Like I said a few days ago, it's absolutely awesome that existence exists. Oh, guess I should add, "awesome, dude... ."
Which reflects how marvelously meaningful what I said is. And also how meaningless.
It happened again today. That sudden "bottom falling out from under me" feeling, sort of the mental equivalent of being startled by an elevator going into free fall.
I like the feeling. It's the most genuine sensation of spirituality, not really an apt word, but best I can come up with, that comes over me in my churchless way of looking at the world.
What it is -- and I'm also struggling to find the right words here -- is awe that existence exists.
Haven't changed my mind about that. But after finishing re-reading P.W. Atkins' fascinating "Creation Revisited," I had some additional insights into my awesome feeling.
(Let's make that a re-re-reading; just realized that I'd blogged before about a re-reading.)
Atkins, a distinguished chemist, does a good job of arguing that there's no need to posit a creator of the universe. In his view, the universe didn't need any assistance in creating everything that exists. That everything springs neatly from..
Let's leave aside the details of his argument in this post and jump right to Atkins' final chapter, the money shot of his book, so to speak.
In the beginning there was nothing. Absolute void, not merely empty space. There was no space; nor was there time, for this was before time. The universe was without form and void.
By chance there was a fluctuation, and a set of points, emerging from nothing and taking their existence from the pattern they formed, defined a time. The chance formation of a pattern resulted in the emergence of time from coalesced opposites, its emergence from nothing.
From absolute nothing, absolutely without intervention, there came into being rudimentary existence. The emergence of the dust of points and their chance organization into time was the haphazard, unmotivated action that brought them into being.
Extreme simplicities, emerged from nothing.
Though I liked the godlessness of this passage, I highlighted in three question marks in the margin of the page on which these lines appeared.
I was bothered by Atkins' assertion that absolute nothing could be jolted into producing rudimentary existence by "chance."
Isn't chance something? How can this guy assert that absolutely nothing co-exists with chance? Didn't he say nothing existed prior to chance acting on an absolute void? Wouldn't chance have to come into being before chance brought everything else into being?
From one point of view, those are good questions. From another, they aren't. I talked about this in Science's "nothing" different from religion's "nothing."
It was like I was some sort of Godlike being looking upon existence from a transcendent realm, contemplating two cosmic possibilities: one where "nothing" prevailed eternally; another where the "something" we are aware of is existent.
I'd wonder why there's something rather than nothing. It just seemed so mysterious, so awesome, so marvelous, that instead of nothing, there was something, and I'm a part of it!
My mistake, as Lawrence Krauss points out, was in assuming that nothing and something are both realistic possibilities. Actually, there's no such thing as nothing, in the sense of nonbeing. Material existence is what there is. The opposite of reality isn't nothing, nonbeing, or nonexistence. Such is a theological or philosophical idea, an abstraction, present only in the human brain/imagination.
Religions, particularly of the Western monotheisitic variety, adore the idea ofcreatio ex nihilo, "creation out of nothing."
But that's all it is: an idea. There's no evidence of the absolute "nothing" so loved by the religionists who take issue with Krauss's scientific view of a quantum nothing that creates universes instead of God. The quantum nothingness of empty space is filled with energy, potential, possibility.
So the everlasting God of religion, which is nowhere to be observed, is replaced by the everlasting quantum nothing which has been proven to exist even in seemingly absolutely empty spacetime.
Thus those question marks I put in the margins, and even my feeling of awe that wow, existence exists, strikes me as betraying a lingering quasi-religious philosophical attitude that appears and disappears in my psyche.
I find it really difficult to totally set aside the notion that "nothing" is a viable alternative to "something." I can't get my head fully around the notion that an absolute void, non-existence without any trace of something existing, is a human abstraction, a concept, a mental hypothesis with no basis in reality.
Saying any more would probably result in me saying less.
Sit back. Have a glass of wine. Smoke a joint. Meditate on Om. Whatever... dude. Contemplate how I ended my previous post.
As Krauss says, religious true believers argue with this scientific godless understanding of the cosmos. "But the quantum vacuum isn't really nothing," they say. "It is governed by the laws of nature." Well, who says that reality has to conform with how God-crazy humans want things to be?
Reality is what it is. Nothing isn't really nothing. Deal with it, religionists.