Second Principle- What About The Why Question

Why are we here? Why is there something rather than nothing? And does knowing the answers to these crucial questions change anything?

(Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash)

For many, the answer to the question of why we exist, beyond “just because”, begins at the very beginning. That is, the very very beginning as we think of it today–the Big Bang. There are certain things in our contemporary story that serve as facts about the physical universe that was created during and after this extreme event. So what if we start with the particles at or near the beginning of time? (For a deeper discussion of the Big Bang as a widely accepted origin story for the universe and thus for humankind, see the post Origin Story.)

Every fundamental particle in nature has a corresponding anti-particle. Whenever the two come together, both are annihilated via a burst of radiation, leaving behind pure energy. In the first fractions of a second of the big bang, what emerged from the newly-created hot and dense primordial soup were the particle-antiparticle pairs arising and then bursting themselves in and out of existence.

Given the theory’s contention that these particles and anti-particles were produced in equal numbers following the big bang, the question is why didn’t they all annihilate each other? Had they done so, the universe would be devoid of matter. It would not be the universe we exist in today. Because the universe we experience does seem to have matter in it (we’ll come back to this issue in another post), an imbalance between matter and anti-matter must have developed, with matter being on the dominant side of that imbalance. Thus we have galaxies of stars and even orbiting planets and their inhabitants, including the tiniest life forms imaginable on Earth.  

(photo by Tareq Ajalyakin on Unsplash)

This imbalance that brought the universe into existence is known in physics as a breaking of the laws of symmetry. It seems the laws of physics are applied differently in the case of matter and anti-matter. Out of the post-big bang annihilation period, about 1 part per billion of matter somehow survived. What caused this asymmetry is still one of the most imposing challenges for physics. A key hypothesis is that some kind of dynamic existent in the early universe interfered and broke the symmetry so that more particles decayed into matter than anti-matter. That is the beginning of a possible answer to the “how” question. The reality is we don’t know how this asymmetry happened, how matter came into existence in the universe. 

In The Static Universe, South-African physicist, mathematician and astronomer Hilton Ratcliffe explained that

"At the outset it was clear that no certainty could be reached in cosmology.  
We are dealing with no more than likelihood and probability, and are best-guessing 
a picture of the ultra-large world beyond our observational horizon."

But what about the “why” question? Why is there something rather than nothing in the universe? Most scientific studies have converted this “why” question into a how question (i.e., what happened?). We often don’t pursue the “why” question more directly, in matters this large as well as in matters more mundane, because most “why” questions do not lend themselves to concrete answers that transcend the realm of subjective projection. Like cosmological questions, so many “why” questions are simply beyond our range. Our quest to answer the “why” question is often the search for absolute purpose and/or absolute meaning to be taken from the answer to a question that can’t be answered. Nor do we need it to be. Our daily life is filled with meaning-making, but that is a choice to construct a story around what simply “is.”

(photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash)
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