A simple question proves thorny in Jim Holt's new book.
"It has been said," Jim Holt writes in his new book, "that the question Why is there something rather than nothing? is so profound that it would occur only to a metaphysician, yet so simple that it would occur only to a child." I might have reversed the adjectives, but the basic thought that lies behind this – that the child's imagination is, at its core, philosophical and metaphysical, and that the philosopher is the adult who has managed to retain his childhood sense of wonder at the universe – seems to me sound.
And as for this particular question: well, it's a biggie. Why is there stuff – indeed, quite a lot of stuff, as anyone who has walked down Fifth Avenue, visited the Grand Canyon, or simply looked at the night sky, can attest – rather than a whole lot of nothing? (Or would that be a tiny bit of nothing?) Not every question gets, or deserves, its own book, but the question that gives Why Does the World Exist? its title is far too big for any one volume. Holt's book is not meant to be the last word on the matter; it is best seen as an entertaining introduction to a vast range of argument and speculation that would take more lifetimes to master than any of us has at his disposal.
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