Why Does the World Exist?

Friday, July 13, 2012

In his latest book, “Why Does The World Exist?,” author Jim Holt embarks on an existential journey, asking everyone from mathematicians to novelists, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

"I was a high school student, I was raised in a religious family, and I was beginning to question the metaphysics of religion — the idea that the world exists because God made the world, and God exists because that's what God does — he's self existent," Holt says. With the question gnawing at him, he set out to investigate the question, drawing upon the great minds of the times and exploring their ideas. 

The theme of consciousness is one that Holt focuses on most carefully. He says that the general thinking is that consciousness came into being late in the game, so to speak. However, there are some exceptions. "There are some thinkers, both physicists and philosophers, who think that mind has been there all along, and that even electrons, protons, and neutrons have some sort of proto-mentality," Holt says.

"You have to consider a lot of ideas that sound crazy when you first encounter them," Holt says. "I've heard ideas that sound, to me, clinically insane from some of the greatest thinkers of our time. It's instilled in me a little bit of intellectual humility [in that] I'm less likely to dismiss an idea as crazy until I've really investigated it logically." 

The recent discovery of the Higgs-like particle contributes to Holt's idea that the universe lies between two extremes: absolute nothingness, and complete fullness. "Basically, the important thing about the Higgs field and the Higgs boson is that it makes reality messier than it would otherwise be," Holt says. "I can sort of see a general reason for the universe's existence taking shape, and one of the implications for that existence is that reality should be infinitely mediocre." 

Focusing back in on the human experience, Holt reminds his readers just how lucky they are to be in existence. "We've won an amazing cosmic lottery," Holt says. The heaviest of all thoughts, the author says, is what would've happened if he hadn't won that lottery ticket. "If I hadn't come into existence, there would've been nothing rather than something."

Guests:

Jim Holt

Produced by:

Robert Balint and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [12]

Adelaida

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Mar. 07 2013 01:16 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

I don't think you can ask a better question if you're trying to lure the religious fanatics out of the [virtual] woodwork. Nice job, great show!

Jul. 16 2012 09:41 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's notable that the speaker seems to assume that things exist as a result of chance, a lottery. This is Darwin's view. If he assumes that, he doesn't have many options. (One only has to see that God can control the outcome of random events to see that Darwin's atheism doesn't follow from his science.)

Jul. 15 2012 02:23 PM
Ed from Larchmont

To say the universe is messy, in between nothingness and perfect something, still doesn't say why it exists. If you think creation is mediocre I think you have to study a little more.

You're on the track: creation's characteristics do give us clues as to why it exists: it gives evidence of the creator (see St. Paul, Romans and Plato, the harmony of the spheres).

Creation is, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a cosmic temple and a home. It itself sings the praises of God. Matter does it unconsciously, by it's following the laws of nature, though it has some freedom also. And animals and plants do. And in this temple human beings, made in God's image, do it consciously, by choice, with God's help. And many do it unconsiously just by living good lives.

Jul. 15 2012 11:22 AM
bob green

You may find the book "The Origin of the Universe - Case Closed" to be interesting. It has math in the Appendix to back up the claims. It is hard to argue with the math! It’s easy to understand and a good read.

Jul. 14 2012 10:37 AM
John A. from a keyboard

Guest sounds a bit like a babe in the woods here, glad to hear he's loaded his book with interviews with some of the greats. / A key moment in my search was reading "The Last Question" by Asimov. It is possible, by dates, that his thinking came from Teilhard de Chardin, and there are "echoes" of this modern thought in Douglas Adams and even the odd movie "Dark Star".

Jul. 13 2012 04:02 PM
Larry Fisher from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn

I spent my life going from the sneer of contempt to the frivolous smile.

I was contemplating our "infinitely mediocre place" that Holt discusses while on line in a Bureaucratic office filled with workers whose IQ was "The Lowest Common Denominator" of creative thinking...
Every single employee gave me different information. So, I just kept asking different people the same question till I could get the answer that I wanted...

I think the meaning of life was answered best by Monty Python's movie, "The Meaning of Life." I saw the movie thirty years ago and I don't remember much of it. I remember laughing at some of the bits and I will stick with that as the answer.

Most of the time I look at man as being a cat stuck in a bird cage. The cat can't remember if he ate the bird or not, and if he should try getting out of the birdcage and maybe wait for a bird to fly back into it, so that he can jump back into again and eat the next tweety bird.

One day we will all have big bald eggheads and we will know all! Somebody give me some Advil quick.

It will be a fun time of waiting and talking to the perfect employee who will give me the answer that I was waiting for.

Jul. 13 2012 01:47 PM
Tom Ridge from Washington, PA

People always ask, “what is the meaning of life”. That is the wrong question. It should be “is there meaning to life”, a much easier question to answer. There is no reason to think there is ANY reason to life in the grand scheme of things.

Jul. 13 2012 09:52 AM
nathan mcniss from nashua nh

It has everything to do with our individual experiences and how these moments affect our memories and senses of pleasure or pain.

Jul. 13 2012 09:18 AM
DAVID WHITE from Darlington SC

The purpose of man is to love and serve the Lord.

Jul. 13 2012 09:07 AM
Peg

Why do ALL living things exist? Do they ALL care? What is consciousness? Are dogs conscious? Is grass conscious? Were protohumans conscious?

Why do we make all meaning relate to humans?

Jul. 13 2012 07:55 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The Judeo-Christian belief is that the world was created out of God's overflowing love and beneficience. To share his happiness (beatitude) with many others.

Jul. 13 2012 05:57 AM

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