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Dealing With Not Knowing: "why Does Anything Exist"?


SquareOne
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Hi everyone

 

Since becoming an atheist, and losing omnipotent Yahweh from my understanding of reality, I am left with the stark reality of the fact that I do not know how I came to be here, in the grandest sense.  I have a rudimentary grasp of the big bang theory, the formation of the planet, evolution - I'm not talking about that.

 

I'm talking about that most tricky of questions "Why does anything exist"?

 

That is to say, not why is the universe here, but why does reality itself exist?

 

It seems to me there is only two possibilities.  Either

 

a. Reality has always existed.

or

b. Once, absolutely nothing existed, then reality began existing without a prior cause.

 

Both seem utterly absurd.  And... that's hard to get my head around.

 

I am not opening this thread to try and seek answers to this question.  Rather, I'm curious to know how you deal with the not knowing.  For me, I find it both very frustrating, and quite frightening.

 

(This is not a topic about God, by the way.  I don't really want to think about the god concept, unless someone else wants to raise it.)

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You just asked the $64,000 question, I need some (a lot) more Scotch before I dive into this one. smile.png

 

I thought you might say that.

 

It's 2:30 am now for me, so I'm going to have to hit the hay.  Ciao.

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Having time to think about this a little (and drink about it) I really don't see the problem. The question being asked is not "why is there reality?" but how to deal with that question without some sort of belief framework.

 

The answer is simple: You deal with it the exact same way you did before.

 

Think about it. Nothing has changed. Even for one who believes in some sort of creator, it is the same question. That is, even with a creator, the question remains, why is there a creator? Even the first-cause argument doesn't answer that. None of the proposed proofs for a creator answer that.

 

So if one was not concerned about the question when accepting a belief system, then the question should not matter now. I suspect that the question of "why is there existence" is on the same order of proving or disproving the concept of "God" or gods. That is say, it might be impossible to ever answer it in a way that can be proven.

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Thanks boftx

 

I am trying to think about the problem independently of god, though.  You are quite right that the problem existed either way, so it doesn't help to bring a comparison with god back into the equation.

 

I feel, very small, against the greatness of the problem, the vacuum of knowledge.  It is hard in an age of information, when we all have answers to some of the questions that tormented the ancients, to still be faced with something so huge that we do not know.

 

I am frustrated to know that I will probably never know why anything exists.  I'm grieved by it.

 

But, when I think about it in those terms, I then sympathise with the efforts of people in the past - who knew so much less than we know about smaller things like evolution and the big bang - to come up with explanations - to ease their uncertainty.  I find it tempting to believe in a god just to fill that gap - but I will not cave to such vapid thinking.

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hmmm.... I've always been a 'why' person.. intensely curious, and in some areas have pursued this to ridiculous ends. Even now sometimes I find myself stuck in the 'why'?

 

Then I became a 'how?' person and became interested in the mechanics of things... science is great for the how - but I came to realize it's like the thousand petalled lotus of the eastern beliefs and it's an unfolding that I can't control - just accept when answers come. We're a VERY young species and our ability to ask questions runs much faster than our ability to find the answers.

 

One question that comes to mind reading the OP is this.. what difference would it make knowing this answer? What purpose does it serve? It's a pretty big question - but ultimately doesn't much affect the life of a creature that spans about 80 years. And also... maybe there isn't a why... maybe that question in itself is nonsensical... will it make life better to know the answer even if there is one? Not that the question itself is invalid - but how much weight should we give it?

 

I am becoming more of a 'how does this apply to my life' person... maybe that's a function of age (LOL) I have always loved to imagine and ruminate on the big questions - but I'm running out of time now.. and the life that's right before me is taking on a larger importance. I'm coming to realize that life is not something to be analyzed, but something to be lived...experience is where it's really at (hard for me as an INTP).

 

Douglas Adams says the answer is 42. That's almost good enough for me these days.

 

"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

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I think of it as waking one day stranded on an island. You could sit on the beach and contemplate how this situation came to be, or explore, build, and live your new life to the fullest.

Some brilliant mind will answer the question someday, but I'm almost certain it won't be me, so I'm not wasting my remaking brain cells on it.

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Square One - I don't think there is an answer to this question that is very satisfactory.   I am inclined to believe that things of one sort or another always existed.  I just cannot conceive a beginning, but that still doesn't answer why there is something rather than nothing.

 

In Buddhism, the nature of reality is nothingness.  But it is not nothing in the sense of something being absent.  Instead it is thought of as a kind of potentiality - like space contains all things and space is necessary.  I have a feeling for this, but I am poor at explaining it.

 

Anyway, this question of "why" is something I relate to a theistic way of viewing the world.  If there is a creator God, presumably there was a reason to create, even though it be unknown.  If you remove this idea, the question doesn't really arise.

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Alan Watts

 

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I don't feel the need to know why existence exists. Once I discovered there was no punitive god ready to torture me for infinity, I became satisfied with the idea of just "not being" when I die. I know that's

rather selfish, but that's what we are at the core, aren't we? bill

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I am frustrated to know that I will probably never know why anything exists.  I'm grieved by it.

 

Maybe grieving the lack of knowing will help. At the end of the grief process we all hear about is acceptance.

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I am frustrated to know that I will probably never know why anything exists.  I'm grieved by it.

 

Maybe grieving the lack of knowing will help. At the end of the grief process we all hear about is acceptance.

 

 

If only it were true that all people could find such a healthy end to grief.

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Hi everyone

 

Since becoming an atheist, and losing omnipotent Yahweh from my understanding of reality, I am left with the stark reality of the fact that I do not know how I came to be here, in the grandest sense.  I have a rudimentary grasp of the big bang theory, the formation of the planet, evolution - I'm not talking about that.

 

I'm talking about that most tricky of questions "Why does anything exist"?

 

That is to say, not why is the universe here, but why does reality itself exist?

 

It seems to me there is only two possibilities.  Either

 

a. Reality has always existed.

or

b. Once, absolutely nothing existed, then reality began existing without a prior cause.

 

Both seem utterly absurd.  And... that's hard to get my head around.

 

I am not opening this thread to try and seek answers to this question.  Rather, I'm curious to know how you deal with the not knowing.  For me, I find it both very frustrating, and quite frightening.

 

(This is not a topic about God, by the way.  I don't really want to think about the god concept, unless someone else wants to raise it.)

To me, only b seems absurd.

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Guest Babylonian Dream

I agree, a. doesn't seem absurd, b. does. That's why I never was able to accept that there was nothing before the BB, it just seemed like an incomplete theory. So I couldn't accept it.Not the BB in of itself, but the notion that nothing preceded it, and that nothing is to come after the universe is no more. That's why I like string theory.

 

How do I deal with not knowing why anything exists? I don't. I just accept it and just take for granted that it does exist. I have no choice but to.

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Guest Babylonian Dream

 

Alan Watts

 

 

I honestly don't mean this to be snarky or smart, but I have a hard time understanding the thing he's talking about. He seems to be talking about nothing in particular.

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I am not opening this thread to try and seek answers to this question.  Rather, I'm curious to know how you deal with the not knowing.  For me, I find it both very frustrating, and quite frightening.

 

(This is not a topic about God, by the way.  I don't really want to think about the god concept, unless someone else wants to raise it.)

 

I understand your frustration.  It's a good thing you are not seeking answers to your quite good question, since it is the ultimate question one can ask.  Obviously, I don't have the answer.  But what you want to know is how people deal with not knowing.

 

I deal with it by first asking whether there is a "why" at all.  Maybe there is no reason we are here other than that's just the way it turned out.  This is simplistic, but it is something like this.  I might observe that there is a parking lot in front of a store.  If I ask why the parking lot is there, I can answer it.  It is because there is a store which depends on customers to come there and make purchases.  The parking lot is there so the potential customers can drive their cars to the store and have a place to park while they shop.  However, if I ask why are my eyes blue, I can answer it by speaking of genetics and the like.  However, that does not speak of a purpose as the parking lot example does.  Quite simply, there is no particular purpose for me having blue eyes of which I am aware.  They just are.  That doesn't bother me in the least.

 

The bigger "why" question you ask has to do, I think, with purpose.  I do not know whether or not there is a purpose for the existence of the universe.  I wonder about it sometimes, but I do not dwell on it.  If there is one then it is beyond me and I have no control over it.  Furthermore, if there is a purpose then it is not my purpose it is someone else's purpose and so I assume that that purpose is being fulfilled and that I will likely never know it.

 

My presumption is that there is no purpose in the universe's existence.  It simplifies things and provides me with a way not to dwell on that which I can never answer or, perhaps, answer incorrectly which could lead me in directions that are not necessarily the best direction I should take.  I choose to dwell on the purposes over which I have at least some slight degree of control.  For example, I do ask questions like why should I keep working in my current job, or why should I support or not support a particular issue, or whether and why I should I make sure my child goes to college and the like.

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I honestly don't mean this to be snarky or smart, but I have a hard time understanding the thing he's talking about. He seems to be talking about nothing in particular.

 

I see what you did there.

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I guess It might be a matter of the question itself: "why does anything exist?" In which case, I suspect the answer is actually mu. (The question cannot be answered in affirmative or negative, because it's founded on an inaccurate premise.)

 

The question, asked like that - "why" - presupposes that existence needs a reason. Which, I suppose, is the real problem that's driving anxiety. From my point of view, existence doesn't need a reason, we're just outcomes of the process, which has been percolating along for over 13 billion years without the question being asked (by us, anyway, not ruling out sentient alien life that may have gotten the drop on us). It doesn't bother me, though: there's a certain overwhelming grandeur in a universe in which we're just a tiny blind accident of probability. The only thing we know is that we're conscious and we can ask questions. As to how that is, however, is the hard problem of consciousness, which is another (albeit related) kettle of fish, maybe.

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The bigger "why" question you ask has to do, I think, with purpose.  I do not know whether or not there is a purpose for the existence of the universe.  I wonder about it sometimes, but I do not dwell on it.  If there is one then it is beyond me and I have no control over it.  Furthermore, if there is a purpose then it is not my purpose it is someone else's purpose and so I assume that that purpose is being fulfilled and that I will likely never know it.

 

Actually - it's not really about purpose for me.  I really am much more interested in the "why" in the physical sense.  That's what gets to me.  There's no point getting fussed about purpose to me - I, like you, don't have any reason to suppose there is a purpose.

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Oh. Thanks! I was getting all philosophical there. Actually, I just read a really cool book on that... weird coincidence. Anyhow, A Universe From Nothing is a good survey of going hypotheses and evidence, and is written to be nicely accessible to people like me who didn't get into calculus. Always nice. In a nutshell: "nothing" is actually ridiculously unstable, and will a-splode into "everything" or a universe if you let it alone. Spontaneously.

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I think asking "why" is not the right question. I don't think existence needs a "why."  I think "how" is much more interesting.

 

We're still working on learning about the "how." So for now it's "I don't know." I'm fine with not knowing. It's not something to be scared of. 

 

I think Christianity works from the basis of fear. If we don't have a reason for it being here, it's evil or worthless. If you don't slave and pine for God (you're only reason for existence, according to them) YOU are evil or worthless. If there is not an answer to something, something is WRONG.

 

It kind of robs you of being able just to live and enjoy existence.

 

For my daily life, I'm more concerned with "What." What would I like to do with my existence today? 

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I think asking "why" is not the right question. I don't think existence needs a "why."  I think "how" is much more interesting.

 

I very much agree - I meant "why" in the sense of "how".

 

Like if I asked "why is the sky blue", you would know I was asking a scientific question, not a question about spiritual meaning :)

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You're transitioning between the place where you let other people decide and tell what is the why and how, and discovering it for yourself.

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