Can something come out of nothing or not? Why?

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In our current state of affairs it is safe and reasonable to assume something exists - be it a universe, pure conciousness, illusion or other designations. If some readers nevertheless claim something does not exist right now, then this question effectively becomes meaningless to them but for us "cogito ergo sum" should suffice.

So, let us (justifiably) assume right now something exists.

Therefore, when this something (as a whole) cannot come from nothing, then something must have always existed and cannot have a beginning. Is that entity the Universe or the Creator, is a different topic and a different question.

However, when this something can come from nothing, then this something (the whole of reality) might not have always existed and thus can have a beginning. Is that entity the Universe or something else, is also a different topic and a different question.

And here lies the apparent contradiction: between the widely-accepted axiom that something cannot come from nothing and between the present scientific view that whatever there is, it must have had some kind of an absolute beginning.

Why is it a contradiction? Well, when something cannot come from nothing, then where did our reality come from? If it can't come from nothing, then either (the fundamental) reality itself is eternal, or it emerged from something eternal. The only way for our present reality to have an ultimate beginning is when something can in fact come from nothing. Otherwise everything requires something else prior to it, thus mandating that something must have always existed.

So, which way is it? Can something come out of nothing or not?

Saul

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 390

@saul: User 10923 is right. Your premise is wrong. The problem is your concept of nothing is too simplisitic. – TheDoctor – 2017-03-10T14:51:02.613

@TheDoctor -- Merely claiming somebody is right does not necessarily make them so. What is simplistic here is your personal understanding of the concept you are trying to attribute to me for some reason. This question already has an accepted answer that was written by Mozibur Ullah. I recommend that you read it, especially the comment thread. – Saul – 2017-03-10T19:04:49.417

It is NOT reasonable to assume anything, and certainly not that something exists. If it existed it would have had to come into existence ex nihilo, which is a logically absurd idea.. Buddhism is clear, nothing really exists or ever really happens. It would be very 'unphilosophical' to assume that this is not the case rather than make an effort to prove it, and you would be faced with the endless paradoxes and dilemmas caused by this assumption, of which ex nihilo creation is just one. . . – None – 2017-04-16T12:49:32.180

@PeterJ -- There is no reason for you to engage in a discussion that does not really exist. Analogously, in your interpretation, the supposed paradoxes and dilemmas are completely irrelevant as they simply do not exist. So from strictly a logical viewpoint your argument is self-contradictory. I also disagree with your premise that philosophy is mostly about proving something. It is not. The purpose of philosophy is to reach greater insight to life and reality but as long as the mind making the inquiry is of limited capacity, the depth and quality of the insight will remain limited as well. – Saul – 2017-04-16T16:36:42.277

Negative mass-energy is a very real possibility; we have recently discovered a particle with 'negative mass' in the sense that it responds to very small perturbances in its position by pushing back against the applied force instead of beginning to move. Also, you have simply asserted that people who disagree with you are wrong or insane, which is a pretty hilarious logical fallacy imo. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-27T01:47:45.677

@Saul. My comment was not clear. I was suggesting that our usual idea of existence is naive (naive realism), and that if we closely examine what we mean by 'exist' then a lot of this muddle goes away. I agree about the limits of mind (or of analysis) but this is exactly the point. I'd agree with Kant that the origin of existence is prior to mind, such that to realise this means transcending mind and, therefore, existence. Reality would transcend the existence/non-existence distinction and this would be why it appears (if we are a naive realist) to begin with nothing. – None – 2017-10-27T10:02:25.480

@AlecRhea -- As you say, negative mass can be measured which means it still is something (instead of nothing). When it comes to your other argument, by adopting the viewpoint where it is unreasonable to assume that right now something exists, you indeed become liable to either provide evidence of the contrary or be rendered irrelevant. – Saul – 2017-10-28T14:58:38.607

@PeterJ -- Take the question that I am asking here, and substitute the words "something" and "nothing" with "existence" and "reality". Then re-read it, and I am relatively sure you'll see that we agree at least on the question. If not, you can always post a longer answer instead of a short comment to explain the reasons, and provide your own arguments. The original topic here is about the apparent contradiction between the modern thought that there is a beginning to everything and "ex nihilo nihil fit" which is a much older axiom. – Saul – 2017-10-28T15:44:19.773

1@Saul No, as always the burden is on you to establish why it is reasonable to assume something exists, with a precise definition of 'exists', which you have not given and will not give because you can't coherently give one because modern physics doesn't know what the fundamental building blocks of our universe are yet. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-28T22:21:38.110

@Saul - Alec puts the case well in his comment above. You have to define 'existence' and by doing so you will clear up some of these problems, They cannot be cleared up without abandoning our traditional 'Western' idea of existence, as history shows all too well. You are stuck on the horns of an ancient dilemma and the only way out is to abandon the extreme views that give rise to all these antimonies and contradictions. . – None – 2017-10-29T12:16:42.500

@AlecRhea -- You're supposed to answer the question. If you don't have a useful answer then there is no point to engage in sophistry. There is more than enough commentary here already. – Saul – 2017-10-29T19:29:21.277

@PeterJ -- I think you're projecting your own confusion here because I have no dilemma. For me personally, existence is not something to be defined but rather it is something to be experienced. The dilemma is here only for those who think that existence is something that can be defined. It can't. It can only be referred to, and experienced. That's the crucial detail that keeps both you and Alec barking under the (proverbially) wrong tree. – Saul – 2017-10-29T19:44:59.967

@Saul It is not sophistry to simply admit that the question can not be coherently answered at this stage in human history. It is definitely sophistry to use ambiguities and poorly defined language to pretend to answer a question for which you have no real answer, which is what you are doing. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T00:23:06.483

@AlecRhea -- Excuse me but I am not the one who is supposed to answer this question. I am the one who asked it. If you don't understand how this site works, then please do get acquainted with it. When it comes to your assertion of that this question has no real answer, my reply is that your assertion is an argument from ignorance. Also, at least for me the usefulness of your input so far has been a bit unclear (to put it mildly). If don't want to provide an answer, you're welcome to direct your attention elsewhere.

– Saul – 2017-10-30T11:21:21.840

@Saul You have purported several times in these comments to have an answer to your own question, something I find in poor taste but you're free to do. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T11:35:33.620

@Saul To be completely precise, I suppose you're claiming to have a coherent answer to the question: "what does it mean to exist, and does anything exist" in the positive. You're then trying to take this positive answer as a premise for a further question about whether this ill-defined 'existence' could have arisen from 'nothing', which you seem to be under the impression that it could not have. It is your first positive answer, to the question in quotations, which can't be answered with complete precision due to a lack of understanding at this point in history. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T11:44:56.073

@AlecRhea -- I am not answering anything here. I am the one who asked the original question. You're imagining something that isn't here. Nor has there been any comment where I purport to have an answer. If there is then find it and quote it. The only thing that I clarified to PeterJ was what I meant by the word existence. He got it. You didn't. – Saul – 2017-10-30T12:25:43.043

@Saul "Of course there is something, the observer of "cogito ergo sum" at minimum. When one declares "there is something" to be false then one is either ignorant, insane or engaging in a lie."

Trylks had you nailed and you didn't like it so you called him names and made sophistic arguments, as you have every time someone points out the obvious flaws in your reasoning (a favorite ad-hominem of yours seems to be calling other people new). I find this conversation pedantic; good luck sorting out your self imposed and ill-defined confusion my friend. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T12:33:57.757

@AlecRhea -- Go and re-read the original question in full. The question here is not about whether something exists, but about "Can something come out of nothing or can only nothing come out of nothing". – Saul – 2017-10-30T12:36:23.167

1@Saul - You cannot talk about existence and not define it. If you do, your words will amount to nothing and a discussion becomes impossible. . – None – 2017-10-30T12:36:51.660

@Saul Peter has put the problem very concisely. – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T12:37:54.213

@PeterJ -- If don't understand what existence means, then go and open a dictionary. – Saul – 2017-10-30T12:39:23.460

@AlecRhea -- My answer to you is the same as to PeterJ. If you don't understand what existence means then by all means go and find a dictionary. – Saul – 2017-10-30T12:40:37.147

@Saul Ah, the classic "I can't answer this question so I'm going to pretend the answer is common knowledge and attack the intelligence of my opponent as an ad-hominem". You make sophists everywhere proud! – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T12:41:57.820

@AlecRhea -- To be honest, to me it seems both you and PeterJ simply jumped into a discussion where your understanding of the topic is modest at best, and now you have no idea where to go next. Good luck with that. – Saul – 2017-10-30T12:44:32.453

@Saul I hope running away from conversations like this brings you some modicum of inner peace :). Claiming privileged knowledge without explaining it is always the last refuge of sophists! – Alec Rhea – 2017-10-30T12:45:35.377

@AlecRhea -- The discussion you yourself, in fact, run away from is supposed to happen in the answers section which you avoid by pretending that your ignorance is somehow justified. If the question is completely flawed in your personal opinion, then by all means, move on. There is absolutely nothing here that will suffer from your absence. – Saul – 2017-10-30T12:58:25.027

@AlecRhea -- And as you can see from below, the explanations have been sufficient for a total of 10 answers, including in them the accepted answer. Judging from these facts, I don't think you're entitled to any special treatment or exceptions. If you're not capable of pulling the weight that others before you were able to pull, then it means only one thing - that you're out of your league. – Saul – 2017-10-30T21:17:47.043

@Saul - You are missing the good advice you're getting. For the sake of your question you need to define 'existence'. You can do this with or without the help of a dictionary. I cannot discuss the issue with you because you do not make it clear what you mean by ;existence'. Do you mean what I would mean? Or do you mean what Russell would mean? Or what? – None – 2017-10-31T12:38:43.323

@PeterJ -- In this question existence is not defined which means you are free to pick any external definition or inner understanding of existence that is relevant to the topic. The only (implicit) requirement is that it must correspond to the logical structure and subject of the question. Everything else is already the job of whoever is writing the answer. – Saul – 2017-11-01T21:59:08.303

I'd rather know what is meant by the words so the question can be addressed properly. – None – 2017-11-02T11:37:31.543

@PeterJ -- I think you have misunderstood something. This question is not here to cater to your particular personal preferences. This question is here for something I wanted to clarify for myself. And as I already wrote, getting involved in providing an answer here implies both a capablity and also a willingness to make certain choices independently. If you lack in either or both of those qualities then it simply means the most useful thing you can do here is to move on. Other than that, thank you for your time, and feel free to post next to the 10 earlier answers. – Saul – 2017-11-02T14:29:22.363

You will never clarify anything if you do not define your terms. The answer to your question is contained in the definition of existence and if you haven't bothered to define it then your reasoning will lead to a muddle. Check out the etymology of 'existence' and this will be a useful start. Definitions are crucial in philosophy discussions or we all end up talking about different things and being at cross-purposes. . . – None – 2017-11-03T13:50:03.203

@PeterJ -- Excuse me, but are you dyslexic or something? In this question existence is not defined but implied and contrary to your hypothetical and completely barren rants here, this question has had an excellent accepted answer for several years now (along with 9 other answers). You are more than welcome to downvote them if you really think they are muddle. For me as the OP they have offered good and valuable insight. I cannot really say the same about your comments here which ignore the OP and the existing answers completely. So thank you for your concern, but such help is not needed here. – Saul – 2017-11-03T23:11:42.817

Yes. The Swami's answer is excellent. Notice that he places the origin of existence beyond the distinction between existence and non-existence. This is where I was trying to help you to reach. But with only a muddled idea of existence it isn't possible. But pardon me - I didn't spot the age of the question and thought it was recent. . . – None – 2017-11-04T14:48:03.387

@PeterJ -- You're welcome. And if I might add, in my opinion the answer by Mozibur that I have marked as the accepted one is saying more or less the same thing as Swami's, especially when you take into account also the commentary. The viewpoint and the emphasis are different but both of those answers are useful, and in a sense complement each other. Mozibur's answer simply happened to be more relevant and more accessible to me at that time. – Saul – 2017-11-05T21:36:37.037

Just thinking out loud here. I formalize "something can come from nothing" as ∃x∄y(x COMES FROM y), or "there is some thing x such that there is no thing y that x comes from. The negation is ∀x∃y(x comes from y). – David H – 2013-09-17T15:23:01.793

1It's not clear what the notions of "appearing" and "beginning" are in this context. When you write "something just might have appeared into existence and can have a beginning", it seems you are presupposing an existence in which that something wasn't there. If you think carefully about this, you'll see that, assuming "something coming from nothing" is coherent, that something cannot "appear" nor have a "beginning". After all, for such a something, there would no time when it didn't exist. – Alfred Centauri – 2013-09-17T15:41:18.883

@DavidH - As far as I know, there is no such thing as a set of all sets. When talking about existence in general, how can we suffice with a simple set? – Saul – 2013-09-17T15:55:41.963

@AlfredCentauri - Then it does not make any sense to talk about a beginning or causes of the universe either because in that case there aren't any. – Saul – 2013-09-17T16:00:45.923

1If there was the same amount of matter and antimatter in the Universe so that they could mutually annihilate together into absolutely nothing (this may require anti-energy, but let's pretend that's possible). Would you consider there is something in the Universe or just nothing unevenly distributed? – Trylks – 2013-09-17T21:19:40.500

@Trylks - The energy released from such a hypothetical annihilation is conserved as it has nowhere to disappear. It does not matter whether there are protons, antiprotons or photons, a universe is still a universe. – Saul – 2013-09-18T14:47:33.583

(this may require anti-energy, but let's pretend that's possible) – Trylks – 2013-09-18T14:54:52.950

@Trylks - No. There is no anti-energy as such because energy is an abstract notion whereas matter and antimatter are concrete. You can read more about it at PhysLink. I simply referred to what Einstein said: "Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another."

– Saul – 2013-09-18T16:15:56.323

but let's pretend that's possible – Trylks – 2013-09-18T16:53:06.050

@Trylks - This question is about ontological truths, not fiction. – Saul – 2013-09-19T08:25:19.073

Thought experiments can shed some light on ontological truths. Also your assumption that energy is conserved as it has nowhere to disappear is fictional and wrong, it cannot be conserved if there is nothing to conserve it. It would be faster for ontological knowledge to simply consider final possibilities instead of making wrong assumptions on every intermediate step in the reasoning. Think of it as an alpha-beta search or local search. Otherwise, one single wrong assumption will have you exploring the wrong tree for ever. One wrong assumption can be "there is something". Good luck. – Trylks – 2013-09-19T09:35:58.410

@Trylks - Of course there is something, the observer of "cogito ergo sum" at minimum. When one declares "there is something" to be false then one is either ignorant, insane or engaging in a lie. Your thought experiment is simply inapplicable here as this question does not address something inside the Universe, it addresses the Universe itself in its totality.

– Saul – 2013-09-19T10:39:41.617

Or maybe that person is considering a different definition for something and nothing. You say my thought experiment is inapplicable but you provide no reasons for that, my thought experiment refers to the Universe itself in its totality. – Trylks – 2013-09-19T13:08:52.253

@Trylks - No it does not refer to totality, your comment reads consider there is something **in** the Universe. That is why it is inapplicable. When your desire is to operate under non-standard or historically uncommon definitions then post a separate question into this website as this question already has some basic definitions, a topic and they are not going to change. – Saul – 2013-09-19T13:55:55.053

The contents of the Universe and the Universe are the same thing, I was using your words to make understanding more simple to you, but they are equivalent. – Trylks – 2013-09-19T13:57:58.083

@Trylks - No they are not when you write about nothing unevenly distributed in the same sentence. Totality is not isomorphic to a distribution as there is no reference system for it to occur in. Look, I appreciate your effort here but the answer Mozibur Ullah wrote already provided the information and references I was looking for. As far as I am concerned, you are free to leave it at that. You are also free to post an answer covering both cases for your thought experiment. But when it comes to the question, there is really nothing to add anymore. – Saul – 2013-09-19T14:35:32.723

I don't speak about isomorphism but the equivalence that there is when the reference system is relative to the totality. – Trylks – 2013-09-19T14:57:57.057

@Trylks - I do speak about isomorphism because without isomorphism two things are in fact different, meaning your thought experiment does not refer to totality as I have already noted. Totality is totality, there is nothing relative to it. Stop pretending you have something useful to add when in fact you do not. Your comments serve no useful purpose here and have turned into plain trolling. Save yourself the trouble and just leave it at that.

– Saul – 2013-09-19T15:24:36.227

why Saul do you say "either something can in fact come from nothing or otherwise something must have always existed. It is one or the other, but not both." This sounds arrogant. I do however really like the explanation by gnasher729. You also say "the main goal..was not to speculate anything" and yet do you not see that is just what you are doing? – None – 2014-12-03T18:47:40.310

@user10923 - You must be new here. This site is about ideas, not feelings or opinions. When something cannot come from nothing, then where did our reality come from? If it can't come from nothing, then either reality itself is eternal, or it emerged from something eternal. The only way for reality to have an ultimate beginning is when something can in fact come from nothing. Otherwise everything requires something else prior to it, thus mandating that something must have always existed. So it really is either one or the other. The question was, which way is it. Nothing more, nothing less. – Saul – 2014-12-04T13:13:32.900

Answers

10

One argument is that time itself has a beginning. And thus the universe can be eternal, in the sense of being existant at all times. One could also argue that time must have a beginning, for how can an infinite amount of time elapse for it to be now (this is one half of a pair of arguments by Kant - his antinomies - with which he argues that a certain concept is beyond human reason to establish).

This still leaves begging the question what 'happened' before time began. Although naively this question looks nonsensical since we no longer have time - for then what can before mean - it still has sense in a speculative & imaginative sense. The only rational sense it seems that one can pose such questions.

In fact, certain speculative cosmologies of the Big Bang implicitly allow something to be exist before the big bang. For example, the universe began as a quantum fluctuation; one must ask in what sense physical laws exist before there is a space & time as traditionally understood. For the assertion to make sense at least this much must be true.

The argument that something cannot come out of nothing is a metaphysical one that goes back to at least Parmenides, if not earlier. In fact in the phenomenal world things always have beginnings and endings. For example, I have my hand open & then I close it: a fist has appeared and an open palm has disappeared, but of course what has remained constant between this, is my hand.

If something comes out of nothing then by what agency has it happened? from whence did it come from? If we postulate some fundamental physical law that allows something to come out of nothing, then nothing+physical laws, is not in fact nothing.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 1

Are we not then forced to conclude that something must have always existed or in other words, there is something eternal? – Saul – 2013-09-17T16:33:11.860

2well, that was Parmenides conclusion. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-09-17T17:05:51.720

How about Kant? Did he refute what Parmenides concluded? – Saul – 2013-09-17T17:28:48.897

Not quite, he said it was beyond the remit of reason to determine the answer to that particular question. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-09-17T17:34:07.020

Interesting .. but did Kant offer any justification as to why this particular question is beyond the remit of reason? – Saul – 2013-09-17T17:39:50.973

3In simple terms, he said that it was reasonable to say both that time had a beginning and that it did not. Thus being contradictory - or what he calls an antinomy - he says that the question is beyond our capacity to actually answer. On the whole, his project was to describe the limits of reason, and the conditions that made knowledge possible in a profound sense; he made consciousness complicit in our understanding of time and space, these are conditions which allow us to make sense of the world. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-09-17T18:16:26.400

In fact in the phenomenal world things always have beginnings and endings. But this idea is only an illusion created by our limited human point of view. It is an anthropocentric concept. We, humans, only understand limited concepts (with beginnings & ends, because of our limited brains) then the Univese MUST be in the same way: limited. The sun seems to be turning around our Earth Then it MUST be. I can only see (even with powerful devices) a limited area around me Then the Universe MUST have a limit. I can't see smaller than an atom then I declare the atom MUST be the smallest particle etc. – Geoffroy CALA – 2013-10-13T12:48:36.723

@CALA: The atom is in fact defined as that which can't be divided into parts. One can suppose the reverse of this, that in fact all things have parts - that is everything is infinitely divisible. – Mozibur Ullah – 2013-11-15T18:35:05.943

3Much of the arguments surrouding the big bang do not argue there was "nothing" before the big bang, but that anything before the big bang is unmeasurable. (and even that has trouble) – Cort Ammon – 2014-12-17T03:48:31.370

synthing language from Moz and from Michael Shermer maybe "something" is less unstable than "nothing". like reality has lotsa states, all but one are something or 'nother. only one state, out of a zillion or more, is nothing. whenever nothing exists, quantum fluctuation happens and poof! you have something! like a Big Bang. very unlikely that the following state is back to nothing. the union of all states of something is a stickier state of being than is nothing. once you're something, pretty hard going back to nothing.

– robert bristow-johnson – 2015-03-26T16:38:02.407

4

There is a scientific axiom that says 'proof lies in the assertion'. You are asking to prove a negation. Your question is asking why cannot - your asking for a proof of the negation, not an assertion. The question should be 'How can something come out of nothing' not 'Why cannot something come out of nothing'. Stephen Hawkings has recently argued as to how the universe can come out of nothing, but to my mind his argument is rather circular and it's not provable.

The Hindu scriptures say that the universe is eternal; there never was a time when it was not, nor will there be a time when it will not be. Rather they say that there are 'cycles' - the universe kind of ebbs and flows like the tides so to speak. The scriptures say there is a periods of expansion and periods of contraction, one following the other. At the end of a cycle, the universe almost completely contracts into Brahman where it rests in potentiality before expanding again. (Brahman which is by definition neither existence nor nonexistence). The current scientific theories as to a big bang, point to a beginning of the universe as we perceive it now, most people in the West get the scientific big bang theory confused with their Judeo-Christian beliefs that was taught them when they were young and lingers in all their analysis. They confuse 'beginning' with 'creation'. There is an assumption that before there was the big bang, there wasn't anything, that the universe thus came out of nothing - thus a creation. The big bang theory doesn't address what happened before; laymen assume there was nothing. Cosmologists don't know and we can never know by scientific means what came before. There are cosmologists that are now addressing that there are many universes; that we can only perceive our own. We are one verse in the mulitverse. In the Hindu scriptures it is said that our universe is like a small bubble on the ocean of Brahman, and there are many bubbles. Joseph Campbell does an excellent summary of this in the first chapter (chapter titled Eternity and Time) of the book "Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization" by Heinrich Zimmer, edited by Joseph Campbell.

For some 'thing' to come out of no 'thing' is not logical.

Swami Vishwananda

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 3 667

2

I believe the current theory of Quantum Mechanics is that some particles pop into and out of existence all of the time. I think they call that a "quantum fluctuation".

I have heard it postulated that the Big Bang was a sorta helluva quantum fluctuation. Very improbable to happen, but if you can wait around for eternity, I guess anything can happen.

Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer was asked about this and he said something sorta intriguing: "Perhaps something is more stable than nothing."

If nothing is a state, then all possible states that this can transition to is either the same nothing (which might be virtually 100% likely, but not exactly 100%) or many zillion possible states of something. But once we've transitioned from nothing to something (despite the unlikelihood, but eventually even the unlikely will happen as long as it is possible) then, when the state is something the likelihood to transition back to a state of nothing (amidst the zillion of other something states) is also tremendously unlikely.

Nothing is a state sorta like perfectly balancing a pencil on its tip. Theoretically, if you get it to balance perfectly and if there are no disturbing forces, the pencil should stay balanced on its tip. But if, for whatever reason, including randomness, it were to tilt slightly in any direction, that unstable state of balanced on its tip will transition to a far more stable state of lying on its side in some a priori unknown direction. I think this is sorta what Shermer means when he says that the union of a zillion different states of something is far more stable than the singular state of nothing.

robert bristow-johnson

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 516

1

We have never observed "nothing". Actually, we will never and cannot ever be able to observe "nothing", because this would imply that we exist and therefore there isn't "nothing".

In physics, we observe things (sometimes by making experiments and observing the results), and then we create theories about laws of physics which would hopefully be consistent with our observations. We then design often clever experiments that would let us observe things inconsistent with the theory if the theory is wrong, to get more confidence with the theory. If we are reasonably sure that the theory matches reality as far as observed, we accept it.

Since we can never observe "nothing", we cannot use this method to create theories in physics describing what would happen when there is "nothing".

We also have mathematics. Many physical theories can be matched with mathematical models. Actually, all physical theories that I know of can. But we can create mathematical models without having a theory. So we could create mathematical models that would describe what happens if there is "nothing".

The two simplest such model will say that if we have "nothing", we will have "nothing" forever. Or that if we have "nothing", we don't even have time, so we will have "nothing" (not forever, because there is no time).

Now we observe that there isn't "nothing" now. And we can postulate that there was always something, but we could also postulate that at some point there was "nothing". Which means that "something" has come from "nothing". We don't know. Since we cannot observe back in time infinitely far, we don't have physical theories for that postulate either.

We can then try to create mathematical models: Mathematical models that describe how there was always something, or mathematical models that describe how something came from nothing. If one model is significantly simpler (or we can only find a model for one case), we might declare this model as likely correct. But really, at that point we are only guessing.

gnasher729

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 3 297

As I already pointed out, the main goal of this question was not to speculate anything but to investigate the apparent contradiction between "something cannot come from nothing" and "everything must have a beginning". The thing is, either something can in fact come from nothing or otherwise something must have always existed. It is one or the other, but not both. The question was, which way is it. That's all. To that question, Mozibur Ullah has provided both an excellent answer and an excellent commentary also. I recommend reading it, it is very accessible. – Saul – 2014-11-26T16:46:10.257

Where is my answer speculating about anything? It takes your question, re-phrases it in a meaningful way, analyses it, and tells what we can and what we cannot say about an answer. – gnasher729 – 2014-11-27T11:03:23.150

Thank you for the clarification. I simply referred to your choice of arguments and the concluding remark of your answer. One of the reasons I asked my question in terms of metaphysics and ontology and not physics or mathematics was precisely that gaining knowledge through direct observation or mathematical models is sometimes not possible. However, that doesn't mean truth in such matters can't be discovered. It can, through logic and metaphysical proofs by contradiction. That is why I am objecting here. A question of ontology is not a question of physics. The path it treads is a bit different. – Saul – 2014-11-27T14:06:06.953

1

See the Principle of Sufficient Reason (SEP):

The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason or cause.

Science is founded upon the idea that effects have causes which can be rationally investigated and characterized. To posit that there is no reason for something is as anathema as to say "God did it" and leave it at that. It's not clear that we could ever know that something came from nothing. Scientists often say that quantum fluctuations (our universe could be an exmaple of this) are random, but that's not a causal explanation. What we can say is that quantum fluctuations arise from a 'place' that has certain rules. But once you say that certain rules apply to that 'place' (the vacuum), is it any longer 'nothing'?

Another way to go about this is to try to construct a chain of causes, starting from 'nothing'. You essentially have two options:

  1. Anything can come from nothing.
  2. Only certain things can come from nothing.

Option #1 doesn't explain anything. Option #2 explains everything up to the set of boundary conditions. It doesn't explain the origin of the laws, but we can at least rule out the vast majority of logical possibility space, which is what science does according to Karl Popper. But does #2 really make semantic sense? How can 'nothing' have properties?

labreuer

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 2 904

Physics does not postulate that every event has a cause. All it postulates is that every event is caused by all events in its past Cauchy Horizon. This does not exclude the possibility of events that have nothing in their past Cauchy Horizon. For example, the Friedmann Robertson Walker metric (the metric of the Big Bang) is a valid solution to General Relativity (GR has the Cauchy Horizon constraint), and yet it has an event - the singularity, i.e. the "beginning" - that has no past Cauchy Horizon. – Bridgeburners – 2017-04-17T20:36:06.583

@Bridgeburners: And yet, we have people like Lawrence Krauss working on explanations of how our universe is a fluctuation of something, a something which can be conflated with nothing when in its ground state. It is not clear that science will ever truly rest on uncaused phenomena. Or if this happens increasingly, it may start looking like 'religion'. – labreuer – 2017-04-19T19:10:26.720

@labreuer There's nothing inconsistent with causality there. Quantum Field Theory allows for substantive things - including even a universe worth of things - to appear as a random fluctuation from a vacuum. That's not inconsistent with causality as I just illustrated. The portion of the universe's past Cauchy Horizon that constitutes a vacuum can still be said to have "caused" that universe. Causality is not this common notion of an easy-to-identify discrete event that you can pinpoint prior to another event, that's just an approximate description we give it in our limited conditions. – Bridgeburners – 2017-04-19T22:10:30.673

@Bridgeburners: And we can ask whether QFT is what is truly at the foundation of reality, or whether it is merely an approximation of something deeper. There is no physical law which prevents scientists from getting "stuck", from thinking that the picture of reality is reality. There are all sorts of ways to explain away stagnancy in a model; one way is to declare anything it cannot explain, inexplicable. Religion has been doing this for a while, no? – labreuer – 2017-04-20T07:30:52.467

We don't have to ask, we know that it's an approximation for something deeper. (Though that thing might be a different kind of QFT.) It's a common misconception that when a theory is found to be invalid in a domain, then the entire theory is invalidated. Newtonian mechanics, for example, is still entirely correct in the domain in which it works, even though other theories invalidated it in certain extremes. Likewise, QFT has been shown, with extreme precision, to be valid in its known domains, which includes a uniform vacuum. That won't change when a more general theory supplants it. – Bridgeburners – 2017-04-20T14:26:55.857

Everything with a beginning or just everything? Stating things that eternal have causes seems foolish to me. How can a thing that has never not existed have a cause? – Neil Meyer – 2013-10-08T10:10:35.930

@NeilMeyer I specifically avoided that quagmire. :-p I'm not sure that science has a good track record of talking about things which have always existed, though. – labreuer – 2013-10-08T17:34:52.003

@labreuer: Another problem is that the limits of human existence cannot let us assert that anything has always existed, only that something has existed within certain bounds. The observable universe has left evidence that it has meaningfully existed for ~14 billion years, and that at that time it was so fundamentally different in many respects to how it appears today. So, barring some extremely mind-bending breakthroughs in physics and cosmology, the 'Big Bang' event is probably as far back as we can possibly go, putting a hard upper limit on how well we can know that anything has existed. – Dave B – 2014-11-27T19:51:42.380

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"Can something come out of nothing or not? Why?"

Our "laws of physics" are actually just observations of the world as we currently experience it. One of them is "Nothing can come from nothing".

If there is nothing, then there are also no 'laws of physics' - meaning the statement "nothing can come of nothing" has no meaning, and so in those circumstances, all our humanly assumptions are null.

user2808054

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 736

Thank you for the answer. The word "assume" in the question is meant in a different sense -- in the sense of taking existence for granted and justifiably so. The goal was to investigate the apparent contradiction between "nothing can come from nothing" and "everything must have a beginning". The thing is, either something can in fact come from nothing or otherwise something must have always existed. The question was, which way is it. That's all. To that question, Mozibur Ullah has provided both an excellent answer and an excellent commentary also. I recommend reading it, it is very accessible. – Saul – 2014-11-26T16:42:54.300

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"Can something come out of nothing"? It certainly is a possibility for the Creator, since that is one of His powers.

However, even the Creator did not "abuse" His powers and created "something from nothing." He created the Universe from His "essence".

Since the Universe was created from His essence, it is eternal. Only the form of the Universe had a beginning. Just like ice, even though its form has a beginning, it is still the same water molecules that existed before becoming ice.

In conclusion - no, something can not come out of nothing!

Guill

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 1 686

@Saul: I see no contradiction with the statement that "mankind has been created in the image of the Creator." People that do see a contradiction, do not understand that at some "scale" everything has the same image and likeness, and it is also the "image and likeness" of the Creator! – Guill – 2018-01-06T05:47:54.090

Thank you. The thing is, my question addresses Creation and its Creator as a single unified whole. So, I am not sure if conclusions that pre-suppose a fundamental separation between the two can answer such an inquiry. Nevertheless, you are welcome to continue and improve on your initial thought, in case you feel like it. Cheers! – Saul – 2014-12-16T22:30:54.327

@Saul: From my perspective, I am addressing the Creation and its Creator as a "unified whole." The best way to explain this is that since infinity + 1 is still infinity, like wise the Creator + the Creation is still the Creator. This is a direct consequence of the Creator being eternal. – Guill – 2015-03-26T05:00:09.033

Yes, but that does not really answer the question. You're simply postulating that something (the Creator) is eternal. That, however, gives us very little information as to why such a postulate is correct or useful to adopt in the first place. If you happen to be interested in expanding your current thoughts even more, you might want to re-visit the question -- it has been clarified and (hopefully) improved since the time you posted your original answer. – Saul – 2015-03-26T08:47:56.903

Saul, I reviewed your clarified statements and I come essentially to the same conclusions. It is precisely because "something" can not come from "nothing," that one thing (a Creator) that exists eternally, is required! Your statement, "The only way for our present reality to have an ultimate beginning is when something can in fact come from nothing," is in fact not true. Scientist use the term "vacuum" when referring to "nothing," philosophers use the term "nothing" when referring to the absence of every thing (including a Creator)! – Guill – 2015-05-26T04:13:19.670

Continuing with my comment, it is not the same thing to say "our universe was created by/from a vacuum fluctuation" as to say, "our universe was created from nothing." – Guill – 2015-05-26T04:26:17.233

Hypothetically yes, but you cannot answer a question of metaphysics as a question of physics. The reason is that when physics accepts Creation as a valid possibility then it also accepts a Creator -- a mystery it cannot describe without accepting yet another mystery stating that mankind has been created in the image of the Creator. In other words, common physics cannot reason about a possible Genesis even if it wanted to. It would be self-contradictory. At any rate, the original question is of generic type. The possibility or inevitability of a Creator is a different and a more specific topic. – Saul – 2015-05-29T15:48:00.557

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The problem of your question is the idea of "nothing".

It is neither nothing nor any particular thing.

What is nothing? Is it some blankness?

Where does that come from and from whence does this order come from?

The only answer to your question is to posit a Quantum Sea of Unknowability.

Consider it like heat or Hiesenberg's Uncertainty.

Or, you can view it like S in physics describing Boltzmann's Entropy where S = k log W, where W is the number of states.

The universe is probably something like infinity, but you also don't know the base of the log, and k (the Boltzmann constant) is a bias in present science in favor of the atomic model of matter.

So, in the end, you can't actually quantify it.

Get it?

TheDoctor

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 550

You are not answering the original question and you are ignoring the labels the question has -- it is not possible to argue against a question of metaphysics and ontology using arguments of physics. To have some sense what this discussion is about you can start with considering an object that has no properties whatsoever -- no mass, no charge, no awareness and no position. A complete and absolute ontological zero instead of whatever there is at the moment. The question is about the contradiction between "ex nihilo nihil fit" and the rather undeservedly famous "Big Bang". – Saul – 2017-03-08T15:31:41.023

@Saul: No you are wrong. You cannot consider an "object that has no properties at all", because that is a logical impossibility. – TheDoctor – 2017-03-10T14:39:09.150

That is the whole point. If such an object could exist then it would have properties which is the opposite of our premise. Nothing does not exist. Nothing "does" the opposite of existing. However, the above question is about something else. Please stay on topic and find some way to contribute useful information. If you don't like the question then please do find another one as this question already has its topic and limits in place and they are not going to change. – Saul – 2017-03-10T18:58:52.557

@Saul: okay, i've edited my answer. I still reference physics, but only analogically. – TheDoctor – 2017-10-26T21:20:42.757

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The problem is caused by the assumption that anything fundamentally, metaphysically or independently exists. Clearly many things seem to exist but what exactly do we mean by 'exists'. We usually mean 'appears to exist'. A common metaphysical view would be that nothing really exists and this changes the nature of the question being asked here.

The problem goes away if we adopt a certain view of existence. It will continue to plague us while we do not adopt this view. The Perennial philosophy deals with all such problems but for some reason this is not enough to make it plausible to most of those who cannot solve them.

user20253

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation:

Well.. I think you're collating existential experience with a purely logical deduction. You can observe something. That's a fact. The question, however, wasn't about existential experience which is already a given. The question is about what can be deduced from it. The term "assume" functions simply as a placeholder for the fact of observation, it's not there in any speculative capacity. I recommend reading the (accepted) answer Mozibur provided. It's quite excellent. – Saul – 2018-08-02T15:08:26.460

@Saul. I see. So you think it is a good approach to using your reason to deduce the truth about existence to start by taking existence as a given rather than examining it? Descartes must be turning in his grave. I wonder what you mean by 'existence'. It is not difficult to deduce that nothing really exists for if it did the paradox you're trying to solve would arise, as you are discovering. – None – 2018-08-02T19:13:05.733

I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be a good approach. Cognition requires both a subject and an object, hence at least something indeed exists (Q.E.D.) So yes, I think the approach is quite solid. By existence I mean the object of "cogito", whichever it may be. As you argue, one could simply declare that nothing really exists and find the question meaningless but that particular view doesn't explain any of the observations I've highlighted in the question. In contrast, the limits to reason as described by Kant explain them quite succinctly. – Saul – 2018-08-02T22:28:07.767

Kant was a good philosopher and did not make the mistake of taking anything for granted. The fact that cognition requires a subject and object tells us nothing about what exists. Kant concluded that existence outruns cognition. , You have thrown out this possibility without examination. Where assumptions give rise to a intractable problem it's a good idea to investigate whether dropping the assumption solves the problem. – None – 2018-08-03T11:17:47.767

I must say, you're strangely insistent about a question that (according to your view) doesn't really exist. Existence might indeed outrun cognition and probably does but that doesn't make cognition invalid within its limits. Nor would I say that undecidability is a sign of a problem. Undecidability is a sign of a limit. I understand that you want to reframe the question here but as far as I can see, there's no reason for it. If you want to answer a different question, you can just create it and continue your thought over there. The question on this page is already written, and answered. – Saul – 2018-08-03T15:52:20.450

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Nothing in the context of universe and creation, need not be assumed to be indeed nothing like having no property or no physical law etc. We just need to understand how the universe came into being and then what was before it came into being. Science has proved that nothing is unstable and there is a quantum fluctuation that creates pair(s) of particle and antiparticle which may or may not annihilate each other. Overall particle and antiparticle can be said to represent positive and negative with net equal to zero or nothing. The total mass and energy in the universe are exactly zero. Gravity is considered to be negative energy. At the time of big bang, the time as we understand, need to be understood in different way. The events were quantum events and were mixed in 3-dimensional space so that it becomes meaningless to define what is "before" and what is "after". Before big bang, there was nothing that was giving rise to particle-antiparticle pair(s), possibly for infinite time, if we insist to define time in that context. There must be nothing "outside" of our universe, in which the universe is expanding. In this sense, nothing can be considered as a kind of space. So to summarise, something, if we accept one of the form of the same as the particle-antiparticle pairs, can come out of nothing and this nothing can have properties like dimensions of space and can be said to obey the physical laws.

Ajit Kulkarni

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 17

0

We might say that something exists if it has at least one measurable property. Therefore ‘nothing’ has no measurable properties. If ‘nothing’ is capable of producing ’something’ then that might reasonably be considered to be a property, although it’s unclear how it would be measured. Therefore it follows that ‘nothing’ is incapable of producing ‘something’.

Frog

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 151

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Their seems to be a certain amount of confusing the issues here. Asking if something can come out of nothing is not the same asking if their is no cause. It is entirely possible than their was nothing until a transcendent causal agent came along and decided to create something.

It seems the popular intuition that something cannot come from nothing is at odds with the current scientific view that whatever there is, it must have had some kind of a beginning.

I do not think this is really true. Einsteins era of physicist where convinced of an eternal universe. Why anyone would claim that everything has a beginning is beyond me. Why would exclude things from being eternal?

However, when something can come from nothing then something may not have existed always and can have a beginning. Is that entity the Universe or something else, is also another question.

This seem right to me. Asserting that a thing has some type of cause to its existence does seem to remove the quality of being eternal from it.

Can something come out of nothing or not? Why?

Yes because a all powerful transcendent cause willed it to be.

Neil Meyer

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 2 161

Yes, this would be Nagarjuna's answer as well. Nondualism is a dual-aspect theory for which, as Lao Tsu says, 'true words seem paradoxical'. It's a bit like saying that an electron is a wave and a particle or neither, where these are aspects. For Kant's view to make sense we need Nagarjuna's 'Two Worlds' doctrine, the idea that there are two levels of analysis. the the conventional and the ultimate, thus 'Two Truths'. Kant almost got there but we have to take up where he left off. – None – 2017-11-06T14:42:18.400

In this context, a transcendent causal agent is also something and not separate from it. The above question in essence inquired whether it is logically and also empirically reasonable to say there is something eternal or not. As Mozibur Ullah pointed out in the commentary to his answer, Immanuel Kant investigated this question also and concluded it constituted an antinomy - according to Kant, it is reasonable to say both that there is something eternal and that there is not.

– Saul – 2013-10-08T14:15:31.380

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               Can something come from nothing?

Recently a very intelligent question has been raised by a famous American atheist: how can a non-thing have any attributes? Atheists do not believe in the existence of God. So, as per them God is a non-thing, and therefore this non-existent God, or this non-thing, cannot have any attributes at all. But here I will show that even if God does not exists, still then this non-existent God (non-thing) can actually have many attributes.

For this purpose I will take the case of a stone that does not exist, and I will ask the question: can we destroy a non-existent stone? The answer is very simple indeed: no, we cannot. A non-existent stone cannot be destroyed, simply because it does not exist at all. So we can say that a non-existent stone is indestructible. This is one attribute that the non-existent stone can have. Similarly it can be shown that this non-existent stone can have many other attributes also.

The non-existent stone is not within any space, because it does not exist, and therefore it cannot have any space at all. Therefore it is spaceless.

The non-existent stone is not within any time, because it does not exist, and therefore it cannot have any time at all. Therefore it is timeless.

As the non-existent stone is neither in space nor in time, so the non-existent stone cannot change at all. This is because change can occur either in space, or in time. So the non-existent stone does not get any chance to change at all, and thus the non-existent stone is changeless.

A non-existent stone can never cease to be, because ceasing to be is also some sort of change. And we have already seen that no change can ever occur for the non-existent stone, because the necessary condition for the occurrence of any sort of change in it does not exist at all. So the non-existent stone will never cease to be. But what does it mean that the non-existent stone will never cease to be? It means that the non-existent stone will forever remain a non-existent stone.

Similarly it can be shown that the non-existent stone will always be unborn, uncreated, without any beginning and without an end. This is because it has already been made very clear that no change can ever occur for the non-existent stone. But to be born is some sort of change. Being created is also some sort of change. Having a beginning is also some sort of change. Coming to an end is also some sort of change. As the non-existent stone can never change at all, therefore it will always be unborn, uncreated, without any beginning and without an end.

But what does it mean that the non-existent stone is without any beginning and without an end? It means that the non-existent stone is everlasting. But if the non-existent stone is everlasting, then the next question will be: is it everlasting in its existence? Or, is it everlasting in its non-existence? As the stone does not exist, so here we will have to say that it is everlasting in its non-existence. But if it is everlasting in its non-existence, then we can also say that it is everlastingly non-existent. But if it is everlastingly non-existent, then that will mean that it can never come into existence from its everlasting non-existence. It will forever remain into its everlasting non-existence. This will further imply that something can come from something only, and that something can never come from nothing.

Himangsu Sekhar Pal

Posted 2013-09-17T14:15:00.410

Reputation: 1

1Who is that famous atheist you're mentioning? Your answer could use some sources or references. – iphigenie – 2013-11-15T11:42:30.820

"For this purpose I will take the case of a stone that does not exist" - You posit something that does not exist. Then you attribute to that concept positive judgements in the form of negations (non-temporal, non-spacial, etc). Isn't this a mistake? Because what you are describing is not simply "a non-existent stone", but non-existence itself. You can replace the stone with apple, orange, man, vehicle, etc but don't need to change the logic. What would the answer be if I ask if your non-existing stone is rough or smooth? What colour is it? – nakiya – 2014-12-04T08:13:38.653