Where Did Everything Come From?
—the how of it ...
If ever you are brave enough to share your doubts about the existence of God (a subject on which there is often great sensitivity), the response you are most likely to receive is the popular question, "If there is no God, then where did everything come from? Is it just here all by itself? How is it possible that no One created it?"
Those who insist on pursuing this line of questioning never seem to be bothered about God Himself just being here, without anyone creating Him. Somehow they can accept that.
I have always considered this a tad strange. They can blithely accept the eternal existence of a Being as complex as God, yet demand (and somewhat adamantly) the creation of much simpler (very much simpler) elementary particles.
It is no doubt very difficult for the human mind to understand how anything could exist without some kind of a beginning. But if we had to choose, it seems to make at least a little more sense to select something simple to be uncreated than something complex.
Most however (due primarily to the influence of their family history), choose to believe that complexity exists eternally, without a beginning, and (most amazingly of all) seem to feel no need whatsoever to account for it.
They do feel a need for an explanation for existence (for what they prefer to call creation). But that which they propose as an answer (a Supreme Being), requires (they feel) no explanation. It is at this point that they essentially stop dead in their tracks.
Either they do not wish, or are unable, to take another step in the interest of justifying their answer.
It is easy to get the impression that they approach the subject as if guided by some sort of unwritten law, a law that directs them simply to make their proposal, and speak no more about it.
When challenged on the matter, it is typical for them to adopt the legendary Augustinian attitude about the impertinence of such questioning, and more or less suggest to the questioner (doubter) that the proposed Supreme Being is not altogether happy with these sorts of inquiries, would just as soon that we cease and desist with such irreverent investigations and simply accept with childlike faith that HE IS WHAT HE IS.
But, to give them the benefit of the doubt, if such a Being does not exist, how do we explain the world around us? The believer's question is a fair one (however irrational their response might be). Where exactly did everything come from?
It seems wise to begin the search for an answer to this question by taking a closer look at it, especially the word everything.
By this term (everything) is surely meant the basic stuff of the universe; matter, mass, substance, whatever we wish to call it. It doesn't matter (no pun intended). What does matter is that there is a whole lot of something out there (from galaxies to space dust), and we just want to know how it got there—all by itself.
How it got there, brings us to the other part of the question; where all of the something came from. Emphasizing this word casts it in a whole different light, because it seems to be implying—literally—that all of the something out there was once somewhere else and was somehow transported here, which means that we would then have to explain how it ever got to be there, in that other place (wherever that might be).
But this is not at all what believers mean when they want to know where everything came from. Whenever anyone asks this question, whether they realize it or not, they are being philosophical, very philosophical. Such inquiries fall under the category of that branch of philosophy called Metaphysics, an arena that takes as it purview existence itself.
To enter the austere world of metaphysics is to undertake the investigation of being, the being of anything, from an atom to a universe.
A metaphysical quest will seek to find the how of it, the why of it regarded as meaningless. It will not seek to either prove or disprove any preconceived notions about an invisible Being's involvement in being.
It is most accurate to describe the metaphysical quest as one that looks for the how, period. The addition of a preconceived mind into the equation is considered unnecessary.
It is very likely not possible to think of anything more basic than pure existence. If there were no such thing as existence, then nothing whatsoever could … well, exist.
Even when a believer claims that God exists, his very statement implies that existence itself precedes Him. It would be the same as insisting that God is blue. If there were no such thing (or quality) as blue (already existing), then it would make no sense at all to say that God, or anything else, was (or possessed) that thing.
And we cannot turn it around and say that existence is God, because that would imply that God existed before existence did. And that makes even less sense.
Let us then abandon any notions of mysterious invisible beings as necessary prerequisites for the existence of the universe and simply take a closer look at the unquestionable existence of SOMETHING, and specifically SOMETHING with no need of a Personality to be circulating in the undercurrent of its foundation.
Before we can truly begin to understand how all of the SOMETHING got here, we need first to learn as much as we can about it. And when we begin to take a really close look at this basic stuff that we are simply referring to as SOMETHING, we cannot help but notice one aspect of it that seems to stand out among all of its other qualities: NOTHING.
No matter what kind of SOMETHING you care to name, its existence is totally incomprehensible without a substantial quantity of NOTHING surrounding it. The solar system, for example, occupies a sphere (based on the orbit of Pluto) with a volume that is at least one-trillion times the volume of the Sun, which contains at least 99% of its mass.
But there's more.
The Sun's mass is comprised of atoms, and they as well are mostly empty space. And also like the solar system, 99% of the mass of an atom is contained in its nucleus. But the volume of a sphere surrounding an atom is no mere one-trillion times larger than its nucleus. It is no less than 100-trillion times larger!
The NOTHING of outer space is fairly obvious, but it pales in comparison to the NOTHING of an atom.
As an aid to understanding the absolute need of NOTHING, consider the following thought experiment. Imagine that you are in a room with another person. Now answer one question. How could you ever approach this person to make contact with them if there were no NOTHING between the two of you? It requires but the briefest consideration to realize that you couldn't. Without NOTHING, movement of any kind would be impossible, absolutely impossible.
If there is no such thing as NOTHING, then where exactly do you think all of the SOMETHING is? Where are the sun, moon, and stars? Where is every galaxy in the universe?
Grant it then that NOTHING exists, and further that its existence is an absolute necessity for the very placement of SOMETHING. What else, if anything, does its existence have to do with SOMETHING? Is there a deeper connection?
Is it possible that NOTHING is more remotely related to SOMETHING’S existence; that it is SOMETHING’S very source? Could it be that SOMETHING has actually come from NOTHING?
At this point I can imagine the ardent believer actually screaming, "How is that possible? How could something come from nothing? There is absolutely no way!"
Well, as a matter of fact, there is a way. The way is possible because of a very basic property of space’s dimensionality. Because space has at least three dimensions, we can have things that go in three different directions, like boxes that have length, width and height.
But to see how SOMETHING can come from NOTHING, we need only two dimensions.
It is because space is at least two-dimensional that we can pace the floor. If it had only one dimension we wouldn't be able to do something as simple as walk back and forth across a room (not of course that there could even be such a thing as a room in two-dimensional space, but I'm sure you can see what I'm getting at). We could walk one way, but it would be absolutely impossible for us to turn around and walk back!
And that is not all. We would be able to do all sorts of downright weird stuff. For example, we would be able to go to a hardware store (yes, I know, there wouldn't be one of those either, but work with me) and buy a garden hose with only one end; or to a sporting goods store and buy a basketball with an outside but no inside. We could have coins with only one side and rooms that we could walk into but not out of, at least not through the same door.
It is because of space's two-dimensionality (and more) that we are able to respond to the believer's outrage by pointing out that he is half right. SOMETHING indeed cannot come from Nothing, unless it can also go to NOTHING!
Coming and going are an inseparable pair, like the the two sides of a coin. You cannot have one without the other.
So if we want to know how SOMETHING can come from NOTHING, we need to know if it is possible for it to go to NOTHING. But what exactly does that mean?
To go to NOTHING means simply to experience annihilation. We need to know then, if it is possible for SOMETHING to be destroyed. And if you want to know if that can happen, just ask a physicist. He will tell you that the annihilation of matter occurs every time it makes contact with anti-matter.
When an electron meets an anti-electron (a positron), both disappear in a burst of gamma rays. This is nothing less than an example of SOMETHING going to NOTHING. And if it can go to NOTHING, it can also come from it. Whether we understand it or not, it is nonetheless a fact. SOMETHING can indeed come from NOTHING (and vice versa).
There is yet another way to consider the process of SOMETHING coming from NOTHING. It has to do with a principle that is called Same & Other.
We are all familiar with the assurance that like breeds like. Dogs reproduce dogs, cats give issue to cats, people to people and so on. This is undeniable, and observable on a daily basis.
But if we look more closely at it, there is a subtlety that we do not at first notice. As a human being we are of course the product of other human beings. Now, did you notice that I used the word “other” in the previous sentence? Yes, I am the progeny of my parents. But I am not my parents. I am most definitely something other.
To underscore precisely what I’m getting at, consider this rather odd, but compelling, question: could you make you? Could you make yourself? The question is at once absurd and profound. Before you scoff and dismiss it outright, consider it. What would it take for you to make yourself?
There are two virtually insurmountable impossibilities to consider.
First, there is the logical impossibility that requires that you exist before you in order to make you. How could you possibly make you if you did not already exist before you to carry out the job?
Second, there is the irresistible obstacle of thermodynamic law, which demands that it requires the amount of energy of which you consist, of which you are a manifestation, to make you.
You could not use up all of your energy (and I do mean all of it) and survive. If you could somehow manage to channel all of your energy into a duplication of yourself, the original you would cease to exist.
You could not, therefore, make you so much as transport you. And I haven’t even mentioned the energy that would be required to put the whole process together, a process that would require more energy than you represent.
In short, you do not possess sufficient energy to make you. You are the result of forces acting outside of you, and forces acting outside of you are other than you. You (what we will call the same) came from something other than you.
Septemer 30, 2005
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