Not Many Cared Why the World Exists

The KH selection for May was Why Does the World Exist? an Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt.To begin with, “why” questions are often irritating. Think of kids pestering adults with their ceaseless “Why, why, why.” There are a few “why” questions that can be answered. Why does water evaporate? Why do I feel colder on a windy day? Even, why is the sky blue? Fine. Good. But “Why does the world exist?” “Why do I exist?” In the end, the KH book group voted with their feet. Most simply didn’t care enough to read the book and show up to discuss it. Either they knew they wouldn’t find an answer in the end, or they didn’t even care about the question. Some who might have made an appearance simply couldn’t attend, so we had just five people present.

However. Yes, there’s a catch: However, those who did show up managed to have a good discussion both about the question, about the format of the book, about why we did or didn’t finish the book, and about the final chapters revealing the answer that satisfied the author (and at least one of us), and about his thoughts at the time of his mother’s death.

Personally, I enjoyed the book when I first read it a year ago. I found that I was less excited about reading it a second time, however. I loved the replay of the conversations with assorted philosophers and scientists who make a living pondering the reason that we have something rather than nothing. No, I couldn’t really follow the various arguments, but I sort of knew which ones made a bit of sense to me and which didn’t. And, frankly, Holt’s conclusions resonated with me: Nothing is but one of many options related to existence, hence not probable, while mediocrity is more likely than either nothing or a perfect world.

So, the likelihood of something and the probability of mediocrity works for me for now. Think knees, for example. Or allergies. Clearly (ha, nothing was clear in this book), the world isn’t perfect, and we don’t even need to talk about evil. For me, the book was a bit a romp through territory I generally avoid.