Posts Tagged ‘nothingness’

In the absence of nothing

June 13, 2019

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

William Hughes Mearns

Can “nothing” exist, or is “nothing” a state of non-existence? Can “nothing” be negated? If “nothing” exists then – by our language and our reason – the non-existence of “nothing” creates “something”. Or is it the “something” which kills the “nothing”? Either way, the concept of nothingness lies in a twilight beyond rational thinking, beyond philosophy and is even intangible for metaphysics.

Martin Heidegger considered “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as the most fundamental issue of philosophy.

We know that what we call empty space within our universe may be devoid of any particles having mass.  In the absence of particles we cannot define such things as temperature or pressure. But such space still has properties. It has dimensions, and it then has volume. It allows light to pass through. Gravitation and waves can propagate through it. It would seem that the laws of physics exist and apply in such space. Such is the empty space within atoms and the space between galaxies and what our spaceships would warp through. But there is even emptier space. That is what our universe expands into (assuming that the expansion of our universe is real). This space has no properties at all and does not even have dimensions until the expansion of the universe has occurred and has defined its existence. This space does not – to all our perceptions – exist until our universe has encompassed it.

The existence (or not) of nothingness is in our minds and in our language. It is not something which science can address. Science – and scientists – are restricted to the causal world and to the bounds of causality. Science has no light to shine on existence – especially existence as the non-existence of nothing. The property of “existence” can only be ascribed to “something”. And “something” cannot not exist. That is determined by our language and by the bounds our language sets upon our reason.

Nothing is the thought that wasn’t there.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I had a thought which wasn’t there!
It wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish it would go away!


Physics cannot deal with nothingness

February 19, 2019

Physics (and all science) is about describing what can be observed and elucidating the causal relationships between observations. The process of science presupposes causality.  If causality is not always a fundamental and pervasive truth, the scientific method cannot elucidate anything. No system of reasoning can prove the assumptions the system itself is built upon. Science cannot, therefore, prove the existence of what it presupposes already exists.  Causality also implies the existence and the flow of time. Effect, it is assumed, can never precede cause. The process of science is necessarily blind to whatever may lie outside its suppositions. Which is why physics cannot deal with the non-existence of time (or space-time) where all the elucidated natural laws must be suspended.

Similarly, physics cannot allow of, or deal with, the unknowable. Many physicists merely deny the unknowable with the proposition that all things that have been, that are or that can be, are knowable and can – in principle – be explained by causality. But denying the unknowable leads to a deterministic world which, in turn, leads to the certainty of omniscience. It does not have to be human omniscience, but omniscience or any omniscient being becomes indistinguishable from a god. Determinism’s omniscience is nothing but divinity through the back door.

The unknowable lies outside the realm of science in general and of physics in particular. Unknowability applies not only to the existence of causality and time but also to the non-existence of nothingness. Clearly “empty” space which has dimensions and which allows the operation of natural laws is not nothing. Space which allows the passage of radiation or gravity waves cannot be nothing. Anything which has, or is attributed, any kind of property cannot be nothing. Our universe is expanding, it is said. It is also said that it is expanding into nothingness; where space and time emerge as the universe expands. But if the surroundings of the universe allow the expansion of the universe then such surroundings have a describable property and cannot be nothing. Nothingness is – and must be – unknowable.

Physics and philosophy both find defining nothingness a slippery business – but so they should, as they must for any unknowable thing.

What Is Nothing? Physicists Debate

…… The first, most basic idea of nothing — empty space with nothing in it — was quickly agreed not to be nothing. In our universe, even a dark, empty void of space, absent of all particles, is still something. “It has a topology, it has a shape, it’s a physical object,” philosopher Jim Holt said during the museum’s annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which this year was focused on the topic of “The Existence of Nothing.”

As moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, ….. said, “If laws of physics still apply, the laws of physics are not nothing.”  …… But there is a deeper kind of nothing, argued theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, which consists of no space at all, and no time, no particles, no fields, no laws of nature. “That to me is as close to nothing as you can get,” Krauss said.

Holt disagreed. “Is that really nothing?” he asked.”There’s no space and there’s no time. But what about physical laws, what about mathematical entities? What about consciousness? All the things that are non-spatial and non-temporal.”

Other speakers offered different ideas for nothing, such as a mathematical concept of nothing put forward by science journalist Charles Seife, author of “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea” (Penguin Books, 2000). He proposed starting with a set of numbers that included only the number zero, and then removing zero, leaving what’s called a null set. “It’s almost a Platonic nothing,” Seife said. The theoretical physicist Eva Silverstein of Stanford University suggested a highly technical nothing based on quantum field theory that involved a quantum system lacking degrees of freedom (dimensions). “The ground state of a gapped quantum system is my best answer,” she said.

Holt suggested another idea of nothing. “The only even remotely persuasive defintition of nothing I’ve heard form a physicist came from Alex Vilenkin,” a physicist at Tufts University, Holt said.”Imagine the surface of a ball. It’s a finite space but with no boundary. Then imagine it shrinking down to a point.” That would create a closed space-time with zero radius.

Every creation myth is about something appearing from nothingness. Even articulated by a physicist every theory about how things came to be, is just another creation myth. The Big Bang singularity is unknowable. I find many of the origin theories unconvincing where nothingness at the macro-level is allowed to produce somethings at the micro level, provided that not-somethings are also produced. Matter begets anti-matter and gravity (negative energy) begets positive energy, and the sum is zero. It is all very conveniently contrived except that why a particular something (and its negation) come to be, rather than some other something remains in the unknowable.

The Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda begins:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?

Nothingness is perhaps just where consciousness comes from – and where it goes.


First nothingness was not, then came the Big Bang and the Gods came later

If space is not empty, what is? The ultimate void?

Knowledge is not finite and some of it is unknowable

On the matter of matter (or how something came from nothing)


First nothingness was not, then came the Big Bang and the Gods came later

June 12, 2017

The Rig Veda was probably written between 1500 and 1200 BC and consists of 10 mandalas (books). The first and tenth books were probably written last. The 129th verse of the tenth mandala contains what is called The Hymn of Creation. Nasadiya sukta

It begins:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?

It is not difficult to equate this “then” to “before” the Big Bang and the “it” to all the compressed matter which participated in the Big Bang. (Accepting, of course, that “before” is meaningless when time does not flow).

Then there was neither death nor immortality
Nor was there then the torch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.

At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.
All this was only unillumined water.
That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,
arose at last, born of the power of heat.

arose at last, born of the power of heat” sounds very like a modern description of the Big BangEven though the Rig Veda’s main 8 mandalas are in praise of various deities, the first and tenth books take a much more agnostic position – perhaps written to bring some balance. The plethora of gods are effectively made subservient to an unknowable, unfathomable creation event. “An atheist interpretation sees the Creation Hymn as one of the earliest accounts of skeptical inquiry and agnosticism”.

Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came later, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?”

First even nothingness was not and existence was not. Then came the creation of the Universe whether by Big Bang or otherwise. And the Gods came later (made by man in the image of man).


Beyond infinity must come nothing – not even nothingness

May 26, 2015

An exercise in triviality.

I have been exercised of late by the use of “infinite” as an adjective and came to the conclusion that “infinite” should only be used to describe the unboundedness of things capable of being counted or measured (quantifiable or countable things). So, I reason, the number of terms in a numerical series, or physical things, or length or mass or time could be described as being “infinite”, because they could also be “finite”.  The use of “infinite” to describe something qualitative which could never be finite was therefore illogical. (Not “wrong” but illogical because I take the position that no usage is ever “wrong” if it communicates what is intended to be communicated). But my “rule” is that “infinite” is usable only for things which must first be “finite”. Therefore “boundless” or “endless” should be more appropriate for non-quantifiable things. So “infinite sky” or “infinite space” would be better described as “endless sky” or “boundless space”. “Endless lines” not “infinite lines”, but “lines of infinite length”.

Georg Cantor even imparted qualities to “infinite”. Cantor described “cardinalities” of the infinite for different sizes of infinite sets. Of course, there are then an infinite number of cardinalities. He considered integers as being countably infinite, but he took the infinite set of real numbers – as being capable of being counted – but uncountable. But Cantor’s uncountable, various cardinalities of the infinite still apply only to quantitative things.

Early Indian mathematics distinguished between endless and innumerable and tried to classify infinites by considering loose bounds and rigid bounds:

…… two basic types of infinite numbers are distinguished. ……. a distinction was made between asaṃkhyāta (“countless, innumerable”) and ananta (“endless, unlimited”), between rigidly bounded and loosely bounded infinities.

In the hierarchy of words therefore I take “boundless” to be applicable to all things whereas I take “infinite” to apply only to quantifiable things.

But what happens now to “infinity” as a noun?

As a noun we give “infinity” many meanings. First as the quality or state of endlessness (limitlessness, boundlessness) and second as the number which is larger than any other and always larger than anything conceivable (). We therefore refer to the infinity of space or the infinity of meaning or the infinity of the stars. And in mathematics, is treated as a number (albeit with rather special properties) and can be used in mathematical operations as a number. But there is a third meaning or usage. We also use “at infinity” or “to infinity” as if it were a place. “Parallel lines meet at infinity”, we say in plane geometry. In calculus we speak of “limits at infinity”. We speak of points, planes and lines “at infinity” in projective geometry. The universe ends “at infinity”.


infinity (n.) late 14c., from Old French infinité. “infinity; large number or quantity” (13c.), from Latin infinitatem (nominative infinitas) “boundlessness, endlessness,” from infinitus boundless, unlimited” (see infinite). Infinitas was used as a loan-translation of Greek apeiria “infinity,” from apeiros “endless.”

infinite (adj.)late 14c., “eternal, limitless,” also “extremely great in number,” from Old French infinit “endless, boundless,” and directly from Latin infinitus “unbounded, unlimited,” from in “not, opposite of” (see in- (1)) + finitus “defining, definite,” from finis “end” (see finish (v.)). The noun meaning “that which is infinite” is from 1580s.

To be finite is the opposite of being infinite. Infinity as a number, ∞, has mathematical zero as an inverse but when considered to be one end (?) of an endless series has -∞ at the other end. But what happens “at infinity”, where parallel lines meet and the universe comes to end. Most of the universe consists of apparently empty space, interspersed with sub-universes, galaxies, stars and star systems. But this space is not nothing. The space between electrons orbiting around the nucleus of an atom is not nothing either. These spaces may not contain matter but they still have attributes and properties. Gravity waves and magnetic waves can traverse them. Light – whether a wave or not – crosses them. Time exists within them. And with light traversing and a time interval, distance must follow. Space, therefore, has dimensions. And since we infer that some magic mass we call dark matter, and some magic energy called dark energy, abound, space also permits/allows/has dark energy and dark matter.

An infinite universe extends “to infinity”. Obviously it has to be nothing which lies beyond. And it is the properties or attributes of this “nothingness” which boggle the mind.

Clearly “empty” space does not serve as an illustration of the nothingness beyond. (It is not space I am told but space-time, where we can observe space as time passes but cannot observe time as space passes). A vacuum, anywhere, is void of matter but otherwise has the attributes of space and does not serve either. Even the Buddhist concept of emptiness, shunyata (Sanskrit where shunya = zero), is not entirely devoid of thought. We cannot say that light does not traverse nothingness because opacity to light would be an attribute. So would the non-passage of gravity waves through nothing also be an attribute. Time does not pass within nothingness. Time, in fact, cannot exist. Dimensions are undefined. No energy, no mass and not even any magic dark energy. No Laws of Nature. Nothingness cannot be imparted with any attributes or properties since then it would no longer be nothing. In fact, nothingness – by its very nature – must be incapable of being demonstrated, illustrated or even conceptualised.

Tom Mason commented on my previous post:

The universe is as it is, there is no boundary no edge. Also the so called expansion (or maybe it’s contraction) of our universe is not real — it is just a readily seen quirk due to the passage of time varying across the universe. The variation that is evident with the universe’s apparent smallness of its beginning and the apparent largeness of now.

And so I end with a circular and trivial argument and I have no better perception of nothingness:

“Nothing” is no thing – neither physical nor abstract. It cannot be conceptualised without becoming some thing. It has no properties and no attributes. No thing is nothing. Therefore nothing is no thing.

Except that nothing can exist beyond infinity and this nothing cannot even contain nothingness.

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