Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

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W. W. Norton & Company, 2012 - Philosophy - 309 pages
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Whether framed philosophically as “Why is there a world rather than nothing at all?” or more colloquially as “But, Mommy, who made God?” the metaphysical mystery about how we came into existence remains the most fractious and fascinating question of all time. Following in the footsteps of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose, and even Stephen Hawking, Jim Holt emerges with an engrossing narrative that traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. As he takes on the role of cosmological detective, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God vs. the Big Bang. Whether interviewing a cranky Oxford philosopher, a Physics Nobel Laureate, or a French Buddhist monk, Holt pursues unexplored and often bizarre angles to this cosmic puzzle. The result is a brilliant synthesis of cosmology, mathematics, and physics—one that propels his own work to the level of philosophy itself.
 

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This book is well written and has much useful detail, but it is much more about what other philosophers think about the nature of nothing and actually has very little about what Holt thinks about the nature of nothing. That is too bad.
So in other words, this book continues the discourse that began 2,500 years ago with Zeno and actually does not provide a single answer to the question asked. Rather Holt provides a litany of pretty much standard answers provided by discourses over these many thousands of years.
In fact, the world does exist and the only certain thing is that the world exists because it exists, which of course is an identity. We live inside of the universe and therefore it is impossible for us to step outside of the universe in which we live and answer any questions about the universe from outside, which includes questions about existence. However, that does not stop philosophers from a perpetual discourse about being and nothingness, a discourse that resolves nothing let alone resolving the nature of nothing.
The useful thing about philosophy is that it asks questions about the world that do not have ready answers. We might not have an answer because of a lack of knowledge or there simply may not be an answer. Questions that bound the universe do not have answers and existence is just such a question, which is the Wittgenstein get-out-of-jail-free card. There are many mysteries about the world that we must simply accept with belief and existence is one of those questions.
 

Contents

A Quick Proof That There Must Be Something
1
The Ultimate Free Lunch?
138
Waiting for the Final Theory
154
Platonic Reflections
171
The Last Word from All Souls
221
Acknowledgments
281
Index
295
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About the author (2012)

Jim Holt, a prominent essayist and critic on philosophy, mathematics, and science, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City.

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