17 Aug 2013: There is No End, but Addition

Workout First Thing at 5:45 AM: 20 minutes: 100 lowrise steps, 200 movements with arms, legs and weights supine: walking.

Today may not have to use 300 magnification glasses. 250 seems to suffice. Yesterday owing to mid-morning tiredness, I had eyestrain and switched to 300 magnification.

On the Question, “Why Is There Something, Rather Than Nothing”, or “Why Does the Universe Exist?”

If the universe consists of everything (or even if we suppose that the universe consists of all heavenly bodies, and all spacecraft and their contents such as human beings and other intelligent life forms, as well as the odd “floater”, astronauts floating alive in space), then the answer to the question “why does the universe exist” would come either from outside or inside the universe.

As a thing, as a text, or as a question asked by a being capable of asking questions, the question comes from INSIDE the universe. There’s only one universe (we will address the scientific question of “multiverses” later).

Certainly, the question can be posed INSIDE the universe. Indeed it just has been. But the ANSWER would have to come from OUTSIDE the universe and this isn’t possible since the universe is “everything” (whether there is a finite or infinite number of “things” out there). The answer would refer to a cause of the existence of the universe located outside the universe and this is impossible.

Asking “why” presupposes a chain of cause and effect so that at least one cause (a Big Bang or Cosmic Fart) occurred outside the universe and this is absurd. The presupposition is needed because we know with Kant, as a matter of synthetic aPriori, that the cause precedes the effect in time.

One may well reply, “there is no time outside the universe” and this is indeed the case, but it merely exacerbates the silliness of a primal cause. If the universe occurs at time zero, the primal cause occurs at a negatively numbered time and this is “before” the beginning of the universe. But we still haven’t solved the problem, merely making the notion of “the primal cause of the universe, outside the universe”, even sillier.

If we define an “uncaused cause” then the universe is God and we become pantheists like Spinoza. But “what is the cause of the uncaused cause?” is of equal stupidity to “what is the cause of God?”

The CAUSE of the universe is PART of the universe if the universe is “everything”.

Kant and Wittgenstein explore this question, Kant in an almost unreadable, stupor-inducing fashion in The Critique of All Speculative Theology of the Critique of Pure Reason and Wittgenstein in a much more fun (if we may call a numbered series of rather dismal German aphorisms “fun”) way in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Kant: Home of the Whopper

Kant addresses the problem in a single huge (180 words) sentence I call affectionately The Whopper. I typed it in from Paul Guyer’s recent translation of the Critique: here it is:

The absolute totality of the series of these conditions in the derivations of their members is an idea which of course can never come about fully in the empirical use of reason, but nevertheless serves as a rule for the way in which we ought to proceed in regard to them: namely that in the explanation of given appearances (in a regress or ascent) we ought to proceed *as if* the series were in itself infinite, i.e., proceed *in indefinitum*, but where reason itself is considered as the determining cause (in the case of freedom), hence in the case of practical principles, we should proceed as if we did not have before us an object of sense but one of pure understanding, where the conditions can no longer be posited in the series of appearances, but are posited outside it, and the series of states can be regarded *as if* it began absolutely (through an intelligible cause); all this proves that the cosmological ideas are nothing but regulative principles, and are far from positing, as it were constitutively, an actual totality in such series.

Wow. What a Whopper. One sentence (find the full stop) of about 180 words (the absolute number depends on how you count the words).

The Whopper, taken from Paul Guyer’s 1998 translation is a literal translation, almost word for word, of the original German, for as we see it uses the hierarchal and nested form of 18th century German.

Kant’s point may be briefly summarized; we may not contemplate a finished infinity but we may cognize a rule for generating an infinitely large thing or infinitely long series. Kant’s prolixity is the artifact of his lacking a language for talking with brevity of a constructed versus a completed and contemplated infinity. Ironically, the very mathematicians and philosophers of the 19th century who created the philosophical school of mathematical intuitionism, in which this distinction is explicit and can be described, did so because they were educated in the Kantian tradition and had to struggle through Kant’s famously difficult works in school.

If a universe is everything, or the enumeration of all bodies capable of supporting intelligent life, capable in turn of asking stupid questions, then the question comes from inside the universe. If we could contemplate Kant’s “actual totality” of the series generated by a physical rule (Kant’s “regulative principle”) capable of inventorying all things including the why-question, we could find the question after a finite amount of time: but Kant rules this out. We’d have to watch the universe being constructed (and pieces of it being destroyed) by way of the regulative principle and may never find the answer to the why-question, and if we did the answer would refer to objects outside the universe (constituting for the most part pieces of the cause) and be without meaning, or just false.

There is nothing, not even faded signs for jumble sales, burning tires and dancing trolls.


Wittgenstein is refreshingly terse. The propositions of his Tractatus Logico-Philisophicus are numbered, and the very first is:

1. The world is everything that is the case

Much later we find:

6.5 For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed.

The “riddle” does not exist.

If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.

And that, is that. There is no answer to the question “why does the universe exist”?

Now, I am aware that in modern cosmology, “universe” is sometimes used as a plural noun. Multiple “universes” are used to explain physical reality. However, this is done merely as a terminological convenience that we may with grace, grant to scientists. The set of all real “universes” is the real Universe, and were it not for a verbum stare (the existing word stands) law, grandfathering “universe” we’d have to start calling each “multiverse” a multiverse, mini-universe, or a something that’s clearly not a universe such as a Pandaemonium. But terminological convenience should not blind the philosopher to the philosophical fact: there is only one Universe, and in this universe we may not as a matter of formal logic ask “why?”.

We may not look up to the “starry heavens above”, Kant’s own beautiful phrase (“the starry heavens above: the moral law within”) to find an answer. For in TS Eliot’s words, from his poem The Dry Salvages, “there is no end but addition”. And death brings sleep and the mystical in Wittgenstein:

6.44 Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.

6.45 The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni is its contemplation as a limited whole. The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling.

Or as Mahler puts it in his symphonic poem Das Lied von der Erde, Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Todt!, “Dark is life, dark is death!”.

I am writing this sitting in a four man cancer ward in China
With kind relatives visiting three
Nobody’s visiting me,

Men scream in pain in another room
In mine, an emphysema victim laughs in lieu of a cough
Like a bird of paradise tossing the dice

I am writing this sitting in a four man cancer ward in China
With kind relatives visiting three
Nobody’s visiting me,
And we’re all like a lifeboat bobbing in the sea.
Bobbing, in the sea.
Where silly questions bovver me.

Screen Shot 2013-08-17 at 5.11.40 PM


One Response to “17 Aug 2013: There is No End, but Addition”

  1. spinoza1111 Says:

    Take your children to Paris if you can. In Paris, take them to the Louvre. Have them see Delacroix’ RAFT here.

    Tell them the story of the RAFT.

    Explain why one of the guys’ penises are showing if an appropriate way only if she asks. Don’t worry, this is France and you’re speaking English. The French, bless their hearts, think it’s natural for children to ask about penises in public as did the shoppers, years ago, in Plaza del Lago where my ex shopped.

    Hold her at the level of the horizon where the men wave to attract their rescuer and ask her if she sees the rescue ship. If you have more kids ask them.

    It’s actually a famous problem in art history. Did Delacroix intend a rescue ship? My experience in painting is that freehand painting of a horizon is tough to do without making little bumps that the user might misinterpret.

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