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What is meant by the question "why is there something, rather than nothing?" Or rather, how can it be put into simpler terms so it can be more easily answered?

Or, more generally, "Why do philosophers ask such absurd questions?" The basic issue here is what philosophers have come to call the "Principle of Sufficient" reason. You might say, in the simplest terms, if it doesn't distort things too much, that the principle maintains that there must always be a reason--for each event, for the existence of each thing, and for everything as a whole. That might seem obvious, but some philosophers (David Hume, for example) have disagreed, holding that that there's nothing non-sensical in holding that things might just happen or pop into existence for no reason at all. Anyway, the question of why there is "something rather than nothing" might be understood as exploring the principle at its limit. It's pretty clear, for many, why baby's come to exist and why there are iPhones. But why does anything exist? Why does the universe exist at all? Is there an answer to that question? If not, perhaps the Principle of Sufficient reason does not really hold, or, anyway, holds only...

I believe that there are only 3 possible options. 1) That God or some all powerful being created the universe. This is a very bizarre state because it means we are all subordinates to an independent being that has always existed. Strange. 2) The universe was created out of nothing. Truly weird. 3) That the universe has always existed. This is simply incomprehensible. Because these are the only 3 options I see and because each is mind-bogglingly discouraging or incomprehensible - or downright goofy - I think this whole existence thing is either some sort of hallucination or a complete joke. (Another possibility is that I am in some sort of hell.) Therefore, I take nothing seriously and treat this whole thing sort of the way you deal with the pain of stubbing your toe. Kind of grit your teeth and wait for the pain to end. Any thoughts?

I know exactly what you mean. The question seems alternatively irresistible, frustrating, intoxicating, and ridiculous. I suspect that the early modern philosopher Immanuel Kant maybe right that the very attempt to reason out an answer draws us into an irresolvable mess, that at the end of the day we can't figure it out. There a couple of bits I'd observe about the way you pose the question, however. First, there may be more alternatives than you think. You may mean by (2) that the universe sprang out of nothing (as philosophers like to say, ex nihilo ) or just appeared, but it needn't therefore have been created. The Big Bang theory runs somewhat along these lines. But the Big Bang theory is also consistent with the idea that the universe sprang forth from something besides God or nothingness, something unknown to us. Would it also make sense to say that there may be other ways that time could be organized to make the sort of linear past-present-future model your question depends upon not...

Is "largest" and "smallest" only a result of comparison, or is there a single largest thing and single smallest thing that actually exist? Sorry in advance if this gets more scientific than philosophic.

I am not a physicist, so I cannot state definitively the results that natural science has achieved with regard to this question. I can say conceptually that "largest" and smallest conceptually both define limits and are comparative--unlike "larger" and "smaller," which are comparative but don't require limits. It's also important to define "thing" (which here is rather vague), since 'largest' and 'smallest' are context-dependent. One might speak of the largest material object in spatial dimensions, the object with the largest mass, the largest jury award in a civil suit, the largest amount of memory in a single computer, the largest brawl on record, the largest number ever counted. I can also speak a bit more cogently out of 18th-century debates about whether or not material things or space are divisible ad infinitum or not ,as well as whether the universe is infinite or not. Some, like Kant, have held that reason can't determine answers to questions like this; this question is what he calls an...