About a year ago John Zande recommended “Why Is There Anything?, by Matthew Rave. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and not because I’m convinced it’s correct, and not even because I believe it answers the question of the book title. In fact in the second chapter the author pretty much admits that he can’t completely answer the question (although he thinks we can make it more palatable). I thought it was great for several reasons:
- It was an enjoyable, lightly humorous dialogue between 2 fictional characters (a theist and an atheist).
- It is a very easy read and a great introduction to questions about reality.
- There were tons of thought-provoking ideas.
- It was presented in a way that was respectful of theists, even though the author is an atheist. A theist who wants to gain an understanding of atheists without being insulted should read this book – there are even some spots where you would be pleasantly surprised.
I would say that this is the best book I’ve read yet in its genre, so many thanks to John for a great recommendation. If you are the type that doesn’t like to know about the contents of a book before reading it then you need to stop reading this post right now.
So Why Is There Anything (aka the WITA question)?
Matthew’s main answer to the WITA question comes from information theory. These quotes explain: “the answer to WITA is that there really isn’t anything…not in an informational sense. Everything exists, which mathematically isn’t that much different from nothing existing at all.”, and “the information content of a collection of things can be much simpler than the information content of a single thing.“, and then “So, if you ever wonder why there’s ‘something’ rather than nothing, you need wonder no more: there is nothing, in the sense that the infinite multiverse contains no information: it is ‘full’.”
I think he’s right though that it doesn’t completely answer the question – there is still the question of why anything at all exists even if it is everything possible. Of all the “solutions” I’ve read for this question I don’t find any of them (whether it’s theist or non-theist versions) really answer the question.
The rest of the book is a fun dialogue mainly in support of the idea that there are many universes. The many-worlds view is one of many interpretations of quantum mechanics, and Matthew notes that it is the interpretation which requires the least amount of axioms and thus obeys Occam’s razor (the favorite argument that we all use to support our own views). You can learn more about the many-worlds theory on the wiki page, or by watching this video:
So I’m Still Skeptical
Even after reading the book (and parts of it 2 or 3 times) I still don’t get the feeling that I can claim that all possible universes exist. Actually, my reasons are similar to why I reject theism. In fact some of my reasons are the same reasons that some theists have for rejecting the existence of multiverses. There just doesn’t seem to be hard enough evidence for either idea. I see this as a valid stance to take. But somehow rejecting the idea of Gods conjures up all claims of bias among many theists: “you are rejecting the existence of God because you want to live a life without rules”, or “you are rejecting God because you are not humble.” Somehow the decision is linked to integrity rather than seen as an epistemic claim just like my claim to doubt the existence of the many-worlds theory. And the interesting thing is that this lack of hard evidence is actually even more damning to the God option. If a God really does want a personal relationship with its creation (which multiple universes wouldn’t) then lack of empirical evidence is a much bigger problem for that option. The fact that “metaphysical” claims have become so entangled with integrity is a troubling aspect of a lot of religions.
Is the Question Even Answerable?
My son asked me several months ago what the biggest number was, and he said he didn’t want me to say infinity because that wasn’t really a number. Given the axioms of math we know “what is the biggest number?” is not really answerable. “Why is there anything?” – this question is not as clear given that there isn’t really a consensus regarding the axioms involved. However, given that both of these questions deal with the problem of infinite regress, I wonder whether both questions are not answerable.
But as I said this book was a delight to read and I recommend it to anyone interested in getting a better grounding on some of the ideas that are shaping current research into reality.