Metaphysics special: Why is there something rather than nothing?
National Geographic Creative By Richard Webb German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s angst-ridden non-answer to what he called “the fundamental question” was that a fear of nothing was the defining feature of the human condition. We certainly seem scared that nothing is some kind of universal default. But why should we presume that nothing is more likely than something? After all, if we accept that we exist to ask the question, then we’ve proved something exists. It’s a whole lot harder to prove that nothing can exist. It’s tempting to think that modern physics has made this line of reasoning easier. According to quantum field theory, even the vacuum of space is a lively soup of particles and fields popping up out of nowhere. This kind of random fluctuation is thought to have ultimately created our cosmos of stars, planets and existential worriers out of the quantum vacuum – admittedly abetted by some as-yet-unexplained happenstance, such as a period of faster-than-light inflation in the early universe, and matter somehow winning out against its evil twin, antimatter. But there’s a huge flaw in this logic: the quantum vacuum is not nothing. And even if there were no quantum vacuum filling it, empty space would be anything but nothing. According to Einstein’s relativity, space moves, bends, snaps and has holes in it just like a tangible,