I have no way to tell with any degree of certainty that I'm not lying down in a pod, connected to the Matrix. All my sensations and experiences could very well be generated by a simulation program and thus be entirely fake.
This being said, one thing is beyond doubt. I'm having conscious experiences, and therefore, something that refers to "I" must exist. Cogito ergo sum, said Descartes. If I exist, something that contains me (whatever I am) must exist too. I can deduct that a world exists.
So even if I cannot know anything about the nature of the world, I can know for sure that it exists. Which begs the question; why is there something rather than nothing?
Why Does the World Exist?, Jim Holt
Jim Holt again. He is becoming my new favorite author.
In an act of philosophical heroism, Holt embarks on a journey to answer the greatest question of all. Why is there something rather than nothing?
Obviously, we wouldn't be having this conversation if there was nothing. But that's not a reason. And yes, nothingness could have been a possible universe. It would have been the simplest of all possible universes; one that doesn't require an explanation (well, nobody would have been there to ponder).
Is our conception of the universe even adequate? We talk about the Big Bang, but that may well be a local event. There could be something much bigger, way beyond the cosmological horizon. There could also be an infinite number of universes coexisting. A universe for every decision never made, for every possibility unrealized, or so quantum physics tells us.
But even if we assume that there's only one universe and it had a beginning, what caused it and why? Why at that moment in time (did time even exist before?), and why the way it did? Is there any meaning in pondering?
Holt's quest to solve the ultimate riddle leads him to interview household names in philosophy from the whole spectrum of theism. At the risk of stating the obvious, nobody agrees. But that's what makes the journey fascinating. And Holt succeeds in making us feel as if we were with him, conducting the interviews, arguing passionately, and walking pensively together as we reflect on the conversations.
Does he find his answer at the end? Maybe. But that doesn't really matter. The journey is more rewarding than the destination.