Every once in awhile I have to take some time and focus on nothing. Not in a Zen way of clearing one’s mind and contemplating the nothingness of it all, but more of a study on the everyday concept of “Nothing.” You see… “nothing” is truly and interesting concept.
So without further ado or any other preamble… 20 Questions about “Nothing”
1. So, what culture was the first to truly define the mathematical concept of “Nothing?”
The ancient Mesopotamians were the first on record to create a place holding character to signify the concept of absence.
2. What is a good definition of “Nothing?”
Nothing is the absence of something where that something and the container for that something are both well-defined. For example, if the universe in question is a shoebox and something is described as a solid object, the concept of “nothing” is that shoebox being empty.
3. So... is “Nothing” actually “something?”
In the mathematical sense, yes. That being said, in philosophy it isn’t. Mathematics only works in a highly defined system, and one must define what “nothing” is in the system, where as philosophically nothing simply just isn’t.
4. Do you think that nothing lives more in philosophy or mathematics?
Well… I kind of consider math to be a very specific form of philosophy, so I believe that philosophy definitely contains nothing.
5. What is the weirdest thing you have ever heard about “nothing?”
Well… in one of my mathematics classes in undergrad (I think it was Calc III), my professor said, “The interesting thing about nothing, is that you can say anything you want about it and it will still be true. For example, all the elephants in this room are wearing pink tutus.” He was indeed telling the truth, because all of the elephants in the room were wearing pink tutu’s because there were not any elephants in the room.
6. What is the hardest thing about “nothing” to really wrap your mind around?
Well, coming up with a thorough definition is the biggest thing. Most definitions revolve around the concept of the opposite of something, but in the real world the idea of nothing is dependent on the discreteness of everything. There has to be a hard edge to everything to truly allow for completely nothing. The moment an object lacks a hard edge, the concept of nothing breaks apart. The problem is that on a molecular and atomic and subatomic level, there really is not a definable hard edge… For example, think about the screen you are looking at and the air that is directly adjacent to the outside of that screen. The screen and air intermingles at the edges, there is a muddy zone where everything at a submolecular level intermingles and one cannot define whether that subatomic space is screen or air… in many ways that transition zone is both screen and air. Even the void of space is still something. There is not an area in the physical area that is actually and completely nothing, which means it is an incomplete nothing… but an “incomplete nothing” implies at least a little something, which means that there is no longer nothing.
7. Should you press when your significant other is upset about something, but when prodded about what’s wrong only returns the dreaded and terse “nothing.”
You should press a little, and then withdraw, but let the significant other know that you are withdrawing to allow them some space to process and that you will be glad to talk about this “nothing” when they are ready.
8. When people do you a favor and then give a dismissive “It was nothing” when thanked, how should you respond?
Well, the easiest way is to say, “It might have been nothing to you, but it was something for me, so thank you again.” Then do not bring it up again.
9. What is your definition of nothing?
Well, one definition is the insipid minutia about people I no longer know from my childhood that my mom tries to tell me about when we speak on the phone. Mom, I have no idea who Pete Lawless is or was or how he was connected to me. That was over 20 years ago and I think he was a friend of a friend, but I honestly cannot recall.
10. “Nothing ventured. Nothing Gained.” Can you believe that shit?
Yup.. that shit.
11. In the movie, The Neverending Story, the ultimate “bad guy” in the movie is not really a character, but the lack of imagination that allows the fantasy world to be destroyed. This destruction is referred to as the “Nothing.” My question is this: Why in God’s name would anyone think it was a good plot point for Artax to slowly die in a swamp while Atreyu helplessly watched? for goodness sake, this is a goddamn kids movie…
Wow… sounds like the movie scarred you a bit. Fun fact, the actor who played Atreyu was grievously injured in preproduction and has been living in pain and through multiple surgeries for his role in that movie for over 20 years now. ♬♪ ♫ The Never Ending Story ♬♪ ♫
12. How many languages do you know the word “nothing” in?
4, with a bunch of English synonyms as well.
13. “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’, but you gotta have somethin’ if you want to be me with me” this lyric describes what mathematical principle?
This refers to the “Identity principle” for addition. This states that if you add or subtract 0 from any number you will retain the value of the first number. The null principle for addition is that if you subtract a number from itself, the result will always be 0.
14. Why do people use “nothing but trouble” to describe someone who is bad and not “everything but trouble” for someone good?
Well, double negatives are a very literary thing, so that is why “nothing but trouble” is so popular. Everything but trouble includes many particularly bad things except for trouble. There can be bad things that are not troubling.
15. So, “Nothing compares to you” is a dumb lyric, right?
I think so. I can compare anything. I could compare strontium 238 with a black squirrel. One can compare any 2 things or even 2 concepts. Nothing is equivalent to you… Nothing compares favorably to you… You are the benchmark by which nothing is equal or better… those are more appropriate lyrics that are significantly less lyrical.
16. So, which “Nothing compares to you is better,” Sinead’s or Prince’s?
I am much more familiar with Sinead’s but I think I like the less melancholy version of Prince’s version than the more pleading version of Sinead’s.
17. Shouldn’t “Ain’t no thing like a chicken wing” be “there is nothing like a chicken wing?”
Things clear up grammatically in that “correction” because of the elimination of the double negative, but artistically it is very boring.
18. How is whispering “sweet nothings” even a thing? Should it be “sweet somethings” or why are they sweet? Ugh…
I think the intention is that the speaker is saying loving or sweet things that amount to nothing. If the sweet nothing become substantive, maybe then they become sweet somethings.
19. Can you ever really focus on nothing during meditation?
Not really. This is one of those times when I think the idea is not to contemplate the void that is “nothing” as much as to not focus on anything so much so that you are essentially focusing on nothing. In this instance I think it is less to focus on nothing as it is to not focus on anything. The placement of the negation is important.
20. Are black holes the physical equivalent of nothing?
Good question, but no. The singularity that a black hole is feeding is significantly more than nothing. It is most definitely a whole bunch of something that has been packed down into a size that is essentially nothing yet still “something.”
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Sorry about the tardiness of this post
It has been a while since I posted
And for that I apologize
Happy birthday to oft questioner Dr B Dawg
Have great week everyone