Friday, March 22, 2013

review: why the world exists

Despite the hugeness of my book collection and the frequency with which I purchase (two more made their way into my home this weekend, don't judge) it is only very rarely that a hardcover makes its way into my home. This was a book that I lusted over though, and eventually parted ways with some gift card money in order to bring Jim Holt's Why the World Exists home.

As the title suggests the book is an exploration of the why of existence, why there is something rather than nothing, why we specifically exist, how the heck that came to be, and the different ways that exist of explaining existence. I may have mentioned before that my interests in philosophy lie most strongly in that brief space between science and religion (my entire degree was taken to satisfy a deep metaphysical longing ... which sounds incredibly pretentious, but it's true).

With all the arguments put forth in the book - and there are many - this was a slow read. This isn't a book designed to be devoured in a couple of sittings, it's a book designed for slow consumption to make sure you understand the arguments and counterarguments being presented. Holt examines the mystery from existence from all angles which is refreshing, and he's equally willing to knock down a scientific argument as a philosophical or religious which I appreciate.

When reading the philosophy and religion sections it wasn't uncommon for me to feel as if the book was hopelessly derivitive in that Holt didn't put forth any of his own arguments, though near the end he tries his hand at an interesting and original proof. My frustration rather missed the point, though, as the book isn't about putting forth a new argument but rather exploring the possibilities from all angles and trying to come up with something.

As an overview of the question of existence it really it beautifully done. The mathematical and scientific arguments were particularly enlightening for me, and I appreciated having so many arguments in one place. The further I got into the book the more I wanted it to actually provide me an answer though, and on that account things were bound to be deeply unsatisfying. Knowledge about the reason of existence is not easy to come by and this affirms my conviction that belief is perhaps the best we can come up with.

Ultimately this book leaves Kierkegaard's argument about the existence of god ringing in my head. It can never be proven that god exists, because knowledge leaves no room for faith. I haven't figured out exactly what it is I believe about the existence of the world, but it's certainly interesting that this the final thought I can come back with in response to this book.


  1. This is very very interesting.
    I often think about these things. It is very difficult to answer these questions I do believe in God, at least I believe there is Something.
    But I also feel that regardless of what we believe faith is a human need, everyone believes in something, even if they believe in "science".
    And, God's existence at the same time should not depend on whether humans believe in Him or not.
    Kierkegaard's argument nails it.

    1. It's nice to know I'm not the only person who can get preoccupied with these questions. Too much existential angst tends to result in people looking at me like I've grown horns.