Sunday, June 02, 2013

What kind of question is: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

In school as a kid, it took a while to understand why we needed to know about mathematical statements (e.g., "a meaningful composition of words which can be considered either true or false is called a mathematical statement"), it seemed obvious at first that one would never, unless insane, pose a non-statement.

I was reminded of that when Jim Holt's book, "Why Does the World Exist?" was discussed on Gödel's Lost Letter blog.

It is not at all clear to me whether the question,
"Why is there something rather than nothing?"
is meaningful. I cannot think of what an acceptable answer might look like; and I have a suspicion that the question hides an assumption that makes it impossible for there to be nothing, and so the question is a trivial and frivolous question. For instance, in the Peano axioms for the natural numbers, 1 != 2 follows directly from the axioms, and thus asking "why is 1 !=2?" is frivolous and uninteresting.