Is "Nothing" something? Need answer fast.

I vaguely recall that *Scientific American *once had an entire article on the subject of nothingness. I used to be pretty good at remembering years I read something out of a mag and often the month. But my memory is not that good anymore and it just seems that it was some time in the '80’s. Or late '70’s. Or maybe the early '90’s.

(I used to be able to go through bound volumes at my downtown library, but it would be so far back and I doubt that it’s on microfilm, and even if it is…)

The gist was that the lack of something could often act as if it were an object in Physics, and other physical sciences.

The reason I ask is an announcement of tomorrow’s topic for a local colloquial Philosophy group. The sender invited us listed regulars to please join in for a conversation about nothing. Parenthetically he mentioned that he was tempted to say a show about nothing.

… You can tell from this “temptation” that the moderator has a similar sense of humor to my own.

A great one.


Oh, yes, the topic includes nihilists and Nihilism.

I’m interested in anything anyone has to say about “nothing” as a something and Nihilism, pro and con.

If you have read a SA article and can recall what it said, that would be great. Any other science mag on the subject would probably be about as helpful.

Replied by 5 pm will be greatly appreciated. :slight_smile:

I have always had a fascination with the idea(s) on nothing. I can only contribute that there are differing versions if “nothing” depending on context. Some of them are:

the Null Set
a vacuum
“empty space”
the absence of anything
the “flip side” of infinity (not just negative infifnity)

One of the fun things about nothing is that once you try to define it, it goes away. :slight_smile:

Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article about Nothingness.

Thanks, Zeldar and njtt. I can only be at this PC for another 3 minutes and there are no more opportunities considering where I’m going tonight. But this is a great start, and I’ll be checking again tomorrow morning.

Wouldn’t it be something if one of the longest, or even “greatest” threads here were about nothing?

Nothing, and the study thereof, is of considerable importance in modern electronics–specifically electron holes, the nothings in places where electrons could be. Electron holes are also theorized to be an important factor in the operation of high-temperature superconductors.

Don’t get your hopes up just yet. I just did a keyword search for “nothing*” and got two pages of hits. Among them, one of my first threads:

Varying Degrees of Nothingness
Zeldar 07-05-2003 11:04 PM
by Flamsterette_X
9 362
Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share (MPSIMS)

One of Martin Gardner’s columns for Scientific American (February 1975) was on “Nothing.” It’s been reprinted in his book collections, including as chapter 45 of The Colossal Book of Mathematics.

This post intentionally left blank.

Pedantically, nothing is dramatically different from nothingness. In a way, you have arrived upon the definitive koan.

Nothing has just one property: it is dimensionless. It does not “exist”, because existence is temporal, and time is a dimension. Nothing is not the absence of something, it is the apposite.

Nothingness is mere a void of somethings. In fact, in this universe, there is not even real nothingness, because the most empty reaches of space are full of stuff: errant photons and neutrinos and, ultimately, the underlying fabric of spacetime.

When you die, you cannot become nothing, because you do exist now. A thing can only transform into something else, it cannot become nothing, because nothing is timeless. If, you die, you were, which means you remain something, in terms of having had existed.

“Nihilists?! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” - Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski

You do know you’re obligated to work a Big Lebowski reference into your discussion tomorrow, right? :smiley:

You forgot the empty string (a string of length 0). Also empty graph (a graph with no nodes). And let’s see, size zero tuple, null relation, and probably a zillion others.

In Computer Science, having nothing occurring is considered information and therefore something. Especially in distributed computing when the absence of a message can be used to infer something about other systems.

Since you mentioned SA it sounds like you’re looking for a practical answer over a phosophical one.

When I was a kid, I wondered if the physical properties of the universe were inherent in the matter that made up the universe, or in space itself. in other words, if you were some type of supreme being who took an area of space that was a completely empty vacuum, could you introduce matter that had different physical properties, or are they inherent in the empty vacuum?

Later I learned that empty space and matter are both part of the universe (also, there is really no such thing as completely empty space- there’s always a few random particles floating around). So space is not nothing- it is a thing as much as the matter that it separates. True nothingness would be what there was before the Big Bang. No matter, no space , no time. Nothing. Hard to wrap your head around. That’s my non-physicist, layman’s understanding of it, anyway.

One thing I know about Nothing is that it’s sacred.

…and free

Thank you. That was one of the items I recalled from the article.

Yeah, but on the other hand I once OP’ed: “Here it is at last: The thread about NOTHING”
… and had quite a lengthy response, mostly mathematical. However, it’s now more than ten years old and I can’t seem to get it on a search.

I even pondered a follow-up about the null set as distinct from zero, but decided against it.

Thank you. Some of our group’s themes have been repeated years later, and perhaps I can score the book for future use.

I was going to say something about the BL being upstraem on this thread, but I’ve got nothing. Actually, I misremembered it here; it was in the e-mail. I haven’t seen the movie, so I didn’t know nothing about what to think. I’ll definitely have to research the movie online before tonight.

!!! - You don’t say…

No, not really. I have always been entranced by science and math over everything else academic. Sort of my first love. But I really was soliciting both. After all, it is a Philosophy group.

And that remind me of something I recently became aware of, and recalled last night. This regards Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing” with at least two movie versions. What I had learned within the last year or so was that “NOTHING” here can also refer to the vagina. It goes back to an earlier meme of thinking of the vagina as the “O-thing”. And since many will insist that “Sex is sacred” we’ve come full… circle. Hmm.

… and INEVITABLE except for death and taxes! :slight_smile:

I think there’s some question about that…

On a less scientific front, there is a meditation technique I have used from time to time. In it, one listens to a reverberating sound (I use a chime, some use a gong or other instrument) and follow the sound as it fades, seeking the exact instant when the sound becomes silence: the transition point between something and nothing. With practice, you can recreate the sound in your mind, and, eventually, the transition point.

I realize that the meeting of your philosophy group has already come and gone, but I thought you might be interested in this short story: “How the World was Saved”.

Thank you, Scribble.

Just to have said it, every time I see this thread title in my New Posts list, I can’t help but think of Billy Preston - Nothing from nothing 1975 and that continues to be an earworm for quite some time. I figured if I went ahead and posted this that the earworm might go away. Might not.

In any case, this version has the lyrocs…

Philosophers and cosmologists always ask why is there something rather than nothing? as if the two were mutually exclusive. But of course, there’s lots of nothing. Nothing is simply nonexistence, and as Scribble pointed out via Stanslaw Lem, there are plenty of things that don’t exist. Every one of them is a piece of nothing. In fact, there are far more things that don’t exist than that do exist: far more nothing that something. For the philosophers and cosmologists to be satisfied with nothing, all things would have to not exist! That seems to me to be a situation far more unlikely and in need of explanation than the current state of a few things that do exist and very many that do not.