Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

by Jim Holt


$16.68 $16.95 Save 2% Current price is $16.68, Original price is $16.95. You Save 2%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, November 25


The Washington Post Notable Non-Fiction of 2013

“I can imagine few more enjoyable ways of thinking than to read this book.”—Sarah Bakewell, New York Times Book Review, front-page review

Tackling the “darkest question in all of philosophy” with “raffish erudition” (Dwight Garner, New York Times), author Jim Holt explores the greatest metaphysical mystery of all: why is there something rather than nothing? This runaway bestseller, which has captured the imagination of critics and the public alike, traces our latest efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. Holt adopts the role of cosmological detective, traveling the globe to interview a host of celebrated scientists, philosophers, and writers, “testing the contentions of one against the theories of the other” (Jeremy Bernstein, Wall Street Journal). As he interrogates his list of ontological culprits, the brilliant yet slyly humorous Holt contends that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God versus the Big Bang. This “deft and consuming” (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times) narrative humanizes the profound questions of meaning and existence it confronts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780871403599
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 04/08/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 246,095
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jim Holt, a prominent essayist and critic on philosophy, mathematics, and science, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Quick Proof That There Must Be Something Rather Than Nothing, for Modern People Who Lead Busy Lives 1

1 Confronting the Mystery 3

Interlude: Could Our World Have Been Created by a Hacker? 13

2 Philosophical Tour d'Horizon 17

Interlude: The Arithmetic of Nothingness 36

3 A Brief History of Nothing 41

4 The Great Rejectionist 63

5 Finite or Infinite? 81

Interlude: Night Thoughts at the Café de Flore 88

6 The Inductive Theist of North Oxford 95

Interlude: The Supreme Brute Fact 108

7 The Magus of the Multiverse 120

Interlude: The End of Explanation 131

8 The Ultimate Free Lunch? 138

Interlude: Nausea 149

9 Waiting for the Final Theory 154

Interlude: A Word on Many Worlds 164

10 Platonic Reflections 171

Interlude: It from Bit 186

11 "The Ethical Requiredness of There Being Something" 197

Interlude: An Hegelian in Paris 216

12 The Last Word from All Souls 221

Epistolary Interlude: The Proof 237

13 The World as a Bit of Light Verse 243

14 The Self: Do I Really Exist? 253

15 Return to Nothingness 266

Epilogue: Over the Seine 276

Acknowledgments 281

Notes 283

Index 295

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Carl_in_Richland More than 1 year ago
Fans of existentialism and physicists will enjoy this book . The subtitle of this book suggests a work of fiction. It’s not. Rather, it is a review of the history of the question posed by the title itself, why does the world exist? It's a good read but it’s not always easy going despite the light hearted style of the writing. One problem early on is that nowhere does it address the intrinsic limitations of any question that begins with ‘why?’ If the answer is “because of A”, then one can ask, why A? And if the answer is “A because of B”, then one can ask, why B? etc. This could go on for a long time. Which made me wonder, even after reading the book, if the question posed in the title could ever be answered. Another issue I had with this book was that some of the proposed answers seemed so silly. The western monotheistic theologians are the first to present their ideas which are quickly dismissed because of the complications that stem from the concept of God; where did he (she?) come from? Many of the philosophical arguments come across like fairy tales. For example, arguing that the universe had to come into existence because a universe filled with goodness would be intrinsically better than a universe filled with nothing. One hopes the physicists would do better. And while many of their hypothesis are equally un-testable and even harder to understand, they at least have a mathematical basis, which is more than the theologians or philosophers can claim, and that makes them more plausible, if not more comprehensible (readers interested in this book should also consider Larry Krauss’ ‘A Universe from Nothing’....same subject, but without the theology and philosophy). One of many interesting tangents in the text considers the relationship of mathematics to reality or, as posed by Stephen Hawking, asks what it is that breathes life into the basic equations of physics? At the end, after presenting a multitude of suggested reasons explaining why the world should exist, the author does seem to settle on an answer which is a blend of metaphysics, spirituality and science. But oddly enough, this solution came to him while watching a book-chat television show having as guests a Dominican priest, a theoretical physicists and a Buddhist monk. The proposed answer to this question, as articulated by the monk (Matthieu Ricard…check out his books at the Barnes and Noble webpage), is quite interesting. But it makes sense only after struggling with the many other proposed answers discussed in the text.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Holt does an excellent job reviewing all the contending theories as to why there is something instead of nothing (and why there is this something). He personizes the book by writing about some of his encounters with the authors of the theories, but the focus of the book is very much on the theories themselves as opposed to being a set of biographies of the people putting forth the theories (as sometimes happens with books on difficult subject matters). One word of warning, the topic itself is challenging. While Holt does an excellent job making matters as simple as possible, some readers will find the book difficult going. That having been said, I highly recommend the book - well worth the time put into reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very good read if your interested in origins. Some people have been saying Lawrence Krauss has already given the answer to this question but that is a fallacy. Jim shows the problem with Krauss's theory of how there is something rather than nothing. Krauss has a good book but its not the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. Jim has done a good job in his work. This book explores many different areas, I found it very worth while.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a whole lot of science here, or theology for that matter. This is a book for someone with a huge interest in philosophy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most philosophy writings put me to sleep. This one doesn't. Written in plain language, it is an entertaining, serious foray into the question of "Why is there something instead of nothing." Holt's sense of humor and easy prose makes you think he is sitting next to you with a glass of wine telling you of his journey in search of an answer that cannot come easily. You will enjoy it.
Bearymore More than 1 year ago
A well written, wide ranging, and cogently argued survey of the ontological landscape. It addresses the question why is there something rather than nothing from the philosophical and physical points of view to the personal and literary using interviews with a range of informants from John Updike to Steven Weinberg to Derek Parfit. A worthwhile and thought provoking read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A better than average treatment of this "ultimate" question, but in the end proves that nobody has a clue. Many of the philosophers and physicists in the book resort to word games, tortured logic, or wishful thinking to attempt an explanation. The deep thinkers often talk about nothing in a loose way so their idea of nothing allows something to exist in order to have their ideas make sense. The book is worth reading if only to see why nobody has a good answer.
resena More than 1 year ago
Sorry. I TRIED to like this book. But it is just too disorganized and rambling for me. I see no attention given to the latest findings in human brain structure and function, which could explain a lot of the (historic) philosophers' views as to "why there is something rather than nothing".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BrianTomOC More than 1 year ago
Superb.  Thought provoking, entertaining, readable, deep. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book does give you a good philosophical overview, whatever your stance maybe on this question. The answer can only be based on your faith.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rufus_J_Firefly More than 1 year ago
This is a good survey of the various theories about the origins of the universe, if you can get past the "detective story" conceit and the accompanying travelogue details (which really get annoying after a while).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jim Holt has a very sublime approach to some of the big questions. I am forever changed by the experience.