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Tuesday, July 3, 2007 - 8:18pmSanction this postReply
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I wanted to ask some of the more seasoned objectivists out there about the origin of the universe. It seems to be the one metaphysical question that reason can't answer. All the science I'm familiar with says something can not come from nothing. Yet, if you were to go far enough back in time, it would seem that at some point something came from nothing. How did that little speck that became the Big Bang come to be? If there was one rational argument a person could make for the existence of God, this would be it. Anyone know the objectivist belief of the subject? Thank you



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Post 1

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 - 7:54amSanction this postReply
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Your premise that everything must have a cause is incorrect. Every cause must exist, but not every existent must have a cause. Causality presupposes existence -- the existence of something to act as a cause; existence does not presuppose causality. The forms of existence can be caused and created -- can change and evolve -- but their fundamental constituents are uncaused, irreducible primaries. That is why, if you accept the premise that everything requires a cause and maintain that the cause is God, you are immediately confronted with the question of who or what caused God? -- of who or what created the creator? -- which leads to an infinite regress. The only way out of the regress is to recognize that you're putting the cart before the horse. It is not existence that requires causality, but causality that requires existence.

- Bill

P.S. For more on this, see Nathaniel Branden's essay, "The 'first cause' argument" in the May 1962 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter.
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 7/04, 8:41am)




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Wednesday, July 4, 2007 - 9:03amSanction this postReply
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Well said - and only to add that while the Big Bang has wide appeal, it is not gospel or holy writ, as witness this for instance....



Post 3

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 - 9:15pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Thank you for your reply. As you can probably tell I'm a new member. I wouldn't consider myself an objectivist as of now. Right now I would describe myself as an agnostic libertarian.

That's definitely an interesting take on the question and I will definitely look into that article. However, I'm not convinced. Let's take God out of the argument because you're right. Trying to answer "what is God?" leads to an infinite regression. But to me, it seems as if a similar thing happens with reason. If we wanted to figure out how our Universe came to be, we would eventually come to the Big Bang (let's assume that's the beginning of the Universe). OK, that speck is a compacted mass of matter. What was before that? How did that start? I can't accept that it just was there. That it's existence caused the Universe, but didn't necessarily require a cause to exist. I fear I might have misunderstood you, but I still don't understand how every existent doesn't require a cause. If you could elaborate, I would be very grateful. Thanks



Post 4

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 - 10:08pmSanction this postReply
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A "Why" Implies a "What" (There was Nothing to Prevent it.)

The word why has two general meanings:
(1) How Come?
(2) What For?
The first meaning speaks of causes and can be restated as (1) due to what pre-existing circumstances. The second meaning implies purpose (2) in order to bring about what circumstances. Note that both notions of the word why thus imply a what - (1) from what or (2) for what.

Now, if we ask why does the universe exist, we are asking from what or for what does everything exist. This begs the question, does the implied (either for or from) what count as part of existence or the universe? If it is part of the universe, then it too needs explanation. If it is not part of the universe, then you haven't included everything in what you mean by the universe. Either way, you have an infinite regress.

The problem is with the question itself. Humans have minds that think on local terms and at human scales. We look for reasons and hidden patterns and hidden intentions. We see faces in clouds and intentions in coincidences and some people with just a little bit too much of some brain-chemical see government plots in random occurances. As social apes, we have to be cause-hunting pattern-seekers. If we weren't, we'd've quickly gone extinct. Our minds are just intricate enough to wrap themselves around the idea that the Earth is not flat, and with a bit of thought we can understand that there is nothing North of the North Pole. Even then, when you watch Star Trek, the ships still orbit as if South were Down and you still hear explosions in space. Because we are pretty much still just the descendents of tree-dwelling apes on the visual-emotional level, we would find properly oriented ships to look sideways and would find soundless explosions to evoke little emotion. Hence aliens have faces, ships orbit sideways, and explosions in space make sound - in movies.

If we try to visualize spacetime as a four-dimensional sphere, and look at the beginning of time as a "South Pole" in time, then asking what came before time - i.e., what is South of the South Pole is a meaningless question, an artifact of our local perspective applied where it doesn't make sense. We can, like children, insist - "But Why!" until we are blue in the face. But the question itself makes no sense. There was no when before time. There was no what before things.

And if you really insist on repeating the question, "But why did the Universe come to exist?" then the appropriate answer is: "Because there was nothing to prevent it."

Ted Keer



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Thursday, July 5, 2007 - 8:47pmSanction this postReply
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Ted wrote,
And if you really insist on repeating the question, "But why did the Universe come to exist?" then the appropriate answer is: "Because there was nothing to prevent it."
There is no appropriate answer to a nonsensical question, and the question, "But why did the Universe come to exist?" is nonsensical. The Universe didn't "come" to exist. It didn't begin at some point in time, as Ted earlier acknowledged. Time is in the universe; the universe is not in time. It is in this sense that the universe is eternal, which literally means "outside of time."

- Bill





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Thursday, July 5, 2007 - 9:16pmSanction this postReply
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Still, Bill, not at all a bad answer to a non-sensical question, don't you think?



Post 7

Thursday, July 5, 2007 - 10:08pmSanction this postReply
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Hey Bill:
[The universe] didn't begin at some point in time. . .
Would you say, though, that time has a beginning? I think the evidence suggests as much. I don't think that undermines the Objectivism view either. I do, however, think it suggests that the universe doesn't require time in order to exist, which in turn might open up some questions on Objectivist causation.

But anyway, it might help Andrew to know that the big bang is generally a matter for science and not philosophy, hence not Objectivism. It's still fun to talk about though.

Jordan 




Post 8

Thursday, July 5, 2007 - 11:19pmSanction this postReply
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The universe is space-time, and space cannot be separated from time. Spacetime cannot have a beginning in spacetime, even if it is finite.

Of course the ultimate explanation of the matter is one for cosmologists - astrophysicists as they like to be called nowadays. Rand saikd that the imulse to do armchair cosmology has always been a grave fault. Whatever is, is what it is.

Again, that existence exists because there was nothing to prevent it is as much of an answer as is needed for the philosopher to sleep well at night.

Ted Keer



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Post 9

Friday, July 6, 2007 - 5:32amSanction this postReply
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Mr. Syrios,

Rand took her axiom “Existence exists” to mean that “nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence.” She expressed this view in the 1973 essay “The Metaphysical versus the Man-Made.”

 

General Relativity does not conceive of the initial singularity as a nothing. According to GR the universe possessed its present total, finite amount of mass-energy all the way back to the big bang. Contemporary scientific cosmologists do not expect that the expansion of the universe will prove to be extendable absolutely all the way back to the initial singularity, since they expect an as yet unknown quantum character of spacetime and gravitation, not classical GR, to rule for sufficiently minute t>0.

 

Even if classical GR were the rule all the way back without intervention of quantum effects at the Planck scale of spacetime, even if, as the classical equations say, the spacetime manifold and metric can be extended back to an initial t=0 and no further: there would be no time in which the universe did not exist. It would exist for all the time there is with the enormous total mass-energy it has today.

 

Arguments need to be constructed for Rand’s thesis that I stated in the first paragraph. If that traditional cosmological thesis can be demonstrated by philosophical analysis, then that demonstration needs to be set forth. If every putative philosophical demonstration can be shown to be fallacious, then even though the thesis may in fact be true, it can be reasonably concluded that the thesis can only be established by modern science.

 

Stephen


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 7/06, 8:05am)




Post 10

Friday, July 6, 2007 - 10:02amSanction this postReply
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Ted,
The universe is space-time
I think Rand would say the universe is just a bunch of existents. I do not think it's automatically true that each existent entails space-time. Consider photons in particular. As Timothy Ferris points out in The Whole Shebang, as objects approach the speed of light, their time slows down. (That's put a bit crudely, but you get the point). Because photon travel at light speed, they don't "experience" time at all. Strange stuff. I do agree with Stephen's point though: 
...there would be no time in which the universe did not exist...
And I would add that there might be a (state of a) universe (or at least existent) where time does not exist. 

Jordan




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Post 11

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - 6:08pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew, sorry for not getting back to you sooner. You wrote,
Bill,

Thank you for your reply. As you can probably tell I'm a new member. I wouldn't consider myself an objectivist as of now. Right now I would describe myself as an agnostic libertarian.

That's definitely an interesting take on the question and I will definitely look into that article.
To get the article, you'll need to buy the entire bound volume of the Objectivist Newsletter (Vols. 1-4) either from Amazon.com (for $37.95) or from the Ayn Rand Bookstore ($39.95). If you have any other questions about this article, let me know.
However, I'm not convinced. Let's take God out of the argument because you're right. Trying to answer "what is God?" leads to an infinite regression. But to me, it seems as if a similar thing happens with reason. If we wanted to figure out how our Universe came to be, we would eventually come to the Big Bang (let's assume that's the beginning of the Universe). OK, that speck is a compacted mass of matter. What was before that? How did that start? I can't accept that it just was there. That it's existence caused the Universe, but didn't necessarily require a cause to exist. I fear I might have misunderstood you, but I still don't understand how every existent doesn't require a cause. If you could elaborate, I would be very grateful. Thanks
Again, my sincerest apologies for not getting back to you on this sooner. I wasn't ignoring you. It was just an oversight.

The point is that existence as such doesn't require a cause. In other words, it isn't the case that once upon a time, there was nothing and then suddenly quite out of the blue, existence arrived on the scene, because in that case, existence would have come from nothing, and nothing cannot be a cause of anything. So, what's the alternative? The alternative is that something (in some particular form) always existed, which means that there was no cause of existence as such -- that existence (in some form) was always here.

Another way of seeing this is to recognize that it's impossible for everything to have a cause, because 'everything' exhausts the universe of existents, in which case, there is nothing else left to act as the cause. That is why the statement, "Everything requires a cause" leads to a vicious regress. Everything is all there is. So, whatever its fundamental character, existence must be your irreducible primary. It could not possibly have had a cause, because the very idea entails a logical contradiction. It implies that every thing is equivalent to everything plus one additional thing (its cause), which implies that every thing is not every thing (a contradiction).

I hope this helps.

- Bill



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Post 12

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - 9:30pmSanction this postReply
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Anyone who does not posess The Objectivist should buy it ASAP. This is not the same as the Objectivist Newsletter which is of value, but was an earlier publication. (I travelled to Manhattan for the first time at 17 to buy both from Laissez Faire Books.) There are many articles unavailable elsewhere and it provides a very interesting insight on the 60's and the NBI movement.

Ted Keer
(Edited by Ted Keer
on 7/11, 9:37pm)




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Post 13

Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 1:46pmSanction this postReply
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~ Jordan pointed something out which I think implies a different prob with the question. He said that he thought that Rand would view any meaning of  the universe as a catch-all (my words) for the whole totality of existents. I agree with this view.
~ Now consider, has any subgroup of existents (gophers, cars, spears, blonds, elm trees) ever had the question put about them as though ALL of that group were 'caused' by one, specific, single, thing? A type of thing, for some, yes; for others, different types. But, there's no 'one' answer expectable re any subgroup, hence, why even expect one for the totality of ALL existents?

LLAP
J:D




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Post 14

Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 5:42pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

So, whatever its fundamental character, existence must be your irreducible primary. It could not possibly have had a cause, because the very idea entails a logical contradiction. It implies that every thing is equivalent to everything plus one additional thing (its cause), which implies that every thing is not every thing (a contradiction).
Very well put.

Ed




Post 15

Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 9:23pmSanction this postReply
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    Handling 'the question' from the traditional perspective, Bill concisely summarizes the problem (a contradiction, or at least equivocation, implied) therein. A 'cause' HAS to be considered an other 'thing', hence, not ALL things are meant by the idea of 'EVERYthing' when asked about their supposed 'cause;' even a 'cause' is a 'thing.'

    As Ed says: "Very well put."

    It seems that this question (Universe Origin) sits in a sieve of questions about its own meaning.

LLAP
J:D

(Edited by John Dailey on 7/12, 9:26pm)




Post 16

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - 9:02amSanction this postReply
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Mr. Syrios,

Issues neighboring this one, as this one is treated in #9, are tackled here.

Stephen






Post 17

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - 1:27pmSanction this postReply
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I forget where I heard this, but I love this analogy: asking what caused the universe is like asking what is the page before the first page of a book. It's nonsensical.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Objectivist position that "The Universe" is an abstraction that refers to everything that exists?



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Post 18

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - 2:57pmSanction this postReply
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Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Objectivist position that "The Universe" is an abstraction that refers to everything that exists?
"The Universe" is a term that refers to the Universe. The Universe is not an abstraction; it is everything that exists. Abstractions do not exist -- except as ideas in someone's mind. But is there such a concept as "the Universe"? I don't think you can say that "the Universe" is a concept; it's more like a proper noun, because there is only one Universe.

Suppose I'm talking about "my cat." Is "my cat" a concept? No, it refers to a particular animal and only to that animal. Now suppose that in talking about my cat, I refer to "the cat" over there on the mat. There is only one cat sitting on the mat, and it is my cat. So "the cat" (referring to the animal on the mat) is not a concept either; it's simply a term referring to one and only one object.

"Cat," on the other hand, is a concept, because it subsumes all cats and designates every animal within that classification. "My cat" or "the cat" is not a classification; it is simply a term that designates a particular existent. By the same token, "the Universe" is simply a term that designates the collection of all existents, i.e., existence.

- Bill



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Post 19

Wednesday, August 8, 2007 - 4:02pmSanction this postReply
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Now suppose that in talking about my cat, I refer to "the cat" over there on the mat. There is only one cat sitting on the mat, and it is my cat


But what if my cat ate my hat, then would the cat still be on the mat with a belly full of eaten hat?

Ok sorry, couldn't resist the Dr. Seuss moment. Nothing left to see here, carry on...

:)



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