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That’s a nice philosophical question. The question doesn’t ask what purpose does the world exist for, though you might read it that way, but rather it asks why does the world exist instead of not existing. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz asked it succinctly in 1714 — “…the first question which we have a right to ask will be, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?'” In the history of Western philosophy, it’s a rather recent question.
Jim Holt, a contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times, has written a book on this subject called, in fact, Why Does the World Exist? (Liveright: New York, 2012. 307 pages, $27.95) Holt doesn’t propose an answer himself, but reviews the answers given by others long gone, such as Leibniz, and those more recently gone, such as Sartre, and interviews one recently among us, John Updike, and most of all, visits and chats with those still above ground.
In other words, the book is a survey of people who have thought about the existence of the world and have written about it. Actually, Holt’s book isn’t a plain survey. The book is subtitled An Existential Detective Story, and the jacket flap says “Jim Holt takes on the role of cosmic gumshoe, exploring new and sometimes bizarre angles to the mystery of existence. His search for the ultimate explanation begins with the usual suspects — God versus the Big Bang.” We’ll get back to this nonsense of the author as gumshoe later. (more…)