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Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

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This Debate

Don Cupitt, John Ellis, Lawrence Krauss. David Malone hosts.

Heidegger held the most important question to be "why is there something rather than nothing?" Hawking believes science will one day provide an answer. But is this a delusion? Is explaining creation beyond us or is there really a chance we can solve the greatest mystery of all?

The Panel

Bestselling author of A Universe From Nothing Lawrence Krauss and CERN physicist John Ellis contemplate the origins of existence with Sea of Faith author Don Cupitt.

Pythagoras' Dream - technology brought to you by BT/Polycom

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Lawrence Krauss
    The Pitch
    Cosmogony is the domain of physics not philosophy
  • John Ellis
    The Pitch
    There are several definitions of nothing, none of them all encompassing
  • Don Cupitt
    The Pitch
    Physicist are not asking the right questions
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Physics vs. philosophy
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    What is "nothing"?
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    The origins of the laws of physics
Join the conversation

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Brian Steere on 15/06/2014 10:49am

The nature of this interview gives a very loud voice to Krauss that corresponds to a 'loudness' of assertion - with capacity and willingness to interrupt in a self-certainty or 'self-righteousness'. Kraus energetically 'dominated' simply because he was actively confrontational and assertive and the others tended to submit or align - including the moderator.

If nothing = lie then all that is required to make something out of nothing is to assert it forcefully enough to destabilize and realign to it.

But the illusion of 'somethingness' is revealed when the distorting force is released or removed and the original undistorted clarity reveals itself.

Clarity in this sense is not a lie - but a direct awareness or recognition... accepted, welcomed and abiding as.

In this sense Existence is no thing. because 'thing-ness' arises as the object to a point of view. Unless One differentiates, one cannot experience point of view. Thus differentiation arises from self (reality) definition. However, note that the term exclusive is not necessary here. One does not identify exclusively within differentiated reflection, unless one seeks to excommunicate or reject or deny a part of one self.

Who or what is kicking who or what out?

A split mind experiences itself fragmented as legion - as a full cast of personae operating seamlessly in a continuity of action and reaction - as if self-becoming and self perpetuating. Time and space serve to keep a fleeting now from the Eternal Nowing, to keep out 'there' from being Total Presence... until willingness for the game wears thin and is no longer worth the candle. No longer worthy of giving your Light to.

When that which had been turned inside out restores its original nature, there not the nothing-ing of one's existence, but its redemption to a true foundation. That is to say only the lie of nothingness is undone of its appearance as a 'something' and is clearly seen and thus an illusion is revealed as such rather than employed as a frame of reference. There is a shock on discovering your brother is your enemy no more!

What doesn't occur to scientists is that the 'redundancy of God' is the redundancy of 'self.' There is no separate God = there is no separate or originating self.

What is the self that is presumed to have 'evolved' as a rational capacity to 'understand' the Universe? It is presumed to be the apex of a nature that is separate from, observing and and acting upon this nature.

This is given a series of props for acting out in the physical sense of existence - that is to say manifested existence. Manifestation is a local specific rendering of non local or universal potentiality - AND IS IN NO WAY SEPARATE FROM IT.

The idea of belief of separating off from a Living Inheritance is the 'forgetting of the Father' for the manifestations of a splitting prism that likewise seeks to get for itself. This is the idea of getting nothing from Everything which cannot actually succeed because the very identification and attempt of negation, denial and self-asserting power depends 100% on that which it denies.

The Idea is the Universe - and not separate in any way from the Mind or Consciousness of which it arises.

But the segregative 'mind' renders and redefines consciousness as a tiny trickle somehow operating within material and organic limitations to which it is powerless EXCEPT by the development of its own abilities, chief of which is the cunning use of force and guile as self-justification for its own (separate) existence.

Brian Steere on 15/06/2014 9:21am

"Why is there something rather than nothing?”

The illusory proposition takes the form of a question. Like a phishing mail, a statement in the form of a question sets a frame from which reaction is in a sense programmed by a mistaken or usurped identity.

There is Something; Fact.

Though Something is not 'there' rather than or in distinction to Something Else 'here'.

Nor does Is ever become 'was' or 'will be'.

Is Is. Is is all that Is.

What seems unapproachable to the mentality of a separated self-sense is richly reflective as an already knowing. But the knowing of being is in a sense eclipsed, by a diversion of attention and desire.

"What if nothing were as it really Is?"

This question is a fantasy for Everything IS as it Is and the idea of 'different than Is. is 'is not' or non-existence; nothing.

Pursuing the fantasy idea, and giving attention to the idea of nothing as if it were an alternative open the mind of choice. For one can release the fantasy of 'different than' or one can further attend to the experience of 'chooser' in division. Attending to such fantasy yields a personal experience of a distorted reality... within the Consciousness or awareness that Is one's existence.

The apparent alloy or adulteration of Is, with fantasy results a polarized experience of love/fear, life/death, embrace/hate, self/other, consciousness/matter, matter/space.

The presumption of a separately segregated private mind or self is the 'precious' image or concept of self generated OVER AND AGAINST fear of loss - and non-existence or death, victimhood and subjection, enslavement and meaninglessness.

The mind in its drama generates drama as the basis of an ongoing distraction of temporary darkness of ignorance within which to persist in acting out the idea of itself it has 'created'.

But beneath the mind is the perfect or uninterruptable embrace of Consciousness being All That Is - which cannot be separated from or objectified... except in concept... as fantasy in the mind.

The question "Why is there something rather than nothing?” can be FELT as the arising awareness of Is to its own welcome.

The questions that rise from being are the vanguard of their own revelation, but to personify the question by 'taking it to mind' makes the question separate from the answer and require or necessitate a process of mind upon the matter in question. As is readily observable, mind operates as an construct of thought systems of conflicting ideas to which are applied rules of congruency and continuity - (though facts are never invited to spoil a good story), each unto their own defended 'truth'.

Yet embracing and pervading the realm of personal experience - and insinuating itself as a process of reintegrating consciousness - is the movement of wholeness unto itself; the recognition and appreciation and gratitude of and for existence ITSELF.

"Why is there something rather than Everything?".

Because the movement of consciousness within is reflecting a facet of totality as your Now, that is exactly expressing the ideas personal and collective, conscious and unconscious, that extend or project the unique signature of love - of what you are giving attention to and embracing as your self.

That we have agreed to be mutually distracted in a fantasy of fear and division has not changed the Law or Nature of Consciousness Itself;

what you give out is what you get back.

Meaningless ness is the condition in which mind can come out to play in determining its OWN meanings. It is also the condition in which one recognizes the fruitless and releases its futility.

All of what is created as experience can be opened to a greater perspective or one can persist in asserting a segregating coercion in the desire for power over Life.

A true integrity embodied, and thus shared, rests in the power of Life.

Trying to fit Life (others, self and world) into our wish, yields an isolated sacrifice of all that Lives You to a false god unrecognized as such.

"Why focus in the head instead of abiding as the heart?"

Because a sense of evil, threat or loss has made you homeless - and KEEPS YOU SO.

Innocent curiosity is Free. Beliefs demand allegiance. Releasing false allegiance moves to more inclusive beliefs and to the freedom from any need to believe. The movement of being is only 'hidden' from that which would hide itself - yet even this within a larger theme of creative discovery.

Thomas Elliott on 07/06/2014 1:06pm

The problem with Dr. Krauss's position is that he never touches the human-existential question at the heart of Heidegger's sphynx. After starting with an adhom, Krauss talks about nothingness in purely material terms, which banishes the nothingness he feels within into a perfectly harmless set of interesting (scientifically motivated) speculations about the matter of the universe. Krauss totally neglects how we should live with the nothingness which charecterizes our existence, he doesn't give a damn if we understand anything at all, and flipantly endorses opaque obscuritanism. Krauss seems to wrap up every assertion with radical acceptance; 'it is what it is', which is a psychological defense mechanism, not a reason to believe something. The laws of physics may be thus and so, but nothingness, the ineffable, the mystery of being etc., these strange qualities of human existence cannot be captured in discussions of the behavior of quanta, they are not reducible in the same way predation patterns within biotic community cannot be cashed out in a discussion of the particles and forces within the void.

Ikjyot Singh Kohli on 04/06/2014 4:07pm

There is no such thing as "nothing", Krauss' notions are quite false. Please see this article for the complete story of what it actually means to ask why there is something rather than nothing. http://arxiv.org/abs/1405.6091

Michael Davis on 04/05/2014 11:34pm

Parmenideum on 16/04/2014 7:09pm -- "Has anyone managed to interpret what Victor has tried very hard to say down there at the bottom of the page?"

Yes. It seems Victor has located various moments wherein Dr. Krauss is "having his cake and eating it" by working two sides/definitions of these space/something/void/nothing terms. E.g. Krauss claims we can wait for nothing to produce something. Yet, this is after all parties agree that we wait within and wait as "something". We cannot know the "nothing" as it is defined early on, and so Krauss is using some other definition than the one all parties agreed to. In this case the vacuum energy to which Krauss refers is a feature of and something we can only observe from space-time. It is clearly therefore not the "nothing" Krauss intends in the context of the point he is attempting to make.

And even though Dr. Krauss is undisciplined with his deployment of "English", I think he makes his case.

The philosopher states at the beginning he/we can only be ignorant. Krauss manages to demonstrate the other "classic" physicist is in error on key points. And Krauss remains throughout unwilling to address the essential intent of the question at hand...

2000 years of hot air, and Socrates remains the wisest of us all.

Parmenideum on 16/04/2014 7:09pm

Has anyone managed to interpret what Victor has tried very hard to say down there at the bottom of the page?

The video/sound quality is patchy at times, but this is a marvellous and fascinating topic so it's worth the effort.

Not much to disagree about with Krauss, or in fact Ellis, though it was difficult to get the central point of Cupitt's input. But again sound quality might account for that as it was particularly bad when he was speaking.

I did draw a question mark on Krauss's use of photon emission as an analogy to illustrate that "something can come from nothing". It does not exist prior to emission as Krauss says, but does the photon actually come from nothing?

The photon is emitted when an electron transitions from an outer orbit to one closer to the nucleus. During that transition the orbital potential energy of the electron changes. The difference between the two orbital energies of the electron provides the energy to create the photon. So though the photon did not exist before it was emitted, what it came from did exist. Namely, the energy stored between the two orbital shells of the electron. The total energy of the photon (rest mass and kinetic) precisely equals that differential in orbital potential energy.

Furthermore, unlike in the case of the universe, it is in fact possible to state <I>why</> the photon was created, and also from where it came. It was created because (by cause) of the electron transition; and it came from (is made of) the differential potential energy released in the transition, as just mentioned. There's no argument over whether the photon existed prior to emission. As Krauss says, it did not. But it does not in fact come from nothing, which is the (careless) point he makes in arguing that something can come from nothing. (He might be forgiven, as it was midnight in Australia).

In the case of the universe, we don't know why it exists (and shouldn't perhaps ask why because, as the physicists say, it's a non-starter). And we also don't know where the universe came from. Or if we do have a theory- that it emerges from vacuum energy for instance - then where does the vacuum energy come from? One supposes the answer to that is quantum uncertainty, which permits fluctuations that produce zero-energy particle pairs.

The quantum uncertainty model is in fact appealing, because uncertainty is another way of saying "no laws". Krauss gives a very satisfying definition of nothing - no particles, radiation, space, time or laws. The last in the list is very important it seems, as an absence of laws implies there are no constraints on something happening. If there are no constraints then it's not surprising that particles can emerge, though they cannot violate the conservation of energy. The conservation condition presents a problem however. The fact that energy must be conserved is something to be explained. Why does the conservation of energy apply, from where does that decree come from?

But perhaps that requirement can be explained through the fact that if energy was <I>not</> conserved...there would in fact be something to explain! As it is there is nothing to explain. Perhaps humans try to find explanations where none are needed.

This is a worthwhile topic and the <a href="http://www.parmenideum.com/">Parmenideum Philosophy Society</a>, has held a conference on it here in Elea in southern Italy. Quite fitting, as this is the former home of the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides, one of the first to make a scientific enquiry into Being. We have a blog on <a href="http://www.parmenideum.com/philosophy_blog/2013/09/10/why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing/">Why is there something rather than nothing?</a> and also <a href="http://www.parmenideum.com/general/survey.html">Why do 2 + 2 = 4?</a>, and would welcome sensible input.

Robert Gillis on 12/01/2014 2:54am

The question of why there "is" seems irrelevant until the question first to be addressed is, how is 'awareness' of anything possible if 'nothing' were the only consideration? It (the question) would appear to be quantifiable by the conclusion: quote: "I think, therefore I "am" The question is 'circular' because without awareness and perception from which to consolidate and form a basis for coherent intelligence to theorize, how could anything matter in any comprehensible sense were something present to ponder the issue?

LessThanNothing on 12/09/2013 12:27pm

I think that the notorious 'Higgs field' finally gives us some sort of answer to this question why Is there something rather than nothing, because, in short, SOMETHING is CHEAPER than NOTHING:

As Slavoj Zizek writes, following on from Steinhardt and Turok:

"the “Higgs field” controls whether forces and particles behave differently or not: when it is “switched on” (operative), symmetries are broken between elementary particles, and their complex pattern of differences emerges; when it is “switched off” (inoperative), forces and particles are indistinguishable from one another, the system is in a state of vacuum... it is energetically favourable for the Higgs field to be switched on and for the symmetries between particles and forces to be broken."


"...when we have the pure vacuum (with the Higgs field switched off), the Higgs field still has to spend some energy―nothing comes for free; it is not the zero-point at which the universe is just “resting in itself” in total release―the nothing has to be sustained by an investment of energy. In other words, energetically, it costs something to maintain the nothing (the void of the pure vacuum)."

In the end, I think particle physics can give us a satisfactory answer to this, but like most of what quantum physics has to say, it will not be an answer that we can properly conceptualise into our understanding of ordinary reality and that is the problem.

[See. Slavoj Zizek's essay 'The Two Vacuums', or read Steinhardt and Turok's 'Endless Universe: Beyond The Big Bang']

David Morey on 01/08/2013 12:16am

A more appropriate question might be: why this particular something with these possibilities and not everything already realised?

David Morey on 31/07/2013 8:00pm

Would we be better off talking about regularities that may well be contingent and temporary and drop all the legal-theological metaphor of laws.

Roger on 24/07/2013 5:47am

My view is that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is answerable. I think the problem we have in answering this question is in thinking that "something" and "nothing" are different things. Instead, the conclusion I've come to is that "something" and "nothing" are just two different words or ways of looking at the same underlying thing: what we've traditionally thought of as the "absolute lack-of-all", or "non-existence". That is, the universe, or "something", must exist because even if there were "nothing at all", this "nothingness" can be thought of, from a different perspective, as being an existent state, or "something". A more detailed explanation of my rationale is below. Before getting to that, though, I admit that no one can ever prove their arguments about this question because no one can step outside our existence spatially or temporally to see what caused it. Instead, what I'm trying to do is to use my rationale as a base to try and build a working model of the universe that can eventually make testable predictions via a process that I call "philosophical engineering". Predictably, I'm a long way from this goal! Thank you for listening.

From the abstract of a paper I wrote at my website on the questions "Why do things exist?" and "Why is there something rather than nothing?":

In this paper, I propose solutions to the questions "Why do things exist?" and "Why is there something rather than nothing?" In regard to the first question, "Why do things exist?", it is argued that a thing exists if it is a grouping, or collection. A grouping is some relationship saying, or defining, what is contained within. Such a definition or grouping is equivalent to an edge, boundary, or enclosing surface defining what is contained within and giving "substance" and existence to the thing. An example of a grouping, and thus an existent state, is a set. Without a relationship defining what elements are contained within a set, the set would not exist. This relationship, or grouping is shown by the curly braces, or edge, around the elements of the set, and is what gives existence to the set. In regard to the second question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?", "absolute nothing", or "non-existence", is first defined to

mean: no energy, matter, volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc.; and no minds to think about this absolute lack-of-all. This absolute lack-of-all itself, not our mind's conception of the absolute lack-of-all, is the entirety or whole amount of all that is present. This lack-of-all, in and of itself, defines the entirety of all that is present. It says exactly what's there. An entirety, or whole amount, or everything, is a relationship defining what is contained within (ie., everything) and is therefore a grouping, or edge, and, therefore, an existent state. This edge is not some separate thing; it is just the relationship, inherent in the absolute lack-of-all, defining what is contained within. Therefore, what has traditionally been thought of as "absolute lack-of-all", "nothing", or "non-existence", is, when seen from this different perspective, a grouping, and thus an existent state or "something". Said yet another way, "non-existence" can appear

as either "nothing" or "something" depending on how the observer thinks about it. Another argument is then presented that reaches this same conclusion. Finally, this reasoning is used to form a primitive, causal set- or cellular automaton-like model of the universe via what I refer to as "philosophical engineering".

Another rationale for the argument:

In regard to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?”, two choices for addressing this question are:

A. "Something” has always been here.

B. "Something” has not always been here.

Choice A is possible but does not explain anything (however, it will be discussed more at the end of this section). Therefore, choice B is the only choice with any explanatory power. So, this choice will be explored to see where it leads. With choice B, if “something” has not always been here, then “nothing” must have been here before it. By “nothing”, I mean complete “non-existence” (no energy, matter, volume, space, time, thoughts, concepts, mathematical truths, etc., and no minds to consider this complete "lack-of-all"). The mind of the reader trying to visualize this would be gone as well. But, in this "absolute nothing”, there would be no mechanism present to change this “nothingness” into the “something” that is here now. Because we can see that “something” is here now, the only possible choice then is that “nothing” and “something” are one and the same thing. This is logically required if we go with

choice B.

More on this is at my website at:


Sagar Gorijala on 16/07/2013 4:55am

There is something rather than nothing because... Number 1. Creation is impossible so physical existence is not infinite.

Number 2. Destruction of physical existence is impossible so Nothing or Non physical existence is impossible and therefore there is something rather than nothing.

Existence can't be zero or nothing because creation and destruction are impossible.

sagargorijala [ DOT ] blogspot [ DOT ] in

Oshea on 11/07/2013 11:15pm

Why does Lawrence Krauss seems on cocaine? In my honest opinion, he initiates the debate as joining a rally, as a physicist, I find it really annoying when you insist to speak talking about 'physics' when talking about contingency, necessity and chance. I think he boycotts the debate. I wish I could see a relaxed conversation between Ellis and Cupitt.

Joseph on 11/07/2013 10:41pm

We have a bunch of idiots commenting that completely misunderstand Lawrence Krauss position. First off to -Killmenow: your post is a pure attack without any details worth addressing, at least he understands finite mind has limits and can't assume more than we know, you idiot. -Victor: why and how are two different words.. and they are different for a reason. if you're going to call everything extravagant discovered a miracle then i don't know what can help you. what you mean to say is they aren't supporting your bullshit, therefore you don't like the questions they are asking, they are asking questions way more worthwhile than the junk you spit out. wow i did not know the majority of the rant is Victor alone. where were you when god made the universe? that's how stupid and pointless your question really is. it's called REVERSE ENGINEERING stupid bigot Victor.

Adantrobus on 11/07/2013 7:24am

I find a particularly tricky issue the idea of the universe starting out from a virtual particle style fluctuation. I can undertand how the inhomogenous denisities of matter can occur in a universe from this, but as I think J. Ellis was trying to illustrate, for a universe to appear in a similar manner, you have to define a "vaccum" (a space) in which this fluctuation can occur. Which definition of nothing is this? Does a "vacuum" of this nature even have a definition of time ? I don't see why it should. Does it have a definition of space?

Killmenow on 10/07/2013 8:40pm

Dr. Krauss's fallacy is in his futile attempt in using his finite mind to understand and explain the infinite. Akin to listening to an 8 year old science student explain to a aeronautical engineer that pigs can fly even though the evidence suggests something to the contrary. Dr. Krauss's simply doesn't understand that he is completely incapable of understanding the infinite-based subject at hand... With due respect to his efforts.

infinity on 10/07/2013 3:40pm

I've always thought of nothing in terms of large, small and infinite. I think the answer personally from a philosophical perspective is that infinity is a real affliction. I've a hodge podge of ideas I personally use to sort this matter out. I've always liked the question how do you stop something from having smaller parts? Or.. if you could expand and grow and not stop would you run out of space? With that in mind nothing and everything have a shared quality.. infinity. Infinity isn't much liked in the maths. But it does stand to reason that if nothing is both infinity large and small and we can't seem to find a bottom or top to everything that both are a part of the same. Everything exists because of the impossibility of nothing being infinite.. everything is and we are there to realize the impossibility of nothing. That's about as spiritual/philosophical I can put it. Infinity is the crux of it all and so far am disappointed that maths and the fact that infinity is a mathematical reality.

Victor on 10/07/2013 12:16pm


The Pitch

Cosmogony is the domain of physics not philosophy, let me begin by saying it is a stupid question, "really? "Why has no meaning what soever it prosumer propose , what we really mean when we say why, is we mean how, how is there something rather than nothing? So how do we get billion s of galaxy's from nothing that's the mirical, nothing is unstable, "Sure"


The Pitch

There are several definitions of nothing, none of them all encompassing

"We don't do why"we study what is in the universe, there was as much as something towards the big bang, we physicist keep moving the coal post as far as nothing is concerned for me nothing is the lowest energy state ja right: nothing is nothing remind me of what God said to Job "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding." (Job 38:4 KJV)


The Pitch

Physicist are not asking the right questions been nothing is not a state at all you must start with something : yep like "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. "(John 1:1 KJV)


Theme One

Physics vs. philosophy

The question still is what happened? We may not be able to answer the question completely, but we can argue what is plausible, "o really Lawrence"

The wel tested theory is what happened after the Big Bang "make sense"

The law's of physic's does not allow us to go back where T=0" great observation Lawrence,so anything you say from now onwards is just speculation, so again where we're you Lawrence when God laid the foundation?? Let me quest nowhere, nothing!!"

The photons on your screen came from nothing, " ye right, how about moving from one form of energy to a next like the law explain?" You are reasoning like passer ou round your own P hole, mr Lawrence" you don't realy need a before, it just need to arise then time start tik king,, "whow"


Theme Two

What is "nothing"? Lawrence make the the following statement that nothing will spit out something if you wait long enough, " I submit to you we call ( nothing) a-thought( that is a state of nothing) that is spit out in words witch answers your WHY question by a thinking being that clearly state the HOW


Theme Three

The origins of the laws of physics, Lawrence you say it best when you say: "God forbit" there is your definition and explanation right there,

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