Sunday, March 02, 2008

On Nothing

Commenting on my article on physics, halibut etc., the ineffable Gordon McCabe points out that, strictly speaking, the issue was not why there should be something rather than nothing but whether there should be something rather than a 'sea of photons', which is what you would get if all stuff was cancelled out by anti-stuff. Fair enough, but I think calling a sea of photons nothing was justified in the context. Anyway, it now seems that physicists have trapped nothing in a bottle. And Julian Barnes is terrified of nothing. Strictly speaking, both to the physicist and the individual there is no such thing as nothing. The physicist has his photon sea and the individual does not live through death, he simply ceases to be a self. He cannot, therefore, be afraid of nothing since there is nothing to be afraid of. The self cannot possibly have any relation - of fear, love or anything else - with its non-existence. What the human self can have is an awareness that it will, in time, cease to exist. Existence itself will continue which makes the prospect of our own death seem either an injustice or, because we all suffer from a touch of solipsism, illogical. As a result, we long for deliverance from nothing. Modern physics has always sounded a bit like theology. (I seem to remember Dawkins attacking theology as a discipline about nothing; he did not realise that this was, in fact, high praise.) Now the physicists have got a handle on nothing and are hoping to get a Theory of Everything from the Large Hadron Collider, I suspect physics and theology are going to start sounding even more like the same thing. 'Nothing will come of nothing,' said Lear. How wrong he was.


  1. Of course, it is quite appropriate there should be no comments on this post.

  2. Bravo!
    But you deserve better than nothing. After all, it was a false vacuum which kicked it all off, or so they say.

    I get the sense you've become disillusioned with 'big science'. But big science is practically the only project not yet annexed by the big corporations.

    What news do popes and their apologists have, compared to the rousing speculations of astronomers and theoretical physicists?

  3. Hi Bryan,

    You were suppose to say, "Move along. There's nothing to see here."

    But since you didn't, I will ask, "Does it "matter"?

    There is the problem of nothing abutting something, as if there could be nothing in between two photons, or two planets for that matter. Can one be shoulder-to-shoulder with true nothing? I think not.

    I suspect we have mechanisms for interactions, which cause us to create a physical world as a medium in order to accomplish this, a shared dream in a sense, by beings able to share the psychic-ness of dreams.

    Having Science is like falling asleep, and trying to study the rules of how everything works in a dream, and getting it down, dreaming up universities and such before waking. Makes for great dream involvement, and a dream that is quite a realistic trip. (Not to mention dream interpreters.) But what science studies is what is created by or through us, instead of us being created by it; the laws of science are fairly hard corrolaries to how we as people are.

    This makes sense to me anyway, because our first experience is on the psychic level. My thoughts, emotions, pain, and hunger are perceptions, conceptions, and the like. Indeed, we have no true physical experiences, such a lack as what we may project onto animals and have projected onto other races and gender groups, that they have no "experience" of the physical. We say they have no soul like we have.


  4. “We’ve discovered lots of these particles, but there may be lots more. The miracle is that we have managed to make any sense of all of this tint teeming world.”

    Nor should one lose sight of the fact that the real phenomenon under study is not the universe, which, in any case, is not reproducible without the cognitive faculties of the brain, but intelligence as a form of free energy, and inseparable from it. Few scientists trouble to distinguish, let alone acknowledge, that fact. Nor can human consciousness be reduced to a function of knowledge - like an image or an equation. But thus defined, the universe we investigate is obviously virtual - and will continue to grow as our knowledge of it grows. Our problem is no longer to explain material science, but to analyse what are essentially mutating concepts. For nothing that has been said so far about the conceptual function of knowledge as a materializing force specifically maintains that as a result of such a function, it may not also create not only virtually, but substantially!

    In a word, I fully expect Stephen Hawking to “abjure” the prospect of a definitive Theory of Everything. That possibility is definitively absurd.


  5. Great article, however the answer to the meaning of the Universe and its sub atomic particles was already known and lost to history. It looks like the time is coming for Humans to once again populate the cosmos.

  6. "Nothing is the fourth album by Swedish tech metal band Meshuggah, originally released in 2002" - wikipedia

  7. Bryan, Julian is forgetting that other multiple versions of him will continue living in another corner of the multiverse. In one of those, there will evolve the Omega Point, which will promptly resurrect every version of him in its eternal mind and (hopefully) make each of them happy in cyber heaven. Well, that's the Frank Tipler theory, as far as I can make out. The huge weakness, it has always seemed to me, was with the resurrection issue. Seems such a waste to have to resurrect a billion of me just so the one "me" I know will be there.

    Still, it is so outstandingly improbable sounding, it retains a strong appeal to me.

    One thing I was surprised to read in the last year or so, was that Hugh Everett, who came up with the Many Worlds interpretation, did actually believe that it guaranteed him a form of immortality. After he had died, his daughter left a suicide note in which she said she was going to visit her father in a parallel universe. The link is here:

    Sad, hey?

  8. 'What the human self can have is an awareness that it will, in time, cease to exist.'

    But how do I know I'm going to cease to exist?. I can know, on the basis of what happens to creatures such as I, that things will foundationally alter and be uprooted, but how do I know this will certainly exclude a certain kind of continuity?

    Its weird trying to ponder in any case the cessation of self-being, since ourselves existing is all we have known. Thinking about the absence left by the disappearance of the self is like projecting an image of an anti-self, the wilful negation of what we know ourselves to be. I think this may be a pondering of a something, not a nothing.

    How can we have an idea of non-being other than that which in being we create as a kind of being?

    Buddhists spoke against not merely the clinging onto being, but also the clinging onto non-being.