Something v. Nothing

On the Docket of The Highest Court

Andrew Hartford
9 min readMar 17, 2022

Background: Near the end of his life, one of the greatest thinkers of all time (Leibniz) asked a most beautiful question: Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

If you haven’t heard of this question, you are not alone: I hadn’t heard of it until I was ~25.

If you’ve heard this is a dumb question, you’ve heard wrong.

Good philosophers have understood this question as the ultimate counter-factual: for any thing that does exist (like our universe!), we ask, could such have not existed — and if not, why?

This question is metaphorically represented by the court case of Something v. Nothing.

We are something, and must give Nothing its day in Court as the Defendant (i.e. we cannot assume Nothing is impossible ex-ante, or input Necessity and then circularly conclude there must have been something because of such).

Our great burden is to *output* an answer to the question, “Where does necessity come from?”…. and to thus understand why Nothing was and is logically impossible.

Leibniz was also a lawyer so maybe he would have appreciated the title!

Why is something so esoteric of sincere interest: Nihilism is in the soil, the water and the air… good public servants know this… and should realize that to thrive in the 21st Century the pandemic of pointlessness must be taken head on.

The only thing worse than a failed campaign is a failed campaign that never ended!

In pursuit of a program of public problems, I continued to work. The work herein relates to Question 10 on revitalizing purpose, optimism and meaning.

This Asimov-inspired short story exists within Delphi, a future-fiction cinematic universe (movie). Delphi flowed out of an argument that came from a long journey of independent research, following the campaign.

Delphi begins in the year 2100. As a predicted social commentary of that time, based on the crisis of meaning, despite the continued growth of technology: “the more they got, the less they had; the more they thought, increasingly sad.”

I am not a good writer, and get told this frequently…

But I do genuinely believe the ideas herein are worthwhile :)

Enjoy…

The Judge: Order in the Court….

Back on The Docket, we have the case of Something, the Plaintiffs, versus Nothing, the Defendant…

Counselor…

A lawyer for the living stands.

Lawyer: May it please the Court.

Our story starts around 475 B.C. with the philosopher Parmenides.

2500 years later, and this trial remains ongoing…

In the early 1700s, Leibniz, a co-discoverer of calculus, asked a puzzling question at the end of his life: “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”

Of course our universe exists as something.

So, Leibniz’s formal challenge is the ultimate counterfactual: No matter what exists, we wonder, could there have instead been only nothing? And if not, why?

We have properly given Nothing its day in court, treating non-existence as the Defendant, with the burden on us, Something.

The philosophers have long searched for an argument as to why something must have existed.

This Court, and the good faith amongst us, remain unsatisfied with the reasoning so far presented.

Today, we have reconvened following new evidence because we believe this Court will deem it most relevant…

It runs thus:

  1. There must be Something or Nothing: one or the other, not neither and not both. This is because the 2 categories are mutually exclusive (not both) and collectively exhaustive (not neither).
  2. By Nothing, we refer to absolute Nothing, the only valid notion of Nothing. Nothing has an a priori definition that is neither yours nor mine to make. Nothing “=” 0 encodings or existors across the totality, globally and cumulatively (not just no space or time, but no laws of physics, possibilities, mechanisms or math, assuming any of them exist). The equals sign is intentionally in parentheses because Nothing isn’t equal to anything, not even itself! While it’s true that more than 1 Nothing is inherently self-contradictory because it requires encoding, IF there were no Something, it’s NOT that there’s “1” existing Nothing. Encoding Nothing is a farce and any foundations which do so are doomed!
  3. The categories Something and Nothing are not just definitional, but also ontological: something cannot ever exist IF it has never existed. Thus, all things that exist, however they do and whatever they are, have had at least 1 instance of identity (of what? themselves!). In this rationalist spirit, all things that exist do, there can be no hidden existors, and all differences from and within the global initial condition must be encoded.
  4. Since 475 B.C. it has been widely accepted by experts and everyday people that “No-thing comes from Nothing”. That is, no Something comes from absolute Nothing. This implies that IF there ever is something there always was something. But how do we interpret always? Whereas Aristotle interprets always as a (backwards) story of causation or time, we interpret always instead as a foundational constraint. Because you can’t get something without something, any original something that ever existed must have always existed.
  5. Always too has an a priori definition which is neither yours nor mine to define! A something (noun) is always IFF it (1) exists, (2) at and as, (3) the global origin, (4) as un-caused. Something is not always IF it is resultant of time or process or computation. An always something exists before all time or process or computation. An always something is NOT self-caused nor emergent. An always something exists un-caused (path-less) in 1st identity. No-thing is before always and thus none can be before another: so whether there are 1 or many, all always somethings exist at and as the same one global origin.
  6. Our universe exists. It is something, at least 1.
  7. Therefore, as a factual necessity, there was at least 1 “always” something. Whether there are 1 or many universes, they all share the same 1 global origin (all the always somethings exist all together and all at at once at and as this global origin, as the only 1st “what” and only 1st “where”).
  8. The global origin cannot have been different; therefore, all always somethings, including ours, are logically necessary to have a specific 1st identity! This is because, for something to be different, there must be (1) alternative possibilities (another something, a different state of that something, or the potential of Nothing instead) and (2) the ability of realizing such alternatives. Because there can be no hidden existors or encodings, and there’s no-thing before always (it’s the global origin!), there are 0 possible other somethings or the alternative of Nothing (i.e. there’s no “where” for anything else to be). Thus, there is only 1 possible Original Possibility. Because the 1st instance of this original identity exists before all process or time or computation, there is 0 capacity for change or difference. Therefore, the global origin was necessarily ‘as is’!
  9. Because there must be something in the one 1st place (the global origin) there cannot ever have been and never will be only Nothing. As a more comprehensive and fundamental answer: the same un-beginning origin (the always something) is also an un-ending existor (forever). Thus, there is an existor that necessarily exists which is both 1st and last: before and beyond all time (whether there is 0 or finite or infinite time, for any definition of time, and regardless of how many dimensions there are). That’s why!

We do not claim our spatio-temporal universe didn’t begin, nor do we care. This a-cosmological argument is indifferent as to whether or not it did.

“What came before the big bang?” is the wrong question, and Leibniz’s brilliant question helps focus our mind properly.

Exactly because of the ontological priority of the original identity (always), one does not think backwards to the global origin (Source); only forwards from the Source, and only after the debt of 1st identity is paid.

So, while our existence is most exciting, the always something is not necessary because we exist (i.e. it is not that because there is something there always was something); instead, we just can recognize its necessity because we do.

Lastly, please remember that this is not my argument, but indeed, yours: it is a discovery not an invention. My words do not matter, but the concepts they refer to do.

The lawyer for the living sits.

The non-lawyer for the non-existent doesn’t say anything.

But in the gallery, some patrons jump to their feet. Even though they are within the class, they reflexively object in earnest: yelling loosely relevant statements in the direction of the Plaintiff’s table!

A hive-mindless cacophony ensues!

The Judge (banging its gavel): There will be order in this Court!

While the upset onlookers knew they were angry, they had long since forgotten as to why.

And because their best nature too respected the Court, the shouting turned to muttering — and the muttering to a dissenting glaze.

The Judge (to the jury): Having heard enough, here is your charge…

IF you believe this reasoning is “true” you shall find that the Defendant (Nothing) is logically impossible and rule for the Plaintiffs (Something).

If we have at last output Necessity, we shall remove this long-standing case from The Docket.

The jury retired.

After many hours of thoughtful consideration, they came back and were seated as before.

The Judge: Has the jury reached a verdict?

The Jury: Yes, your Honor, we have…

As arguants making arguments we must postulate and adjudicate the axioms.

We must recognize that we are part of the global memory we seek to reason about, such that there is native self-reference for the question asker which is part of the answer.

We “believe” inputs (our axioms or principles), and we “know” outputs (ex. theorems proven as true). Thus, the correctness of our knowledge (outputs) hinges on the originating correctness of our beliefs (inputs).

So, we realize that there is not just incompleteness “at the top”, but also “at the bottom”.

By the “top”, we mean there is no last truth to output and no last axiom that will get us there.

By the “bottom”, we mean that logos is participatory: we instantiate the system of reasoning that we reason with. We find a BYOS situation: “bring your own sensibility”, requiring a 0th sense. For a reasoner to reasoner reasonably, they must already must be able to reason.

The reasonability of our reasoning cannot be proven without presupposition. Our identification of good sets of axioms requires us to determine what is self-evidently true without proof. Axioms are necessarily recognized as inputs by 1st parties; they are not 3rd party verifiable outputs.

It’s not that what is true is arbitrary, but that the process is participatory.

Thus, we find that each interested party needs to personally participate in making this argument, in order for that arguant to find the reasoning satisfactory.

That is, there are such things that one cannot prove to you, but which you need to evaluate for yourself. The ​lawyer’s ​philosophy of ontology to understand the original identity, which satisfies the condition of “always”, is such a thing.

Always is the 1st axiom: all other axioms and existors require it because it is the base case. It’s been presupposed for 1000’s of years, because we all reject the anti-rationalist and anti-scientific nonsense of an absolute Nothing to Something jump. It just has not been recognized so explicitly.

Thus, we find the argument by the Plaintiffs to be “basic” rather than “trivial”: something insightful and ‘true’ versus ‘not wrong’ and arbitrary.

In conclusion: Because it is the ultimate counter-factual, Why is there Something rather than Nothing is the 1st question of philosophy. While this jury finds the reasoning of the Plaintiffs sound, we cannot make a ruling for this Court at-large: each must decide on their own — as a personal and participatory jury of 1.

The Judge (with a smile on its face, addressing the Court): At last, this case is closed; and yet still remains open to each!

An Eternal Spring has sprung, but full Knowledge never reached.

With one task done, let another begin… because nihilism and hopelessness will devour from within.

The stakes have never been higher, but the reward forever more.

Will you rise to the occasion? Will you become worthy of lore?

Acknowledgements: Over the years I was able to engage with many leading professionals with interest in these subjects. I solicited feedback starting in 2019. It took a long time to get things into a more explainable form (sorry about that!), as personally working through these ideas took many years. I’m proud to say I have received private positive comments from many of such persons (about 30) and that the underlying work is expected to be published in 2024. Thanks for the comments, questions, disagreements — and even negativity. It was extraordinarily inspiring and motivating. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

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