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Is there such thing as nothing?

  1. Oct 31, 2010 #1
    Or is it imaginary like unicorns and fairies?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 31, 2010 #2


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    If there was nothing, you wouldn't have to worry about it.
  4. Nov 1, 2010 #3
    Good question! At least in a physical sense, not mathematically, as in I have nothing in the bank. Seems like anything with a property is something, like empty space, which can be curved and is somehow mixed with time. If it can be argued that time is mixed with or somehow affects everything, then "nothing" would be impossible, right?

    One possible nothing is the "void" that the Big Bang expanded into. There appears to have been no such void, as all of space and the universe was, I'm told, contained within the BB's evelope. It kind of makes my brain hurt, but I can barely visulize the BB expanding into nothing, a non-existent void. Though, of course, this puts nothing in the same universe as unicorns and fairies...

  5. Nov 1, 2010 #4


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    There is a very nice collection of essays in book form. It is titled "The Philosophy of Vacuum." Chapters One and Two are from Einstein and Penrose. Slackers, both.
  6. Nov 1, 2010 #5
    Penrose is way cooler than Einstein. ._.
  7. Nov 1, 2010 #6
    I'm very afraid when the nothingness is where the brain must be. Especially if the parts that deal with guilt and remorse are missing.

    And, Dreammer, the unicorns and fairies are quite real form my 4-year-old son.:tongue2:
  8. Nov 1, 2010 #7


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    The concept exists.
  9. Nov 1, 2010 #8
    i think it depends on your perspective,, i mean you can open a box and find there is nothing in it but there is air in it and there is light in it but these are not the things you were looking for,, i guess that's the original human concept of nothing.
    when you try to extend it to the less familiar "nothingness of everything" well,, i just get lost
  10. Nov 1, 2010 #9


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    In his "Wissenschaft der Logik", the philosopher Hegel made the point that the pure abstraction "Pure Being", i.e, the so-called end result of abstracting away all particularities of some existence would be indistibguishable from its supposed anti-thesis "Pure Nothing".

    What would really be the distinguishing feature between them? Nothing..at all!

    The point here is not the mystical union of opposites, but that only determinate existences are meaningful to talk about; i.e, those existences that are specified by SOME qualities of being, and NOT by others.

    Since this is the philosophy forum, I'll hazard a speculation on what this might entail for the natural science, and its program for reductionism.

    What would the "final equation be"?

    In my view, it can be stated already:

    Which is about as meaningful as

    Meaningfulness will only appear in the shape of a fundamental <i>conservation law</i>, in which empirically distinguishable, yet theoretically similar quantities wil be related in a con serving manner (i.e, that symmetry between them will always be maintained, or their sun total always is equal).

    And thus, even in the final <i>useful</i> equation, there will be internal distinctions, but these distinctions will, in a rational, hierarchical manner be seen to be less fundamental than the preserved fundamental quantity.

    And that quantity can equally well be called "Pure Being" as "Pure Nothing".

    The real "trick" is to find out what are the sufficiently distinguishable, sufficiently similar quantities whose sum total can legitimately be called "Pure Being"
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2010
  11. Nov 2, 2010 #10
    There's an ancient Chinese poem found in the Tao Te Ching that actually predates the text:

    Note that what does not exist in the poem is relative to what does. The hole in the wheel might be filled with the axle and the hole in the wall might be filled with a door, but what is missing or empty is defined relative to the wheel and walls themselves.

    This kind of relative perspective can be extended to the concepts of existence and nonexistence themselves. Thus "existence" and "nonexistence" can be treated as relative terms just like "up" and "down". When we say something is "up" or "down" we have to be specific about what that means. For me up is very different than it might be for someone on the opposite side of the earth or for an astronaut in orbit.

    The same is evidently true for exists and does not exist. If I say "Unicorns do not exist" it only has meaning in specific contexts. For example, obviously unicorns exist as a myth and a concept, but don't exist as something I can see in the zoo.
  12. Nov 2, 2010 #11

  13. Nov 2, 2010 #12
    If there would only be somethingness (without nothingness), it would be like infinite solidness, no change could be possible.

    In computer analogy it would be like having states of 1 without 0, while it's only possible to create data (text, pictures, video, music) with patterns of both 1 and 0 states.

    Likewise, I'd say that somethingness and nothingness are fundamental building blocks of relative existence such as ours - ultimate Yin-Yang of existence.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2010
  14. Nov 3, 2010 #13
    I concur, however I would term our Universe as the potential between the Yin/Yang. Distinct from but a product of. It seems the multi-verse theorists suggest there are infinite potential universes but ours is not so relegated. If they do 'co-exist' (multi verses) what separates them from us? - If it is conceivable then it is part of our Universe, if it is only potential (probability) it needs no explanation.
  15. Nov 4, 2010 #14
    In computer terms 1 is something and 0 is another thing.
  16. Nov 4, 2010 #15
    Language is a series of small absolutes (definitive by nature and necessity) we interpret/average in a timely manner and go about our business.

    Nothing is an absolute. Philosophically, Infinity is an absolute (everything). Both of these states cannot change and retain their 'identity'. Einstein told us our Universe is Relative, and sure enough even Science only provides theories...beautiful, beautiful theories....but never Truth.

    Yin or Yang are not the object of meditation, the boundary between, the place where they are balanced is where the potential/tension exists. Examining the interaction between them leads us to the most pertinent aspects of their nature as well as consideration for the environmental forces that separate/define them.

    Einstein saw that the Universe had to reconcile to all reference frames, in so doing he was illustrating each boundary between frames is the regulating mechanism..or where the mechanism exists.

    There are only 2 Absolutes (Nothing:Infinity), neither exists in our Universe and both are boringly unchanging anyways. I would only consider them as boundaries to our Universe, as such they will always be beyond reach intellectually as well as observationally.

    Disclaimer: The above only serves to offer a context, any assertions are mine own and are highly questionable.:bugeye:
  17. Nov 5, 2010 #16
    Well I disagree. There can be a lot of absolute things. The only requirement will be they are not related to anything else. Thus we can't learn or study them, as this action will constitute adding a relation between us and them. Nor they can do anything to us, or they will stop to be absolute and will become related to us.

    It is funny how if anything absolute exists it also must remain absolutely isolated from everything else.
  18. Nov 6, 2010 #17


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    wuliheron has directed us to what I think is the best exploration of the dichotomy between the compliments of existence and non-existence. In the poem from the Tao Te Ching it is demonstrated that without the space for something to exist it cannot do so. This is also explained in the depiction of the "Yin Yang" symbol where balance must be maintained for any system to remain in existence.

    Another, more modern version of this concept comes from the American Icon, Doris Day...

    "You can't have one without the other".
  19. Nov 11, 2010 #18
    "no existence"
  20. Nov 14, 2010 #19
    "Nothing" only makes sense in a given context. Mathematically it is x = |0|. If one gives a context, such as a bank account balance, it has a clear meaning. In physics, its meaning also depends on context. A photon has zero rest mass. The true vacuum contains no massive particles. However a vacuum is not "nothing" in other contexts. It has properties and is permeated by energy flux. If the context is spacetime, then "nothing" means the absence of spacetime. As far as I know, this is only a theoretical concept in physics..
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2010
  21. Nov 14, 2010 #20


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    This is a good argument against their "existence" then. The other way of viewing absolutes is as limits or bounds. So they become the very things that cannot in fact ever exist (but which can be endlessly approached).

    And metaphysics finds that such absolutes (ie: bounding limit states) always come in pairs. Dichotomies. Such as the classic ones of chance~necessity, stasis~flux, substance~form, part~whole, atom~void, discrete~continuous, etc.

    Nothing and infinite would make another such complementary pair.

    As a further step in metaphysical reasoning, it can be argued that limits are end states - they are what develop as pure possibility separates in its various opposing directions.

    So in the "beginning", there is neither nothing nor the infinite (as these are properly end states - in the future of what develops). Instead there is a vagueness, unformed potential, which is neither a nothing nor an infinity, just the unbroken potential to move towards these extremes.

    Then this symmetry breaks and both nothingness (the void) and infinity (a void of endless size) can "exist" (as limits to a process of symmetry breaking).
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