Ex Sistere

The etymology of the word “Existence” is described as follows (from Wikipedia):


The word “existence” comes from the Latin word exsistere meaning “to appear”, “to arise”, “to become”, or “to be”, but literally, it means “to stand out” (ex- being the Latin prefix for “out” added to the Latin verb stare, meaning “to stand”).[6]


Imagine our Most Recent Common Ancestor – some ape-like humanoid quietly munching shoots in the lower branches of some African tree. Lazily, it looks out over the plains to watch the swaying grass. It blows in the wind. Nothing remarkable, no reason to worry. There’s ‘nothing’ there.

Suddenly, a tuft of tall grass moves in the opposite way than the rest. Something’s there! Whatever it is, our MRCA sounds the alarm. Whoops go up into the hot air, and the tribe moves into higher branches, scooping up the kids in the process.

And we were right. There was something there. A big cat – a sabre-toothed tiger or something.


We are conditioned to notice what stands-out from the background. What we can’t see isn’t there. And that’s wrong… ish. While it’s true that to us Existence is “what is different”, we mustn’t ignore everything else. The Taoists knew that.

The Chinese word “Wu” to the Taoists is sort-of ‘Nothing’, but it’s also ‘Everything’. It is that from which yin-yang is born. It is the empty ‘circle’ around the yin-yang symbol. It is Zero.

I posit that “Wu” is the before-Big-Bang, if I can call it that. So when we ask “Why is there something from nothing?” our notion of “nothing” is actually “Everything”… And while it doesn’t make answering it any easier, it does break us out of our animal-thinking and maybe sets us on a different path.

3 thoughts on “Ex Sistere

  1. I find it very difficult to imagine this idea of wu as “before-big-bang”. It is both cognitively difficult and emotionally difficult. Also, I find that the closer I get to imagining it cognitively, the more anxiety I start to feel. For me it’s a very freaky idea.

    In any case, as I (hardly) understand the modern science, such nothing is a highly unstable state-of-affairs. (I’m thinking of Lawrence M. Kraus’ book A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, which haven’t actually read yet, mainly because it makes me feel anxious to think about reading it LOL.)

    1. Thank you Daniel for taking the time to reply! I totally empathize with you there. Wu freaked me out too, and I’m still trying to wrap my feeble human brain around it. What I found difficult is the notion of ‘before’ where there is clearly no before. That is one of the unfortunate things about language. Think of this: before the big bang, before the first winking of change, everything was the same in all dimensions, unchanging and eternal. Eternal, not because it lasted infinite time but because time is irrelevant in light of no-change (time is nothing but the observation of sequential change). And therefore you could take a step back into this infinite sameness and have no relevant notion of just how far back (in time or in space) you’ve gone, precisely because you have no point of reference because everything is exactly the same always. Basically, it just doesn’t make any pertinent sense to even think about ‘before-the-big-bang’ because it was “Wu” – Everything, yet ‘Nothing’ vis-à-vis our human, difference-dependent brains.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.