When I was young, I once looked at a box of cereal and had an epiphany. “Why is that cereal there?” A universe of unfathomable complexity, with 100,000,000,000 galaxies, each with 100,000,000,000 stars, making 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible solar systems with planets around them—all that, and I’m sitting across from a box of Vanilly Crunch?
Since that existential crisis, I’ve always wondered why there was something instead of nothing. Why isn’t the universe just one big empty set? “Emptiness” and “nothingness” have always seemed so perfect to me, so symmetric, that our very existence seems at once both arbitrary and ugly. And no theologian or philosopher ever gave me an answer I thought was satisfying. For a while, I thought physicists were on the right track: Hawking and Mlodinow, for example, in The Grand Design, describe how universes can spontaneously appear (from nothing) according to the laws of quantum mechanics.
I have no problem with quantum mechanics: it is arguably the most successful theory devised by mankind. And I agree that particles can spontaneously create themselves out of a vacuum. But here’s where I think Hawking and Mlodinow are wrong: the rules of physics themselves do not constitute “nothing”. The rules are something. “Nothing” to me implies no space, no time, no Platonic forms, no rules, no physics, no quantum mechanics, no cereal at my breakfast table. Why isn’t the universe like that? And if the universe were like that, how could our current universe create itself without any rules for creation?
But wait—don’t look so smug, theologians. Saying that an omnipotent God created the universe doesn’t help in any way. That just passes the buck; shifts the stack by one. For even if you could prove to me that a God existed, I would still feel a sense of existential befuddlement. Why does God herself exist? Nothingness still seems more plausible.
Heidegger called “why is there anything?” the fundamental question of philosophy. Being a physicist, and consequently being full of confidence and hubris, I set out to answer the question myself. I’d love to blog my conclusions, but the argument runs about 50,000 words…longer than The Great Gatsby. Luckily for you, however, my book Why Is There Anything? is now available for the Kindle on Amazon.com:
You can download the book here.
You might wonder if my belief in the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics affected my thinking on this matter. Well, the opposite is true. In my journey to answer the question “why is there anything?” I became convinced of MWI, in part because of the ability of MWI to partially answer the ultimate question. My book Why Is There Anything? is a sort of chronicle of my intellectual journey, one that I hope you will find entertaining, enlightening, and challenging.