey and ally because deception has become an impossibility and trust meaningless.

    But… I’m letting myself slip into deep conjecture. Ultimately, I’m but a small fallible being privy only to a fraction of the Truth through my muddled senses and imperfect reasoning.

  142. Einstein said, that the scientist does not think with formulas.
    But, dear Einstein, please see how nice to think
    with the help of these formulas: you can imagine
    the whole picture of Existence’s creation.
    =.
    § 1. Vacuum: T= 0K, E= ∞ , p = 0, t =∞ .
    § 2. Particles: C/D= pi=3,14, R/N=k, E/M=c^2, h=0, c=0, i^2=-1.
    § 3. Photon: h=E/t, h=kb, h=1, c=1.
    § 4. Electron: h*=h/2pi, c>1, E=h*f , e^2=ach* .
    § 5. Gravity, Star formation: h*f = kTlogW : He II — > He I — > H — > . . .
    § 6. Proton: (p).
    § 7. The evolution of interaction between Photon / Electron and Proton:
    a) electromagnetic,
    b) nuclear,
    c) biological.
    § 8. The Physical Laws:
    a) Law of Conservation and Transformation Energy/ Mass,
    b) Pauli Exclusion Law,
    c) Heisenberg Uncertainty Law.
    § 9. Brain: Dualism of Consciousness.
    § 10. Test and Practice: Parapsychology. Meditation.
    ===.
    Best wishes.
    Israel Sadovnik Socratus
    ====.

  143. An eternal God explains why there are beings that began to exist at some point in time. An infinite God explains why there are finite beings.

  144. where did the void come from? I think I missed that bit :lol:

  145. “An eternal God explains why there are beings that began to exist at some point in time. An infinite God explains why there are finite beings.”
    Uh? This explains (and proves) absolutely nothing.
    You might as well say:
    – The existence of (vaguely conscious) beings explains why an eternal God has begun to “exist” at some point in time.
    And:
    – The very finitude of beings explains why they have devised an infinite God.

    Anyone who think he has proved or disproved the existence of “God” through argumentation is infinitely blind (to his own motives, not the least).

  146. @Steve1
    In the method of inquiry called metaphysics, a being that begins to exist at some point in time needs a cause. Also, a finite being needs a cause. If every being in the universe needed a cause, the universe would not be intelligible. Hence, an infinite being exists. In the west, the infinite being is called God.

    This should be called an argument, not a proof.

  147. Ok, let’s call it an argument. But it’s a weak one at best: on what grounds should everything need “a cause”. And how is it more logical to postulate an uncaused and eternal “God” (and even then, we have said nothing of what/who that “God” might be), than an uncaused, ever-existing, eternal set (or infiniti) of universes?
    The perceived power of these arguments have little to do with reason or logic.
    But it has everything to do with confirmation bias.

  148. on what grounds should everything need “a cause”[?]

    Not everything needs a cause. Contingent things need as cause. That is, anything that comes into being is brought into being by something else that is already actual. (It cannot bring itself into being since prior to coming into being it has no being/existence; and that which does not [yet] exists can’t do diddly-squat.) Contingent being leads logically to the existence of necessary being; that is, to something whose essence “just is” to exist. And “Being Itself” God of traditional theology.
    + + +
    And how is it more logical to postulate an uncaused and eternal “God” … than an uncaused, ever-existing, eternal set (or infiniti) of universes?

    Because
    a)The universe is an abstraction, a set. It exists only insofar as items within it exist.
    b)The material universe is in continual change and, since “everything changing is being changed by another” we are led (as we were from contingent being) to the necessary existence of an unchanging changer. This cannot be the “universe” because the universe is changing.
    + + +
    and even then, we have said nothing of what/who that “God” might be,

    That follows by deduction. For example, once we have established an unchanging changer, it necessarily follows that it is purely actual. (If it had any potency, then it could be changed/ actualized from potentially X to actually X. and would not be an unchanging changer.) If it is purely actual, then there can be only one. (If there were two, they must be distinct in some X. One would possess X and the other would not. But then the latter would be in potency to X and could not be purely actual.) Etc. etc.

    Hope this helps.

  149. Thanks for taking the time:
    – “Contingent being leads logically to the existence of necessary being”
    Sure. Let this “necessary being (and all its items)” be an eternal un(multi)iverse(s).
    – “everything changing is being changed by another”.
    Nope. You certainly know that causality breaks down at the quantum level, fluctuations or radioactive decay, etc.
    – As for the “nature of God”, his “pure actuality” would be of little value to me. The existence of God is of value only if it makes a philosophical (meaning practical) difference un my life. Speculations, I leave to thinkosophers.

  150. You certainly know that causality breaks down at the quantum level, fluctuations or radioactive decay, etc.

    Actually, I don’t know that; only that, like Newtonian mechanics, optics, et al., the equations take no note of causation. But simply because a particular description of reality does not take note of causation we cannot thereby conclude to an absence of causation. That would be (as the link below suggests) the same as supposing that because the engineering figures for the weight an airplane can carry takes no account of passenger preference for meals or movies that passengers have no such preferences.

    I do think that a lot of folks confuse “causation” with “non-random.” It remains to be seen which of the many competing theories of quantum mechanics is closer to the truth (as opposed to most popular). The field is only a hundred years old. We probably don’t know everything yet.

    There is a discussion here:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/06/color-holds-and-quantum-theory.html

  151. David Bohm in “Causality & Chance in Modern Physics”, page 84: “The indeterminacy principle raised a number of important new philosophical questions not appearing in classical mechanics. These questions helped to lead physicists, as we shall see, to renounce the concept of causality in connection with the atomic domain…”
    So, no “folks” confusion here. Unless you consider that “lead physicists” are “folks”.
    “We probably don’t know everything yet.”
    You can remove the “probably”.
    The only certainty I have is that I (and we) don’t know everything, far from it, and will most likely never know everything.
    This undeniable fact is the best deflater of most thinkological arguments of the kind discussed above.

  152. @Steve1
    Humans have a drive to know and understand everything. The success of science is evidence that the universe is intelligible. It is perfectly reasonable to call the idea that the universe is intelligibile a hope, rather than an established fact.

    However, the important thing is not deciding whether or not an infinite being (God) exists. The important thing is to decide whether or not God has communicated himself to mankind.

    I want to acknowledge you for admitting that there is an argument for God’s existence, however strong or weak it might be. Most non-believers don’t admit this. They come up with the counter-argument “Who made God.”

  153. The fact that we are able to understand anything is stunning. Consciousness is stunning. Human ingenuity and creativity are stunning. Music! How can a blob of viscera and neurons ever create anything so (often) sublime!
    Life in general, and we, humans, most notably, are living (and dying) miracles.
    If anything, this is the strongest argument for the existence of “Something greater than us”. A proof? Certainly not.
    My current position, based on my having been on all sides of the fences many times over, is that of skepticism and of refusal to identify with any “group”.
    So this skepticism applies to “skeptics” themselves, and certainly to the so-called “skeptics” as a group.
    Adherence to a “group” always ends up depriving you of your freedom of thought, and most notably, of the greatest freedom of all: that of changing your mind. Group dynamics and groupthink soon kick in, confirmation bias and all the rest.
    If there is such “thing” as a “God”, well the worst ennemies of that “concept” are certainly not agnostics or atheists. They are to be found in religions themselves.
    If God was to incarnate today, chances are he would be an agnostic or an atheist. He or she would say: I don’t believe in you guy’s “God” for a minute.

  154. @Steve1
    What are your reasons for not believing in life after death? I believe because of the historical Jesus. What are your reasons for not believing, apart from the weakness of the argument for God’s existence?

  155. The “historical Jesus”? Ouch. I’m afraid we know so little about the “historical Jesus” (if there even was such a figure) that it’s an even weaker reason to believe than the weak “thinkological arguments”.

  156. @Steve1
    The historical Jesus was a Jewish prophet who preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. He was an exorcist and a healer. His followers swore up and down that he appeared to them after he died. He also saved mankind for meaning, and founded the Catholic Church, which founded Western civilization.

  157. These questions helped to lead physicists, as we shall see, to renounce the concept of causality

    Which is simply another example of people smart in one field saying foolish things in another field. The concept of causality is a metaphysical issue, not a physical issue. Physicists of the post-modern world often make errors when they stray into philosophy.

    Another possibility is that they did not understand what is meant by causation. Most folks, even scientists (perhaps especially scientists) confuse causation with determination. They think that because they cannot imagine a metrical efficient cause of why X happened at the time it did that there was no cause whatever of its happening.

    It is a logical fallacy to infer from the premise that QM describes such-and-such a state without describing its cause to the conclusion that QM shows that such-and-such a state has no cause. As Feser points out, Kepler’s laws accurately described the motions of the planets without any reference to a cause. You plug in the numbers and get correct predictions. It wasn’t until Newton, a century later, that a causal mechanism was proposed; viz., Universal Gravitation. In the interim, astronomers could have spoken with the same assurance as modern quantum mechanics that Keplerian mechanics had dispensed with the notion of causes. Of course, they were not so foolish back then.

    Hence, the example of the color hold linked to previously. If all you can see is the inked drawing (of the comic book art used as an example), then all you can see is a jeep hanging in mid-air without any apparent cause. Only when the color is added do we see the explosion. Physical science sees only the metrical properties of physical bodies, which is why Hume denied causality not only in the quantum realm (of which he knew nothing) but in all of physics. (Al-Ghazali also denied that “fire burned cloth,” but for different reasons; which is why natural science was stillborn in the House of Submission.) It is all correlation, not causation.

    Now, quantum mechanics was absolutely fatal to the 19th century mechanistic metaphor of the physical world, but it never laid a glove on causation. It only punched the notion that all causation consists of “billiard-ball collision” style efficient causes square in the nose, putting (as Heisenberg pointed out) materialism down for the count.

    A discussion can be found here:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/oerter-on-universals-and-causality.html
    continued here:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/oerter-contra-principle-of-causality.html

  158. The “historical Jesus”? Ouch. I’m afraid we know so little about the “historical Jesus” (if there even was such a figure) that it’s an even weaker reason to believe than the weak “thinkological arguments”.

    Not to mention Socrates and Hannibal.

  159. Causality aside, metaphysical or otherwise, the universe(s) could very well be eternal. Therefore, a “first mover” is not a necessity. Doesn’t mean there isn’t “one”. Simply means that there is no rational proof, nor any strong argument, thinkological or otherwise, for the existence of a “first mover”.

  160. the universe(s) could very well be eternal. Therefore, a “first mover” is not a necessity.

    Interestingly, Aristotle, who reasoned to a “first mover,” did believe the world was eternal. And Thomas Aquinas, who refined the argument, assumed that it was, secundum argumentum. The unmoved mover is not necessarily “first” in a temporal sense, but in a logical sense.

    As an example, consider “Plato’s Foot.” An eternal foot is planted in the eternal sand. Beneath the foot is the eternal footprint. The foot is still the “mover” of the footprint, even though it does not come first in time. Similarly, if we imagine a sequence of people forwarding an email, reason tells us that there must be an unsent sender of the email, even if the sequence of forwarders is infinite in time.

    The key distinction of the first mover is that it is not an instrumental cause.

  161. Re:- Steve1 June 14 “the fact that we are able to understand anything is stunning. Consciousness is stunning. Human ingenuity and creativity are stunning. Music! How can a blob of viscera and neurons ever create anything so (often) sublime!
    Life in general, and we, humans, most notably, are living (and dying) miracles.”

    I am not sure I agree with this. I ask- Stunning! Compared to what? Is is not so that Understanding, Consciousness, Creativity, Sentient and possibly Non-sentient creatures, are all what me might call in their own right, facts of existence? Certainly we try to explain them with varying degrees of success, and I guess, the evolution of life, has the best explanation, finding its origin in Darwin. So far as miracles are concerned, surely these are imagined states of affairs which apparently have no explanation, being adverse to all we as Humans, understand.
    Our understanding of the world has been shaped by the need for survival. That is paramount, if life is to continue to exist. Out of this, the way in which we see existence is most likely fragmentary and or not what things are in themselves. I see nothing stunning in all this, it certainly is a puzzlement if you like. My whole point here is for something to be stunning it needs comparison with something similar, and in some way, to be foreign to what we might call, or thought, was the normal order of things. I have been watching tennis recently. Some players can on average, serve between 130 and 140 MPH. If someone were, using the normal equipment, measured accurately, serving at 190 MPH, that would be stunning.

  162. @theofloinn:
    “reason tells us that there must be an unsent sender of the email”
    Ah… “reason tells us that”. The last ditch, so often-heard argument. As often used as it is poor and unconvincing. Do I even need to explain why?
    @Don Bird
    I mainly used the “stunning” argument as opposed to “the first cause” argument. If I were to pick among these two to defend a “deistic/theistic” postion, it would certainly be the first and certainly not the second.
    As to how miraculous consciousness is, of course it is! And I don’t give a damn if Dennett calls it a “bag of tricks”. Could be, but Bach, Mozart and Wagner were real stunning bags of tricks. Natural “fact” of existence? Micro-epiphenomenom of the evolution of matter? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I certainly don’t pretend to have a definitive answer.
    But IMHO, if there is a mystery and an opening for transcendance, that’s where it lies. Certainly not in the “first mover”, and much less in “reason tells us that…”

  163. Reason tells us that there must be an unsent sender of the email because the content of the email cannot be generated by the act of forwarding. Similarly, if everyone you have ever met or ever will meet has been taught the Pythagorean Theorem by another — that is, is a “taught teacher” — reason tells us that there must have been an untaught teacher who devised the theorem that everyone else is teaching.

    Reason is not really all that hard to learn, though many do seem to have problems with it. But to contend that an email exists simply because an infinite number of people have forwarded it to one another, or that the Pythagorean Theorem exists because an infinite number of teachers have taught it to one another, strains the bounds of credibility far more than that something purely actual must stand behind the actualization of potencies.

  164. “There must be an unsent sender of the email because the content of the email cannot be generated by the act of forwarding”
    The “content” of the universe does not require creator of content. Simple as that. Eternity does not require an “eternator”.
    Regardless of how many times “reason” and “reasonable assumptions” have been proven wrong throughout human history, and regardless of how constrained and limited our mental apparatus is, if you are convinced that there is a “god” because “reason tells us so”, there is nothing anyone can say that will make you change your mind. Nor make you question the validity of your argument. So I’ll leave it at that.

  165. “There must be an unsent sender of the email because the content of the email cannot be generated by the act of forwarding”
    The “content” of the universe does not require creator of content. Simple as that.

    Certainly, reason would require more than the mere assertion that The “content” of the universe does not require creator of content. It would require (wait for it) “reasons.”

    Regardless of how many times “reason” and “reasonable assumptions” have been proven wrong…

    Sorry to hear of your distrust of reason and logic. There goes all of mathematics down the memory hole. And natural science shortly after. Oh, well. (Think of all the times natural science has been “proven” wrong!)

    “[T]he natural order does not exist confusedly and without rational arrangement, and human reason should be listened to concerning those things it treats of. But when it completely fails, then the matter should be referred to God. Therefore, since we have not yet completely lost the use of our minds, let us return to reason.”
    — Adelard of Bath, Quaestiones naturales, 12th cent.

  166. Lawrence M. Krauss writing in The NY Times, 2012/7/10 on the Higgs particle: “Hidden in what seems like empty space –indeed like nothing, which is getting more interesting all the time–are the very elements that allow for our existence.”

    He is right about the elements but wrong about nothing. It would be more accurate to think of the so-called void as a mirror reflecting Hyperspace,the Real Substance, which is not subject to the laws or relativity of what is reflected in space. Plato was right about shadows on a wall.

    yo

  167. Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    Victor Stenger has written:
    “Krauss also describes how cosmology now strongly suggests that a “multiverse” exists in which our universe is just one member. So, the real issue is not where our particular universe came from but where the multiverse came from. This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.”

    To say that “the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.” is just like saying “God is eternal. So, since He always was, He didn’t have to come from anything.”

  168. So, the real issue is not where our particular universe came from but where the multiverse came from. This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal.

    If someone asks “Why do you keep a hammer in the freezer?” it is no answer to say “We have always>/i> kept the hammer in the freezer.”

    That which is eternal is not necessarily exempt from efficient causation. Consider the eternal foot planted in the eternal sand. Beneath the foot is an eternal footprint. It has always been there. Yet it is certainly moved from potency to actuality by the Foot.

  169. RE:-Udaybhanu Chitrakar July 24

    “This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.”
    How do you know that? It needs explaining. What evidence do you have to support the assertion.

  170. Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    RE: Don Bird July 24
    “This question has an easy answer: the multiverse is eternal. So, since it always was, it didn’t have to come from anything.”

    These are not my words. Actually scientist Victor J Stenger has written this in his response to David Albert’s critical review of Krauss’ book ‘A Universe from Nothing’, and I have also mentioned it in my posting. How have you overlooked that? I have only pointed out that the theologians also argue in the same fashion. Now an atheist like Victor J Stenger is also arguing just like a theologian. That is the fun.

  171. Re:-Udaybhanu Chitrakar July 26
    Thanks for your reply. It seems to me that when anybody, regardless of who they are, makes a statement that such and such is the case, it is reasonable to ask them how do they know that. My own feeling in this matter is that the multiverse may well be eternal. How ever this is just a feeling, maybe an hypothesis, which I have no way to verify, arrived from much observation, reading, and thinking, I would not claim that I know it to be the case.
    So far as I can see the Big-Bang theory seems to suggest that the universe had a beginning that being the case it seems to rule out eternality. But for me not quite. We as humans try to describe the World, and we try to explain it. What is so often forgotten is that such descriptions and explanations are infected with our own genetic, psychological, and and sensory compositions. We look for causes and effects without considering that what we observe is a continuous process. Cause and effect is a human imposition on Nature. I hasten to add it has done us very well so far it has got us to the moon and so on, but in the grand scheme of things we may well need to think otherwise.
    So you see when someone, whom I believe is an authority on all these matters makes a statement of belief, I am interested to know how they came by that belief. I may or may not understand their explanation. If I do not, it is probably down to my own ignorance, and that in itself would be enlightening. Yes I agree there can be a lot of fun in such matters.

  172. Now an atheist like Victor J Stenger is also arguing just like a theologian. That is the fun.

    No, he isn’t; for he would then be constrained by logic and reason.

    Cause and effect is a human imposition on Nature.

    Well, there goes natural science out the window.

  173. Theofloinn is absolutely right! When animals have nothing to do, they go to sleep. When humans have nothing to do, they ask what caused the things that they observe.

  174. Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    If Newton had never asked the question “what caused the apple to always fall on the ground, and never to go upwards”, we would never have got the laws of gravity from him. Scientists have always asked the same such questions regarding the things that we observe, and that is why science has made so much progress. So why should we suddenly stop asking such question at some particular level, i.e. at multiverse level?

  175. Newton at least could observe that apples really existed.
    + + +
    This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent being. And if the fixed Stars are the centers of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must all be subject to the dominion of One. [...] This Being Governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God παντοκρατωρ, or Universal Ruler.

    But hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phænomena, and I frame no hypotheses. For whatever is not deduc’d from the phænomena, is to be called an hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferr’d from the phænomena, and afterwards render’d general by induction. Thus it was that the impenetrability, the mobility, and the impulsive force of bodies, and the laws of motion and of gravitation, were discovered. And to us it is enough, that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea.
    — Isaac Newton,
    Principia Mathematica

  176. Udaybhanu Chitrakar

    In most of the recent origin-theories provided by the scientists the so-called void is treated as a real void. But treating that void as a real void requires an absolute certainty regarding the non-existence of God. But this absolute certainty these scientists do not possess, as will be evident from what has been written by Victor J Stenger in connection with his review of the book “Who made God?” written by Edgar Andrews, a British chemist, There he has written that if the evidence should require it, science should be ready to include supernatural causes. He has also written that, unlike most scientists, he allows for the possibility that they may not always be able to explain everything purely naturally. Though currently they can, but that does not mean that in future also they will be able to do so.
    (whomadegod.org/2011/06/victor-stenger-replies-to-who-made-god/)
    So here he confesses that they may not always be able to explain everything purely naturally, which means that they are not absolutely certain about the non-existence of God. This further implies that they can neither be absolutely certain that the void is a real void. So these scientists should know that all their origin-theories may not be the real truth.