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Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective StoryWhy Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
Jim Holt





この本の主要テーマは“Why is there something rather than nothing?”という問いに集約されています。この問いを問いながら哲学や数学などでの考えをみていくものですが、10代の時に出会ったハイデガーの『形而上学入門』の影響が大きいようですね。

July 18, 2012, 10:09 am
No Small Talk: Jim Holt on Why the World Exists

Do you remember a moment when you first contemplated this question yourself?

I was brought up in a religious family, so the stock answer was that God made the world, and God himself existed eternally by his own nature. As a teenager I started to doubt this theological story. I became interested in existentialism and got my hands on a book by Heidegger called “An Introduction to Metaphysics.” The very first sentence was, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I can still remember how the sheer poetry of it bowled me over.


„Warum ist überhaupt Seiendes und nicht vielmehr Nichts?“
Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?


There’s a chapter about your mother’s death that I found incredibly moving. What impact, if any, did it have on you with regard to the big questions asked by your book?

The question “Why does the world exist?” rhymes with the question “Why do I exist?” Both cosmic and personal existence are precarious in the extreme. This was borne in upon me when, just as I was writing the last chapters of the book, about the self and death, my mother unexpectedly died. I was alone with her in the hospice room at the last moment. To see a self flicker into nothingness — the very self that engendered your own being, no less — is to feel the weirdness of existence anew.


The Basic Question
‘Why Does the World Exist?’ by Jim Holt
Published: August 2, 2012

”Why is there something rather than nothing?” sounds so fundamental a question that it should have perplexed humanity since the dawn of philosophy. Strangely, it hasn’t, or at least it has left no trace on early written literature. Aristotle said that philosophy begins with wonder, and earlier Greek philosophers did wonder what the world was made of. Thales thought its primal substance was water, Anaximenes air, Heraclitus fire. But they didn’t ask why anything was there at all. We find no one haunted by the specter of non-being until Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who wrote in 1714, “The first question which we have a right to ask will be, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ ”

For some, the question is not really a question. It is more an expression of philosophical amazement — a way of saying “wow” in the face of existence.

Ludwig Wittgenstein described a feeling of awe that led him to use phrases like “How extraordinary that anything should exist,” but he decided it was better not to say such things. Martin Heidegger decided the other way, and made the Question of Being the foundation for his entire philosophy, becoming, as George Steiner described him, “the great master of astonishment, the man whose amazement before the blank fact that we are instead of not being, has put a radiant obstacle in the path of the obvious.”


There is no way to do justice to any of these theories in a brief review, but Holt traces the reasoning behind each one with care and clarity — such clarity that each idea seems resoundingly sensible even as it turns one’s brain to a soup of incredulity.

He is an urbane guide, involving us in his personal adventures. We join him for a weekend sipping claret and reading Parfit in a bathtub at the Athenaeum Club in London. He takes us to Paris for no good reason except to sit in the Café de Flore with a volume of Hegel. We stay with him through the death of his dog, and — movingly — even attend his mother’s deathbed, where she undergoes “the infinitesimal transition from being to nothingness.”

Holt reminds us that no exploration of being — especially human being — can be separated from the human who undertakes it, complete with character and the play of moods. Updike felt that the universe had “a color, a quiet but tireless goodness that things at rest, like a brick wall or a small stone, seem to affirm.” Surely this was a mood, even a quirk of biochemistry, but it opens a perspective on the universe, too. The question of being itself, as Updike and Holt agree, can seem profound in one mood, vacuous in another.