The Riddle of Existence Leibniz’s formulation: “Why is there something rather than nothing”, is perhaps one of the most important questions ever posed in Philosophy. It had taken philosophy into a level wherein ‘everything’ is included in its realm; not only abstracta but also concreta. However, the question is more focused on the origins and explanations of the existence of concrete objects. Aside from explaining why concrete objects exist and where they come from, and who/what made them; the other side of the query is – why not nothing?
Why did those ‘something’ prevailed and continues to exist instead of simply ‘nothing’? Further, equally important is to answer why concrete objects are the way they are, why they look and function the way they are? Though, we can also ask if the riddle of existence is even possible to answer or not; does this question even matter? Because of the complexity of answering such a very simply question, one is tempted to ignore it or easily discard it as unanswerable.
It is even easier to say that “there is something, rather than nothing” because we exist; or Wittgenstein’s later response to it – ‘it is nonsense’, we cannot imagine non-existence or absolute nothingness.
Some solve it by an ‘end-all-be-all” answer – God. Some rejects the question as it is, apparently, illegitimate and illogical; it is simply impossible to answer the question because its structure prevents us to do so. However, we see that these propositions did not actually dismiss it. Thus, the question may still be answerable.
The Hume-Edwards approach is somehow satisfying in that it says that matter is eternal – it can neither be created nor destroyed; mass-energy has existed at least at one time because matter is conserved. This did not, however, answer the follow up question – why not nothing? Let’s add some idealism to the approach – consciousness. We recognize the existence of concrete things because we are conscious about them. An example of this approach I am forwarding about is a man walking down the street who suddenly tripped over a rock with the size of a shoe.
The rock has always been there, has always existed; but it only “really” existed when the man had a contact with it and realized that it was there. This consciousness and “sensing” is not something we control or we plan. So, our consciousness is not predominantly selective, it is actually more accidental. Like for instance, when chatting with friends sometimes things come into our minds that are off the topic; or when watching a drama movie suddenly you think about popcorn. This then somehow avoids solipsism and subjective idealism.
Going further, the interaction of mass-energy and consciousness makes ‘something’ concrete, and our tools for this interaction are our senses. So, a flower in a pot may exist physically for all time; but unless a consciousness will recognize it, it will seem that it may not even have existed at all. At the same time, we may continue to imagine a unicorn; but unless we saw one, it will remain to be just an imagination, at least to most people. Thus, when we apply this to another philosophical riddle, which is forwarded by George Berkeley – “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? ; we accept that the tree exists but since no one hear it fall, then it is like it has never existed at all. Another application of this approach is the fact that some ancient civilizations have already thought way before the existence and possibility of outer space and some other astronomical details; but until they were discovered validated recently and are now acknowledged by the people. “Something” exists purely accidental; and absolute nothingness did not come into being because ‘accident’ happened i. e. ccident prevented absolute nothingness to prevail, and it created concrete things. For instance, while scientists say that evolution follows stages and that it is the ‘law of survival of the fittest’ which paved way for beings to ascend to the next stage; this process actually takes thousands and even millions of years to happen. Thus, evolution is not just something that is ‘willed’ but there is a certain amount of accident that needs to happen – that’s why most of the scientific developments were out of discovery and not from trying to create something.
Further, the laws of physics, most especially Newton’s laws; seem very precise, but their precision were actually stemmed out of temporary consistency of things. A ball thrown upward here on earth, will usually come down not because it is impossible for it to remain suspended in the air; but because, applying the approach I have been trying to build, an accident has not yet occurred which will change this ‘behavior’. Thus, absolute nothingness may have existed before but because an accident happened, ‘something’ existed. This approach then somehow fuses both materialism and idealism.
It takes into account that mass-energy and consciousness are dependent with each other in affirming concrete things. However, this kind of thinking presupposes that physical existence is not enough; and at the same time, ‘something’ cannot be just a product of the mind. Moreover, when you put the whole universe as purely accidental, it then implied that nothing can in fact be certain and that laws are impossible. Further, it seems like it just added something to the Hume-Edwards approach; but like the latter, it did not really answer the question “why not nothing? The answer that ‘everything’ is purely accidental still needs further discussions and refining. Therefore, this is just another approach to the riddle of existence, and it remains as such i. e. it still does not solve the problem/question. ———————–  Rescher, Nicholas. “On Explaining Existence (Real Possibility as the Key to Actuality)” in Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings, ed. Steven Hales. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999. 8-9.  Ibid. , 13.  Ibid. , 14.
Cite this The Riddle of Existence
The Riddle of Existence. (2016, Oct 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-riddle-of-existence/