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."