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Potential Is Not Nothing

  1. Apr 5, 2003 #1

    Les Sleeth

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    Recently there has been a lot of talk at PF about nothing, what it means, and if something can come from nothing. I want to take a shot at it by claiming there is no such beast as “nothing” and no need to worry about infinite regress if we understand the richness of potentiality.

    I think Heusden, Mentat and others have been right to point out that some arguments go on because we’ve not clearly defined “nothing.” When I’ve responded I have assumed it meant that the universe came into existence from a total void; that in one instant there was a void, and then the next was the big bang. I did not assume “nothing” meant there was no cause of the universe, as some said, because I don’t think it is possible for something that has a beginning not to have a cause. Also, looking at the universe it all does appear to operate by way of cause and effect, so it seems logical to assume that such a nature reflects what it is born of (i.e., it is the offspring of cause and effect, or at least a cause). Why is it so difficult to imagine a cause-less effect? Because it defies logic, and logic is based on the relationships between cause and effect.

    I have a theoretical perspective on the first cause dilemma that, for me and for now at least, satisfies logic. To begin with I look at cause and effect as neutrally as possible and call it movement (one could also call it change, which is movement too, but I have reason for calling it movement). Without movement there is no cause and effect. If we imagine the big bang as movement (which it clearly was), we might ask what preceded it. What was the status quo then? Is it possible there was no movement (or change)? Was it still, and then movement began for no reason? There seems no way to say that something didn’t change/move that then brought about the big bang. In words, prior to our universe’s existence, something was there either moving or capable of moving.

    Thus we come to the concept of potentiality, which is not nothing. Stated as a principle we might say it as follows: All that exists in time must be preceded by the potential for it to exist. Our universe apparently did have beginning, and therefore we can wonder about the potential it sprang from. Since the nature of our universe is movement, for example, we might assume that part of the nature of this potentiality is dynamic, that it fluctuates in some manner, which can lead to events like a big bang.

    I’ve tried to imagine what such a fluctuation might be like, if there are any clues in our universe which might guide one. Something I’ve noticed about reality is that besides movement are three other universally present traits: light (EM of course), vibration, and concentration. Everything which can be shown to exist, without exception, possesses these qualities. All matter is atoms, and atom types are determined by how much energy is concentrated in them. When energy escapes its bond to matter it does so as light (photons) whose character is also influenced by energy concentration. And of course, both atoms and EM relentlessly vibrate.

    Now, might this give us clues about the nature of the potentiality creation emerged from? Could that potentiality, for instance, be some sort of fluctuating luminescent vibrancy? Might one sort of fluctuation that happens be a sudden, intense concentration and release?

    Now, let’s say that is exactly what the big bang was, and what the universe is doing now is returning to pure potentiality. Does that solve the something from nothing problem? Not yet, because our logic wants to know the “cause” of that potentiality. To me, I think this is where one has to accept the possibility that this potentiality has always existed; it was never created, it will never be destroyed; it had no beginning and it has no end. It just is. It exists and cannot not exist. It is, in fact, existence itself.

    I don’t think the concept of an uncaused potentiality, whose fluctuations “causes,” answers all questions -- obviously it isn’t scientific since one can’t test the hypothesis. But if true nonetheless, it would be why there cannot be nothing.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2003 #2
    I thought your post was very good LW.
    Just a few thoughts from the end-bit...
    I might be able to help you out here. For there is no need to "think this is where one has to accept the possibility that this 'potentiality' has always existed;". In my opinion, the application of reason simply insists that A Being MUST be the cause of change, always and forever.. For 'nothing' is not a cause for any change. It's absoluteless-ness cannot give-rise to any 'thing'. And of course, no thing can give-rise to itself from nothing.
    And that means that 'nothing' cannot be the cause for the change to existence. Which means, rationally, that existence is eternal. We have no need to defend ourselves behind the "possibility" that existence has always reigned-supreme. You can know that it must be.
  4. Apr 5, 2003 #3
    Fantastic post, LW Sleeth! Very admirable.

    I think yours is not only a good idea, but an important one, because it clears up another part of the "nothing" problem.

    I agree that potentiality is something - some might say that it only exists conceptualy, but I think that it is a physical phenomena.

    I especially liked this bit:

    It opens up a new avenue of discussion, by itself, and is obviously consistent with the 2nd law of Thermodynamics.
  5. Apr 5, 2003 #4

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    Thank you LG for appreciating my thoughts on the subject of existence.

    I agree that an individual can know, as you say, . . . but I do not believe it can be proven, through reason, to others (I think in the past we've agreed to disagree on this point :smile: ).

    So when I say "possibility" I am acknowledging the fact that each person must discover for themselves the truth, or not, of existence.
  6. Apr 5, 2003 #5
    Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    So are you saying that there is true existence, or do you take the stance that things only exist in individual perception?
  7. Apr 5, 2003 #6

    Les Sleeth

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    Mentat, you've understood me perfectly!

    I believe entropy is the de-concentration of the universe, and the return to full potential.
  8. Apr 5, 2003 #7

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    I am saying there is true existence, and that the only way to know that is for each individual to experience, and consequently "know," for themselves.

    An analogy.

    I try describe to you how good a perfectly prepared pasta dish tastes. I can employ precise reason in my explanation, and you can listen and imagine expertly, but you still will never know about the experience of perfectly prepared pasta until you taste it for yourself.

    Similarly, I am saying that the truth of existence must be personally experienced to know. I can give you all the brilliant reasons and explanations, but you still won't know until you yourself "taste" it.
  9. Apr 5, 2003 #8

    I think it's a very good point.

    The whole "everything comes from nothing" idea didn't really agree with me, but I wasn't quite sure why. I think this (what you have pointed out) is one of the reasons, since potentiality is something.
  10. Apr 5, 2003 #9
    Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    You talk alot of sense. I'm bound to appreciate your thoughts.
    Yes. I just don't understand how you can posit that an absolute-source cannot be defined in relation to its parts. Given that stance, we cannot know the whole of anything - which kinda makes a mockery out of the things we are saying - as all 'things' are a whole unto themselves.
    I understand. But if each person must discover the truth for themselves, then why do we talk to each other?
  11. Apr 5, 2003 #10

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    I would say, in regard to issues so important as existence, that there are people who discover things in their search for meaning. To other sincere seekers, a point in the right direction is quite a treasure. But each person must be left the option to explore the direction pointed toward; plus, even if you convince someone the direction you are pointing is true, it will never be actual knowledge for them until they walk in that direction and discover for themselves whatever truth might lie there.
  12. Apr 5, 2003 #11
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    To help each other find the truth. There is an old saying that goes: "In the end, the only person one can convince is onself". So, all that talking is for, is to help one be more open to different viewpoints, before convincing themselves of any one view.
  13. Apr 5, 2003 #12
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    If the views of other people are the bricks which formulate your own views, then you haven't helped yourself in the slightest.
    In the same vein, if the money from other peoples' wallets is responsible for sustaining your existence, then you haven't "paid your own way".
    The 'moral' of the story is that it is impossible to have a theory of your own, without stretching specific knowledge/definitions/ideas from others, or from 'another'. The causality-chain of knowledge must proceed from an 'absolute-well' of knowledge.
  14. Apr 5, 2003 #13
    That is exactly the position hold by Materialism, only you state it in some other terms. Remember though that the claim of materialism is that matter and motion belong together. There is no matter without motion and no motion without matter. Note these are generalized terms, so don't confuse matter with just particles but any form of matter (energy, fields, particles, whaterver) and motion just means that matter at all levels changes, whether this be the position in space (relative to other matter), or otherwise. The material world thus requires space and time to be in existence as it's mode of existence.

    Furthermore the materialist claim is that there exist a material world, which is ever changing. The reasons for matter to be in motion/change always is because of the contradictions within the material existence itself, that cause it to change.
    Fundamentally, the way the material world evolves, is best described using dialectical laws. This viewpoint taken in is also known as dialectical-materialism, which is a good starting point for further reading.
    The world didn't have a begin, since matter can't be destroyed or created, and the fact that the world exists, explains that there isn't "nothing". Well "nothing" (the absence of anything existing) isn't existing anyway, so why bother?
    But I have explained that kind of issue on "nothing" already.
  15. Apr 5, 2003 #14
    Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    This post is in contrast with earlier posts, in which you defended the position that existence couldn't be eternal, but had to have a definite beginning. But maybe you learned something here.

    Btw. being or existence is not the cause of change, but material existence exists by changing/moving. You can not have matter without motion/change or vice versa.

    I suggest anyone on here to take some time and study some more on the philosophical viewpoint of materialism, and especially on dialectical-materialism.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2003
  16. Apr 5, 2003 #15

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    I must disagree a bit. Just because my idea that motion in our universe might be a reflection of some more basic state of existence, it does not mean I agree that matter and motion are inextricably intertwined. Matter, yes, motion no. If motion is more basic than matter, as I've suggested, then motion can exist independently of matter.

    That matter can't be destroyed or created is not supported by evidence. I suppose you mean energy because you have indicated that you believe energy is matter. But there are indications that protons (the hard part of matter) will deteriorate in approximately 10^50 years.

    The material world is ever changing, no one can dispute that. But I think you miss my point.

    What I did was try to show that traits we see universally present in creation might reflect basic, inalterable condtions of potentiality. Because motion, vibration, and light are part of every feature of our universe, those qualities might also be inherent properties of absolute potentiality and therefore existence. And what is material? Well, that is the other universally-present trait we can observe: concentration (i.e., of potentiality).
  17. Apr 5, 2003 #16

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    Well, because it is a popular or published position doesn't make it true. I would trust points you make yourself far more than those made appealing to a speculative philosophical authority.
  18. Apr 5, 2003 #17
    Potential is a good word. In a void, there is potential for something to happen, as opposed to something that is well defined. I would say there was a potential for anything to happen and our universe and the set of matter/energy/properties it came with was just one of the potentials that came to be.
  19. Apr 5, 2003 #18
    Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    I don't think so, but this may be due to the way you define matter.

    I poin to the philosophical term matter, and not particles (mass having matter), but also energy or even fields.

    I don't think you can talk about motion or change, without there being anything that moves or changes.

    Energy is a form of matter, protons and electrons are forms of matter, the gravitational field is a form of matter, etc. Mass having matter can be transformed into energy and vice versa.
    So, the only thing happening is that matter is transformed from one form to another. But never destroyed or created.

    Well matter in the philospohical sense can point to normal matter (in the physical meaning of the term matter) like electrons and protons and neutrons, or energy, or even more fundamental forms as fields.

    The inflation theory is build around the concept of a scalar field.
  20. Apr 5, 2003 #19

    Les Sleeth

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    Re: Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    You can talk about the "mover." It is hardcore materialists who can't seem to appreciate anything other than some "thing" that is moved by the mover.

    It is like if you only appreciate those people who are loved. But what about love itself? It precedes those loved, and the subject would be non-existent if love were not possible. So too is the value of the mover, or potential as I've been calling it, overlooked when you only want to talk about things moved.
  21. Apr 5, 2003 #20

    Les Sleeth

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    Thank you for responding.

    But I wonder if you don't see a contradiction in saying a void has potential? I am not trying to play semantic games, but "void" means absolutely nothing. This is my objection to those who suggest that something came from nothing (a true void). If it really is a void, then nothing!!!!!!! is there, not even potential. It is absense, its non, it is nil, it is blank . . . nothing, and so something cannot possibly be born by it.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2003
  22. Apr 5, 2003 #21

    It's not impossible- just irrational. But something existing uncaused is just as irrational. So, you basically are preferring one irrationality for another. I prefer the void since nothing comes before it.
  23. Apr 5, 2003 #22
    Then what would the potential be? Empty space? Or, something beyond time and space?

    Would you say the Universe was "conceived" in a moment?
  24. Apr 6, 2003 #23
    The Buddhists referred to it as the "formless void". Beyond space, beyond time, beyond conception, beyond experience.

    . Mystery

    Looked at but cannot be seen
    It is beneath form;
    Listened to but cannot be heard
    - It is beneath sound;
    Held but cannot be touched
    It is beneath feeling;
    These depthless things evade definition,
    And blend into a single mystery.
    In its rising there is no light,
    In its falling there is no darkness,
    A continuous thread
    Beyond description,
    Lining what cannot occur;
    Its form formless,
    Its image nothing,
    Its name silence;
    Follow it, it has no back,
    Meet it, it has no face.
    Attend the present to deal with the past;
    Thus you grasp the continuity
    Of the Way,
    Which is its essence.
  25. Apr 6, 2003 #24
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Potential Is Not Nothing

    Where in space/time should we place the "mover"?

    Movement and change is the way of existence of matter. You can't seperate the two. Perhaps one better call it a process, you can't seperate change or progess from the things that undergo the change and progress.

    There is not anything called "love" cause this term referers to a category of the mind, a concept, which refers to processes in the material world (the behaviour of people, their emotions and stuff, etc).

    One can say however that people have the potential to love. But love exists by way of people who experience and excercise love and loving relations.

    For movement, I would say that this is a capacity or property of all things which is intrinsically and necessary there. All things are in motion or the process of change (even when on macro scale some things seem motionless or changeless) always.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2003
  26. Apr 6, 2003 #25
    Well a characteristic of "the void" (I prefer to call it "nothingness", cause a void is used for intergalactic space, which is'nt realy empty) is that neither there isn't something before neither something after it. There isn't even time or space to provide for the possibility of there being something. And since there is not nor has been or ever will be or can be a state of total "nothingness" it is and cannot be a "cause" for anything. And that leads directly to the conclusion that "there being something" is preceded and followed by "there being something". It is the very nature of being that it develops in time and space.

    Your error in thinking is that you say that existence is uncaused.
    Perhaps this is due to statements like "The universe is uncaused", and we just have a language problem there expressing this without ambiguity.

    Existence is causal. Every part of existence is developing and establishing itself through causal chains, so everything is caused, there is an eternal chain of causal effects for everything. And because of this fact, there can't have been a time in which there was a "begin" to this eternal chain of causal effects.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2003
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