An Existential Detective Story

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jim Holt, essayist, critic, and author of Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, discusses his new book, which investigates the age-old mystery of why is there something rather nothing.


Jim Holt

Comments [35]

Ed from Larchmont

It's kind of like the discussion on War and Peace - they struggled for a long time and didn't quite arrive at the principle 'Without justice there can not be peace', or, 'If you want peace, work for justice', which is a basic idea found in the Catholic Catechism. They then didn't get to the more interesting and less obvious questions.

Jul. 17 2012 06:03 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Fr. Robert Spitzer's recent work argues that scientific principles that we know of so far are contradicted by the idea of multiple universes - which doesn't answer the question of why things exist either. I recommend his recent books. Also, if you want the simplest explanation, why hypothesize further universes?

Jul. 17 2012 05:59 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's funny, the author asks an elderly German philosopher his views. This man, at 90, grew up with the Nazis (1920-). The Nazi's were among the greatest enemies of Judeo-Christianity that the world has ever seen. ('I don't care if He is the Son of God, we will kill Him, the Jewish pig' - Hitler of Jesus.) This isn't a person who's views I would solicit. I figure you guys wouldn't ask the Nazis for their opinions.

Jul. 17 2012 05:57 AM
Ed from Larchmont

I guess philosophy wasn't Brian Lehrer's subject in school. Our being is contingent, dependent on another being to give it being. The being of God is different: it is non-contingent, dependent on nothing else for it's reality. (As God said to Moses, 'Tell them my name is 'I AM''. Moses could have said 'but I am too', but it makes sense because God's being is different, non-contingent.) He is the source of all other being. (If He weren't, He wouldn't be God.)

Jul. 17 2012 05:55 AM
Nick from UWS

The concept of "purpose" must be abandoned before further progress into the functioning of reality and the universe can be made.

Jul. 16 2012 01:08 PM

In the cliffhanger ending, Jim Holt claims he has found the answer at the point where logic runs out. The trouble with logic is that it can only tell you about the implications of the facts you accept to be axiomatically true, so I suspect that what Jim has found is a reflection of his personal beliefs. I think the best we can hope for in this approach is to resolve some of the contradictions between those beliefs, if there are any.

This may appear to be a justification for abandoning logic in favor of faith, but if you do that, you can't tell if any of your beliefs are true (though if you have abandoned logic, you probably won't believe this!)

Jul. 16 2012 12:47 PM
rose-ellen from jackson hts.

God is essential being. All else is contingent ."I am who am"-only God really IS[israel, isaah , Isis, Is,De-us, Ze-us, Al ,all, the, -all have the same meaning[i am who am].Grammar[noun,proper noun, definitite article-THE-is analogous to[pure underived being,.Grammar is derived from counsciousness intuiting the metaphysical reality of god as essential being and humans as made in His image.God is pure underived being -all else exists by the grace [goodness] of god.Eternal matter[or quantum particles] is absurd;eternal spirit-the one who essentially[really,uncontidionally] IS [being which creates matter-i am who am] is not.

Jul. 16 2012 12:02 PM
Andy from Irvington

The only difference between the scientist who says the universe is a bare fact, and the theologian who says the same about God, is that the latter adds an inordinately complex network of unsubstantiated hypotheses about the existence and nature of the divine. If he were to follow the principles (though not the conclusion) of one of his predecessors, William of Ockham, he would discard the whole lot, but then he would no longer be a theologian.

Jul. 16 2012 11:59 AM
Henry from Manhattan

“Why is there something rather than nothing?”

Why should there be nothing instead of something?

Really, speculation on these questions don’t serve much practical purpose. Buddha had the right idea on this one, it’s not skillful question. It’s interesting to think about but not really informative to whether or not one should get out of bed in the morning or what one should do after that. And after that. And after that.

The problem with God as source of existence is that, okay, let’s suppose a God entity, of some sort got everything started. There’s not much evidence at all for this, but okay, let’s suppose it’s true. What this has to do with Christianity or Judaism or Islam, Hinduism, etc. and the gobbledygook of myths, afterlife, ensoulment, magic books, cosmic purpose and such, is where things go off the rails.

Jul. 16 2012 11:55 AM
The Truth from Becky

I stopped listening.

Jul. 16 2012 11:50 AM
metabolic from BK

something and nothing are 2 sides of the same coin.
We should not be astonished about existence because this duality must be; for you can't have one without the other.
Indeed both may occur at the same time in a multiverse. absolute nothingness and absolute everythingness(full potential) however we exist somewhere in between.

Jul. 16 2012 11:49 AM

That guy was the worst ever!!! So awful. Might have just been called "A Boring Judeo-Christian Semi-religious view of the Universe". So, so BAD!!!

Jul. 16 2012 11:43 AM
oscar from ny

We are all here to worship allah jehova and everything he made since we were in a womb..

Jul. 16 2012 11:43 AM

In the final analysis, belief in God is purely an act of FAITH. It could never be anything else. Humankind must divide between believers based on nothing but pure FAITH, and those who don't, won't and can't.

Jul. 16 2012 11:41 AM

I saw the answer on a bumper sticker.

It said: What if the hokey pokey IS what it's all about?

Jul. 16 2012 11:41 AM
John A.

The multiverse exists so that I may ensure that all possible radios are tuned to WNYC. God, do I hate marketing.

Jul. 16 2012 11:41 AM
peter from fairfield ct

The possibility of absolutely nothing in all this space as opposed to matter is far harder to believe. I love that all these philosophers ignore the importance of "Chance" to explain formation of all the entities out there.

Jul. 16 2012 11:40 AM
Ian from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

I also feel a kind of wonder and mystery at the existence of the universe, but I think it isn't clear what we're asking when we're asking why the universe exists. Doesn't asking why something exists amount to asking for something that pre-existed it and caused it to exist? But nothing pre-existed the universe (or the totality of all things).

Jul. 16 2012 11:40 AM
Muriel from NYC

Oh! And why should the universe exist? SO that consciousness can step out and experience itself from another point of view.

Jul. 16 2012 11:38 AM
John A from Tsilkovsky's cradle

Feels like a race sometimes. Physicists have defined two endpoints for the universe, birth and death ends. But evolution makes man more and more able. Will man be able enough to defeat the end of the universe by that time? The race is on.

Jul. 16 2012 11:38 AM
Nick from UWS

To as "why" implies that there is a purpose, and the concept of "purpose" is a construct of the human mind. So once again humans cannot get past their own egos in asking these kind of questions.

Jul. 16 2012 11:38 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

I wonder what your guest thinks of the thermal time hypothesis?

Jul. 16 2012 11:37 AM
Tom from upper west side

Given that many believe in an eternal god who created the universe, why is not equally plausible that the universe has always extisted (i.e., eternally) and that the current version since the Big Bang is just the current iteration of a process that never had a beginning?

Jul. 16 2012 11:37 AM
Jf from Brkln

This idea will give people jobs fix the economy and save the environment, the meaning of lifee is Utopia!

Jul. 16 2012 11:37 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Yes Ed, who/what created God? Did God just will himself into existence?

There are things that are just beyond the reach of the conscience or logic of the human brain. Everything is just Solipsism.

Jul. 16 2012 11:37 AM
dan k from chelsea

every time this question is posed, we have to step back and realize that asking why anything exists presupposes a purpose, which begs for a god. you should really be asking why there need be a purpose or explanation at all. it's doubtful that other animals ask why things exist; they just live, breed, and die. there is no purpose or reason. matter just changes form over time, into all permutations possible, over the course of time.

Jul. 16 2012 11:36 AM
Muriel from NYC

There is no nothing, beyond our something reality is the causal realm where the idea of something bubbles with infinite possibilities and beyond that but also in the same "space" is chaos where everything blends together in a mix of potentiality. However, chaos is not messy it is infinitely intelligent and sublimely ordered moving from consciousness, to intention, to light, to form, if desired. Form is the tiniest portion of what isn't but could be.

Jul. 16 2012 11:36 AM
Karen from NYC

There is no "why" -- these are material (physical, chemical, biological) processes.

What we do with the universe is another story. That's where moral choice comes into the picture.

Don't ask "why"; just don't be evil.

Jul. 16 2012 11:34 AM

Doesn't the very word "why" predispose the answer to one involving motive, scheme, "design"? Please ask why Holt holds on to the (possibly) already misleading "why" for his questioning?

Jul. 16 2012 11:33 AM

Scientists are NOT concerned with the question "Why." They are concerned with "How." "Why" is a philosophical or theological question. The very construct PRESUMES that there must be a "reason" or some "prime mover" that caused things to be.

It took centuries for philosophers to finally turn into scientists. Why is there a universe? Who knows? Scientists are only concerned with HOW things work. How the universe acted since the Big Bang, and not "why" there was a BiG Bang.

Jul. 16 2012 11:32 AM

Reason is human/earthly. There are no reasons in the bigger scheme of things. There are causes. This thinking is too big for our meager minds. I don't mean to be defeatist, just rational.

Jul. 16 2012 11:32 AM

Scientists are NOT concerned with the question "Why." They are concerned with "How." "Why" is a philosophical or theological question. The very construct PRESUMES that there must be a "reason" or some "prime mover" that caused things to be.

It took centuries for philosophers to finally turn into scientists. Why is there a universe? Who knows? Scientists are only concerned with HOW things work. How the universe acted since the Big Bang, and not "why" there was a BiG Bang.

Jul. 16 2012 11:32 AM
John A.

OK Ed, what created God?
The quest to understand infinity doesn't end with a two sentence identity.

Jul. 16 2012 11:29 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn, NY

The answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.

Jul. 16 2012 11:28 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Unless one is an irrationalist, there is something rather than nothing (there was never nothing, since there was always God), because God created something. Why God created something is another question.

Jul. 16 2012 05:59 AM

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