Friday, March 30, 2012

Life, the Universe, and Nothing

I’ve never really believed in nothing. I mean, the concept of nothing is not something I ever believed in. That sort of came out sounding like a statement made by a double-negative using, nihilistic Forrest Gump.

I have wondered for a long time where theists come up with the idea that the Big Bang posits that everything came from nothing. Is this error genuinely the result of naivety, or is it a deliberate distortion? I don’t know, but I would like to believe it’s the former, because I don’t think (or don’t want to think) religious people make up nonsense for the sole purpose of upsetting others with false accusations.

I don’t believe in nothing, because I have seen no evidence that there has ever been nothing. The Big Bang does not begin at the point of nothing, it begins with a singularity. From the moment the universe was concentrated energy in a point smaller than an atom until it expanded and cooled to its current state, we have a fairly good understanding of what happened.

There are always thresholds for human knowledge, and I have confidence that it will continue to expand, much like the universe has done. It’s already expanded quite a bit, from the point where we became self-aware to where we are now, able to see ourselves in the perspective of one of millions of species orbiting one of billions of stars in one of trillions of galaxies.


Personally, I think it’s likely that the universe is unending, and by extension, has no beginning. The Stoics of ancient Greece had a view of the universe that was startlingly similar and modern. They saw the universe as being born in fire, and that one day the world will return to this fiery primordial state, only to form again.

The process was called ekpyrosis, and they believed that each time the universe reformed, everything started over, precisely the same. According to the Stoics, you have already sat in the chair you are now sitting in, you have read this sentence countless times before, and you will read it countless more times again in the future.

Stoics believed in fate by virtue of the fact that all things follow basic laws of cause and effect, so all the events that led up to this moment - from the formation of the universe to the moment you were born to the moment you purchased the device on which you are reading this, to the moment you read it - were all the result of Universal Reason, or as we might think of it, the laws of nature.

I think the model is relatively elegant, but I have one problem with it: I don’t think the universe is on an infinitely repeating loop. Sure, I think the universe’s own dissolution will lead to its eventual rebirth, but I don’t think the new universe will be precisely the same. Every day begins with the sun rising in the East, but it’s not as though every day is the same as the last.

I also believe in agency, or as most people would be familiar with it, “free will.” I don’t like the term “free will,” because it implies that we have more control over our lives than we actually do. Most people are not free, and their will is inherently limited by their circumstances and opportunities, so what people have is not “free will,” but the ability to act in the world. That’s what “agency” means, being able to respond to the world.

The Stoics believe you have no control whatsoever over your life, what happens to you, or what you achieve. The only thing a Stoic believes you can control is your attitude. For the Stoic, the ideal attitude was to be calm and free of passion. If one was able to attain this virtue, then one could be happy, regardless of what happened in life, making you immune to misfortune.

I don’t know that it’s truly a good thing to go through life avoiding passion, even if all passion leads to suffering (a staple belief of Stoics, as well as Cynics, Epicureans, Buddhists and many others, including some monotheists). Since I think you can change things, even if it’s only in a small way, I think a little suffering can be a good thing. Suffering can drive one to act, just as happiness and contentment can cause one to fall into a passive stupor.

What is the point of feeling nothing, or even more eerie to me, what is the point of always feeling happy? I’m not one of these people who thinks you need a little suffering to make the good times that much better, but if there’s no chance to fail at all, it makes me feel unfulfilled. It’s sort of like how people have ruined kid’s sports by not keeping score and giving everyone a trophy: playing the game and having a trophy means nothing anymore.

Maybe I’m alone on this one, but I always learned more from losing than I did from winning. I came away from failures stronger than I came away from successes. One of the joys in life is knowing that you have to work hard to get ahead. However, in this world, even if you fail, you stand a good chance of still being rewarded, especially if you’re already very well off.

Just look at people who head major companies. When a corporation fails, the CEOs still get bonuses. When a firm starts to crash and burn, and bankruptcy is declared, those at the top float safely away on golden parachutes. For some reason, we just let these people run this country’s economy into the ground while helping them carry their bags of money to their getaway car.

We may not be able to control everything, but we certainly can bring individuals to justice. We can even make the world a better place by how we treat others, even if the world itself keeps sending us earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes and droughts. It’s better to go about doing and feeling something than to try to avoid feeling anything. I’ve never really believed in nothing.

3 comments:

  1. Good read. The fact that we're talking about nothing, doesn't that mean it is something? No matter (pun intended) how you put it, we can measure it, we can "point at it"!?!

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  2. i think the universe is rond because everthing(all planets) have a rond form, so expension of the universe happens in the same way as when you inflate a balloon.
    this is caused by a serten power. when you put millions of rondlike stars ans starsystems together it becomes flatlike which indicates that another power is at work. the inside power causes planets to be rond and the outside power causes the whole system to be flat

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  3. The universe is largely oriented in a flat manner due to spin. Take a tennis ball, dip it in water and spin it. You'll see a spiraling, flat disk of water thrown off.

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