What Is Existence?

What Is Existence?

A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true.

- Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence

Podcast of the Day

How can we make sense of things that don't exist? What can we say about them? Tim Crane explores these questions in conversation with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Listen to Tim Crane on Non-Existence

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

In the summer of 2012, a number of philosophers at British and American universities received a bulky, unmarked package in the post. It contained a 560-page book, written in English but with the Latin title Summa Metaphysica, by an amateur whose name they didn't recognise: David Birnbaum. It isn't unusual for philosophy departments to get mail from cranks, convinced they have solved the riddle of existence, but they usually send stapled print-outs, or handwritten letters; Summa Metaphysica stood out "for its size and its glossiness", says Tim Crane, a professor of philosophy at Cambridge....

Birnbaum has been on [a] mission: to convince the world he has made an astonishing breakthrough in philosophy. It is a quest that has seen him accused of "academic identity theft", epic levels of arrogance, and the unauthorised use of Harvard University's trademarks. But it also raises fascinating questions. These days, only a tiny number of people understand enough theoretical physics, or advanced philosophy, to grasp what these disciplines tell us about reality at the deepest level. Is it still conceivable – as it was a century ago – that a gentleman amateur, with some financial resources, could make a real, revolutionary contribution to our understanding of the mysteries of the universe?

Continue reading Oliver Burkeman's article: Has David Birnbaum solved the mystery of existence?

Further Reading

"The problem with the science option would seem to be this. The universe comprises everything that physically exists. A scientific explanation must involve some sort of physical cause. But any physical cause is by definition part of the universe to be explained. Thus any purely scientific explanation of the existence of the universe is doomed to be circular. Even if it starts from something very minimal—a cosmic egg, a tiny bit of quantum vacuum, a singularity—it still starts with something, not nothing. Science may be able to trace how the current universe evolved from an earlier state of physical reality, even following the process back as far as the Big Bang. But ultimately science hits a wall. It can’t account for the origin of the primal physical state out of nothing. That, at least, is what diehard defenders of the God hypothesis insist."

- Excerpt from Jim Holt's book: Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

Related Topics

Metaphysics | Philosophy

Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.

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