Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story

by Jim Holt


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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: 261,528
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

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