In the last two posts I summarized the scientific theory as to how quantum fluctuations permitted the universe to appear without a trigger of any kind and from nothing other than a spatial vacuum. This unexpected and intriguing hypothesis impacts not only how we view the universe, but also informs the nature of ultimate reality and thus indirectly the meaning of everything including our own lives. As I am neither a physicist nor an advanced mathematician, I can offer only counter-arguments based on logic as follow.

I see four possible areas of flawed logic. First, the definition of nothing to me excludes even the existence of a void or empty space in which quantum fluctuations would occur. Nothing after all means nothing, absolutely nothing – the closest the human mind can come to this is to regress back to the state prior to one’s birth. We don’t think of there being an empty space from which we sprung – no, there was nothing at all! Moreover it is not clear to me what the physicist means in postulating a previously existing empty space; consider some of the consequences of this assumption – questions such as how long did it exist or how large was it or what formed its boundaries or what was on the other side of it? Do such questions even make sense prior to the universe? Or was there in fact a ‘proto-universe’?

Second is the question of time. If quantum fluctuations lead to the appearance of particles (and anti-particles) over time, then didn’t time need to exist? And don’t Einstein’s laws prove that space and time are instantiated in the universe which would not yet exist? Third is the statement by Barrow and Tipler that quantum mechanics would not apply prior to Planck time. If that is the case then how could quantum fluctuations be the explanation for the first 10-43 seconds of the Big Bang? Last is perhaps the weakest argument, but the one which most drives our doubt. The appearance of an occasional or even frequently appearing subatomic particle seems credible if surprising, but it seems much less believable to say that all the mass of the universe appeared in an instant. It would be much more likely a much smaller number of particles would appear (perhaps sequentially), making the likelihood of our universe springing from the void as a Big Bang event so low as to be negligible, i.e. mathematically impossible.

I have no doubt the brilliant physicists developing the theory of a universe from nothing have considered and may be able to rebut these non-mathematical arguments based in logic, but for myself I cannot bet the farm on this model. At the end of the day, if the hypothesis of a universe from nothing turns out being viable or even probable, then it is necessary to integrate that fact with our entire philosophical project. In the meantime, as ever, I draw on pragmatism to conclude that the search for a meaningful life for us as individuals must factor in the possibility of the universe coming from nothing or as the creation of a divine being or force. Each reader will have to decide his or her own approach to this lingering unknown.


  1. The definition of “nothing” is not the same in philosophy and in physics. In physics the universe is a sequence of information (which includes the time dimension). The quantum vacuum is part of this sequence. It is therefore not really ‘nothing’, as you indicate. But the true ‘nothing’ of the philosophers would imply the absence of the sequence. There would therefore be no possibility of a universe. In summary, either this sequence exists, without the need to impose ends on it (no beginning, therefore no ‘nothing’ before it), or it does not exist, but we would not be there to ask questions. So for a physicist the philosophical ‘nothing’ is nonsense.

    1. Jean-Pierre,

      Much thanks for this clarification. It makes complete sense, but I suspect most philosophers would say the postulation of a timeless sequence begs the question or is a kind of metaphysics, though I always remain open to further clarifications in the case of scientific explanations.

      At the end of the day this seems to be a form of the argument that the ‘universe’ (or in this case its precursor) is ‘eternal’ rather than originated. I assume this means there must be an infinite or nearly infinite number of ‘universes’ since the quantum vacuum is timeless and we would not expect only one Big Bang-like event nor would such a complex universe permissive of life as the one we live in be the first statistically. Like other non-experts, it seems to me that belief in a timeless quantum vacuum and a multiverse is as fantastic if not more so than belief in a supernatural explanation.

      Perhaps I need to study the theory further.

      Thank your for your interest in


      1. Scientific explanations are as teleological as philosophical ones, because neither can access the true essence of things. But they are not independent either. It takes a bit of the thing-in-itself that “answers” for the explanation to outline a meaning. From this angle, scientific teleology “sticks” much closer to the foundations of things than philosophical teleology, in the scale of complexity. Complexity makes interpretations of philosophy much further away from the essence of things. Everything precisely shows that the notions of ’emptiness’ and ‘nothing’ have no meaning for the foundation of things. They are part of our imagination, as the opposite of ‘full’ and ‘thing’. An opposite is not nothing.

        You are entirely right to point out that theistic and physical metaphysics come together in the same dizzying declarations. God only changes His appearance and keeps all His mystery.

        1. Jean-Pierre,

          Nice juxta-positioning of philosophy an science.
          I can see how the scientist can argue it is non-sensical to think of utter nothingness predating an existent universe given the human brain’s inherent logic would require there would still be nothing in that case and of course we know that is not so. In point of fact, the existence of a universe or a quantum vacuum is the best argument that absolute nothingness is at best imagination and at worst self-contradictory. Still that would make the quantum vacuum necessarily existent in philosophical parlance or else we are begging the question.

          Do I hear in your last line that you believe that some form of ‘God’ is credible?



          1. Any openness to the world, whether philosophical, scientific or religious, leads to the same conclusion: there is something immeasurable about oneself. This is the most anonymous definition of ‘God’. It naturally accompanies our field of explanation, as what surrounds it. Everyone lodges their desires in this unknown: fundamental forces for a materialist, humanist representation for a religious, epistemic tool for a philosopher. Therefore ‘God’ is much more a reflection of oneself than the universal entity He is supposed to be. This is why He triggers so many conflicts. Any more precise definition of God triggers a conflict. If He was a true universal, why would He cause conflict?

          2. Jean-Pierre,

            Fascinating take on the inner self.
            Hard to tell whether you think more like the Upanishads or more like the Gnostics, or even if I am misunderstanding you.
            Do you feel this immeasurability equally with regard to Nature or the Cosmos?
            I find a great spirituality or other indescribable feeling for both – for example the microscopic image of a living cell, the immensity of a mountain landscape, or the view of a the Orion Nebula through my telescope. Nonetheless, I struggle to consider either them or the inner self as divine and certainly do not imagine them as in any way supernatural. I teeter between the materialist and the mystic views. So yes, I grasp a conflict!



  2. Well, this is just a wild ass departure from the reality we know, or at least as it appears to us, sans metaphysics. If an origin to the universe messes up our philosophical project, we need not despair nor necessarily beg a do-over. Insofar as philosophy is a human project, its’ tenets, claims, theories and the rest emerged from human thought, experience and necessity—I throw necessity, into the account for our survival, to date. What has been said and written happened that way. That nebulous universe is where we live.

    1. Paul,

      Not sure what you mean, but the absence of an origin or Creator of the universe is historically thought to make it meaningless or absurd. Even though I don’t agree with that assessment, the simple knowledge that the universe is not created seems to me to have an impact one’s approach – at least we can eliminate any concern for traditional religious dogma as the Epicureans taught. I am less convinced it eliminates the questions of metaphysics.

      Nonetheless I agree wholeheartedly with you that philosophy, especially the search for a meaningful life is a human project, not a divine or cosmic one.



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