Maybe the universe doesn’t exist

It is not clear to me that the universe exists. I’m not saying, of course, that there aren’t a lot of things in existence – my dog, this laptop, Saturn’s rings, and so on. And with any actual list of existent things, we can talk about the collection of those things, and give that collection any name we please. But when we try to talk about the collection of all things, it’s not obvious that we know what we are talking about, or even that such a collection exists. It certainly seems like the words make sense – “the collection of all things that have ever existed, or will ever exist” – but there is at least the possibility that these words, when strung together, don’t really refer to anything. Maybe such a collection is impossible.

We can talk about the collection of all shoes that have ever existed or will ever exist, or the collection of uncles, or the collection of neckties. We can also talk about collections of collections, being the clever creatures we are: the collection of collections that have four or less items, or the collection of collections which each contain at least one thing touched by Abraham Lincoln. But (employing here Bertie Russell’s old trick) what about the collection of all collections? Does that make sense? If it does, then it also seems we should be able to distinguish two smaller collections within it: the collection of collections which include themselves (the great list of all lists, which should include itself), and the collection of collections which do not include themselves (the great list of all things that are not lists, for example). But this second collection of collections turns out to be impossible: for if it were to exist, it would have to list itself if it didn’t list itself. So maybe this idea of a collection of all collections is only a string of words that initially seems to make sense, but on further reflection really doesn’t.

I might have lost you there with the collection of collections business, but the point is that the trick of grouping stuff together in our minds can lead us astray on occasion. And the universe may be just such an occasion. As Immanuel Kant would remind us, have we ever actually seen the universe? Or have we only seen parts of it? Can we even imagine experiencing the entire universe? If we can’t, then Kant is pretty sure it is not the sort of thing we can have any knowledge about. It is a hollow idea we form, and once we form it, we can prove anything we like about it – that it is finite, that it is infinite, that it had a beginning in time, that it didn’t, and so on.

If there isn’t a universe, I guess there would only be a pluraverse: a many-ness of many things. This accords with experience, as there sure seem to be many things. Notice how adopting such a natural view takes the drama out of the whole “multiverse” idea, or the claim that there are other possible universes. Well; if the universe doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t make much sense to wonder about the existence of other “universes,” does it?

What should we then say about the collection of things or events that haven’t been experienced, or (for all we know) will never be experienced? But again, are we sure that this collection makes sense? I can make great big lists of things that have been experienced, and of things that (so far as I know) have not been experienced, thus:

Experienced things Not-experienced things
John Lee Hooker performances

water freezing

walking on the moon

birthday parties

long meetings


mountains transforming into mice


talking giraffes

coins flipping “heads” 700 times in a row

hammers turning into strawberry jam


But I am not sure that these partial lists can be summed up into two fully-inclusive groups, the collection of all experienced things and the collection of all not-experienced things. Again, it may be that while surely there are experienced and not-experienced things, there don’t exist full collections of such things. Not because there is there is some problem in the “summing up” process, but because the words we throw out into the world, like a lasso, trying to catch a wild variety of beasts – those words unravel, like strands in a rope that just won’t cohere. The “(etc.)” at the end of my lists may be hiding an impossibility.

Because my mind (like most, I suspect) is so prone to make large groups and say things about them, I find it hard to describe what it’s like to think metaphysically in a pluraverse. It almost seems to me that in order to do it, one has to stop thinking metaphysically. (Once again, Kant said it first.) We can talk about what we experience, or specific things we don’t experience, and group them together only when we can formulate a simple and coherent procedure for determining whether a given things belongs in the group or does not. When the procedure includes checking uncountably-many things you can never experience, or could never possibly list, then that the procedure is no longer simple and coherent, and there’s a decent chance you are talking nonsense.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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8 Responses to Maybe the universe doesn’t exist

  1. sandiatwood says:

    And yet…certain a priori statements seem to accommodate nearly everything. Spinoza and Einstein and others believed that rather than reducing all things to a singular origin, one could intuit a single origin that would predict and explain all things. Perhaps, instead of pitting the one and the many against each other, one must view the one AS the many. Like a great seed which bears endless fruit.


    • Huenemann says:

      They *seem to* accommodate everything, but there’s plenty of room for illusion here – Kant’s main point, I suppose.


      • sandiatwood says:

        I agree with you, and Kant. Everything we know is illusion according to scientific definitions of objective matter. But what if thought/intelligence IS material? I’m not ready to rule out that there in fact exists some “possible” physics that coordinates all that appears or seems to exist.


  2. Shawn H Hall says:

    I have long since come to believe that nothing truly exists. The universe, and all that seems to be in it, is but a fiction created by the Holographic universe that we create when we gaze upon it. Many recent experiments bear this out. But maybe there is nothing here at all, and not even this blog post is real. I could be a in dream created by a quark. Or perhaps there never was anything, and what I am typing is simply a fiction of the nothingness. “I think, therefore I am.” is reducible (or expanable?) to, “I only think that I think, therefore I am not.”


  3. Shawn H Hall says:

     *that should be “expandable”

    Also, I forgot to mention that the word “Hueneme,” pronounced “why-knee-me,” is supposedly an Indian word (as I was repeatedly told while growing up there) that was appropriated for Port Hueneme, CA, which is a small, deep-water port where the U.S. Navy SeaBeas have their west coast base. Consequently, I am wondering at the roots of your last name.


    • Shawn H Hall says:

      Arrrggghhh! That is supposed to be “SeaBees”! I have to stop using this damned phone to write.


    • Huenemann says:

      Thanks for your comments, Shawn! While I would love to have some native American blood in me, it looks to be solidly Germanic. I’m told that “Huenemann” (with the “e” replacing an umlaut over the “u”) might have meant something like “very tall man” – which is flattering, so I’ll go with it!


  4. Shawn H Hall says:

    In actuality, I have long since come to believe that nothing truly exists, and that everything we see, hear, feel, taste, smell, etc., is a construct of a holographic universe, where everything exists as 2d slices of an infinite stack. Only when we try to access a particular slice is it brought to the fore, and “fattened” into a 3d world. As for “room” for it all, we already know that a single black hole has a near-infinite capacity for storing information in the form of digital representations of everything that crosses its Event Horizon. If a single black hole has that much storage capacity, I don’t see a problem with the universe finding a way to store an infinite number of 2D slices of space-time representations. In fact, except for the 3D representations, of which the added 3D information comes from the viewer, the “reality sheets,”– which is as good a name is anything for the stacks of 2D data of which I am thinking–would actually take up very little storage space each. Think about it: every 2D slice is simply a Cartesian slice of information that shows where in space that any object was, and presumably of what it was made. That sounds like a lot of data, but it really shouldn’t be, with what I would suspect would be the universe’s near infinite capability to store such information in the form of a “compression algorithm.” Not that the Universe needs a compression algorithm, but why wouldn’t it have one, or at least some way of storing the data in such a compact form that all of space and time could be represented in a space that would equate essentially to nothing, or at least a singularity that would rival in compression the state of everything before the Big Bang. Does this make sense to anyone? It makes perfect sense when I say it to myself, but if no one else understands it, then it would be a nearly useless exercise in futility, and I don’t want that. However, I also know that there are people who are “infinitely” smarter than I am, and any representation that I can come up with should be easy for them to understand or outdo. Comprende? Hahaha! Okay, that’s enough information on this idea. Anyone who gets it, gets it, and anyone who doesn’t, doesn’t. I don’t think I need to say anything more about that!


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