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Why Does the World Exist? An Existential…

Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story (2012)

by Jim Holt

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Why is there something rather than nothing? In “Why Does the World Exist?” Jim Holt attempts to find the solution to that question, plumbing the depths of historical and modern thought to do so. In his quest, Holt crosses the Atlantic Ocean a few times to meet many luminaries of science and philosophy. Since the problem becomes that of being, we must also consider the opposite idea which is that of nothingness. Now, the ideas of nothing and nothingness are not to be conflated with each other. Nothing is just the absence of something while nothingness is a state of being. The book tries not to get too heavy on the jargon, though Holt makes allowances for when the scientific and philosophical figures he talks to get to show off the breadth of their knowledge.

Take the Big Bang Model of the creation of the Universe. Asking what caused the Big Bang makes no sense in that idea because the Big Bang is by definition the earliest event that happened in our Universe. Since that is the case, Mr. Holt is forced to ask whether or not the Universe just created itself.

Mr. Holt also discusses the concept of God and how it came to be that God “Created” the Universe. If you remember your Bible, in Genesis it says that the world was in the Primordial State of Chaos and God merely took that substance and fashioned the Universe out of what was there. However, around the time of the First Century CE, it came to pass that they changed it so that God brought everything into existence with a Word. So it was interesting learning about that. It isn’t really something I ever think about.

Holt discusses the “Proofs” of the Existence of God and talks about their virtues and shortcomings. It even has some Modal Logic thrown in from Kurt Godel, and that is pretty cool.

All in all, this was a great book. It doesn’t have anything on Further Reading but there are a few pages of Notes to peruse and an index to go over. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
Such an odd book...so much intelligence, unfortunately bracketed by and interspersed with metaphysical nonsense and philosophical BS.

I was interested in the concept and what Holt had to say, but almost abandoned it after the first few chapters. I stubbornly persisted and it got better (he spoke to real scientists)...then retreated (back to philosophers). I have no use whatsoever for philosophy other than to satisfy a curiosity as to what would drive people to waste their lives and intellects.

When I saw the title question, three thoughts came to mind:
1) Why bother asking?
2) Why bother writing about it? and
3) Why bother reading about it?

The "answers"?
1) Meaningless question
2) Waste of time...a meaningless question cannot be answered other than the obvious "It does, so just deal with it"
3) Curiosity...which kills Schrodinger's cat...or didn't...but unlike the quantum thought experiment, this was a waste of time.

Holt gets three stars for trying, for speaking to cosmologists and I won't dock him any for the philosophy BS. ( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |
I thought it was a great character study. Holt: lost Catholic, lonely, forever trying to make contact. Cat person. Man of many single dinners. I really liked the book.
  Peter_Scissors | Jun 21, 2016 |
This is a book I enjoyed skimming - and reading reviews of - and writing a few notes about. It is about the question why there is something rather than nothing, and reconfirmed my own thought/feeling that I'm just not interested in that question. It's not a real question. It gets lost in trying to define "nothing." It is unknowable an that may be its most important feature. Things exist because they do.
I'm glad the book exists and that people are pondering such questions. Holt writes well and I'll be looking for more of his work. ( )
  mykl-s | Sep 9, 2015 |
sometimes a little too funny for his own good, but when he hits the mark his observations make philosophy a joy to read. Put your mind in gear if you want to get the most from this. ( )
  Daniel_Nanavati | Jul 19, 2015 |
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Perché esiste il mondo, e perché ne facciamo parte? Perché c’è qualcosa anziché il nulla? Da secoli se lo chiedono in tanti, tra filosofi e scienziati, teologi e scrittori, ed è sorprendente scoprire quanto singolare, articolata e avvincente si possa rivelare, ai nostri giorni, una ricerca che prende le mosse da un interrogativo così semplice e potente; una vera e propria indagine, personale ed emozionante, condotta come una detective-story da un brillante divulgatore scientifico con un debole per i grandi misteri dell’esistenza.

In Perché il mondo esiste? Jim Holt indossa i panni del segugio cosmico e interroga, punzecchia, mette alle strette (o ascolta, rapito e incredulo) una schiera di intellettuali di rango assoluto: Nobel per la fisica come Steven Weinberg, giganti della letteratura contemporanea come John Updike, matematici innamorati delle forme platoniche come Roger Penrose, teorici del multiverso e della realtà virtuale. Ogni colloquio è un viaggio in mondi nuovi, un confronto con prospettive sconvolgenti, un’immersione nelle teorie più argute, avventurose e geniali del sapere contemporaneo, spiegate al lettore senza indulgere in tecnicismi e con grande affabilità, quasi come in un romanzo di formazione.

Perché il mondo esiste? chiama in causa Dio, il Big Bang, la fisica classica e quantistica e altri cardini del pensiero scientifico e filosofico contemporaneo, ma il filo conduttore rimane la curiosità: la curiosità instancabile, la lungimiranza e l’ingegno di una specie come la nostra, che da millenni non è mai stanca di porsi domande su se stessa e sul mondo in cui vive.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0871404095, Hardcover)

2012 New York Times Top 10 Book of the Year
Slate.com 2012 Staff Pick

In this astonishing and profound work, an irreverent sleuth traces the riddle of existence from the ancient world to modern times.

Whether framed philosophically as “Why is there a world rather than nothing at all?” or more colloquially as “But, Mommy, who made God?” the metaphysical mystery about how we came into existence remains the most fractious and fascinating question of all time. Following in the footsteps of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose, and even Stephen Hawking, Jim Holt emerges with an engrossing narrative that traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. As he takes on the role of cosmological detective, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God vs. the Big Bang. Whether interviewing a cranky Oxford philosopher, a Physics Nobel Laureate, or a French Buddhist monk, Holt pursues unexplored and often bizarre angles to this cosmic puzzle. The result is a brilliant synthesis of cosmology, mathematics, and physics—one that propels his own work to the level of philosophy itself.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Moving away from the narrower paths of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, the celebrated essayist Jim Holt now enters this fascinating debate with his broad, lively and deeply informed narrative that traces all our efforts to grasp the origins of the universe.

» see all 5 descriptions

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