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Philosophy and Sci-Fi


Big Bang Theory

James asked:

Philosophy, huh? Pah! You guys crack me up. Okay, I'll admit the need for the contemplation of the various ideas as detailed by this site...and human conciousness in general. But come now, Kollidge Kids. The "basic facts" of existence are:

1. There was "nothing".

2. "Bang".

3. There was everything.

Ain't there something wrong here? We all understand that "everything" is created...from other "things". Everything. No exceptions. Except.... Everything.

Seems to me, the entire human population should huddle together one week out of the year and contemplate the utter nonsense of the fact of "our" existence. Why we don't walk around muttering "We came from nothing. We came from nothing. We came from nothing." is a mystery in itself.

So the philosophs and others never seem to take up that question. Even the essays which I've read here ignore that question. (Although, it's true that I ain't read `em all yet. :} ) Because if you accept that premise (and by golly, either you accept it or you go "mad"), than any other concept of existence of possible also. Anything. Mind Reading. Teleportation. Living rocks. Stars as sentient beings. Humans as microorganisms in a vastly greater "reality". Unending universes. And so on.

It is humorous though. The only way human conciousness can exist is by ignoring the true reality of our existence. Or at best, simply remaining in awe of the whole shebang. Never forgetting to awe is the most important thing to remember.

As far as I can tell, the only way to deal with it is to not think about it. You got any better ideas?

What cracks me up is that you don't notice an equally big problem staring you in the face every time you look at the bathroom mirror in the morning.

Let's play a game of suppose. Suppose there were an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. That wouldn't be very interesting or helpful, if under the description of 'something' came any possibility under the sun, including a universe consisting entirely of empty space. There still remains the urgent question, Why is there this universe, rather than some other possible universe? Why are things this way, rather than one of the myriad other possible ways things might have been?

But now suppose — if you are still with me — that we had an answer to that question. The philosopher Leibniz thought he had, in his conception of God as the one unique being that contains the reason for its own existence, who necessarily chose to create the 'best of all possible worlds'. — Huh!

As I was saying, we've got something when there might have been nothing. We have got this world, when there might have been some other world. Now, you are looking in that bathroom mirror, and you think, 'Hang on a second, why is there this face in the mirror? Why am I me? Why is there such an individual as I?'

Leibniz's theory implies there had to be a James S. Gagliardi matching your precise physical and mental description, because that is what was required to make this the best of all possible worlds. But where does I come into the picture?

I think that this is a question that deserves to be pondered at least once a day, not one week every year. Not for very long, though. I suggest a couple of minutes, at the maximum. Then you can think about how to fill the rest of your day. I suggest that an hour set aside for all the other fascinating problems of philosophy would be very good and rewarding use of your God-given talents.

Geoffrey Klempner


John asked:

Hi, I'm new to philosophy and I'm sure this has been discussed many times, so please bear with me!.

There are two possibilities: Either the universe has always existed (which is presumably impossible) or there was a time when the universe did NOT exist and then all that matter was created out of nothing (which, according to our current knowledge of physics, is equally impossible as matter cannot derive from nothing!).

Of course, if the universe was 'created' then this begs the question: 'Who was the Creator?', then 'who created the creator's creator?', etc. — Any suggestions?

The first thing to point out is that neither of the initial possibilities you mention is a logical impossibility. There is no logical impossibility in the notion of a universe whose history can be traced further and further back, at no point reaching a 'first event in the history of the universe'. Neither is there any logical impossibility in the idea of a universe whose history traces back to a specific date, before which there 'was nothing'.

You say that the latter is inconsistent with our current knowledge of physics. That would not be sufficient for ruling it out if the alternative was thought to be logically impossible. The correct conclusion would be that current physics must be wrong.

Given that the alternative of a universe with an infinite history is not logically impossible, it is still remains open to the physicist to argue that the ultimate physical 'constant' is not matter but probabilistic laws according to which at every time and at every place there is a non-zero probability of matter appearing where previously there was no matter. The laws have existed for an infinite time, matter has only existed for a finite time.

I am not talking about any specific physical theory (such as quantum mechanics), but rather possible physical theories, or theories that might hold in some logically possible world.

However, the issue of whether the history of the universe is finite or infinite is arguably not the problem that brings God into the picture.

In the Cosmological argument for the existence of God, the problem is not time but causal dependency. A universe stretching infinitely back in time is no more difficult to conceive than a universe stretching infinitely into the future. The regress becomes vicious only when we look to events in the past as an adequate explanation of how things are now. A perpetually conditional explanation is no explanation at all.

So the argument goes, There has to be a Creator who exists outside the infinite series of causes and effects, who timelessly 'causes' the whole infinite series to exist. The Creator does not exist in time, so the question of when the Creator came into existence does not arise. The Creator is 'cause of itself', so the question of who created the Creator does not arise.

I am not defending this argument, only expounding it!

I myself do not understand what it means to say that something is the 'cause of itself' or 'exists outside of time'. However, if the straight choice is between a proposition which is logically impossible and a proposition whose meaning one does not fully understand, then reason dictates that we have to opt for the second alternative.

Geoffrey Klempner


Kurt asked:

This may be a very convoluted question...earth is in a solar system, our solar system is in a galaxy, our galaxy is one of many galaxies contained within a very large universe. What is that universe filling? and if god (be it man/ woman or both or neither) made all of this who are god's parents and who are their parents etc?

Your metaphysics have led you immediately into, what is called in philosophy, an infinite regress. To make any progress this line of questioning will have to be abandoned. The range of empirical statements you make up to "universe" can be dealt with by the sciences of astronomy, physics and mathematics. The problems arise when your sequence enters into the metaphysics of space, time and God; problems that philosophy has battled with since ancient times.

Deducing from your knowledge of the empirical world, you have fallen into the trap of making God in the image of man, hence God requires parents, and so on. The absurdity of this line of reasoning becomes obvious when you require to house, clothe and nourish God, to say nothing of his involvement in sexual activity!! Even religion does not make such claims. Taking the religious line that God is a 'spirit,' although I have only a hazy notion of what this means, I can tolerate it because it seems to have possibilities beyond what I understand. However, being a physiologist I know more about humans than most people, and to propose that God is a human would be a self-revealing absurdity.

You have actually touched on the frustrating problem of origins, a problem which defeats science and opens up a range of difficult to prove philosophical and religious theories. Both physics and biology are held suspect simply because they have had to invent their own ideas of origins, the Big Bang in the case of physics, and the accidental formation of proteins in mud pools in the case of biological origins. Neither of them to my mind is very convincing. Even when we put aside the origins and start half-way up the ladder, as both physics and biology do, to say that there is such a thing as an evolutionary process which depends on a sequence of fortuitous accidents seems on the face of it an absurd proposition.

As for the Big Bang, where did the first primaeval atom come from? Unfortunately science is tied to the matter myth and all its theories are blinkered by this. Whereas philosophy can offer a range of possibilities beyond the paralysing confines of alleged material reality. Scientists are not mystics and they will always seek to explain strange phenomena in terms of empirical/ material solutions. They are reluctant to admit that answers can be obtained from anything other than naive reality, and if answers to phenomenal events cannot be produced, they are simply suspended in the confident belief that there will eventually be a 'natural' solution to the event, whatever that means.

You ask what the universe is filling, again, there is something here to do with naive reality in your concept. Stated simply you seem to be making the suggestion that there is a vast amount of matter which has to be contained in something, a bit like a gas filling a spherical flask. The question is asking: What is the flask like? What is the flask made of to be able to contain all this matter and restrict its expansion? Again, such a question is based on empirical evidence drawn from everyday experience. The problem does not seem to be about containers, but space and time, or space-time as we now understand it. Events in the universe occur within space-time, not within some mysterious container. Space limits the universe within three dimensions. An event is identified by a 'world point' in a four dimensional continuum. The four points are, three points of space and one of time.

Given that science has had to admit that when we try to study material reality by reduction, i.e. looking at smaller and smaller constituents, we enter a reality very different to the common concept, away goes cause and effect and we find ourselves in a universe of random events, an unpredictable world of quantum events where matter seems to pass in and out of existence. MATTER?!! Whatever am I talking about.

John Brandon


Nick asked:

I have often thought that given statistics and the knowledge that both the universe and time are infinite, everything (and I mean EVERYthing) can be proven to either exist or have once existed. Astronomers currently measure the universe at 15 billion light years, but that is only a measurement of visible stars. They do not take into account the measure of space itself, which appears to be limitless. Though time is measured at 15 billion years, that is just the start of the Big Bang. Scientists tend to avoid the question of what came before, yet it would seem logical that something existed, otherwise there would have been 'nothing' and absolute nothingness cannot spawn something.

My theory is that if nothingness can exist, then the universe can be finite and there can be a thing that has never been anywhere at any time. But if nothingness cannot be, which I tend to believe, everything has at some time and place existed. Although I must concede that from a pragmatic point of view, due to the fact that human experience is finite, things that we will never experience is the same as things never having existed. But from a philosophical point of view, I still think that every book at Barnes & Nobles could be listed under non-fiction. In your opinion, is my thinking correct?

I like this question, which fits in very nicely with the previous question, from James.

Your theory will not work as it stands, but the idea behind it is important. I'll explain that in a minute. But let's first look at the theory. Your claim is that, given infinite time, every conceivable possibility must necessarily be realized. Intuitively, this seems to make sense. If I close my eyes and make a dot with my pen on a blank sheet of paper, then another, then another eventually there will be no empty space left. Of course, it is logically possible that given any finite time, there will remain gaps. The probability of there being gaps gets smaller and smaller as time goes on, never reaching zero. But if time is infinite, then that probability becomes infinitely small.

However, that overlooks the following possibility. Suppose that the universe is governed by deterministic laws. Given enough time, it is possible that exactly the same total configuration of particles, forces, fields or whatever will be repeated. From that moment on, the history of the universe will necessarily follow the exactly the same course as it followed from the previous time that the universe was in that configuration. In other words, the history of the universe will effectively be caught in a loop from which it can never escape.

This was the idea behind Nietzsche's doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence, which he revived from the Greek Stoics.

In arguing for this theory, however, Nietzsche made the error of assuming that in a deterministic universe the same configuration must at some time be repeated. You can see this is wrong if you consider a simple 'universe' consisting of three concentric discs of equal size, where discs A and B revolve at a constant speed, relative to disc C, and where the ratio of the speed of the revolution of A to the speed of B makes an irrational number (i.e. a number that cannot be expressed in the form of a fraction n/m). Then if a point on the edge of disc A, coincides with points on disc B and on disc C at any time, the three points will never coincide again, even given infinite time!

Nietzsche was wrong that the same configuration must be repeated. I am only saying that you cannot rule out the possibility that the same configuration will be repeated, resulting in an infinitely repeated finite loop.

However, there is a way to salvage your idea. And that is to talk, not about things that will occur in time, but rather about things that might have occurred, in some other logically possible world. Philosophers who take a strongly realist view of possible worlds, such as David Lewis (see his books Counterfactuals and On the Plurality of Worlds) claim that the only difference between the actual world and other possible worlds is a difference of perspective. In other words, it is the same difference as the difference between one time and another time, or one person and another person. So the 'actual' world is just one possible perspective on the universe of all possible worlds, just as 'now' is one possible perspective on the history of the universe, or 'I' is one possible perspective on the totality of self-conscious subjects.

The answer to, 'Why is there this universe rather than some other possible universe?' is simply to reject the assumption behind the question. This world does not exist rather than some other possible world, because all possible worlds are equally real.

However, you might have gathered from my response to James that I am not happy with this argument. As someone who takes the question, 'Why is the person asking this question I?' seriously, I do not consider it a satisfactory answer to be told, 'Every self-conscious subject is an "I", and you are just one self-conscious subject amongst others.' In other words, if in reply to the question, 'Why is there this universe rather than some other possible universe?', one points out that the difference between 'this universe' and 'another possible universe' is only a difference in perspective, then the question becomes, 'Why is the world-perspective of the person asking the question this world-perspective?

Geoffrey Klempner


Damon asked:

Did Spinoza believe in a beginning of the universe, like a big bang, or more of a universe that has no beginning or ending? Did God create the universe, or is God just the whole universe without a creation?

Spinoza believed that the universe was eternal. Since he believed that Time was a part of the universe, the universe itself could have neither beginning nor end.

Spinoza uses the Latin phrase "Deus sive Natura" which means "God or Nature (the Universe)." Spinoza believed that God and Nature were identical. In the sense that God sustains himself, God creates himself, and so, Nature or the Universe. Thus, Spinoza calls God "Causa sui," which means "cause of himself."

Ken Stern


Geoffrey Klempner

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