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  Columnist: Peter Fotis Kapnistos

Image credit: NASA

In search of nothingness

Posted on Monday, 12 January, 2009 | 16 comments
Columnist: Peter Fotis Kapnistos

On Vacation with Stephen Hawking - "Do you believe in God?" a TV reporter asked Stephen Hawking in 1998 at the 2nd Samos Meeting on Cosmology, Geometry and Relativity. After a long silence of reverie, Hawking´s wheelchair computer finally began to speak: "I make it a point not to answer that particular question," he said. "But if I get to know you better, maybe we can talk about it someday." The sound of laugher echoed from end to end of the seaside resort´s conference room.

The summer vacation ambiance of the Mediterranean island of Samos took on a peculiar degree of intensity with the arrival of the world´s most famous mathematician, Professor Stephen Hawking, and his influential team of physicists, cosmologists and nuclear scientists. Sleek notebook computers rested on top of outsized hotel fitments, connected to high-speed network cables. Dark briefcases sat up like placards over elegant chaise longues. Only a small part of the general population could understand the complex calculations of quantum theory or the bizarre geometry of black holes. They were the delegates of this plush beach conference held in the small town of Pythagoreon. I had a gut feeling that outdoor cafes and restaurants were crawling with security agents acting as if they were tourists.

In the 1940s, Albert Einstein, the originator of relativity theory, surprised the scientific community when he informed the White House of a secret Nazi industrial unit capable of making nuclear weapons. A frantic race to produce the first atomic bomb formally began. U.S. Army General Leslie R. Groves directed the Manhattan Project and established a covert operation codenamed ´Alsos´ to locate the site of Nazi atomic research. But a generation after Hitler´s terrifying war and the rubble of two atomic bombs, a German nuclear factory was never found. It faded from our memory together with the myth of the German Southern Redoubt — an inner fortress from which Nazi Germany would strike with terrible weapons and "snatch victory at one minute past twelve."

In 1998, Stephen Hawking cautioned the industrialized world when his co-workers hinted of an atomic factory near the Middle East that might soon be capable of making nuclear weapons. Self-directed rumormongers even suggested that Muslim extremists intended to bring into play the same deceptions used by Berlin in the 1940s. Some years later, after the events of 9/11 and a second U.S.-led war against Iraq, a fresh adaptation of the Southern Redoubt legend fiercely rematerialized: Where was Saddam Hussein´s secret military research fortress? Where were his terrible weapons of mass destruction?

The escalation of modern nuclear weapons progressed from the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico to an overpowering hydrogen bomb explosion in the Pacific Ocean. It speedily developed to the presently refined missile-delivered neutron bombs of the 21st Century. Some defense watchers, who were armed with an improved understanding of the structure of neutron stars, boldly predicted that a future generation of nuclear weapons could very well be "collapsar" weapons, or man-made black hole bombs. They suck. They really do.

In 2004, Stephen Hawking announced a radical revision of his ideas at a conference on general relativity and gravitation in Dublin. He had previously thought that all information swallowed by a black hole could never be retrieved. A black hole is produced when a star collapses. Neutron stars are the end point of a star´s life before forming into a black hole. Hawking once assumed that black holes must produce such strong gravitational fields that anything entering them is sucked in and can never escape. In other words, the fundamental substance of black holes was formerly understood to be the immeasurable nothingness of a singularity. But in Dublin, Hawking revealed findings that contradicted the key theory he had held for thirty years. He was now certain that black holes do not form a boundary from which nothing can escape. Rather, they form a blurred event horizon through which information can eventually return to our universe in the form of "Hawking Radiation."

It now seemed that the psyche´s longstanding quest for emptiness had finally reached a logical climax. The troublesome issue appeared to have been settled at last — nothingness might not exist after all. For when a black hole evaporates, its ultimate ending is not a void blankness, but a flow of information that returns to our universe in jumbled form. So where is the vague and intangible spot of non-existence, or place of oblivion so many of us blindly believed in? By definition, there probably is none. Our rapidly expanding universe does not really have room for "nothingness." Stephen Hawking´s new hypothesis allegedly confirmed this.

By integrating gravitation with quantum theory, Hawking supposedly solved the "information paradox" and introduced a new premise for the unified field theory. Celebrated as the definitive Holy Grail of physics, the unified field theory (sometimes called the Theory of Everything) is the long-sought equation to explain the nature and behavior of all matter and energy in existence. Indeed, Stephen Hawking´s latest concept had a very striking meaning for me. I had once spoken with him and applauded him to pursue it, while vacationing on the enchanted island of Pythagoras:

"Do you find yourself paralyzed in your dreams?" another TV reporter asked Stephen Hawking. His computer replied: "No I don´t. I move freely in my dreams. My handicap is not even noticeable."

"Do you think it will soon be possible to produce a theory of everything? A unified field theory that will explain all that exists in a simple equation, which can be printed on a kid´s t-shirt?" I asked Stephen Hawking (after presenting him with a t-shirt containing some Greek letters).

"I give it a fifty-fifty chance," Hawking answered me. "I said so twenty years ago and I still have the same outlook. I think there´s a fifty-fifty possibility that the theory of everything will be discovered within our lifetime."

Looking for Lord Kelvin´s Zero

On the Kelvin temperature scale, "zero" is the coldest possible temperature. At absolute zero (-273.15° on the Celsius scale) all molecular motion ceases. But it is not theoretically possible to cool any substance to 0 K. Therefore, even in nature, absolute zero does not really exist. It simply cannot be found. Unfortunately, many people who claim to hold a "scientific point of view" profess that the only serious pragmatism is existential nihilism. The worst confusion they can get themselves into is a desolate faith in zero or "nothingness."

The axioms of mathematics prove that dividing by zero cannot produce anything. Nor can zero be multiplied. Pulling rabbits out of a hat may seem preposterous and silly to the intellectual mind. Yet, a most irrational form of "magical thinking" plagues modern skeptics who bluntly imagine that our universe "came out of nothing" for no evident reason and will probably coincidentally "return to nothing." A division by zero has utterly no meaning. So why do numerous academics adhere to such an illogical notion?

According to Sigmund Freud, various people will cling to absurd ideas simply to "get laid." Since God symbolizes a moral code that forbids careless sex and other lapses, they will resort to the unfounded "divide by zero" paradigm as an easy alternative that allows them to pander to hedonism. They will even go so far as to call themselves clever and to identify their challengers as stupid enemies of science.

Existential nothingness is typically described as a great space or empty region that extends infinitely and lasts forever — like dreamless sleep. But the strict zero of science is just the opposite of what nihilists usually like to make up. Zero has no dimensions whatsoever. In size, it is slighter than the smallest thing measurable. In duration, it hangs around less than the shortest time interval. In fact, it doesn´t exist at all. An imagined immense void that lasts forever is certainly not equal to zero.

Since it is fallacious, academics have to get over the idea of nothingness and the conviction that everything came out of zero. Division by zero or meaning out of nothing represents a false statement. We cannot divide zero into small parts and use them to make something greater. So why do some scientists believe it´s the source of our being? Wouldn´t it be more intelligent to accept that something >0 always is, and that it is neither trivial nor accidental? According to Charles Seife in "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea," dividing by zero is so laughable and unscientific that it "allows you to prove, mathematically, anything in the universe." Such are the reckless consequences of modern-day nihilism.

The word "zero" comes from the Arabic sifr, which also gives us the term "cipher." The early use of zero did not denote a number at all, but merely the use of a punctuation mark so that numbers had the proper reading. Zero as an empty placeholder came into use in Babylonian mathematics. There is evidence that a dot had been used in Indian manuscripts to denote an empty place in positional notation. The first use of the symbol, which we recognize today as the notation for zero, appeared when Greek astronomers began to use the figure 0. The paradoxes of the philosopher Zeno are based on the vague understanding of zero.

A source of present-day nihilism can be traced back to a 16th century sect in Afghanistan called the Roshaniya or "the Illuminati." The Roshaniya were armies of radical bandits (linked to the "Assassins" of Persia) from the mountains of northern Arabia who did not believe in religion or an afterlife. However, in order to win local collaboration, they masqueraded as Sufi prophets and evasively claimed spiritual descent from helpers of Muhammad who assisted in his flight from Mecca. The Illuminati broke into medieval Spain under the name of the Alumbrados in 1512. The sect was lastly renovated in the 1700s, with the appointment of the Bavarian Order of the Illuminati (or "Perfectibilists"). The original Illuminati were in fact "atheist jihadists" from the northwest of Pakistan whose prototype finally infiltrated Europe and applied the Moslem faith as a lure to deceive and fleece their client victims. One of their chief targets was the Vatican, which portrayed them as "Luciferians." Ministered to by Jesuit-taught Adam Weishaupt, the Bavarian Illuminati cult gained access to Freemasonry and was masked to appear as an offshoot of the Enlightenment in 1776. Journalists such as David Icke and Alex Jones claim that Illuminati accomplices like Rudolf von Sebottendorff, Dietrich Eckart, and Aleister Crowley helped to shape the occult core of Nazism, and the Roshaniya Illuminati survived to this day — 9/11 was a measure of their power.

Returning to the clinical Freudian view, it seems that nihilists who will divide by zero without thinking appear to be rather poor at sex nonetheless. Their notion of a meaningful relationship is little more than a one-night stand, or perhaps a "one-life fling" that swiftly melts into nothingness beyond death. But partners who believe in the continuum of Life seem to enjoy greater skills in bonding by entering into what they identify as a timeless or unending love affair. They seemingly trust in a sacred infinite relationship. This, of course, is what the human dream is all about.

Becoming one with the essence of Life is gladly whispered to be set in the midst of an ecstatic spirit that unites true lovers for all time. The world´s greatest romantic literature of past generations clearly attests to that. Compare that to today´s alienated online sex gossip and the dissimilarity is astonishing. But why would anyone want to reject the human dream? Fear and loathing are often cited as starting points for uncaring lovers. Nihilists will insist on identifying with "the nature of animals" rather than standing up for the transcendence of the human spirit. And to achieve such displeasure, they commonly resort to vulgar mockery — sex becomes a dirty joke to them. According to nihilists, lovers cannot share private dreams because telepathy is impossible. They only make those things up to "get laid."

It goes without saying that nihilists who will divide by zero don´t feel affection in favor of God. What´s more, they also tend to lean heavily on an outmoded, earth-centered view that conceitedly presumes "the mind of Homo sapiens" to be the rational focal point of the entire cosmos. This oddly geocentric idea is an admission of peer pressure so dubious that no responsible theorist can publicly admit it today. We are consistently told that God is not a physical or material being. Yet, nihilists are always seeking external or "physical proof" of God, seemingly unaware of the duplicity of their approach.

It is often said that the way to look is inward, within your self. What we call God, or the gods, are moods and mental states that humans experience. They are archetypes, and anyone who thinks that our moods are not important and can be brushed off is making a very big mistake. For, once you cut off or minimize the belief in something greater, you also deny yourself the possibility of becoming greater. Our modern industrialized "raunch-culture," typified by cynical activists like Brian Sapient, is a cheerless example of America´s demoralized adolescence. Uri Geller, a relative of Sigmund Freud who is noted for his colourful involvement in the paranormal, says Sapient´s skeptical detractors have subjected him to unfair discrimination. They have also posted online videos showing dog poop on a bible. All in all, God is the natural archetype of love. Minimize that within yourself and you will become cynical of beauty and a scorner of humanity — a trap that many nihilists fall into.

Learning That Something Always Exists

To avoid the ignobleness of nihilism, we must agree, "something always exists," with no beginning or end. This, of course, can be rather hard to swallow for those who have gotten used to dividing by zero when allowing for absolute truths. So let´s think of a cosmic container or wrapper < > full of nothingness. Although it´s empty, we can easily imagine that our theoretical bare container logically exists for all eternity (nihilists imagine it all the time). But let´s assume that sporadic quantum fluctuations can occur in our empty container. This is exactly what happens in reality. Cosmic ripples were discovery by John Mather and George Smoot of NASA´s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite team, which won them the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics. In 1992, Stephen Hawking called their finding "the greatest discovery of the century, if not of all time." These tiny variations in the cosmic background radiation correspond to minute clumping of matter in the expanding universe.

Therefore instead of nothingness, we surprisingly find that "something always exists" — small temperature variations or tiny bits of motion. Indeed, the perpetual quantum vacuum is not and never will be zero. Another way of looking at it would be to say that a "logical field" always exists in the background of empirical reality. It represents the canvas or backdrop upon which everything else exists. Even if our universe were to suddenly vanish, the logical field would still be eternally present. It has no beginning or end, and contains the essence of all possible "multiverses" and laws of the natural world. It simply always is:

In the beginning was pure reason,

Self-existent, without flaw.

Of its own, the first known season,

Primal cause of mind and law.

Spiritual people have often referred to the logical field as "a consuming fire." Many scientists today might agree. The fire in their equation may be an exotic form of matter called "a quark-gluon plasma," thought to be the state of our universe at the instant of the Big Bang, according to John Cramer from the University of Washington. This plasma spark has all the properties of self-organization and emergence. As one might expect of an "a priori" logical field, it contains the coupling constants (i.e., pure numbers) that determine the roles and dynamics of all the forces of nature. Logic (or logos) is the first miracle. Why should there be laws of nature? Where do they come from? Why is a circle always 360 degrees? Why does water at all times boil at the same temperature? What are geometrical necessities? The universe exists, not by magic, but because "it is logically so." On August 12, 2007, Robert Booth of the Sunday Times described the recent need to define the criteria for what we think of as Life:

Scientists have discovered that inorganic material can take on the characteristics of living organisms in space, a development that could transform views of alien life. An international panel from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck institute in Germany and the University of Sydney found that galactic dust could form spontaneously into helixes and double helixes and that the inorganic creations had memory and the power to reproduce themselves. The National Research Council, an advisory body to the U.S. government, is undertaking a similar rethinking of prospective alien life. It says NASA should start a search for what it describes as "weird life" — organisms that lack DNA or other molecules found in life on Earth.

If approached with veneration and deep respect, what can be taught to us by the logical field? Will it reveal Man´s place in the universe? Despite all the new evidence, contemporary nihilists will probably continue to believe in nothingness. The end result of their existential "angst," according to recent medical research, will be excessive stress, hypertension, and the increased likelihood of heart disease. But, if truth be told, is it really worth it?

It seems that all nihilists at present oddly believe they are so important that when they finally die, the laws of cause and effect will entirely be cancelled out. Blazing cosmic fires, strong nuclear processes, and vast galactic forces will presumably cease to exist — from their frame of reference. But what probably alarms modern nihilists the most are the ever-increasing reports of near death experiences (NDEs). These cases are usually reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead, and include sensations of detachment from the body. Expert nihilists of course would wish to regard such experiences as hallucinatory. If only they could divide by zero.

Stephen Hawking once wrote: "If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God."

Article Copyright© Peter Fotis Kapnistos - reproduced with permission.

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