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What Is Nothing in Terms of Philosophy

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 750
  • Category: Trifles

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You sit diligently at your computer, staring at a blank Word document. Your hands rest on the keyboard, but you have not moved them once. The white screen taunts you, and you feel overwhelming pressure and anxiety as your mind searches for an answer. “I have nothing to write about,” you think with a sigh.

What is nothing, though? Obviously, past your frustration, you know there is something out there to write about. In this case, nothing describes the absence of something. You just have yet to discover the identity of that something. “Nothing” carries many differing connotations, depending on subject, context, and culture. This idea of nothing has been debated throughout history, and its true meaning continues to perplex philosophers and physicists.

Nothing is defined as “one of no interest, value, or consequence” or “not anything, no single thing” (“Nothing”, Merriam-Webster). The former addresses the negative connotation of nothing. By describing something as nothing, it is stripped of meaning. “That means nothing to me” implies the worthlessness or lack of value an object or idea holds. The latter definition offers a more literal explanation. Simply put, many may consider “nothing” as empty space devoid of any object or thought. This nonexistence implies there is an alternative to being, a null void in which all ceases to exist. Upon considering the topic at length though, this seemingly basic idea becomes purely theoretical and difficult to imagine. Can nothing really exist? Historically, nothing has been a controversial subject and certainly lacking a simple definition.

Parmenides, a Greek philosopher of fifth century BC, definitively announced that the existence of nothing is impossible. When speaking of nothing, he explained, one is indeed speaking of something. He and his disciples strongly agreed that the linguistic rendering of the word “nothing” contradicts itself (Sorenson). Other Greek philosophers continued to argue this point of view. Upon finding division by zero too paradoxical, Aristotle doubted the notion of zero and nothingness as well (Stock). Creating much philosophical debate, nothingness confounded and stumped these great thinkers for centuries. What Is Nothing in Terms of Philosophy without this concept seems incomprehensible, the idea was slow to catch on, especially in Europe. Christian European leaders believed that God exists everywhere and in everything, therefore, nothingness must be the creation of Satan (Weiss, par. 6). Zero was then promptly outlawed in Europe until nearly 1,000 years later, but merchants at the time continued to utilize it in secret due to its convenience.

Other cultures, however, have embraced the concept of nothingness. In Buddhism, for example, a mindset of nothingness equates to peace and balance, leading to spiritual enlightenment and nirvana. In fact, the term “zero” in English originates from the Hindi word, “sunyata”, meaning nothingness (Weiss, par. 7).

Now, according to modern math, nothing does exist. Zero represents nothing numerically. When you have 3 apples, and then lose 3 apples, how many do you have left? Zero. It would be incorrect to say you have “nothing” left, because you have only lost the apples. Zero takes a more literal and precise approach to the concept of nothing. The physical presence of zero can be accounted for.

Even though we use the concept of zero in calculations, physicists still dispute the legitimacy of nothingness, or a truly empty void. In 2013, the American Museum of Natural History held a large debate titled “The Existence of Nothing” (Moskowitz, par. 1). Most attendees quickly agreed that at its most basic definition – an empty space devoid of any physical object – nothing is still something. Philosopher Jim Holt explained, “It has a topology, it has a shape, it’s a physical object” (par. 4). Physicist Lawrence Krauss pointed out that a concept devoid of space, time, particles, or laws of nature would be “as close to nothing as you can get” (par. 6). Holt continued to disagree, though, explaining that there is no space is completely free from consciousness and other “non-temporal” entities. The debate evolved to include the subjects of quantum physics and theory. Even when assessed at the most technical degree, physicists could not come to an agreement. “Maybe nothing will never be resolved,” Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and the debate’s moderator, stated (par. 20).

Nothing carries an accepted connotation of emptiness or lack of value that we all use in our daily lives and in mathematics. When used in conversation, “nothing” is rarely questioned by the listener. However, nothing will always fall short of a true, concrete definition because it is a contradiction of itself. Nothing is always something.

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