The Ultimate Question:
can't be sure who first asked the question: "why is there something
rather than nothing," although it has been attributed to the German
philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646 -1716). Given the age and
culture which shaped Lebnitz's thinking his explanation, naturally, was
in summary that the universe exists because God exists and made the
commencing an examination of the subject it may be helpful to
distinguish between reasons and causes. For example, if someone was to
ask why Jack asked Jill to a movie that person would be seeking to
understand Jack's reasons what was going on in his mind (his desires,
hopes and so on) that led him to ask Jill in the first place.
questioner isn't looking for an explanation of the physiological causes
— the neurochemical reactions occurring in Jack's brain, although this
would explain how he was able to ask the question, but probably not the
reasons why. By contrast if someone were to ask: "why does the Earth
orbit the sun?" they are seeking a causal explanation — facts that
describe and account for planetary motion.
is the question "why is there something rather than nothing" about
reasons or causes? This depends on whether your starting point is God
or not. If God is evoked as the creator then the question primarily
concerns reasons — God desired the universe to exist and it was so. By
what means or causes it was made to be so is not explained. The will of
God magically crystallizes into matter, (or that the Universe is a
manifestation of God, or that God is incarnate in the universe) and
that is all that can be said.
is the theological answer really an answer? If there is a God (and what
definition of God shall we accept?) and God preexisted the Creation,
then why is there a God at all? Theologians may attempt to resolve the
difficulty by postulating that God is his own reason and cause, thus
eliminating the need for any additional explanation. But what evidence
do they have that this assumption is true?
think a more profitable line of enquiry is to look for causes rather
than reasons, for a reason implies the existence of a will either in or
behind nature in a similar way that there was a will behind Jack asking
Jill to a movie, and as Nature is non¬conscious it is doubtful that
it has a will, unless of course one embraces panpsychism — the view
that the entire Cosmos is permeated by degrees of consciousness.
best theory we have to date (and I must point out that a theory is not
a guess, but is derived from the evidence of nature) is that of the Big
Bang. In summary the Big Bang states that the universe came into
existence approximately 13.8 billion years ago, a time when all matter
was compressed into a singularity of infinite density and intense heat
whose expansion eventually gave rise to the cosmos we see today.
is a brief timeline of the process of cosmic evolution that has been
formulated through astronomical observations of the deep universe,
experiments employing particle accelerators and high energy states, and
the testing of theoretical principles through advanced mathematics.
Singularity Epoch: Point 0 to approximately 10-43 seconds
Why is there something rather than nothing?
(Investigator 181, 2018 July)
• Earliest known period of the Universe
Inflation Epoch 10-32 seconds
• All fundamental forces of nature unified into a single force
• All matter condensed to a single point of infinite density and extreme heat
• Universe highly unstable resulting in expansion and cooling
• Phase transition causes fundamental forces to begin separating from each other
• Phase transition causes exponential expansion of the homogonous high energy density universe
Cooling Epoch: Circa 10-11 seconds
• Baryogenesis occurs — random motions of particles happen at relativistic speeds
Particle/antiparticle pairs continuously created and destroyed in
collisions resulting in the predominance of matter over antimatter
The universe consists of a quark-gluon plasma along with other
elementary particles by the time inflation ends
Density and temperature of the universe continues to diminish
resulting in particle energy decrease and continuation of phase
Structure Epoch: Several billion years post Singularity to the present
• Fundamental forces of physics and elementary particles change to their present form
• Nucleosynthesis commences — electrons combine with neutrons and protons to form atoms (mostly hydrogen)
• Radiation separates from matter and permeates space to form the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)
• Universe changes from opaque to transparent
Universe's slightly denser regions (caused by dark matter, which
acts as an invisible scaffold for cosmic structures and makes up about
80% of the universe) become gravitationally attracted to each other
aforementioned is a very brief and simplified outline of the consensus
of cosmologists, but it is certainly not the final explanation of how
things came to be. The role of dark matter and dark energy has yet to
be fully elucidated, and there may yet be further discoveries that will
necessitate additional refinement of the theory.
this leads to the question of whether we will ever really know the full
answer to the question: "why is there something rather than nothing."
In my opinion there is no guarantee for the following reasons (although
I admit I could be wrong).
what happened before the Big Bang? If time and space emerged as a
result of the Big Bang, then it is meaningless to talk about what came
before, for the simple reason that without time there was no "before,"
no prior causative agency, at least as we understand the term. Of
course this hasn't stopped cosmologists from attempting to answer the
question, and below are some of the theories they have formulated:
It's entirely possible that there was no previous era. Assuming
that this is true, it means that matter, energy, space, and time began
abruptly. Perhaps this abrupt change sprang from a collision with a
parallel universe. Or maybe something else. We really don't know.
Another theory is "Quantum Emergence." According to this view,
space and time developed out of a primeval state described by a quantum
theory of gravity. Notably, we don't have an explanation for quantum
gravity just yet. So we can't say much beyond that.
There's the landscape multiverse of string theory, which deals
with differences of quantum tunnelling and quantum fluctuations between
different energy states.
There's also the cyclic universe. In this theory, the Big Bang is
just the latest "big bang" in an endless stream of big bangs — in the
continual expansion, collapse, and renewed expansion of space and time.
At the moment there isn't a final candidate for any of the above, so it isn't possible to give a definitive answer.
our investigations are limited by the sensitivity of the instruments we
can construct. To discover the ultimate answer we may need an
instrument — say a particle accelerator the size of Jupiter — which is
beyond our capacity to build.
our brains may be unable to deduce the answer due to physical
limitations. For example: a chimpanzee could never have discovered
calculus — its brain is simply not structured in a way that would
enable it to do so. When it comes to answering the ultimate question
we, too, may lack sufficient intellect.
even if we can augment our brainpower by constructing a quantum
computer possessing artificial intelligence and sufficient processing
capacity to solve the problem; the machine, with its vastly superior
intellect, may be the only one who can really understand the answer.
will continue to progress, but in the end it may prove unable to answer
the question. If so then does this bring us back to the claims of
religion as a possible solution? I think not for the simple reason that
all the theologians can say is that "God exists and created the
of the more sophisticated theologians may attempt to appeal to
probability — they may argue that our Universe is improbable and
therefore requires a guiding intelligence to explain its origins.
think the problem here is that in order to determine probability one
needs a series of repeatable events — the toss of a coin for example.
The universe, however, is a one off event from our perspective and so
it is impossible to tell how likely or unlikely it is. There may have
been an infinite series of universes preceding ours, as some
cosmologists speculate. At the moment there is simply no way of
appeal might be to the fundamental physical constants of nature that
make the universe conducive to life. The argument here is that if
anyone of these constants varied then life would be impossible, and
that this fact requires the postulation of an intelligent designer.
we have the same problem of only one example — life as we know it. A
universe with different constants may still give rise to life, but not
the kind of life we are familiar with.
the end the universe, for us, might simply be an expression of natural
laws — a brute fact bereft of a human centered meaning. For example, 66
million years ago an asteroid impact was instrumental in the extinction
of the dinosaurs. With their demise the mammals were able to evolve
into the vacant ecological niches, one of which was the precursor of
humanity. The extinction event (without which Earth's history would
have been very different) wasn't predetermined, it wasn't foreordained.
It was just bad luck for the dinosaurs, and good luck for us.
• Gas clouds form
• Hydrogen gas clouds condense to stars
Stellar nucleosynthesis commences — nuclear fusion reactions in
the stars produce the rest of the elements of the periodic table"
• Supernova explosions scatter these elements into space
• These elements then form other stars and rocky planets
• Life evolves on planets with conducive conditions