In the Virtual Muser, a very lively forum on Facebook, I was addressed by Deborah Greene Bershatsky, an active and highly articulate member, who posted: ”My thoughts after reading your book are that we know nothing about nothing because there is nothing to know.”

The remark stopped me in my tracks. I am not usually stumped for an immediate answer to any questions about “nothing”. After all, I have been actively thinking about nothing for five years and am constantly on the receiving end of dozens of questions in my talks and book tours. After a while, though, I realised how incisive the remark was – so much so that I intend to make use of it in my forthcoming talks next month.

Deborah is right, of course. There is nothing to know, since Nothing is the absence of everything, including ourselves and our thoughts. If we could know anything about Nothing, there would be something to know. Nothing, though, is not something.

Now while there is nothing to know about Nothing (the absence of everything), it is for that very reason that there is plenty to know about Nothingness (the absence of something). We can feel an absence and we know what it replaces. When there is an absence of someone we were expecting, we can talk about that absent person. As Elvis, referring to his own absence, sang in Are You Lonesome Tonight: “Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare – Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?” Absences are real. Both Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter use silences in their plays to devastating effect, the absences being as powerful as the words that surround them.

So if Nothingness is real, is also Nothing real? My only answer as to whether Nothing is real is that I don’t know. I can’t know about Nothing. There is, as Deborah say, nothing to know.

Having said that, I need to add that my saying “I don’t know” in no way implies that there may or may not be Nothing. With Nothing, it is not a matter of doubt, unlike the implication of saying that one does not know whether God exists. Either God exists or he doesn’t; the whole point in belief in God is that he exists. However, with the concept of Nothing, the whole point is that it is the absence of everything, and as such, it cannot be thought of as “existing”.

Well, that was a rather heavy start to the year. I actually intended this blog entry to be more festive. I was thinking about where 2011 went and whether we can call it an absence. Another time.

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7 comments on “Nothing to think about

  1. Norman on said:

    If the premise that nothing exists until the mind creates it is viable, then Deborah is correct. There is nothing to know because the mind all ready knows all and if the mind knows all that leaves nothing to know.

  2. Ronald Green on said:

    Well, Norman, I’m not sure if your “nothing” means “anything”. If so, then your premise subcribes to an Idealist viewpoint, and that is another subject altogether, albeit very interesting.

    But let’s assume that you are referring to Nothing, the absence of everything. In that case, I can’t agree that the mind can create Nothing, since Nothing would be the absence of the mind as well. One aspect – THE aspect – of Nothing is that the mind cannot know it. The only thing that “all” cannot include is Nothing, since “all” wouldn’t then be able to exist. That is another reason why Nothing is unique and does not fit into formal logic.

  3. wayfarer on said:

    Ronald

    SO much had been said about nothing that it cannot but be something. If nothing had no entity there would be nothing to discuss.Nothing cannot but be everything on a polarity scale…..nothing REALLY matters….

  4. james the lessor on said:

    “He that cometh to God must beleive that He is and…”, from letter to the Hebrews in the NT of the KJV. My coviction gives credit to the text and its essentinally accurate delivery to the present; I understand other views exist. In fact, that is sort of what the passage relates to, the sovereignty of will in matters of faith. In context of number and place, absence had to be recorded, kept track of, less the absent digits nonpresence wildly misrepresent the presence observed. Nothing, is a marker of the suspected contents of a shadow. We continually empty the the idea of “nothing” as we toss matches nervously at the dark. Everything we might find in the shadow has some measure of illumination when we first perceived it. Imagination as illumination? Perhaps, but can we really fabricate what has not always been there. An alarmed dog barks, each sound unique when parsed carefully. I suspect the imaginings on nothing may hold as much.

  5. Roselyn on said:

    Meant to post awhlie back when I first read this that you know it is ok to have nothing sometimes; sometimes we just have to survive. :) Hang in there.

  6. Tyrone D. Miller on said:

    How can we think about something we know nothing about?

  7. Ronald Green on said:

    Tyrone, I don’t think that is a problem as such. We think about lots of things about which we might know nothing, such as string theory or quantum mechanics or artificial intelligence, or a host of other things that might or might exist, such as unicorns or fairies…

    Another question, which is the subject of this blog entry, is whether we can think of nothing. And yet another question is whether thinking about “nothing” mweans that it is something; this I discussed in my previous blog “Is ‘nothing’ something?”

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