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What is nothing? Physicists Debate

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NEW YORK — It was all much ado about nothing as physicists and thinkers came together to debate the concept of nothing Wednesday (March 20) here at the American Museum of Natural History.

The simple idea of nothing, a concept that even toddlers can understand, proved surprisingly difficult for the scientists to pin down, with some of them questioning whether such a thing as nothing exists at all.

The first, most basic idea of nothing — empty space with nothing in it — was quickly agreed not to benothing. In our universe, even a dark, empty void of space, absent of all particles, is still something.

"It has a topology, it has a shape, it's a physical object," philosopher Jim Holt said during the museum's annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, which this year was focused on the topic of "The Existence of Nothing."

As moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum's Hayden Planetarium, said, "If laws of physics still apply, the laws of physics are not nothing." [Endless Void or Big Crunch: How Will the Universe End?]

http://www.livescience.com/28132-what-is-nothing-physicists-debate.html

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We know from all sorts of experiments that empty space is far from being "nothing." It conveys inertia on anything you put on it, it can have a geometry (well, of course, it has to if it has dimensionality), and, it seems, because of uncertainty, it is at a certain size level a chaotic storm of potentiality -- potentials that can at any time burst into a universe, or so we suppose.

The oft-presumed infinity of the past always has given me issues, but so does the notion that time somehow had a beginning. Can we legitimately say that "something" has always existed, or was there a point where things came into existence -- where time had a beginning.

The problem with saying that something has always existed is that this presumes an infinite chain of causal connections between "then" (infinitely far in the past) and now, but one cannot do that. Infinity means endless, and you cannot get here from endlessly far away. So rationally time had to have a beginning.

But how? Of course one just says it simply began. Since there was nothing before, there was no infinity of time -- where there is no time there is no time. The beginning was the beginning. Of course it had to be causeless, but we now know that cause and effect is a statistical thing based on probabilities, not the physical law of existence our daily experience fools us into thinking.

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Posted (edited)

.

Edited by taniwha

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Frank Merton I like your post, but wouldn't even a causeless beginning require some sort of antecedent mechanism? In so called wave function collapse, something is 'collapsing', creating our observed reality. Since the specific reality that emerges is dependent on probabilities, I think one could say in a sense the specific outcome itself is causeless, as we cannot predict beforehand which probable outcome will occur. In other words, the 'cause' or 'choice' of the outcome that does occur may have no specific cause. It just happens seemingly spontaneously, yet there exists the sort of ethereal waveform from which it originates.

This waveform thingy cannot be defined as thing itself. In a like manner, we can only define an electron's behavior. We cannot define what an electron "is". In the larger sense, we cannot define what the universe or existence itself "is". We can only perceive it as behavior. In this sense, existence is non-definable, and to consider 'existence' and 'nothing' as opposing entities becomes meaningless.

For something to come into existence spontaneously with no prior cause may be only change, which we perceive as beginning. A change of what? Can this kind of causeless change occur within 'nothing'?

In my view, 'something' nor 'nothing' exists. Our perception that our physical universe exists is a perception we have only because we exist as a manifestation of it. This is our local view. I think our consideration of existence as opposed to non-existence or nothing is a consequence of our being an expression of the universe, which is in essence like the wave function prior to collapse. Fundamentally a sort of non-causal 'mechanism' lying external to our concepts of existence or non-existence.

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If we oneday stumble across the existence of nothing, what we will find is just that ~ nothing!

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I think we are trapped in this box of thinking that everything that happens has to have a prior cause. I would suggest that there is no logical reason for this belief -- that it is a belief is clear enough -- we just assume its truth and don't even notice it -- it is furniture. Why do we have this beief? Well, of course because that is how the universe seems to work; all our lives we see A and then B and conclude A causes B.

I suggest that causation is much of an illusion -- a useful illusion but still not real and verging on magical thinking. It's a little like our concepts of up and down -- people on the antipodes do not fall off the planet because up and down are local illusions, not absolute properties of space.

When you take a proposed causal connection and begin to analyze it -- say a billiard ball hitting another and causing the second to move -- we talk about forces and momentum and trajectories and so on. But what it really is is the repulsion of the swarm of electrons on the surface of each ball, and it is entirely probabilistic. If all the electrons in the balls happened, out of chance, to be aligned away from the exterior of the balls, the balls would adhere or even pass through each other. The reason we never see this is not cause and effect but just that there are so many electrons involved the chances of such an arrangement approaches nil. In other words, things we think are caused by other things are really just events that have very high probability, derived from the law of large numbers -- that they are composed of gazillions of individual smaller probabilistic events. In the end it is all chance.

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I think we are trapped in this box of thinking that everything that happens has to have a prior cause. I would suggest that there is no logical reason for this belief -- that it is a belief is clear enough -- we just assume its truth and don't even notice it -- it is furniture. Why do we have this beief? Well, of course because that is how the universe seems to work; all our lives we see A and then B and conclude A causes B.

Isn't it then contradictory to say there is no logical reason for the concept of causality?
I suggest that causation is much of an illusion -- a useful illusion but still not real and verging on magical thinking. It's a little like our concepts of up and down -- people on the antipodes do not fall off the planet because up and down are local illusions, not absolute properties of space.

I don't think it is that simple to pass off as an illusion.

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Posted (edited)

www.physicsforums.com

That's where you need to go with this question.

Best of luck and discovery!

Edited by pallidin

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Posted (edited)

Science and philosophy seem to have combined in this discussion. It seems that simply by being 'nothing', actually makes nothing something.

:unsure:

:D

Edited by ExpandMyMind

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When I receive a cupcake, "nothing" is all that remains; once I'm finished.

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When I receive a cupcake, "nothing" is all that remains; once I'm finished

The best answer I've read so far including mine.

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It's like there's ONE thing that is manifest or unmanifest....

when we are looking for SOMEthing and we do not see what we are looking for, so we perceive it as being Nothing but the potential is still there for Something....

Time itself is something since something has to already be there with movements that cause time, the cause and effects for endless probabilities to play out.

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Posted (edited)

'empty space' or 'emptiness/nothingness' has to exist in our perceptions because without it forms are meaningless, a house without 'space' in or around it is not a house, a vessel / cup / bowl will not function without the 'space' it holds.

light / shadow of the tangible reality ... the spaces between everything is as much the essence of 'reality' as material reality itself.

void is a better word in my opinion, it neither means 'it is something' nor 'it is nothing'

~edit : keyboard spasm

Edited by third_eye
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I would have thought 'nothing' is just something that is yet to be thought? If it hasn't been thought of then it has yet to exist. Everything begins with a single thought, the rest is just an extension of that initial thought?

Without the presence of thought the cupcake is neither here nor there, when the cupcake becomes manifest it is in itself the end product. Reverse engineer the cupcake to the point of going beyond the initial idea of the cupcake and we end up in a world without cupcakes. If it has yet to be witnessed then it has yet to exist, ergo, nothing, nada, zip, <0>.

anyone for cupcakes???

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I like all this cupcake stuff. What about when the mind is silent. Inwardly, this would be conscious of a nothing, as opposed to the something of thought.

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Posted (edited)

I like all this cupcake stuff. What about when the mind is silent. Inwardly, this would be conscious of a nothing, as opposed to the something of thought.

sitting still is the hardest thing you can attempt to do, every fiber of you body and muscles and joints was designed to 'move' not 'be still'

your mind is responsible for the 'moving' the body does, using the mind to make the body 'still' in effect tells the mind too, to be 'still'

but you will rebel, protest ... there are things to do, games to play, places to be, people to see, money to earn or to spend ....

your mind wants to move, wants you to move and will never be 'silent' you can only make it 'meaningless'

Are you aware of just how much of the things in your mind actually 'exists' or even 'still exists' ?

Thoughts care little of either or anything in fact, the mind keeps going constantly but never ever going anywhere, and thoughts are its tracks.

It is how the mind is aware of itself and you, by that mirror you are aware of yourself.

If the mind is silent then the mind is terrified of being blinded to this mirroring, 'you' still exist, your 'mind' still exist, but by existing, not by mirroring ... the silent mind.

You cannot be conscious of 'nothing' because it is the consciousness that makes this 'nothing' possible.

~edit : just out of habit

Edited by third_eye
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I like all this cupcake stuff. What about when the mind is silent. Inwardly, this would be conscious of a nothing, as opposed to the something of thought.

Exactly, the mind is the beginning the middle and the end of everything, the difference between a mind that is without thought and a mind that is void of thought is reliant upon the holder of that mind. If it is a conscious effort to be without thought then we have a zero point existence, a nothingness is now manifest, I feel it is at this point we become self aware in the limitless context.

This is where your potential begins, how far it then goes is down to your own design.

The quietest minds can discern the noisiest of thoughts, ergo gnostic.

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