26 thoughts on “On the Beggining of the Universe

  1. Pingback: Mormon Metaphysics
  2. Personally, I think something like the creation of the universe will never be conceivable by mortals.

    I do agree with this argument, not solely on its logical validity but also on the inherent necessity of an eternal universe. I really can’t explain it, if you just meditate on it a bit you might understand my perspective.

  3. Tough call. I’d have to say it would be worse if it were actual than it if were impossible. If the world were actual, I’d actually be really hungry and bored waiting for my train to get me home. Better to think that this can’t be happening.


  4. … ):F

    The universe is an alternative to non existence.

    As “finite” observers, evolving in an interpretation of a spacial alternative to non existence, we are only witnessing the superposition of time frames that seems to corelate with one another. But the universe is neither space nor time, the universe is just an infinite enumeration of all possible states which are non-nuls, all existing at once. Time is an effect of our limited nature… Though the causuals strings of which we are a part of, as well as the one that spawns from our existence, are infinite, we are finite.

    We exist on the opposition of both an all existing entity and non-existing one.

    Infinitly complex organisms, defined by the emptyness that separates them…

  5. What interests me about the problem of the beginning of the universe is not so much whether there was a beginning or not. Although I definitely take the question to be a fundamental question, if there was a beginning…I take that to be an empirical fact. As such, it’s impossible to prove one way or the other. What interests me is the structure of the problem itself.

    Any comprehension of the world is categorical. Of the most basic categories, cause and effect is indispensable. However, what justification do we have for saying that because cause and effect is an indispensable category for us comprehending the world that it follows that the world itself must be wholly subject to cause and effect? The implication of course is, if one brackets the presupposition of causal necessity…then it very well seems possible that the world could just pop into existence with no prior cause (state of affairs or existents). Granted…we may not be able to understand this…it’s surely ‘unreasonable’ (reason itself is contingent on the existence of sufficient conditions) but it’s possible nonetheless. The only limitation in not accepting this possibility is the presupposition that the world must be the way that we think it to be.

  6. Hi Trey,

    I look at this in this way – if some idea which we have, contradicts itself, it is the idea which is impossible. And we don’t have to check the world to establish that some idea is contradictory in itself.

    So, take the idea that the universe came into being. The argument in this post is then, that the idea is contradictory, hence we should give it up.

    To say it differently – the contradictions are not product of the world, but of our minds, and can be resolved only by our minds.

  7. I see exactly what you are saying. What I am saying is that the beginning of the world is not a logical issue. It’s strictly speaking, a metaphysical issue..and I take it, an unsolvable one at that. As construed as a logical problem, the source of the ‘contradiction’ is in assuming that world must be structured in a particular way. But it needn’t necessarily be. To say that an ‘Event without a cause’ is a contradictory claim is to suppress the claim that ‘All events by necessity have a cause’. I am saying this is a presupposition based on our take of the world (perhaps indispensable for ‘reason’) but our take nonetheless.

    Does that make sense?

    On the other hand, if you say that the world must be structured according to our experience / thoughts of the world…then you are saying the way that the world is, is limited by what can be conceived by human intelligence. That is a philosophical thesis that I disagree with.

  8. Trey,

    The basic assumptions of the argument are that universe is everything there is, that coming to be requires a state of affairs where the thing in question didn’t exist, and that there can’t be state of affairs if there isn’t anything.

    Which of those things you think depends on how the world really is? To me those things seem to be implicit in our notions of world, coming to be and state of affairs.

  9. All of those do depend on how the world is…if they are true. But if one of them are false…then that also depends on how the world is. I take the ultimate ground of truths to be the world.

    My quandary would be the claim that ‘coming to be requires a state of affairs where the thing in question didn’t exit’. I don’t take that as ‘implicit’…and even if it is logically implicit, doesn’t, to me, hold much metaphysical weight. Logic is not how I do metaphysics. One can posit that there was nothing (no existents) and then there is a world and not be self-contradictory. Again, in metaphysics…that is an empirical claim..not a logical claim. From no logical claim alone can you ‘deduce’ the way the world must be…unless you have some argument that the world must be structured according to our logic BUT

    The claim would be unreasonable. By ‘reasons’ standards. Which I pointed out. As I said, sufficient reason (every event has a cause) may very well (and probably is) an indispensable notion for coherent understanding of the world. BUT, my claim is that it’s not necessarily the case that the world must be subject to our coherent understanding. If one was going to do metaphysics through logic, I would point out that to posit that the whole must be subject to the same conditions as the parts is a version of the composition fallacy. But I don’t really want to go there…that’s more like quibbling to me. My point simply is…just because something doesn’t make sense to us doesn’t mean that it might not be the case.

  10. As far as an argument that the world must be structured according to logic – one might say that there couldn’t even possibly be square-circles. That is true (and whether that has metaphysical implications is an interesting thought) but that, to me, is fundamentally different from saying that the world ‘popped’ into existence. The former is a formal contradiction, the latter is an empirical claim that is either true or false.

  11. Trey, hmm, not sure what you mean by these words (‘universe, ‘coming into being’, ‘state of affair’), but by ‘universe’ I mean everything there is, by ‘coming into being’ I mean an event where something isn’t and then (after that) something is, by ‘state of affairs’ I mean a way things are.

    So, not sure how those can be empirical issues, for anyone who agrees that those words mean those things. If you disagree maybe you can point what part of what I just said is wrong. For example… Is there some confusion in relating such idea of universe (as everything there is) to the things we see every day? Maybe it is, but again, can you point to where this issue appears?

    To me it is exactly like saying that there is no square-circles – it is an idea which is contradiction in itself.

    BTW, what do you mean by “metaphysical consequences”? To me both those truths seem as metaphysical. They are truths in every possible world.

  12. Yes, by ‘universe’, in this post, I mean everything that is. I also think of an event as something having a cause. Strictly speaking, if the universe (including space-time) popped into existence, it wouldn’t be an event – because there would be no time prior to the universe.

    It’s an empirical issue because it concerns facts about the world. I distinguish empirical questions from logical questions – which concern formal reasoning – I don’t take the question of whether the universe had a cause or not to be an issue of formal logic – nor can it be decided by formal logic.

    By ‘metaphysical’ I mean those issues concerning the nature of reality. To this, I suppose we are in dispute, because I don’t think formal logic can definitively answer questions concerning the nature of reality.

    Of course, as a philosopher, you well may hold the position that only what is possible is what you can understand via formal logic or your understanding – that’s your philosophy. We just disagree. I actually tend pretty strongly in the opposite direction. I take it that there may be many truths of the world that human beings cannot even begin to fathom – much less understand through formal reasoning alone. And what we do understand, for me is always comprehended as a particularly human understanding. For me, truth is always human truth.

  13. And, if you do want to take formal reasoning as your guide to what can ultimately be true about the world, then you must also see the alternatives to a beginning of the universe are just as unreasonable. Either the universe was caused by something or it has always existed. Something that has always existed has no cause. If it was caused…then whatever caused it was either caused or not…ad infinitum. Of course, the whole history of philosophy is jam packed with puzzles concerning any alternative solution to the existence of the universe.

    I don’t take any of those stances…I take the problem as probably unsolvable. But it’s always interesting to chat with philosophers who do seem find one of the alternatives more reasonable than the others.

  14. Trey,

    I wonder why do you mention causes. In the argument, the issue if every event has a cause is not at all mentioned. It doesn’t depend on that. It is merely about the notion of “coming into being” – by it I mean the case where something isn’t, and then it is. Do you think that “coming into being” or “popping into existence” makes sense if we can’t speak about previously the thing not-being? It seems actually that you agree that it doesn’t when you say “Strictly speaking, if the universe (including space-time) popped into existence, it wouldn’t be an event – because there would be no time prior to the universe.” – That IS , at least if I’m understanding you right, the claim, only that I would say we can’t use “popping into existence” either, as “popping” is kind of event.

    Also, I don’t make *any claims* concerning if every event has a cause. That is, I never claim that there can be an event without a cause, nor that any event must have a cause. As you say, assuming that every event must have previous cause also seems unreasonable. So, I think that you might be thinking that I’m claiming something that I’m not… The claim is here the simple logical (And not in the limited use of ‘formal logic’ – but of something we can understand – the everday use of the world ‘logic’ if you want) point that *certain* idea is inconsistent.

    So, basically it is saying – everything there is couldn’t have come to existence, because “coming to existence” requires previous state of affairs where the thing didn’t exist, but we can’t speak of previous state of affairs, if there wasn’t anything. *This isn’t at all about explaining how come the universe exists – it is just pointing to inconsistency of one idea*.

    It is same as with the inconsistency of the idea of square circles. It tells us as much about the world, as much the comprehension that there are no square circles tells us about the world. BTW, why would you have problems of figuring out inconsistencies in an idea which involves notions of “everything there is”, “coming into existence”, “state of affairs”; but not have problems with the figuring out inconsistencies in an idea which involves notions of “triangle” and “circle”?

    That is – why don’t you have problems if I say – there isn’t and can’t be anything in the universe which is square circle. It seems by your thinking, that should be empirical issue too!

    Anyway, I don’t find any idea more reasonable than others. That far I agree. The issue is here that specific idea ISN’T reasonable. This also might point that I wasn’t making argument of how the universe is, but how it isn’t. That is, I’m not saying that if something is logical it is also actual. The idea is that if something is illogical it can’t be actual. Nor, I’m claiming that what is possible must be understandable by me. Only that what is understandable by me *as impossible*, is impossible.

  15. For the most part, just go back to my original post – I could practically cut and paste it to address your worries.

    If you say for something to come into being there must be a previous state of affairs (a direct quote from your initial post) and you don’t mean this to imply a causal relationship between the previous state of affairs in which the thing didn’t exist and the present state of affairs where it does…by all means, tell me what kind of relationship you are thinking about here. After all, logical relations hold between propositions…not previous states of affairs and comings into being. I feel I am completely justified in using the term ’cause’ here…that is definitely the issue as I see it. The ‘impossibility’ here that you see just is the impossibility of a state of affairs that was not caused. Otherwise, if you agree that its possible that there be a state of affairs that was not caused…then why couldn’t there be a state of affairs without a prior state of affairs?

    If you read my original reply…my point was not to refute your argument. As it stands – IF it is true that any state of affairs requires a previous state of affairs for it to come into being (and we think of the world as a totality of states of affairs) then your argument is solid..on that point (I think) – however, I don’t think it is true just because we are going to define our terms a certain way. MY point, was to point out what I see as the metaphysical presuppositions in your argument. That you assume what must be true for particular beings (the constituates of states of affairs) and the totality must be the same – that requires an argument to not be merely a presupposition. And, that the world itself must accord to our limits of comprehension (logical reasoning) – again…requires an argument. You can surely say ‘well, it seems impossible to me so its just impossible in actuality’…but only those philosophers who already agree with you are going to buy that one. Then finally, in the last post, I merely pointed out that ANY cosmological position seems to be just as unreasonable as any other when it’s fleshed out. There is not philosophical position regarding the universe that somebody doesn’t find impossible…

  16. I don’t take the square-circle to be an empirical issue. It’s a formal issue concerning abstract objects. Squares and circles are geometrical figures – not objects (in the sense of being parts of states of affairs – at least in my ontology). In other words, IF it is true that no state of affair can come to be without some prior state of affairs; it’s true for very different reasons than that it is true that there cannot be square-circles (or technically..that the circle cannot be squared).

  17. Ah, that explains where the misunderstanding is. When I say that for something to come into being, there needs to be previous state of affairs, I’m not saying that everything needs to have cause. It is supposed to be analysis of the notion – “coming into being”. That is, that coming into being *means* that first a thing doesn’t exist, and then it exists. However given that there can be no talk of states of affairs if there is nothing, the first part (“first a thing doesn’t exist”) doesn’t make sense – so basically the concept of “becoming into being of universe” becomes contradiction. So, again, it is not saying that something requires previous state of affairs *in order to come into being*, but that coming into being means (or includes both) that there was first a state of affairs where the thing didn’t exist, and then a state of affairs where it did. That’s why I was puzzled with the mentioning of causes.

    The analogy I was making to the square-circles is this. If we know that circles can’t be squared, we can say that if there is something which is perfect circle in the nature (e.g. in the sense that the area where the energy of magnetic field of certain object is smaller or equal to some amount might form a perfect circle. not saying that it is, but just how it may make sense to say that something in the nature is a perfect circle), it can’t be squared. While if there is something which is perfect circle in the nature IS an empirical issue, saying that IF something is perfect circle it can’t be squared is not empirical issue. That is the way I think the argument makes sense – IF the universe is everything there is, it can’t be that it came into being.

  18. Yes, I agree with that and the synopsis of the square-circle. Coming into be…at least as I understand it, implies that there is a process of some sort at work (perhaps not causal – perhaps time is an event of a sort but moments are not causally related). As you plucked out my use of ‘popped’ – which sounds like an event…it’s not a good word for what I mean. By ‘popped’ I mean it just happens with no prior state of affairs or cause, but by ‘happens’ I don’t mean an event. I just mean ‘poof’. It’s there. Does that make sense? No, the principle of sufficient reason is a necessary condition for something to make sense. Is it possible, I take it so. But I take contradictions to be formal – not empirical. In other words, if that is how it happened, then it’s not a contradiction, it’s just something with no explanation. Should we accept that as a viable alternative? Again, maybe not. But the other alternatives turn out to be just as ‘unreasonable’ – or ultimately in conflict with the principle of sufficient reason also. It’s in that sense that I see the problem as unsolvable. It’s an issue that has to do with nature herself. We can’t, as we might say, go back and ‘see’ what happened. In that sense, all we have to go on is analysis. But all avenues of analysis leaves us wanting.

    Interestingly, I may be writing more on this related topic. I’m considering doing my thesis my the cosmological argument.

  19. It is interesting issue – can we think of a word which wouldn’t imply an event. Coming to be, popping into being, becoming… all refer to events, and have that issue that imply two states of affairs, previous one where the thing didn’t exist (which makes the problem of applying those words to the universe), and the later one where the thing exists. But I think saying “*poof* – it is there” has the same issue. At least it seems to me that if we don’t imagine previous state of affairs where it is not there, the *poof* doesn’t makes any sense.

    I’m wondering if notion of “beginning” might not require a state of affairs in which the thing wasn’t there – the thing just simply – begins. Everything in the event of beginning is about phase of the existence of the thing. What do you think?

  20. The word ‘thing’ doesn’t >imply< an event. An event doesn’t follow analytically nor a prior from the concept of ‘thing’. It’s possible there there be a single object (let’s say, a ‘sphere’) for which has existed eternally and never undergone change, has never had any effect upon it (let’s say surrounding the sphere is a forcefield that is completely independent from the sphere, and the forcefield guards it from all influences of the world – the forcefield is an ‘event’ but not the completely shielded eternal sphere inside).

    Is there such a thing? Probably not. But I take it that it is a possible object. It demonstrates that ‘event’ isn’t implicit in ‘thing’ – thing’s are only consituates of events to the extent that they interact with other things.

    I take it also that if there is a God that exists independent of temporality then God isn’t an event.

    As far as events without causes (or prior events) I don’t think the notion can really be captured by language or any understanding for that matter. One almost has to intuit the problem. Any thinking about the origin of the world is going to be in some sense temporally structured, and because it may be true that there was no time prior to the existence of the world – it doesn’t make sense to say that it ‘began’ or that it ‘popped’ into existence, of course. There may be other ways to express the idea…which may or may not better capture the idea. For example, one might say the world is not eternal, there was no infinite regress, i.e. the world has a finite age and yet there was no ‘before’ or ‘prior to’ the world. Then one might ask ‘how can the world have a finite age if there was nothing before it?’ And then I reply that time itself is a property of the world. Can we understand that? Maybe not. But does that make it impossible? No. Many philosophers have entertained scenarios in which there is no causation at all in the world – no events are caused, there may just be a constant conjunction of wholly independent and seperate ‘frames’ – like the photographs that make up movies (Hume). Causation (as well as space and time) may be a categorial framework of our minds and be literally meaningless as applied to a world in-itself (Kant). Of course, both philosophers I think would agree very well that we can’t conceptualize such being the case (conceptualization is dependent on a causal space-time framework).

    For the most part, it seems to be that either philosophers take it as an issue or not. Those that do probably don’t devote a lot of time to trying to convince those that don’t. Those that do (like myself) take it as one of the deepest philosophical problems. And of course, it leaves me fairly humble, as lack of ability to conceptualize leaves little room for a solution. In this sense, it’s fairly easy to see why philosophers such as Heidegger and Sartre took up the issue not as a metaphysical problem but as an existential problem. There is something fairly sombering in coming to terms with being pretty well self-assured that 1. It’s possible that nothing exist (or that the world may have a finite age in which there was no ‘before’ the world), and 2. It’s fairly probable that it is impossible for us to discover any necessary or sufficient grounds for existence.

  21. by universe are you addressing everything we believe we precieve to exsist?
    although i do agree with the validity of ur statement only i would substitute the word universe for “something”

    and your statement is based upon a generalization when u state “there has to be previous state of affairs where the thing didn’t exist”

    and when u state “There can’t be state of affairs if there isn’t anything” i would have to refute that the state of affairs is in fact “nothing”

    I also have to mention that reasoning cannot lead you to solid truths as if we make statements concerning exsistence we do not no wheather reasoning differs from parts of the universe or from exsistence and nonexsistence

  22. Talha, no, by universe I mean – everything that exist and existed, all that taken as related somehow. It has nothing with what we perceive or what we believe that we perceive.

    The argument is supposed to be analysis of our usage of certain words, and what we mean by them, and to show how they can’t be properly applied in such meanings in certain cases, as we get into contradictions.

  23. The problem is with the linear understanding of time.

    Which place on earth is further south than the south pole? This question doesn’t make sense because *by definition* the south pole is the southernmost point on earth. Earth exists as geometrical object which does not have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Similarly, time *cannot* have such a properties (and *may* still be finite). Is spacetime just a big ball on the surface of which we are forced to travel indefinitely? :)

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