Thursday, November 17, 2011

What part of “nothing” don’t you understand?

While we’re on the subject of bad cosmological speculations:  A reader asked me some time back to comment on this little video from New Scientist, which summarizes some of the claims made in an article from the July 23 issue on the theme “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  The magazine has been sitting on my gargantuan “to read” stack for a few months, and I've finally turned to it for some light reading.  And boy is it ever light.  Could anything possibly be as bad as the cringe-making pseudo-scientific amateur philosophizing on this subject we had reason to examine a few months ago?  Oh yes.  Oh my goodness, yes.

Pop science writers (including scientists when they are writing pop science) are always trying to translate traditional philosophical issues into terms they are familiar with.  At best the result is, usually, to change the subject while pretending not to.  At worst it is sheer nonsense.  And sometimes it is both.  Consider the article, which informs us that:

Entropy measures the number of ways you can rearrange a system’s components without changing its overall appearance… [N]othingness is the highest entropy state around -- you can shuffle it around all you want and it still looks like nothing.  Given this law, it is hard to see how nothing could ever be turned into something, let alone something as big as the universe.

Well, all of that is nothing if not thought-provoking.  What kind of “system” is nothing?  If nothingness is a “state,” what exactly is it that is in that state?  What are the “components” of nothing?  What does “shuffling around” those components involve?  How exactly does all of this differ from not shuffling anything around at all, or there being nothing in a state at all, or there being nothing with any components at all?  What exactly does it mean to turn nothing into something, even something small?  Isn’t the very suggestion pretty mystifying even apart from the law of entropy?  What exactly is it that the law of entropy is governing when there is nothing around for it to govern?  And the most profound question raised by this little passage: Just how much nonsense can you pack into three sentences, anyway?  

Well, not as much as you can pack into an entire article, that’s for sure.  It keeps on a-comin’:

But entropy is only part of the story.  The other consideration is symmetry...  Nothingness is very symmetrical indeed.  “There’s no telling one part from another, so it has total symmetry,” says physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  

So, “nothingness” or “nothing” has “parts.”  And how exactly does the claim that nothing has parts differ from the claim that there is nothing with parts?  Surely what the article means to say is not “It is not the case that there is an x such that x has parts,” since that is both false and irrelevant to the subject of the article.  So is it saying instead “There is an x such that x is nothing and x has parts”?  But what the hell does that mean?  How can there exist something that is “nothing”?  Does “being nothing” involve being a kind of eccentric something?  Similar questions could be asked, of course, about what it means for this something that is nothing to be “symmetrical.”  Don’t wait for an answer, though, because it turns out there’s less to all of this “nothing” talk than meets the eye.  Or rather, there’s more:

Wilczek’s own specialty is quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes how quarks behave deep within atomic nuclei.  It tells us that nothingness is a precarious state of affairs.  “You can form a state that has no quarks and antiquarks in it, and it’s totally unstable,” says Wilczek.  “It spontaneously starts producing quark-antiquark pairs.”  The perfect symmetry of nothingness is broken.

So we’ve got nothingness, except that it isn’t nothingness, because what we’re really talking about is a “state” that is unstable, and this state starts producing quarks and antiquarks.  Indeed:

“According to quantum theory, there is no state of ‘emptiness’,” agrees Frank Close of the University of Oxford… Instead, a vacuum is actually filled with a roiling broth of particles that pop in and out of existence.

Well, a “roiling broth” governed by the laws of quantum theory is not “nothing.”  In which case all the preceding stuff about how “nothingness” has “parts” and can be in “states” and is “symmetrical” wasn’t really ever about “nothingness” in the first place.  And a good thing too, because none of those things could intelligibly be said about “nothingness,” since nothingness is, of course, not a kind of thing at all.  

Nor are the reasons for this as profound as the article insinuates:

[T]here is an even more mind-blowing consequence of the idea that something can come from nothing: perhaps nothingness itself cannot exist.  Here’s why.  Quantum uncertainly allows a trade-off [etc.]

Well, yes, I suppose it is “mind-blowing” that “nothingness cannot exist,” at least if by “mind-blowing” you mean “completely obvious and trivial, and as well-known to 8-year-olds and fishmongers as it is to experts in quantum uncertainty” -- since, of course, “nothingness” just is the non-existence of anything.

But perhaps the article is here just badly expressing another thought, to the effect that it is necessary that something must always have existed, that it could not in principle have been the case that there is or ever was absolutely nothing at all.  And I would say that the article is right about that.  But neither “quantum uncertainty” nor any other theory of physics is or could be the reason, for quantum mechanics and all the other laws of physics presuppose the existence of a concrete physical reality that behaves according to those laws, so that such laws cannot coherently be appealed to as an explanation of that reality.  

So what’s the point of all this ado about nothing?  You know what the point is: To try to show that physics alone can explain the existence of the universe.  Hence the key line of the piece: “Perhaps the big bang was just nothingness doing what comes naturally.”  But read in a straightforward way, this is just nonsense, for reasons of the sort already  given: If this so-called “nothingness” has a “nature” and “does” things, then it isn’t really “nothingness” at all that we’re talking about.  And of course, the article and the physicists it quotes don’t really mean “nothingness” in a straightforward way in the first place.  They mean a “roiling broth” governed by the laws of quantum theory, entropy, etc. and that not only isn’t nothing, but just is part of the universe and therefore just is part of the explanandum and therefore does nothing whatsoever to explain that explanandum.  

You might as well say: “Let me explain how this whole house is held up by nothing.  Consider the floor, which is what I really mean by ‘nothing.’  Now, the rest of the house is held up by the floor.  Thus, I’ve explained how the whole house is held up by nothing!”  Well, no you haven’t.  You’ve “explained” at most how part of the house is held up by another part, but you’ve left unexplained how the floor itself is held up, and thus (since the floor is itself part of the house) you haven’t really explained at all how the house as a whole is held up, either by “nothing” or by anything else.  Furthermore, you’ve made what is really just sheer muddleheadedness sound profound by using “nothing” in an eccentric way.

The “scientific” “explanations” of the origin of the universe from “nothing” one keeps hearing in recent years are really no less stupid than this “explanation” of the house.  They aren’t serious physics, they aren’t serious philosophy, they aren’t serious anything except seriously bad arguments, textbook instances of the fallacy of equivocation.  On the other hand, they do give us an excuse to listen to a Sinatra classic.  Enjoy: 

80 comments:

man with a computer said...

I guess this is pretty much like confusing the null set Ø with nothing, and then claiming that "nothing" has zero cardinality, that "nothing" is a subset of any other set, and that "nothing" is a subset of "nothing."

Ø contains nothing, but it isn't nothing. The "nothing" that these people are talking about is certainly something, since it has properties and attributes.

radp said...

It is really astonishing, how much articulate speech can be produced without any thought behind it. Maybe Rosenberg is in part right: There are at least some brains in which there is no thought at all.

Aquinas3000 said...

The problem is turning mental being into real being. Because scientists use concepts that exist in mind but can't have independent existence in reality they start to attribute real existence to these mental entities. Anthony Rizzi makes this point in his book "The Science Before Science"

Matthew G said...

The part about nothing having high entropy sounds to me like "The set on which you can perform the most permutations is the empty set", which is probably the most wrong thing you could possibly say.

Chad Gibbons said...

David Bentley Hart summed up the fallacy pretty succinctly in his review of "50 Voice of Disbelief". In commenting on the exact same argument from Victor Stenger, he wrote:

"[Stenger's] inability to differentiate the physical distinction between something and nothing (in the sense of “not anything as such”) from the logical distinction between existence and nonexistence renders his argument empty."

Anonymous said...

When Wilczek uses the word "nothing", it just does not have the same meaning as when a philosopher uses the word "nothing".

Haw many times do we have to cover this? Words do not have intrinsic meanings.

Move along. There is nothing to see here.

monk68 said...

"Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could, so somewhere in its youth or childhood, the cosmos must have come from something Good"

-a lyrical Aristotelian adaptation of a score from the "sound of Music"

Anonymous said...

I think I need some clarification:

Prof. Feser says the article is stating "... it is necessary that something must always have existed, that it could not in principle have been the case that there is or ever was absolutely nothing at all. And I would say that the article is right about that." If this point, that (philosophical) nothingness is an impossibility, is something that theists, agnostics, and atheists agree upon, then it appears to be non-nonsensical to ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Yet Denys Turner, when interviewed for "The Atheism Tapes" (and in other places), stated that this question (something vs. nothing) was the most fundamental question in philosophy/theology. But how can that be so if the question itself is non-nonsensical?

The points I need clarified are:

1) In the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" does nothing refer to material-nothingness or philosophical-nothingness?

2) If it refers to philosophical-nothingness, and if we all agree this is impossible, then can we also agree the question is non-nonsensical?

3) When I hear a theist ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?" do I have permission to mock them in the same way that I do when I hear an atheist ask "What caused God?"?

Anonymous said...

Stupid autocorrect ...

That should say "nonsensical" not "non-nonsensical" in all instances.

And Question 3 should be prefaced by "If we agree the question is nonsensical then ..."

Isidore said...

Anonymous:

1) "Philosophical-nothingness"
2) No.
3) Yes.

Why? Because although we know without doubt that there never could have been absolutely nothing (because there is something now, and nothing comes from nothing), this is very different from asking why there is something rather than nothing.

Brian said...

I do not understand the question "Why is there something rather nothing?" What is it really trying to lead us towards?

John said...

The really annoying thing is that supposedly intelligent people like Lawrence Krauss believe this nonsense about 'nothing = sea of quantum energy and fluctuations'.

Why is it that the more scientific one gets, the more philosophically bankrupt he becomes?

monk68 said...

Brian,

Towards an understanding of what sort of Something must necessarily exist. Since nothing comes from nothing, and something now is; therefore, something has always been. But what kind of something? That, I think, is the philosophical trajectory of the question.

George R. said...

Maybe somebody can help me out. When physicists like Wilczek say, "a vacuum is actually filled with a roiling broth of particles that pop in and out of existence," are they admitting the existence of ether?

DNW said...

"3) When I hear a theist ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?" do I have permission to mock them in the same way that I do when I hear an atheist ask "What caused God?"?"

Why would you expect a stamp of approval for an act of petulance?

man with a computer said...

I do not understand the question "Why is there something rather nothing?" What is it really trying to lead us towards?

It is supposed to point towards the contingency of the world. The world is, but could have not been. At all.

Also notice that it asks why, not how. I see this confusion very often.

monk68 said...

John,

Because when you begin your career in one of the emperiological sciences whithout ever once analysing the nascent philosophy of nature (PON) you implicitly bring to your work; the deeper and more complex that work becomes, the greater the odds for philosophical misrepresentation of results.

A small error in the beginning leads to large errors in the end. But starting a career in the modern sciences without an ounce of thought to one's PON, is actually a large error in the beginning.

man with a computer said...

If this point, that (philosophical) nothingness is an impossibility, is something that theists, agnostics, and atheists agree upon, then it appears to be non-nonsensical to ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

No, it isn't. You are referring to the impossibility of nothing in a sort-of physical sense, much like the "impossibility" of mathematical infinity.

The fact that it is impossible to instantiate an infinite number of physical objects does not imply that asking "Why are there infinitely many prime numbers?" is nonsensical. The concept is perfectly valid, so is nothing.

DNW said...

"monk68 said...

Brian,

Towards an understanding of what sort of Something must necessarily exist. Since nothing comes from nothing, and something now is; therefore, something has always been. But what kind of something? That, I think, is the philosophical trajectory of the question.

November 18, 2011 9:10 AM"


This question of something/nothing, and of being/non-being is highly interesting on a couple of levels.

Obviously I think that the asked question is interesting in itself however interpreted or provoked: perhaps as Gilson mentions, by a simple act of deliberately adverting to the fact that "it" is.


But the antagonistic reaction of some to those who dare pose the question is just as interesting.

Now, there may be a few I'll grant, who merely conclude that there is a logical or conceptual problem in trying to abstractly move from the thinkable to the supposedly unthinkable.

But my life experience suggests that many more, following in the footsteps of say Karl Marx in modern times, are convinced that consideration of the matter is not simply a problem of concepts and logic, but that it represents a kind of humanly illegitimate move; an expression of insufficient allegiance to man's earthiness and his mortality and to the sacred expressions of appetites that are self-justifying by their very expression: Treason, in other words, to the cosmic egg and its more worshipful, obedient, and instrumentalist minded children.

Now I know that not every critic of this existence question is some closet Karl Marx or Gore Vidal, but enough of them do leave the door ajar just enough to validate the suspicion.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the scientists you are reading are interpreting a state of complete entropy as a 'nothing' state, not because there are no sub-atomic particles, but because they are spread in such a completely uniform state, that no discernible difference can be found when comparing one part of it to another.

This is what leads them to talk about 'parts' of the nothing, not that they are considering an absolute 'empty' state (how it seems to me 'nothing' is considered in this post), but rather a state in which one uniformly random state is followed by another complete and uniformly random state, and hence 'nothing' could be said to happen.

As Aristotle says, one needs to perceive some distinguishable change, for one to reasonable speak of the passage of time to happen.

Anonymous said...

Some would like to argue that there is a difference between "scientific nothingness" and "logical/philosophical nothingness".

Empty space-time (or space if you want) is the usual candidate for scientific nothingness.

I think a good argument can be made that "scientific nothingness" refers to a modified version of aristotle's aether.

In physics there are two kinds of empty space (or space-time if you want). There is the empty quantized space of quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory, and there is empty, smooth and continuous space of general relativity.

In quantum physics, vacuum states are associated with zero-point energy. Zero-point energy (ZPE) applies to the strong, the weak and the electromagnetic interactions. In general relativity, dark energy is associated with vacuum energy.

If quantum theory and general relativity are to be harmonized one can see why ZPE and dark energy can be the same thing.

The Calphysics Institute has a good piece on the zero-point energy of quantum physics and NASA has a piece on Dark Energy.

Christopher A. Decaen in his article "Aristotle's Aether And Contemporary Science" has a good discussion concerning this matter.

1) Aristotle's aether was a celestial substance or celestial matter.
2) It is simple and not a compound of elements and thus neither heavy nor light.
3) It is only effected by only one internal principle or cause.
4) It is ungenerable and incorruptible, and that it is not capable of growth or alteration. It follows then that "aether's prime matter and substantial form must be so perfectly united that the latter must actualize and thereby exhaust the potency of the former".
5) Aether can act upon other substances without being able to be acted upon.

If empty space is to become Aristotle's ether then some of Aristotle's views will have to be left behind. For example, the contemporary version would have to change as follows:

1) The Contemporary Aristotelian Ethereal Substance will have to be everywhere where there is empty space, not just a celestial substance.
2) It has to be generable. The universe and thus space expands.

The rest of the properties of Aristotle's aether seem pretty straight forward to harmonize with empty space. Empty space, like Aristotle's aether has an effect on normal substances.

continued...

Anonymous said...

continued...

Lawrence Krauss in his book "Quintessence: The Mystery of the Missing Mass" says:

(QUOTE)Remember that the effect of a nonzero vacuum energy is to cause space to expand and for this expansion to accelerate. Objects moving away from us will therefore speed up. We can then ask the following question: How far away will objects get before they are traveling away from us faster than the speed of light? This may sound like a silly question. After all, Einstein told us that nothing can travel faster than light! However, when he developed General Relativity, the wording of this law had to be revised. Nothing can travel through space faster than the speed of light. However, space can do whatever it wants! It can expand or contract faster than the speed of light, and objects at rest in an expanding space will be carried away from us along with the space. Thus, the effect of a vacuum energy will be to cause all objects farther than a certain distance away from us to be receding from us faster than the speed of light. Put another way, such objects could not be seen.
Lawrence M. Krauss. Quintessence The Search For Missing Mass In The Universe (Kindle Locations 4383-4389). Kindle Edition.
(/QUOTE)

Thus the effect of this nonzero vacuum energy is to cause space to expand when applied to general relativity. In quantum mechanics, ZPE produces a net force aka the Casimir effect.

Einstein was not against the idea of an aether in general relativity and Paul Dirac was open to the idea in quantum field theory (See Deacan's article for example)

So there are good reasons to view Dark energy and quantum fluctuations as essentially the same thing and analogous to Aristotle's aether. The contemporary description of the substance would thus be something as follows:

Contemporary Aristotelian Ethereal Substance: The prime matter and substantial form of Contemporary Aristotelian Ethereal Substance (empty space of quantum mechanics and general relativity) are united so that the the form exhausts the potency of the prime matter in such a manner that the only change associated with it is its own expansion and the production of a force on other substances due to its active power i.e. nonzero vacuum energy.

Anonymous said...

The link for Deacan's article appears to be broken but it can be accessed from here:
http://www.u.arizona.edu/~aversa/scholastic/

DNW said...

(QUOTE)Remember that the effect of a nonzero vacuum energy is to cause space to expand and for this expansion to accelerate. Objects moving away from us will therefore speed up. We can then ask the following question: How far away will objects get before they are traveling away from us faster than the speed of light? This may sound like a silly question. After all, Einstein told us that nothing can travel faster than light! However, when he developed General Relativity, the wording of this law had to be revised. Nothing can travel through space faster than the speed of light. However, space can do whatever it wants! It can expand or contract faster than the speed of light, and objects at rest in an expanding space will be carried away from us along with the space. Thus, the effect of a vacuum energy will be to cause all objects farther than a certain distance away from us to be receding from us faster than the speed of light. Put another way, such objects could not be seen.
Lawrence M. Krauss. Quintessence The Search For Missing Mass In The Universe (Kindle Locations 4383-4389). Kindle Edition.
(/QUOTE)


When do you begin to notice that what you have previously noted just begins disappearing?

wade-m said...

In surveying the comments on this thread, I gather that some suppose the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" to be controversial _as a question_ and perhaps even philosophically invalid.

As a layman, the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" seems to me to be a perfectly sensible one.

In our time, the question has been famously (or infamously) associated with Heidegger through his *What is Metaphysics?* lecture, but it certainly isn't original to him and my understanding is that the question in one form or another has a storied pedigree in the philosophical tradition.

Would someone be so kind as to explain to me, in layman's terms, why the question itself might be thought to be inherently controversial?

Mind you, I'm not concerned with the answer to the question--just the reason why anyone would be inclined to think that the question itself is somehow out of bounds...

Anonymous said...

It’s just a joke, just like naming your pet dog “nothing”.

man with a computer said...

It’s just a joke, just like naming your pet dog “nothing”.

A friend had a pet dog called "Who." It was always a mess when someone asked about his name.

Untenured said...

The claim that the metaphysical question "Why is there is something rather than nothing?" is "nonsensical" is an arbitrary attempt to dismiss a perfectly intelligible question out of hand simply because you don't like one of the most popular answers to it.

That this is so is apparent. We can identify examples of nonsensical questions: e.g. "How high is up?" "What is to the north of 90 degrees?" "What shade is greenness?" "If tomatoes are fruits, why aren't they sweet?"

I defy anyone to explain or show how the relevant question is similarly confused. You can't do it, all you can do is just engage in handwaving or make a question-begging appeal to scientism.

Tony said...

Untenured, I suppose that the one who claims the question is out of bounds will also think that there are "brute facts" that, simply, are not to be explained. But, of course, the mere fact of such a category - to be distinguished from all the other stuff that "science ought to explain," is difficult to explain (hence they will tend to put this also in the category of "brute fact"). And further, the mode of distinguishing between facts that are susceptible of explanation and facts which are brute facts needs to be both KOWN and um...well ...explained. If that TOO is one of those brute facts, then the whole deal is of course a totally subjective pile of horse manure: what I say is unexplainable is unexplainable and so I need not account for it to you for that too is unexplainable. Kind of like they say about the theistic God idea, though of course they get that wrong too.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous 1,

When Wilczek uses the word "nothing", it just does not have the same meaning as when a philosopher uses the word "nothing".

Yes, I said that myself in the post. But the problem is that he (or the author of the article) gives the false impression that he is using it the same way when his views are presented as if they were an answer to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" (which is, after all, a rather famous philosophical question).

Words do not have intrinsic meanings.

Who ever said they did? Not me. Nor does my point presuppose that they do.

Anonymous 2,

If this point, that (philosophical) nothingness is an impossibility, is something that theists, agnostics, and atheists agree upon, then it appears to be non-nonsensical to ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

"X is impossible" does not entail "It is nonsensical to ask why X is impossible."

Nor is the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" comparable to "What caused God?", asked about the God of classical theism. What would be comparable is the question "Why is the God of classical theism the sort of thing that couldn't have been caused?" That is a reasonable question, and it has a straightforward answer. (The reason is that to be caused requires going in some way from potentiality to actuality, but God as conceived of in classical theism is, essentially, pure actuality and thus has no potentiality that could be actualized. That, by the way, is also why there couldn't have been nothing. Whatever the fundamental reality is -- that which accounts for everything else -- has to be something that just is, without even in principle having to be made, for if it had to be made then it wouldn't be fundamental. And that entails that it is something purely actual. Which entails that it could never have come into being or go out of being. Which entails that there never could have been nothing.)

Josh said...

A while back, I was curious about what exactly the nature of the intelligible object was that allowed us to form a concept of "nonbeing."

Found this from Wilhelmsen's Man's Knowledge of Reality: An Introduction to Thomistic Epistemology:

The intellect symbolizes "nonbeing" by constructing a phantasm presenting this symbolized meaning to itself; once presented to the intellect (as a result of the illumination of the agent intellect and the action of the intelligible species), it is predicated back to the subject "nonbeing" symbolized in the same phantasm: the subject symbolically represents what the predicate represents formally. Thus the predicate exercises existence in the subject. The intellect is conformed to that act of existing which of itself it has given its subject, and the "being" of the predicate, "nonbeing," in the subject, "nonbeing," is an esse-ad and hence an esse verum.

Is the philosophical "nothing" synonymous with "nonbeing"? Or is the philosophical "nothing" the "absolute Nothing" of "the simultaneous affirmation that being is and is not"?

Also, any translations of the above would be helpful for the amateurs like me...

marycatelli said...

Well, a “roiling broth” governed by the laws of quantum theory is not “nothing.”

Though it might be "without form and void." 0:)

Jinzang said...

To be charitable, he's probably talking about empty space, or rather empty space plus the laws of physics. Which is a far cry from nothing.

Though your point that conflating the two leads to some wretched philosophy is well taken.

Chris said...

I presume that an extension of this topic would include something along the lines that God is the ultimate explanation of the laws of quantum mechanics (or whatever might hypothetically underlie them).

That extension is something that I do not understand. How do we get from deciding that there is a first cause/ultimate explanation to giving it characteristics of God let alone any characteristics at all?

Mark Szlazak said...

It's just a ploy to avoid the conclusion that a god-like entity is the ground of all that is.

A pathetic, desperate and dishonest attempt to bamboozle the hoi polloi.

The public has been catching on for quite sometime on how deceptive scientists can be and are loosing respect for the scientific enterprise.

Also, I'm still waiting for Christians to come clean on the resurrection. Maybe they get more respect as well.

Anonymous said...

Mark S said: "Also, I'm still waiting for Christians to come clean on the resurrection. Maybe they get more respect as well."

LOL, since when was truth less important then "respect"?

Tony said...

Clearly IdiocyInsteadOfTruth needs to be banned, and is asking for it. Ed, why don't you give him what he's asking for.

Anonymous said...

Tony, it's not possible to ban without doing away with anonymous posting. I think Ed wants to allow that.

Lamont said...

There are two legitimate meanings of 'nothing'.

1. nothing = non-being.

2. nothing = no thingness. (no esse - no form - prime matter)

Wilczek, Hawking, and others seem to be claiming that thingness can come from no-thingness without any extrinsic cause. If that is true, then the God of classical theism is no longer needed to explain how we got here.

It is significant and truly controversial claim that will have to be directly addressed sooner or latter. Any thoughts?

BenYachov said...

Can we spray for Gnu's? Is it like using a flea bomb?

Mark Szlazak said...

@Anony.

Well if most spoke the truth like the authors in this Historical Jesus Pick List:

http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/2010/11/historical-jesus-pick-list.html

then Christians would get more respect.

Anonymous said...

Mark, I don't see the relevance of your link. People can speculate about anything, but it doesn't make it true, nor on topic. Please don't derail the thread, ne?

Edward Feser said...

Tony,

I did ban him some time back, but you can't expect psychotics to think "Oh no, I've been banned! I'd better not comment ever again!" I delete his comments, like I delete those of the other notorious psychotic who's been banned (and they may be the same psychotic, though there is reason to think they are different), as soon as I see them. Other readers are kindly asked completely to ignore them until I do so.

The only other way to deal with this is to ban anonymous comments, and I don't want to do that. (Some of the best commenters here are anonymous.)

In general, as always I urge my readers not to feed even the less obnoxious but still clueless trolls whose silly comments I leave standing. It's better for them to disappear of their own volition after failing to get the attention they crave. If you keep giving them attention, though, don't be surprised when they stick around.

So, if experience has shown that a certain commenter is simply a troll and not worth engaging, then you should not engage him. At all. Not even to tell him he's a troll who's not worth engaging. Without getting even negative, non-substantive attention, eventually he'll disappear. That way you'll take of the milder trolls. Leave the complete psychotics to me.

man with a computer said...

Dr. Feser,

Point taken. I still believe that you should keep some of their comments, so that your readers can see examples of the childish verbiage that comes from certain groups and understand why they should not be taken seriously.

BenYachov said...

I'll try to ignore them. But the temptation to mock the stupid is intoxicating.

But you gotta admit my "Spray for Gnus" crack is kinda funny?

Anonymous said...

hello,
I am one of these simple souls who think that the question why is there something rather than nothing is completely incoherent.
"Something" to be something must have the quality of being. Something and "is-ness" are inseparable - they are "tautologically" connected. But "nothing" can not, and MUST not, BE, or exist - per definition. An existing nothing would be a something.
Nothing's only feature is its non-existence - in fact the two are perfectly identical. To consider existence of nothing is tantamount to considering existence of non-existence, which is as absurd as contemplating existence of a four sided triangle.
I may be wrong, of course, but if so is there someone here who would kindly show me where do I go wrong?

Anonymous said...

Is there even something rather than nothing?What if actually there is nothing?

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous:

When people ask why is there something rather than nothing, they do not thereby suggest that nothing is a something that exists. Nothing is a mental concept which you arrive at by abstracting away all being, analogously how we arrive at the concept of empty set or the number 0. So there is nothing inherently contradictory in the question.

Anonymous said...

hello,
I am one of these simple souls who think that the question why is there something rather than nothing is completely incoherent.
"Something" to be something must have the quality of being. Something and "is-ness" are inseparable - they are "tautologically" connected. But "nothing" can not, and MUST not, BE, or exist - per definition. An existing nothing would be a something.
Nothing's only feature is its non-existence - in fact the two are perfectly identical. To consider existence of nothing is tantamount to considering existence of non-existence, which is as absurd as contemplating existence of a four sided triangle.
I may be wrong, of course, but if so is there someone here who would kindly show me where do I go wrong?


To say there is 'nothing' is not to say that there really is something that we just call 'nothing'. If there is nothing, then literaly no thing exists. This seems incredbily obvious.

To avoid your confusion, the question can be restated as "Why is there anything at all?"

Both questions are perfectly intelligable, but the second precludes the possibility of raising such an objection.

Tony said...

Wilczek, Hawking, and others seem to be claiming that thingness can come from no-thingness without any extrinsic cause. If that is true, then the God of classical theism is no longer needed to explain how we got here.

It is significant and truly controversial claim that will have to be directly addressed sooner or latter. Any thoughts?


Lamont, it would have to be addressed if there was any coherent content to Hawking's and Wilczek's comments on this. I haven't read Wilczek, but Hawking's ideas here lack anything that needs to be addressed. Back in the 90's when Hawking wrote "A Brief History of Time" he did great until he veered into philosophy, and then he kind of wibbled and wobbled through. His more recent book is much, much worse when it comes to philosophical ideas, like any suggestion that thingness can come from no-thingness without any extrinsic cause.

It would be about like a physicist claiming "the principle of non-contradiction" need not be always valid, claim that indirect evidence supports this, and expect to be taken seriously. The fact that a scientist is so completely unaware of the foundational underpinnings of his own science as to be able to spout such silliness doesn't mean we need to treat it seriously.

By the way, if a physicist wants to play at philosophical ideas like prime matter, he better make the effort to understand what they mean. Prime matter never actually "is" on its own without form, that's a fallacy. If some prime matter is sitting around, it is sitting around as some thing. No "thing" means no prime matter either.

Anonymous said...

thank you, grodrigues, but,probably because of my not being too clear, your reply doesn’t address intended by me point.

You say: "They (the people) do not suggest that nothing is something that exists."

Well, of course not. Had they believed that nothing does exist then the question “why there is something RATHER than nothing”could never even arise.
Also, the people that are bothered by the question do not believe that nothing is merely a concept, as you say. Please, remember that the question is not why the CONCEPT of nothingness doesn’t exist, (that would be absurd), but why nothing, per se, does not exist.
Also, I think, the analogy between zero and nothing is faulty and doesn’t offer a perspective which helps dispelling incoherence of the question. Zero is a very solid mathematical concept/value – not less solid than 3, or 27 and, certainly, not “arrived at by abstracting away all being”.
As for empty set it is a set of zero elements, but that doesn’t in the least imply it is in any way less existent than a set of million elements. The only difference between them is that the former can’t itself be a set of empty sets while a set of million elements can be a set whose every element is a million element set.
I think the incoherence of the question (as I see it) derives from our automatic assumption that the default state, a departure point for every ontological consideration, is non-existence - or nothing. But that clearly is not supported by evidence, metaphysics and logic. The confusion is partly due to the fact that in everyday life we use concept of nothing to describe a situation locally and relatively as a synonym of emptiness, or lack. The nothing when applied to the content of an empty bottle has totally different meaning from the nothing when applied to the whole and all.

Respectfully,
T. H.

grodrigues said...

@Anonymous (T. H.):

"Please, remember that the question is not why the CONCEPT of nothingness doesn’t exist, (that would be absurd), but why nothing, per se, does not exist. "

I think this is here where you go wrong, as the way you pose the question is indeed problematic because nothing, being nothing, cannot and does not exist. Rather, given that Something exists and that that same Something (whatever exists) does not have in itself the necessary reason for its existence, at least not obviously so, why indeed is there Something at *all*? Or as another anonymous more aptly asked "Why is there anything at all"?

"Also, I think, the analogy between zero and nothing is faulty and doesn’t offer a perspective which helps dispelling incoherence of the question. Zero is a very solid mathematical concept/value – not less solid than 3, or 27 and, certainly, not “arrived at by abstracting away all being”."

It was just an analogy and I grant you that it is not perfect. Still in my defense, I would say that if in a first stage, we grasp from sense experience the concept of set and then by a further conceptual abstraction, arrive at the concept of empty set, so we first grasp in the intellect what is and by abstracting away all being, we arrive at that which is not. This is the intended sense of the analogy, imperfect as it is.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, anonymous,

"To say there is 'nothing' is not to say that there really is something that we just call 'nothing'. If there is nothing, then literaly no thing exists."

I'd say; "more than that". Then the existence itself doesn’t exist and, of course, neither does the non-existence. That is what makes the question incoherent.
Those who think absolute nothing is limited to non-existence of things don’t reach far enough. The "nothing" is purely negatively defined. It can not be conceived without clear concept of something. But the relation between the two is not perfectly symmetrical because something has ontological priority over nothing. Not only can we conceive of something, after all we are, do and use something all the time. But we never meet nothing.

To avoid your confusion, the question can be restated as "Why is there anything at all?"

I am afraid the question rephrased the way you suggest would mean something different because it omits the word RATHER which is a key word suggesting and pointing at only one alternative.
“Why is there anything at all” is less radical, or maybe radical in different way, question then the one that is discussed. The first is mind’s enquiry about the nature of being of material things while the latter forces mind to show its relation to being.

Respectfully,

T.H.

Anonymous said...

thanks, grodrigues:

It is very late here (Copenhagen). I will try to answer you tomorrow if I find the time.

cheers,
T.H.

Anonymous said...

Hi T.H.,

I'd say; "more than that". Then the existence itself doesn’t exist and, of course, neither does the non-existence. That is what makes the question incoherent.

I'm not sure what it means to refer to the 'existence of existence or non-existence'.

Those who think absolute nothing is limited to non-existence of things don’t reach far enough. The "nothing" is purely negatively defined. It can not be conceived without clear concept of something. But the relation between the two is not perfectly symmetrical because something has ontological priority over nothing. Not only can we conceive of something, after all we are, do and use something all the time. But we never meet nothing.

I am afraid the question rephrased the way you suggest would mean something different because it omits the word RATHER which is a key word suggesting and pointing at only one alternative.
“Why is there anything at all” is less radical, or maybe radical in different way, question then the one that is discussed. The first is mind’s enquiry about the nature of being of material things while the latter forces mind to show its relation to being.


I agree that we can't ever completely understand or confront actual nothingness, but that doesn't render the question incoherent. At bottom, what requires an explanation is the existence of all contingent things. If an object does not exist neccesarily, then it possibly could not have been, and if the universe and all of its constituents exist contingently, then what is the explanation of their existence?

-Truant

William said...

Which reminds me of Heidegger's statement:

What is to be investigated is being only and—nothing else; being alone and further—nothing; solely being, and beyond being-nothing. What about this Nothing? … Does the Nothing exist only because the Not, i.e. the Negation, exists? Or is it the other way around? Does Negation and the Not exist only because the Nothing exists? … We assert: the Nothing is prior to the Not and the Negation…. Where do we seek the Nothing? How do we find the Nothing…. We know the Nothing…. Anxiety reveals the Nothing…. That for which and because of which we were anxious, was 'really'—nothing. Indeed: the Nothing itself—as such—was present…. What about this Nothing?—The Nothing itself nothings.

Not that I agree with Heidegger, but he does make me think things through a second time or more precisely. Not to mention I also get a laugh!

Anonymous said...

"Well, yes, I suppose it is “mind-blowing” that “nothingness cannot exist,” at least if by “mind-blowing” you mean “completely obvious and trivial, and as well-known to 8-year-olds..." HA HA HA, I love that.

I think some of the questions here demonstrate the answer to the question that Josh asked: What the heck was that paragraph he quoted saying?

What it was saying is that when we try to imaging nonbeing, we usually end up thinking about some vague "phantasm" that is still a thing, conceptually speaking. Not nothing. And it was saying that the amorphous thing we are imagining still has "being."

All the sophists in the world can natter on about how "'nothing' cannot ever exist, because if it COULD exist it would be a thing, and so the question is nonsensical" -- but they are just doing what sophists do, which is to make real questions and arguments seem stupid by the way they phrase them. See, I can do it too! But it's just a bunch of crap and they know it.

"Nothing" means no matter, no space, no time, no forces, no rules (sorry Hawking -- a rule is a thing), no tendency for matter to pop out of nowhere (ditto: a tendency for matter to pop out of nowhere would be, conceptually speaking, a thing), no emptiness, no void, NO THING. You can't govern nothing. You can't fill nothing. If you try to imagine everything winking out of existence, you probably end up imagining darkness and silence, but darkness and silence are things too.

And I have no idea why a serious person would say that "why is there something rather than nothing" is a controversial question. I do know why a sophist would say it, and I know why a person who is fonder of being clever than of having sense would say it, and I know why a person who doesn't like the real answer would say it.

And as far as the "brute facts" argument goes -- what a copout!

Gail Finke

Tony said...

William, I always thought that Heidegger would have been an important and insightful stepping-stone to valuable distinctions...if only he were not providing the stepping stones to phase 3, 4, and 5, when the Philosopher had already built on (and well past) these steps 350 years before Christ and the scholastics had not carried us on through steps 55 to 591. There is a LOT of similarity to that passage and those of Anaxagoras, or Parmenides - 2 pre-Socratics that Aristotle dealt with quite fully.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you say:

"But perhaps the article is here just badly expressing another thought, to the effect that it is necessary that something must always have existed, that it could not in principle have been the case that there is or ever was absolutely nothing at all. And I would say that the article is right about that. But neither “quantum uncertainty” nor any other theory of physics is or could be the reason, for quantum mechanics and all the other laws of physics presuppose the existence of a concrete physical reality that behaves according to those laws, so that such laws cannot coherently be appealed to as an explanation of that reality".

So the article is right that something always existed. For Christians, that something is God. How do you, in simple terms, go about justifying that claim?

Alyosha said...

Anonymous,

So the article is right that something always existed. For Christians, that something is God. How do you, in simple terms, go about justifying that claim?

If you really are interested in an answer to your question, you should read one of Feser's books where he discusses this in some length or refer to one of those blog posts where he discusses it in less length.

Matthew G said...

Is this the same troll that Vox Day recently talked about and said he/she had a mental disorder?

grodrigues said...

@MathewG:

"Is this the same troll that Vox Day recently talked about and said he/she had a mental disorder?"

Yes.

I have also witnessed him fouling other blogs, like the one by James Chastek, Tom Gilson's "Thinking Christian", etc.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

@Chris, How do we get from deciding that there is a first cause/ultimate explanation to giving it characteristics of God let alone any characteristics at all?

Some of the characteristics can be deduced from Him being the first cause, e.g. immortality, infinity, goodness, etc. Any other characteristics flow from that, and from the observation that the God of the Bible = the First Cause.

That, of course, requires additional arguments, like claiming that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, that God raised him up, that this gave us a ‘divine seal’ upon the claims of Christ, that the Church Christ founded is the vehicle through which he saves and nourishes his people, etc. But it is not merely the case of having a ‘first cause’ and casually imputing to it whatever characteristic we want.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser thank you for taking the time to answer my queries.

"X is impossible" does not entail "It is nonsensical to ask why X is impossible."

But I think that is also true of the question "What caused God?". It is a good question in that it opens the door to to explaining why there must be an uncaused cause and why that which all men think of when they think of the uncaused cause we define as God. I must admit that I do roll my eyes when I hear the question, but it is a question that requires explanation.

Nor is the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" comparable to "What caused God?", asked about the God of classical theism. What would be comparable is the question "Why is the God of classical theism the sort of thing that couldn't have been caused?" That is a reasonable question, and it has a straightforward answer.

Perhaps this is the difference between what you and I understand this question to mean. The comparable qustion you posed is the question that I feel is implicit whenever I hear "What caused God?".

A comparable question, as some have raised here, would be to change "Why is there something rather than nothing?" to "Why is there anything at all?". Again, the first question is implicit in the second question (just as "Why is God uncaused?" is implicit in "What caused God?"). When I hear this question I again want to roll my eyes, but then go through the arguments for why the state of "no thing" is a logical impossibility.

However, my greater point is that when an atheist asks "What caused God?" they appear to be under the assumption that this is a question which theists have not thought about and do not have a ready answer for. I feel that a theist may be suffering from the same sort of assumptions when they ask an atheist "Why is there something rather than nothing?".

I believe it is possible, though of course you may disagree, for an atheist to logically conclude that philosophical nothingness is an impossibility. They may accept certain cosmological arguments for the same reasons theists do but disagree on the nature of the uncaused cause or the prime mover. The "Why is there something ..." question would therefore make the assumption that this is something the atheist has not thought about and does not have a ready answer for.

If this were the case, then I think an atheist would be justified in showing the same sort of exasperation at "Why is there something rather than nothing?" that we do when we hear "What caused God?".

Tony said...

Anonymous: The comparable qustion you posed is the question that I feel is implicit whenever I hear "What caused God?".

There are places where the similarities you propose are not really similar. First, it is a demonstrable fact that at least for some atheists, when THEY ask "What caused God" they are not thinking along the lines you indicate, they are literally asking for a cause of God. Others, more sophisticated, are indeed pointing in a direction with the question: if not everything needs to have a cause, then you leave the door open for me to claim that the Universe is one of those things, and then your theistic "God is what explains the Universe" argument falls apart.

This would be the beginning of a a useful discussion if the atheist were willing to admit that the theist's argument rests on the point that only a certain sort of thing doesn't need a cause, and the Universe doesn't fit the bill. Typically (with some exceptions) the atheists won't even listen to the argument long enough to get to that point.

I believe it is possible, though of course you may disagree, for an atheist to logically conclude that philosophical nothingness is an impossibility.

Again demonstrably, many atheists claim that the Universe is simply a "brute fact" that neither needs nor is capable of being explained as a whole. This is dramatically different from claiming that it is logically impossible for there to be nothing at all. And the former are, generally, the ones rolling their eyes at the theists. In fact, the latter atheists might be just as exasperated at the former "brute fact" atheists, whose grasp of philosophy is rather frail.

So no, I don't think the situations are all that similar. But both sides can improve the debate if they listen more attentively.

machinephilosophy said...

Aquinas

The problem is turning mental being into real being. Because scientists use concepts that exist in mind but can't have independent existence in reality they start to attribute real existence to these mental entities."

It's not a problem if you're not assuming the mental can arbitrate that initial difference between "mental" and "real" to begin with in the analysis itself.

Also, why should mind objects need to exist beyond the factors they are in thought? In fact, that is even more real than the unstable "reality", since mind objects adjudicate and pass constant judgment on what is "real" and what is mental just to use them as distinct terms in the discussion.

I don't know how anyone could decide what is "independent" existence in "reality" without criteria that is itself already independently existing as a necessary operating system of evaluative thought that we necessarily use universally in analysis.

djindra said...

Feser scoffs, "What are the 'components' of nothing? What does 'shuffling around' those components involve?"

Surely Feser is familiar with algebra. Given any equation, no matter how complex, its "parts" reduce to the trivial 0=0. Nothing equals nothing. Yet we can rearrange that system’s components to express things about one of Feser's favorite philosophic toys -- the triangle. But God forbid we reduce the terms of any equation to 0=0. We may slip-up and pronounce the pseudo-math truth that, "nothing equals nothing." In truth, we can't actually mean *nothing* because when "so-called 'nothingness' has a [math] 'nature' and 'does' things, then it isn’t really 'nothingness' at all that we’re talking about!"

So strike "nothing" from all mathspeak. When we contemplate zero we don't really mean zero, or nothing. We can't mean that because there are those nasty, unexplained, math rules we use to manipulate nothing. Those rules are something! Let's insist "nothing" includes all rules of manipulation associated with unspeakable nothing.

I'm glad this issue is settled. We've discovered a how deep Feser truly is.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a zero is now nothing. That means in djindra speak that -1 is even less than nothing because -1<0.

djindra is brilliant. not.... dumbass gnu.

Anonymous said...

Feser scoffs, "What are the 'components' of nothing? What does 'shuffling around' those components involve?"

Surely Feser is familiar with algebra. Given any equation, no matter how complex, its "parts" reduce to the trivial 0=0. Nothing equals nothing. Yet we can rearrange that system’s components to express things about one of Feser's favorite philosophic toys -- the triangle. But God forbid we reduce the terms of any equation to 0=0. We may slip-up and pronounce the pseudo-math truth that, "nothing equals nothing." In truth, we can't actually mean *nothing* because when "so-called 'nothingness' has a [math] 'nature' and 'does' things, then it isn’t really 'nothingness' at all that we’re talking about!"

So strike "nothing" from all mathspeak. When we contemplate zero we don't really mean zero, or nothing. We can't mean that because there are those nasty, unexplained, math rules we use to manipulate nothing. Those rules are something! Let's insist "nothing" includes all rules of manipulation associated with unspeakable nothing.

I'm glad this issue is settled. We've discovered a how deep Feser truly is.



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man with a computer said...

Is that Capt. Pickard doing a "facepalm," Anon? That's pretty amazing.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Sometimes words are unable to convey the feeling of dispair some of his posts invoke.

-Truant

djindra said...

The clever Feser finally admits it "wasn’t really ever about 'nothingness' in the first place." That's obvious. There was never any pretense that it was about "nothingness" in the sense Feser would like it have been. So why does he pretend that it was? He's on a divine mission to uncover straw men.

djindra said...

"They mean a 'roiling broth' governed by the laws of quantum theory, entropy, etc. and that not only isn’t nothing, but just is part of the universe and therefore just is part of the explanandum and therefore does nothing whatsoever to explain that explanandum."

This is defensive posturing. It's an attempt to direct the conversation away from the central problem. This "rolling broth" plays havoc with the AT crown jewel. Nature isn't anything like what Aristotle and Aquinas imagined. Their arguments don't hold. Their analogies are false. Nothing in the universe is static, waiting on the Prime Mover. First Cause becomes a murky concept at best. The god of the gaps is whittled down from holding corruptible matter together to overseeing eternal laws of nature. Why do such laws need a divine will to remain in existence? Do the most basic laws perish? Do these laws degenerate into nothing? If they change, what causes the change? Could we even consider such causes to be like causes we see in changes to matter? These questions need a whole new line of argument beyond AT attempts.

Anonymous said...

djindra: "Why do such laws need a divine will to remain in existence?"

djindra just says anything to defend his emotional and psychological investment in atheism. It's neither true or convincing, please give it up and go away.

BenYachov said...

djindra why can't you be more like dguller and do the relevant reading before you speak?

djindra said...

BenYachov

"djindra why can't you be more like dguller and do the relevant reading before you speak?"

It makes no difference to you whether I do the reading or not. You complain either way.

Anonymous said...

well, not all of us would. It clearly isn't the case that every atheist posting here is met with as much disdain as you are.

And please, spare us the laughter - it isn't because you know the issues better than them. That is demonstrably untrue.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

@Anon; But I think that is also true of the question "What caused God?". It is a good question in that it opens the door to to explaining why there must be an uncaused cause and why that which all men think of when they think of the uncaused cause we define as God.

Yes, if the question is actually asked because one wants an explanation, and not just to 'score points.'

robheus said...

@Untenured
The question "Why is there something, rather then nothing?" has some pecularities, which makes the question "unusual" at the least. I shall mention a few.
1. Linguistic/semantics
The notions of the words 'something' and nothing' in itself already make the question more or less self-evident, because BY DEFINITION there IS something, rather then nothing.
2. Impossibility to answer
The question thus formulated already makes it impossible to answer using the conventional answering scheme (Y is the case because of X, etc.), since any (existing) entity X which might be proposed of explaining the question, but then the question just reraises itself again as: Why does X exist, rather then nothing.
3. Wrong assumption
But at the bottom of the question, the question itself supposes something which isn't true. The question supposes that "something" and "nothing" are apart and somehow 'exist on their own' (as notions about reality). But that is not the case. 'Something', or let's say: Being and 'Nothing' are not only seperate, but form a unity in which each of them is the other's counterpart/complement or opposite. 'Being' and 'Nothing' *only* exist within that unity of opposites, and don't have seperate meaning.

This might need some explaining. Let's take some other opposite, like light and dark. Now darkness are just the spots not reached by light, the shadows. But darkness only exist because light exists. Without there being light, neither darkness exists.
Imagine a different (hypothetical) world or universe, with different physics, where no such thing exist as light (no photons, no electromagnetic force, etc.), would that world be dark? Well no, in the absence of light there is also the absence of darkness.
So, in this way, the question formulated urges us to think what would be, if no being at all (and thus neither absence of being) would exist.
And there all our possible ways of answering such a question breaks down, because the question in fact urges us to believe that Being and Nothing are only seperate, and can be taken apart out of their unity of Being and Nothing. Which of course we can't. The notions of 'Being' and 'Nothing' can only exist within this unity of opposites, and outside of that, they don't have any meaning.
4. Other remark
And as a last remark, this type of question, in the way it is put, normally entails to ask an explenation for a contingent 'state of affair', that is a state of affairs which exists, but which could have been different. And obviously, in that case, one may be in need of an explenation.
But the question as formulated does not refer to a 'state of affairs' which could have been different, and in fact, does not need an answer.
But supposedly, not everyone is convinced of that, and some people handle the question as if some plausible answer might exist (which however, is implicitly refuted by the question itself because of the way it is formulated).
The normal answering scheme however, as already explained (Y is the case because of X) fails in this case, since any answer provided simply reraises the question (Why does X exist, rather then nothing, etc.) again and again, so ultimately, no answer (at least not in the normal/usual sense) can be provided.

robheus said...

@manwithacomputer
It is supposed to point towards the contingency of the world. The world is, but could have not been. At all.
The question itself, in fact more or less assumes that, but that assumption is I think wrong (and hence makes the question itself impossible to answer). Any possible world comes with a state of affairs, which could be completely and utterly different from the world we experience, but the question is not "why this state of affairs" rather then "that state of affairs" (which in principle is possible to answer) but asks why there is a state of affairs at all.

A better question would be to ask: what forms the ground for the world, i.e. what 'stuff' exists in order for the world itself, the phenomena of the world, to exist.

Now, that question can readily be answered (depending on philosophical point of view) as:
a. matter
b. god
as the ultimate ground of the world without which the world would not exist.

Whatever your philosophical perspective, for the ground itself (matter or God), there is no reason for existing, and asking a materialist why matter exist, or a theist why god exists, is meaningless.
They are accepted as philosophical ground, and exist without reason/cause.
For the materialist, matter exists uncaused; for the theists, god exists uncaused.