Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Again with the nothing.

  1. Apr 28, 2005 #1
    Sorry if I'm starting up anpther big semantics discussion ( :surprised ), that's not my intention at all. I'm just looking for a proper scientific answer (or a proper scientific dismissal : ) )to a question. I was reading through t'other nothing thread and read something like 'nothing is the opposite of something' and so now I'm thinking that if nothing is defined as the opposite of something then something must be defined as the opposite of nothing so the two must coexist. Or is the opposite of all the something that there is stuff like antimatter that I haven't read enough about and don't understand and the something/nothing question lies wholly outside of the realms of physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 29, 2005 #2
    scientifically there is no yet a definition of what nothing is and it's properties. The assumption nothing is the opposite to something is true in philosofical discussions, or at least it can be said. If we try to "naturalise" or give fisical properties to nothing, then it end up being vacuum space. we can't imagen nothing, unless we don't imagen, which then is no imagening, and no imagening nothing. I hope it helped.
  4. Apr 29, 2005 #3
    Nothing as guille said cannot be imagined. IF we use nothing meaning vacuum, that that is surelly something.

    THe second one starts thinking about nothing he must employ thinking and imagination to it and nothing becomes something. Nothing is nothing and will have no definition ever at no level. The same in oposite is infinity...
  5. Apr 29, 2005 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I don't know if saying that 'nothing' is the opposite of 'something' is the most helpful way to think of it. For instance, it might make just as much sense to say that the opposite of 'something' is 'everything.' There's a sort of ambiguity in the word 'opposite' that has the potential for confusion here.

    It's probably most useful to understand 'nothing' by mentally replacing it with the equivalent phrase 'not anything.' 'Nothing' is not something to be reified; i.e., 'nothing,' properly defined, is not a thing in its own right, with properties and the like. Rather, it is just a word used to denote an absence, or non-existence. Thus, 'nothing' does not refer to a thing that can be the object of study. In science, when we talk about the properties of the vacuum, we are not talking about 'nothing,' in spite of what the unfortunate wording might lead you to believe.
  6. Apr 29, 2005 #5
    Let me give you a helping hand to understand this metpahysical beast called "Nothing". The best way to understand it is to always bear the following things in mind:


    (1) Nothing = Nothing
    (2) Something = Something

    (3) Nothing is irreducible to Something

    (That is, 'nothing' can never turn into something)

    (4) Something is irreducible to Nothing

    (That is, 'something' can never turn into nothing)


    Yes, things do change, but they can only change into other things and never into nothing!


    Yes, things do continue in various forms, but always as things and never as nothing, regardless of their lifespans or lengths of their histories. And if anything changes to a point where it stops changing and remains for ever in its final form, then good for it! But count Nothing out of such manifestation, for nothing remains forever what it is, has always been, and will ever be - Nothing!

    So, if you then were to ask yourself as to why the notion of nothing in the first place? Or why classify it as a metaphysical category when it has no CAUSAL RELATION with Something? Well, the answer is that, fundamentally, it serves no purpose both epistemologically and metaphysically. It seems more or less to be epistemologically and metaphysically redundant. Perhaps, it merely decisively serves as a linguistic convenience in our routine perception and description of the world. Well, that is a different debatable matter.


    Save the World from destruction.........Stay GREEN!
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2005
  7. Apr 29, 2005 #6
    Why cant 'nothing' be defined as the complete and utter absence of 'things', be they objects or concepts?
  8. Apr 29, 2005 #7
    Because it is not possible ? I think philocrat gave it the righ philocratic spin.

    From something by making something absent does not become nothing. If i understand it correctly. Good way to think about imposibility of defining "nothing" is imagine what is at the boundary at the end of the universe? Can you tell me?
  9. Apr 30, 2005 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It's not impossible to define 'nothing.' The definition is very simply 'not anything,' and all it does is point to an absence, a non-existence. It is probably impossible to define 'nothing' positively, but that's just because the word has no positive concepts attached to it. To infer from that that the word is impossible to define at all betrays a lingering confusion about wanting to reify the word when it just cannot be reified.
  10. Apr 30, 2005 #9
    I think this IS possible and correct.

    even the word says it, "nothing"=no-thing=absense of things
  11. Apr 30, 2005 #10
    I thought we are not talking "dictionary" definition here. For if we did we are all crazy. For how can we discuss something which has no representation of meaning in our mind?

    We all know what nothing means in everyday usage. The question is does it have existance other than in semantics to express absense of something?
  12. Apr 30, 2005 #11
    maybe yes, and maybe no.

    it depends on your answer to, for example, this question: what is there out of the universe? let me guess...............nothing?¿?¿?
  13. Apr 30, 2005 #12
    'Nothing' has two connotations :

    'Nothing(L)' - in logical terms - is the null set (represented by the symbol 'Ø').

    'Nothing(A)' - in the abstract - is 'that which does not exist'.

    But, 'that which does not exist' does not exist. It is not the empty set. It is not a set at all. It has no properties or attributes.

    To consider 'Nothing(A)' would be not to consider.

    To perceive 'Nothing(A)' would be not to perceive.

    To understand 'Nothing(A)' would be not to understand.

    Imagine an inert, infinitesimal point in space - and then try to imagine that same point NOT in space. Logic requires definition. 'Nothing' - in the abstract context - is undefined, it does not exist, it is a fiction which has no physical manifestation in the Universe.

    The only definition of 'Nothing' which applies to logic and reality is:

    'Nothing(L)' - the null set (represented by the symbol 'Ø').

    Theory of Reciprocity
  14. May 1, 2005 #13
    thankx thor, very exact
  15. May 2, 2005 #14
    By your reckoning. Your definition requires knowledge of a thing, yet the definition says there is no such thing. Looks like a contradiction without conformity.
    We can reconcile this with a conclusion that (reality) is the definition of nothing. I.E (The Reality Of Non-Existence). For us - The minimal set is zero and one, wherein contradiction comes with the territory.
  16. May 2, 2005 #15
    The function of nothing

    As the author of "The Proof of Nothing" (its online version is called "In Search of a Cyclops" http://www.pentapublishing.com - you can read it for nothing) I need to mention that nothing may not exist as a something, but that nothing does have a function.

    Let's not turn this into a black and white thing, because reality is never black and white: it's colored. And even if we tried: black and white are not exactly each other's opposite either. White can be seen as the culmination of various colors and black as no reflection of light. Therefore black and white are not exactly each other's opposites because not only white, but all colors can be placed opposite to 'no reflection of light.' Just like white, everything takes in a different role than (black) nothing. Let's finish this idea and state that the colors are 'somethings.'

    The problem is that on a list of all colors black is officially not captured; black is not considered a color. We can argue if we need such a list. Let's turn the effort to create a list into an effort to fully understand colors; black (no reflection of light) will automatically be addressed in the full discourse about colors, wouldn't you agree? More problematic is what to do with nothing: to create a list of everything should it be put on there or not? While it may be possible to add black to that of the culmination of all colors (causing either no effect or we get a grey), adding nothing to the list of everything has a lot of people confused immediately, because it does not follow the nice abstract ordering of - well - everything. As you may understand, nothing is not something that can be captured easily; it will not fit nicely in a single opposition (because there are multiple oppositions possible of varying greatness) nor can it be captured absolutely correctly in a list; you'll have to actively try to understand the whole picture yourself. Only when you see it, when you can look beyond the somewhat false idea of black and white oppositions, will it be obvious.

    Some people abhor the idea that nothing is used in the same breath as zero. Admitted, they are not identical, but sometimes they can take in the same space. 0000019 cows and 19 cows are - from the perspective of result - identical. In this case, the zeroes are nothings (though physically they do take up space, this computer program does not allow me to create the empty space in front of 19).

    In math there are two systems in which zero takes a place. The binary system (zeroes and ones only) and the decimal system where zero is 'almost' seen as just one of the numbers (which it isn't ofcourse). The binary system can be seen to function like black and white, where the decimal system is that of black, white, and all the colors. Both systems contain a zero and a one.

    While black may not be an 'active' color; it clearly has a function when used within the scheme of the other colors. Even by itself, when it is dark as the night, we respond to it: with fears or with relieve for painful eyes. The binary system would not be as good if we had to use ones and twos. Our computer would function slower if there had to be two signals to create the binary information instead of one signal and no signal.

    As a last point I like to state that separation or the act of separation is a clear function. A function I think to be as old as the universe. According to me, two versions are possible: either our universe started out of (a non-materialized) singularity and separation became part of our universe or our universe started because separation occurred first in what was singular. I know, a good number of scientists believe the universe started out of nothing; not me. While I never expect to see any evidence about a pre-universe setting, there is evidence that separation is as fundamental to our universe as zero is to the binary system and the decimal system.

    Nothing is nothing; don't let anyone make you believe there is more out there simply because you don't know for certain - but at the same time - don't forget that nothing has a function.
    Last edited: May 2, 2005
  17. May 3, 2005 #16
    Thanx for the link. Got you bookmarked. Gonna have to read it so I can finally and accurately claim to know 'nothing'. :biggrin:
  18. May 4, 2005 #17
    I just had an "Ahhhhh, I geddit!" moment. :approve: Thanks everyone!
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Again with the nothing.
  1. Nothing from nothing (Replies: 14)

  2. Nothing is real . (Replies: 7)

  3. Money for nothing. (Replies: 5)