That question — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — occupies the center of Holt’s book, which is by turns a philosophical and scientific inquiry, written through a broadly personal lens. Beginning with his discovery of this “ultimate why question” as a teenager reading Heidegger, Holt frames his investigation as a series of conversations with luminaries from the academic and cultural worlds. In these pages, we meet Sir Roger Penrose, who in 1970 with Stephen Hawking showed that the Big Bang “must have been a singularity” — a self-contained event with no deterministic cause. We hear from Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg and novelist John Updike, University of Pittsburgh philosopher Adolf Grünbaum and theologian Richard Swinburne. The subjects share a curiosity, a quality of engagement, in the face of everything they cannot know. What Holt is asking, after all, is unanswerable, which means that any response, even the most nuanced, must be conditional in the most fundamental sense. “Would the search prove futile?” the author wonders after visiting Weinberg in Austin, where he teaches at the University of Texas. “Perhaps. But that made it all the more noble, in a Sisyphean way.”
more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.