Much Ado About Nothing

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

‘Nothing’ is a difficult concept.

Seriously. Think about it. What exactly is ‘nothing’? Does it even exist? And if it did, how would we know? Aside from what, how about where?

Have you ever been looking for something lost, and somebody says, “Have you checked the closet?” And you say, “I did. It’s not there.”  Or, sometimes, “There’s nothing there.”

That statement is false. There’s certainly something there, if only cobwebs or a stray dust bunny, or air, or maybe a lost button. Possibly even clothes. Those are all somethings, to belabor the obvious, just not the something you were looking for. It’s easy to find something because it’s impossible not to do so. Finding nothing? As in the example, people claim to have found nothing all the time: Data scientists when they can’t find a correlation, or detectives looking for clues, or a child looking for fairies. They found nothing, they say. They’re always either lying or being very imprecise in their word usage. Say rather you didn’t find the specific something you were looking for. That’s fair. Say you found nothing? Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Which would certainly be something.

Quantum Mechanics says that something can be two things at the same time, like a qubit that can simultaneously be on and off or somewhere in between. Nothing may be less amorphous by comparison, but it has to be somewhere. Good luck finding it. Don’t bother looking in the closet, though. I already checked. How about deep space? It certainly looks like a vast bit of black nothing, only we know it isn’t. Even when there are no other stars, planets, or moons, there are always hydrogen atoms humming to themselves and perhaps wondering, if capable and inclined, what all the fuss is about.

Scientists theorize that there is a phenomenon called “Unruh radiation” produced by quantum fluctuations in the “nothing” of the vacuum of space which could, properly accelerated by, say, a massive black hole, produce heat and light. Yep. Light from “nothing.” Still only a theory and way above my cognitive pay grade. We’ll let the experts sort that one out.

Current cosmological theory says the universe is expanding. Into what? Nothing, say the cosmologists. The universe is its own thing, and there’s nothing else. So, logically, nothing exists, but does so beyond our physical universe. Which we cannot see except in the sense that if we could see to the end of the observable universe, we would see only the boundary beyond which nothing exists.

You’re way ahead of me. Yes, I pointed out the flaw in my own argument in the first line. ‘Nothing’ is a concept, not a physical something. In fact, it only exists in reference to and dependent on something. We define the absence of the desired something with its antonym—nothing. It’s just that the analogy doesn’t hold so far as I’m concerned. If something is capable of being both concept and the embodiment of that concept, why not ‘nothing’? Hardly seems fair. Worse, it’s limited thinking and it feels wrong. After all, there’s a balance and symmetry to nature that this sort of uneven pairing violates. Nothing has to be something, or there’s no something.

There may be a flaw or two in the reasoning. I should work on that.

After all, I have nothing to lose.

©2021 Richard Parks