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The problem of non-existence

  1. Aug 10, 2004 #1
    I will begin this thread with an example. Take "nothing" for example. It is defined as "non-existence" in short. Though the use of the word in common terms is more directed towards absence (which does not neccesarily signify non-existence...bare with me on those semantics...I can't help it). Anywho, some people who are on a more philosophical mindset might try to understand such a "state". Note, that doing so is futile. "Nothing" does not exist, therefore, it's pointless to try and acknowledge its existence.
    And so my problem emerges. By saying that it is impossible for something that doesn't exist to exist, am I also saying that something that does not exist CAN not not exist?? :redface:

    This has been bugging me for a full 48 hours. I am beginning (yes, just beginning) to think it is a rather pointless (oh deer, that would make it non existent! :surprise: ) problem, with no meaning whatsoever. I hope I'm wrong. :rolleyes:
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2004 #2
    "How can nothing exist, if nothing itself is something?" I think that's what your saying. I was actually thinking this the other day. My conclusion is that something always exists and nothing is just an exaggerated term created for the benefit of language and explaination.
  4. Aug 10, 2004 #3
    This situation is far more common than you might realize. The issue here is that you're dealing with a meaningless assertion - "nothing exists" or "nothing does not exist". You think both sentences have meaning, and therefore one of them must be true and the other false, but the fact is meaningless sentences can't be true or false. That's why they are meaningless.

    A colleague at work just showed me a book about "time travel". Another meaningless concept. You can't travel through time, you can only travel through space - that's what the word "travel" means. But you get PhDs and Nobel laureates seriously considering whether a meaningless statement is true or false. So don't feel bad for doing it, you're in good company.
  5. Aug 10, 2004 #4
    Words only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context. In other words, you can have a private meaning for such statements, but outside of a specific context it cannot be shared. The identity of these words is the issue, what does "nothing" and "exist" and "nonexistent" mean?

    Outside of any specific context, all you can do is endlessly split semantic hairs, defining one word in terms of another and so one. This is exactly what you are doing, going in circles attempting to define one word in terms of another, while searching for a logical statement. Logic is merely another word, another concept, and without a specific context it too is meaningless.
  6. Aug 10, 2004 #5
    I am glad that you started this topic as a seperate thread, as this is precisely what I have been battling with everywhere else. That 'Nothing' exists goes against the very essence of critical and clear thinking. So many things have been said about this issue such that it becomes more and more confused. And these are just some of them:

    1) That 'Nothing' esists or that there is such thing as 'Nothing'

    2) That there is a clearly quantifiable relation between 'Nothing' and 'Something'

    3) That 'Nothing' can give rise to 'Something' (that is, bring something into being)

    4) That 'Something' can decline or change into 'Nothing'

    But the most problematic aspect of all this is that it seems as if in all our declaratory, existential and explanatory claims in our natural language and in our day-to-day interactions with each other we are 'THINKING' that:

    5) When something is invisible or unobservable that it is non-physical

    6) When something is invisible or unobservable that it is non-existent

    And so far everyone seems to be very sly about them and consequently systematically avoid them. Go to the metaphysical, philosophical, epistemolgical sections and see how people systematically avoid all these questions. I have been arguing all along that we should be brave and confront these questions head on. My Position has always been this:

    1) There has never been and there will never be 'Nothing'

    2) Since there is no 'Nothing' there is no natural clarifying relation between 'Something' and 'Nothing'

    3) Since (1) and (2) are completely and wholly true 'Nothing' cannot give rise to Something, nor neither can anything which is Something decline or change into 'Nothing'.

    4) Mathematics, Our natural Languages, and any other quatificational and declaratory aparatuses may very well make references to 'Nothing' and its realtion to 'Something', I argue that such references are fundamentally fictional and intellectually misleading.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2004
  7. Aug 10, 2004 #6
    nothing does exist simply because if we have somthing, then there must be nothing, otherwise we would not know if there was somthing. in other words, it is like opposing entities. also if nothing didn't exist then we would have no knowledge of the sort, we would never be having this conversation. if nothing wasn't evident, we could not distinguish it, thus it would not exsit.
  8. Aug 11, 2004 #7
    Unicorns don't exist and yet, I can imagine such a thing and talk about it too. Just because something doesn't exist doesn't mean we can't talk about it.

    You bring up a good point, Rasine. Our ability to distinguish between existence and non-existence is profound, I think. It is like making an abstraction between numbers and objects.

    As wuliheron pointed out, "the identity of the words is the issue". "Time travel" is just a figure of speech used to identify travel (yes, as you said) through space. As Einstein showed in his theories of Relativity, space and time are very much related. So if you take the simple concept underlying wormholes--aka Einstein-Rosen bridges, i think---, if the distance from point "A" to point "B" can be decreased by "folding" the space between, it would take less time to go from point "A" to point "B".

    Thank you everyone for clearing this up for me.
  9. Aug 14, 2004 #8
    We think we understand zero or nothing till we begin to think about it and find it to be something that is difficult to comprehend, because nothing should bring no thought, but thought always represent something that does exist, whether it's thought of an objective thing or a thought of a subjective thing.

    no-thing. 'no' is the quantity. 'thing' is the general category for things that exist. We only know objective or subjective things. Even things that are imaginary and only exist in the mind, nevertheless do exist. When we put the quantity 'no' on 'thing', we are assuming we are cancelling existence. But we can't speak a zero.

    The principle of zero doesn't come from the infinite lack of quantity or infinite lack of existence. It comes from postive displacement. First we must sense something. When that thing is moved, it now leaves what we call space. This space is the nothing. But, what is space? Philosophically, we don't sense space, we only sense the objects that is beyond the space. Try to see the space between you and the computer screen. Good luck.

    What is nothing then? It's just an inference that a thing was there and now it's moved.

    It may also mean something very small, but not detecable enough to call it a thing. We may not see a field gravity, but we sense the effects of it in terms of displacement of things we do see. If we look across the room, we can say minus the air particle nothing exists, such as a vacuum, but gravity is there, so this nothing is something in a small, but significant sense if that heavy object falls on you.

    All thoughts represent something positive. Negative creates confusion, so does zero, nothing, and non-quantities if you don't look for the positive principle that is necessary for us to begin have a thought about 'something' of the so-called 'nothing'.

    The term nothing is simply used for convience to represent an inferred displacement or a very, very small quantity. But if you think about it hardly, it's really a positive thing.
  10. Aug 14, 2004 #9
    The problem with this kind of thinking is that, we can reason out to our extremes of what we understand or rather what we can observe.

    "Nothing" cannot be observed, because to be blunt there's nothing to observe. So basically, that is why you cannot comprehend the idea of nothing, because you have not been able to understand or observe anything in actuality that have properties resembeling that of "nothing". And also nothing has no properties. So you end up in wondering what it could be because, clear logic and experience tells you that something that you cannot understand does not mean it does not exist. And since you cannot understand "nothing" you are wondering what you have not understood.

    You, see, it's simple.
  11. Aug 14, 2004 #10
    Are you saying that it exists, but you just can't sense it?
  12. Aug 15, 2004 #11
    Hey, it's all or nothing man. :wink: And yet, what I would like to know, was nothing absolute before the Big Bang? Did we have absolutely nothing to speak of or, absolutely something to speak of?
  13. Aug 16, 2004 #12
    Something that does not exist does not exist. (note: please ignore the error; I refered to that which does not exist...I did it again. It can't be helped.)

    Simple: By saying "before the big bang", you are asserting that there was time before the BB. If time exists, then entropy exists. If entropy exists, there must absolutely be something.
  14. Aug 18, 2004 #13
    If there are no hair on your head then it does not mean that they dont exist any where. Also if hair really does not exist your scalp does. :wink: So there is always an existance of one thing or the other. If there wasn't anything before Big Bang i.e. no matter or mass then obviously energy would have existed. Mass can be regarded as concentrated form of energy.
  15. Aug 18, 2004 #14
    "Nothing" is a purely descriptive word, and has no actuality. "Nothing" is used to describe the lack of a particular thing in a "something environment". There is always something somewhere, so "Nothing" can only be descriptive in nature. Now, sense everything seems to come from something, then the very first thing had to come from a "Thing" that was nether "Something" nor "Nothing". I know what this thing is, do you?
  16. Aug 20, 2004 #15


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    Reference frame arguments. That 'nothing is nothing' is self-evident by observational evidence. You cannot observe 'nothing', therefore it is irrelevant.
  17. Aug 23, 2004 #16
    You can get something for nothing...can't you?
  18. Aug 24, 2004 #17
    we can define a system X as finite because it is limited by NOT-X [all things other than X]- this works for all systems because no system includes everything- but if X is All Existence- if X DOES include everything- then Not-X is NON-Existence which is necessarily self-negating and cannot limit X- thus if X is Existence- then it is infinite QED [a succinct encapsulation of Spinoza’s Ethics]
  19. Aug 28, 2004 #18
    What was universe created in? If in nothing, then how can there be nothing if there was something in it?
  20. Aug 28, 2004 #19
    You can have something from a non-something, if you think of what is nether a something or non-somthing. And there is such a thing and it moves all we know.
  21. Aug 28, 2004 #20

    Very nicely put. :smile:
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