Why is there something rather than nothing?

WILLIAM JAMES (1842-1910)


There’s No Such Thing As Nothing

Aristotle believed that ‘nothing’ couldn’t exist, and his view is shared by philosophers and physicists. Philosophers criticise the word’s grammatical status as a noun because this leads to the logical fallacy that it is a ‘thing’. Mathematically, the term ‘nothing’ has no use because it doesn’t have a technical definition; it could refer to either an empty set or the number zero, which is a different thing: 2 minus 2 is zero, but that’s not an empty set.

Physicists say ‘nothing’ is an impossible concept: no vacuum can be without fields (it’s impossible to block the influence of gravity) and even if you could create a region with neither matter nor any forces acting on it, it still wouldn’t be ‘nothing’ as it would still have measurable properties. If you can define it, that means it has properties, and if it has properties it is something - the thing which has those properties. According to the Greek logician Thales, there can only be nothing if there is no one there to contemplate it. 

Even Empty Space Isn’t Empty

The deep space between the stars of our galaxy is teeming with atoms spaced about four-tenths of an inch (1cm) apart. In the even emptier space between galaxies, you’re never more than 15ft (5m) from an atom. Although, of course one should bear in mind that 99.999% of every atom is itself made up of empty space.
Even if you could find a bit of outer space with no atoms, it still wouldn’t be empty. According to physics theorists, it would be filled with virtual particles that constantly pop in and out of existence as ‘quantum fluctuations’. These always come in particle/anti-particle pairs which annihilate each other almost instantaneously. One extension of this theory is that the Universe itself is no more than a gigantic quantum fluctuation. 

And even if you could eliminate all matter, quantum fluctuations, electromagnetic radiation and gravity, you’d still have a bit more than nothing. All of space is pervaded by the Higgs field, which is believed to give all particles their property of mass. In 1964, scientists proposed the properties for a particle that would prove the existence of the Higgs field, and named it the Higgs boson. On the 14th March 2013, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN tentatively confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson. 

ARIEL DURANT (1898-1981)

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

Sunyata, the state of emptiness/nothingness at the heart of Zen Buddhism means both ‘void’ and ‘sky’.

Evangelista Torricelli inventor of the barometer, was the first person to create a vacuum.

If the universe were a cube with 20 mile (30km) sides, all the matter in it would be the size of a single grain of sand.

If you removed all the empty space in atoms, you could fit the entire human race in the volume of a sugar cube.