Monday, August 13, 2012

Jim Holt's Book "Why Does the World Exist" - Initial Observations

The following are few extracts from Jim Holt's existential detective book Why Does the World Exist?
"The problem with the science option would seem to be this. The universe comprises everything that physically exists. A scientific explanation must involve some sort of physical cause. But any physical cause is by definition part of the universe to be explained. Thus any purely scientific explanation of the existence of the universe is doomed to be circular. Even if it starts from something very minimal— a cosmic egg, a tiny bit of quantum vacuum, a singularity— it still starts with something, not nothing. Science may be able to trace how the current universe evolved from an earlier state of physical reality, even following the process back as far as the Big Bang. But ultimately science hits a wall. It can’t account for the origin of the primal physical state out of nothing. That, at least, is what diehard defenders of the God hypothesis insist. (Page 5-6)"
My Comment: I don't agree with the observation that any purely scientific explanation of the existence of the universe is doomed to be circular. Why it needs be? As the writer explains in subsequent chapter, that the causation law gets unnerved by "events at the micro level" as it "happen in aleatory fashion", explained by quantum theory, and this "opened up up the conceptual possibility that the seed of the universe might itself have come into being without a cause, supernatural or otherwise. Perhaps the world arose spontaneously from sheer nothingness." - if that is so, one can argue that this "sheer nothingness" might be "nothingness" by the standard of our current scientific understanding, but who is to deny that this "sheer nothingness" might point to that very divinity that supposedly beyond any materialistic laws? I can see Professor Richard Dawkins started rolling his eyes from thousands miles away, as if the entire humanity is immersed in "God Delusion", and as if the absolutist atheists are not in their nihilistic delusion.
"a universe without an explanation? That seems an absurdity too far, at least to a reason-seeking species like ourselves." (Page 7)
 My comment: It indeed seems an utterly illogical place if it were true, but there is good possibility that an explanation does exist, perhaps not in the realm of humanity's current intellectual maturity.
"No one can confidently claim intellectual superiority in the face of the mystery of existence. For, as William James observed, “All of us are beggars here.”" (Page 12) -
 My Comment: All of us are beggars, and quoting the overused cliche, are in the same boat, same existential reality we are in with the most basic and fundamental questions not answered empirically: Why are we here in this not so significant corner of this vast and expanding universe? Anyone who claims to know the whole truth based on only blind belief, maybe can remain content and satisfied to be stagnated in constant stupor, but human beings' progress did not depend delusion, but accepting the reality, but keeping the mind open with endless curiosity.
"It might even be possible for someone in a civilization not much more advanced than ours to cook up a new universe in a laboratory. Which leads to an arresting thought: Could that be how our universe came into being?" (Page 14)
"Even if the cause of our universe is an intelligent being, it could well be a painfully incompetent and fallible one, the kind that might flub the cosmogenic task by producing a thoroughly mediocre creation."
 "What raises man above other creatures is that he is conscious of his finitude; the prospect of death brings with it the conceivability of nothingness, the shock of nonbeing. If my own self, the microcosm, is ontologically precarious, so perhaps is the macrocosm, the universe as a whole. Conceptually, the question Why does the world exist? rhymes with the question Why do I exist? These are, as John Updike observed, the two great existential mysteries. And if you happen to be a solipsist— that is, if you believe, as did the early Wittgenstein, “I am my world”— the two mysteries fuse into one." (Page 18)
"If you turn on your television and tune it between stations, about 10 percent of that black-and-white speckled static you see is caused by photons left over from the birth of the universe. What greater proof of the reality of the Big Bang— you can watch it on TV." (Page 26)
"The world, they proclaimed, was summoned into existence by God’s creative word alone, without any preexisting material to make it out of. This doctrine of creation ex nihilo later became part of Islamic theology, figuring in the kalām argument for the existence of God. It also entered medieval Jewish thought." (Page 19)
"There were, after all, two revolutionary developments in twentieth-century physics. One of them, Einstein’s relativity theory, led to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning in time. The other, quantum mechanics, had even more radical implications. It threw into doubt the very idea of cause and effect. According to quantum theory, events at the micro-level happen in aleatory fashion; they violate the classical principle of causation. This opened up the conceptual possibility that the seed of the universe might itself have come into being without a cause, supernatural or otherwise. Perhaps the world arose spontaneously from sheer nothingness. All existence might be chalked up to a random fluctuation in the void, a “quantum tunneling” from nothingness into being." (Page 27)
My comment: To me this argument of "nothing theorists" still not convincing.

After Bertrand Russell's phenomenal  book The History of Western Philosophy, though now seems dated, but still one of the best in the field, Jim Holt's book I find to be highly readable and crafted like a good story. I have lots of pages to read before reaching the very last page, but so far finding this book absorbing. If time permits by the unknowable "divinity", I would love to write a review.

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