Kamo no Chomei lived in Japan from about 1155 to 1216 AD, after some political upheavals in his Shinto shrine he decided to become a hermit and live in the woods. He built a “ten foot square hut” and turned his back on the world.
A key message in Kamo’s “Life in a ten foot square hut” is that; boundaries form barriers between our unenlightened state of being and harmony with the universe, and thus enlightenment. More specifically, his philosophies proselytize, that to pour one’s energy into the construction of a boundary is counter-productive to the ultimate goal of enlightenment achieved through the dissolution of the illusion of boundaries.
Kamo’s hut is minimalist, an “unsubstantial cottage”, and provides only the bare necessities he needs for simple survival. It is impermanent and can be easily moved, “I can easily take it down and transport it elsewhere”. In this, we see that he has minimized the boundaries of his living arrangements to be in commune with nature to the bare necessities. He further tears down boundaries by rejecting fear, resentment, luxury and most notably desire, “I commit my life to fate without special wish to live or desire to die”. To relinquish the boundary of desire is one of the most significant achievements of any Buddhist seeking the path to enlightenment.
As Kamo is vigilant against self-delusion he invokes the wisdom of the Law of Buddha that “teaches that we should shun all clinging to the world of phenomena”. He laments that he likes his little hut and solitary life so much that it “may be a hindrance to enlightenment”. He views his attachment to a solitary life to be a folly. In Buddhism, the boundary of desire must be removed to achieve enlightenment.
Boundaries appear to instill order by stemming the expansion of entropy, but in reality they obscure your vision, making it difficult to discern emergent patterns. When we channel our energy into the construction and maintenance of boundaries we cloud our perceptions of additional realities by directing focus and strength into these artificial constructs, blinding ourselves to the beauty in the movements of o.ur world as it expands and into entropy.
Entropy is commonly misunderstood to mean a movement toward disorder; that is not an accurate description of the second law of thermodynamics. It is clearer to think of entropy as a method by which energy becomes more evenly distributed in an isolated system (in this case the universe itself). In other words, an increase in entropy is a process of energy dispersal. For instance in a region in which one area is hot and one cold, the entropy of the system will see the heat disperse throughout the system creating a uniform temperature. The ability of the system to react with itself decreases and a state of balance is achieved. The higher the entropy, the more even the distribution, and thus a reduction in the dichotomy of difference. In other words, a dissolution of boundaries.
Entropy, in our understanding of the universe, is as irreversible as the uni-directional arrow of time. By removing all boundaries, including the illusionary boundary of external and internal, the mind can start to relax into the expanding patterns of entropy. On a microstate level, no laws of physics will be broken should the cream remove itself from the coffee and reassemble in the milk jug. It is simply a matter of probabilities.
Which brings me to another aspect of entropy as it relates to the philosophy of Kamo; the dispersal of energy measured by an increase in entropy whilst on the one hand, can be seen as a more balanced and uniform state, it is in no way a static or dead state. When energy is more evenly dispersed the next instant for each microstate has an increased number of possibilities. Therefore, maximum entropy gives you maximum potential. As a friend recently pointed out to me, at such a time there would be no more energy to move, giving rise to images of a crystalline universe; sparkling in its frigid state, with no further chance to breathe. When all energy is expelled, is there no possibility for a fresh influx? Are we given a finite amount to play with? Or perhaps does the very thought of existence give continual breath to movement? Is this the boundary between Zen and Nirvana?
We see that entropy is a measurement, a measurement not of disorder but of energy dispersal, assessed by the number of possibilities of each microstate in the next instant, or how many different ways the system can arrange itself in the next instant. If the energy is more dispersed it has a greater potential for new patterns. A state poised in anticipation of movement and potential.
In short, the dissolution of boundaries allows for an increase in entropy, which in turn provides a more balanced state and an increase in potential and possibility. I think this a scientific way of saying, “more enlightened”.
The final chapter of Heisenberg’s Physics & Philosophy (full text) is one of the most interesting pieces of thought I have read in quite some time. This excellent piece, which clearly shows the hand of genius, is an elegant extension of Heisenberg’s own scientific research and inspiration into the world of philosophy. In Heisenberg we see the Renaissance Man that many modern authors have sorrowfully lamented, as Heisenberg uses some of the foundational concepts of quantum physics to comment on the epistemological construct of human thought. He coherently demonstrates how science has become too narrow in its views since the Renaissance (notably the nineteenth century), which has led to a loss of macroscopic understanding of the nature of the universe and too heavy reliance on empirical observation. He discusses that this inclination to segment knowledge into complete and perfected units, was likely brought about by the need to separate empirical epistemology from theological doctrine – such as was necessitated by those wishing to avoid “the instruments of torture” of the Catholic church. From such origins we see an increasing reliance on empirical evidence, something that has been difficult for particle physicists until ever greater technological inventions grace the stage (such as the Large Hadron Collider).
The crux of the argument is demonstrated halfway through the chapter where we can hear overtones of the uncertainty principle as applied to general epistemology of reality. It is important to note that the uncertainty principle is not simply about knowing either position or momentum (a combination of direction and velocity) but that by knowing one more, the other becomes less known due to the constraints of Planck’s constant. This is expressed in the syllogism (paraphrased):
Scientific concepts are idealisations;
They are defined from experience obtained by refined experimental tools;
And are precisely defined through axioms;
Through these definitions they can be connected to mathematics;
Mathematics explores an infinite variety of possibilities;
Through this process immediate connection with reality is lost.
What this is saying is that as you try and pinpoint a reality with math (which is of itself a human expression of the universe by creating incomplete models), you are instantly creating a symbol for, and approximation of, what is actually happening. In effect you are narrowing a position and losing integrity of momentum. This argument is re-stated in a number of variations to ensure the reader understands the message and can appreciate the contradictions involved in capturing reality into language. For instance he makes an excellent point regarding the contribution of the Japanese to theoretical physics stemming from a culture that is founded on philosophies far more in line with quantum theory than the “naïve materialistic way of thinking that still prevailed in Europe in the first decades of this century”.
With the precision of reason of a master physicist, he then extrapolates this argument to demonstrate how our narrow-minded cognition has detrimentally impacted our society using Marx as an example of non-complex thinking. He ends with a warning about the nuclear arms race and touches on basic principles of complexity theory when he discusses unification and a shift in metacognition when the masses become conscious of the processes taking place.
The crux of the argument consists of a passage of five sentences, “On the other hand, the scientific concepts are idealisations….but the correspondence may be lost in other parts containing other groups of phenomena” for all of the reasons laid out above. It is saying that, if you try and define something too narrowly then it will loose its complex entirety. In otherwords, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Heisenberg is very clear that we should use the lessons of quantum physics to guide our own epistemological methods when exploring the world around us when he says, “In this way modern physics has perhaps opened the door to a wider outlook on the relation between the human mind and reality”. In this he is no doubt referring to not just the uncertainty principle, but other fantastical aspects of the world of quantum mechanics such as the double slit experiments used to explore wave-particle duality; this phenomenon is counter-intuitive to our understanding of the world, but an easily observed empirical fact nonetheless.
He enhances this argument by pointing out that the Japanese mind-set made it easier for their culture to embrace quantum physics, as it is more in tune with their philosophical beliefs. “relationship between philosophical ideas…and the philosophical substance of quantum theory”. In this, he is likely referring to the Shinto expression of Taoism in which the more one attempts to know the Dao the less one will actually connect with it.
With the shift in cognition about the way we can develop understanding of the world around us that has been enhanced by big data analytics, we have begun to approach problems in entirely new ways. For instance, we know that mathematics are representational constructs of reality and thus will only ever approximate reality, even if it is with extremely high statistical accuracy, that is still not reality. Heisenberg sums this up thus, “In the practical decisions of life it will scarcely ever by possible to go through all of the arguments in favour of or against one possible decision, and one will therefore always have to act on insufficient evidence”.
What we have developed – which is extraordinary – is artificial neural networks. This is a fairly new computer science which works to not only number crunch complexity but to also “learn” answers. A notable example of this is the Google experiment of June 2012. In this instance, a neural network was shown unlabeled YouTube stills until it could start to recognize common objects. The first object it recognized was, of course, a cat! hahahaha
This is Google’s image of a cat, without knowing what a cat is. This is a constructed image of what Google thinks a cat might look like.
The point of this is that we are developing entirely new means of epistemological acquired knowledge, new ways of understanding the large amounts of data around us. The Google neural network is still very far from measuring up to even the most average human brain, but it is a significant step. What is even more significant is what this science will be able to teach us about our own nature of perception and understanding. Imagine the day when we have artificial neural networks powerful enough to compute what it thinks the Higgs field looks like! At that point will we be staring at the face of “god” as Hawking so desired in the 1980’s.
Our traditional linear model of empirical epistemology is outdated and inadequate in a world that is far more complex than Isaac Newton would have us believe. If there is a theory of everything, it is far more likely to look like a fractal image of a Google cat than a neat little equation – sorry Dr. Hawking. The fundamental methods we have been using to define the universe are demonstrating themselves to be no more than tools of broadstroke that can paint primary pictures for us but that cannot express the elegance of our complex universe. By employing a new approach to knowing, such as Heisenberg demonstrates is suggested to us by quantum mechanics or Japanese philosophy, we can come to appreciate the fluidity and intricate entanglement of the universe. As he so clearly states, we need to fundamentally change our approach to how we deconstruct and describe the world around us.
Heisenberg has a unique genius and possibly one of the best writing styles I have ever encountered. I wish that I could write like this! I was extremely impressed with his depth of construction of argument as well as his prodigious foresight into the nature of humanity and where we are headed. His argument is well balanced and without unnecessary emotions or personal agenda. In his conclusion I hear overtones of complexity theory as well as the potential effects of mass consciousness on the nature of knowing such as we are seeing now in big data and with personal Internet exhaust data. I immensely enjoy his ability to so clearly bring his science to a greater scope of thinking about humanity and how we interact with our perceptions of reality. If he was in the room I would have stood up and applauded very loudly.
The I Ching has been studied extensively since it’s misty origins thousands of years ago as an expression of “the Will of Heaven”. Whilst many of the mathematical connections to our modern, western mind that is highly empirically focused, are obvious, it is the underlying force to this math, which I wish to explore. It must be remembered that the assignment of numbers to the hexagrams is a relatively modern invention (Rutt, 1996) as numbers have been across many civilisations including the Ancient Greeks who were ill fond of the number zero, and indeed we find a binary representation of zero absent in the hexagrams of the I Ching. Zero, a pervasive force in mathematics, is by definition difficult to represent in a pictographic system that strives to communicate manifested realities of our perceived dimension. That binary and parity mathematics of the I Ching can be represented by fractal geometry, and that Chaos theory can duplicate the I Ching’s sense of Taoist Chi with real world analogs such as butterflies flapping their wings and affecting global weather patterns are to me, just the Western world of pragmatism and proofs coming to terms with the outer edges of something more fundamental. Like children, we are beginning to explore the underlying structure of our world by the use of big data, founded on the same binary system as this ancient exploration of the fabric of the universe.
An underlying theme of the I Ching has been described by Coward et.al. (2007) as “The beginning of all things lies still in the beyond in the form of ideas that have yet to become real.” In other words, the infinite sea of potential in unrealized form is where all things come from; this potential is what I will compare to the Higgs field. From the same text, “But the Creative furthermore has power to lend form to these archetype of ideas” is describing how the first hexagram, Ch’ien, is a gateway for potential to take shape. Thus it is fitting that the Ch’ien hexagram is often described as strength, or as dragons, or of time. A solid stairway of masculine energy building a portal if you will between potential and reality.
The first hexagram of the I Ching is Ch’ien, the creative, representation of heaven. I see this hexagram as another way of expressing our quest to understand and access the fundamental force of the universe, much the same as we now use fractal images, chaos mathematics, quantum theory and more recently, the Standard Model. It is the underlying cultural assumption of potential that most interests me. Quantum theory can bring us closer to this fundamental truth is by way of the duality (and multiplicity) of quantum states, consider “up” and “down” quarks as a case in point. The synchronicity expressed by the I Ching can be easily seen as represented in mixed quantum states, most simplistically in the spin of an electron being either “up” or “down”, but I seek here to delve deeper than even these basic dualities, beyond fermions (matter) and bosons (forces) to the field that lies beyond, the Higgs field.
The Higgs field is not exactly a widely held belief of the day, mostly because it is a fairly new concept and many people find it difficult to understand. It is a widely held assumption of particle physicists at this stage in our evolution and I hope that these understandings of the universe can eventually filter to the masses – although the slow shift of Einstein’s theories to high school class rooms over the last one hundred years does little to inspire confidence in this hope! In any case, I am going to use the Standard Model as a modern cultural assumption as even if most people can’t understand it or express it I believe that they feel it intuitively.
Essentially the Standard Model is about matter and force and how these two things interact. I see this as analogous to hexagrams and Chi (Qi). The resulting predictions from the I Ching are simply accessing the interaction of these two fundamental aspects of the universe with a basis in the belief that the synchronicity of the flowing patterns of Qi in the world will elucidate on the “weather patterns” around the seeker at the point of consultation. The text of Coward et.al. looks at only the first hexagram but it does say of it “Its energy is represented as unrestricted by any fixed conditions in space and is therefore conceived of as motion” (RER Pg 273). It then goes on to state that the first hexagram is specific to time but I would suggest that this may be a slightly altered Western interpretation of something far more flexible than what we would traditionally attribute to the notion of “Time”.
The Higgs field is postulated to be an all-pervasive force that gives underlying structure to all reality as we know it. The Higgs Boson is a manifestation of this field into a point to exert influence on the physical universe by giving it mass – or the strength of the dragon lending creative success. I see the Higgs field to be an exact analogy of the Qi force that underlies the I Ching.
The excitement of detecting the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider in 2013 was because we are finally beginning to come to an empirical understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe. It was dubbed “the God particle” by the media, as it does appear to carry such auspicious weight as to describe the underlying cause of the existence of all things in the universe including the existence of the universe itself!
When an I Ching reading is cast, some potential from the Higgs field is released giving force or mass to an actuality. This actuality can be harnessed by the seeker to keep them in resonance with “the Great Harmony”. The hexagram of Ch’ien could be seen as the doorway through which this potential achieves actuality.
Why does any of this matter (pardon the pun)? Because in ancient times I believe that humans were more connected to the ebbs and flows of potential and synchronicity. Through millennia of trying to understand our reality by quantifying our observations of it into hard numbers we have been digitalizing an analog universe of flowing Qi, culminating in a digital age where everything is being reduced to binary code. If we can start to use the empirical language of mathematics that we have come to have implicit, (and sometimes blind) faith in, perhaps we can bring back to the masses a sense of the importance and power of accessing the Qi or Higgs field with their own consciousness.
How wonderful would be the sound of resonance if all beings remembered that their very will, their cognitive volition of their consciousness could make the universe sing. At that point we would manifest the Great Harmony.
So I started this blog thing last week. there are some pictures of my dog, I posted some papers I wrote at uni, posted some links to cool stuff and had a “little” rant about big data and privacy concerns. Now what?
I am new to this. I had friends that, in the 90’s were highly active on a platform called ‘Live Journal’; many times did they encourage me to join and take part in the Blogosphere. I didn’t. I had no judgement of their choice of expression. I just honestly have always felt “well who would want to listen to me anyway?”.
I never did answer that question, and indeed it is still prominent in my mind as I type. I mean, does anyone really care to take the time to read what I have to say? To digest the words that I may type, to care to hear what I think about how we currently interact and relate as a society; especially in light of all the really important and significant things that are going on in the world right now, such as wars in the middle east, privacy concerns, poverty and injustice; and would my total disinterest in pictures of cats be perceived as apathy to the plight of cat owners around the world thereby rendering me “unlikeable” in the social media world.
I have finally taken the plunge…still very uncertain about this whole genre of communication. What is the point? Will this effect any real change in the world? Taking the plunge into this form of media and communication makes me pause and take considered thought on several different planes.
Firstly, I know that everything I write will be out there, forever, permanently imprinted onto the digital landscape. You think writing the first words in your shiny new notebook for the start of the school year is scary; when you write on the world wide web, it is there permanently. You must ALWAYS be cogniscent of the fact that it can never be retracted. No pressure!
And then there are the societal implications of your action of expressing your thoughts; a) will you make money from your blog, will people really want to know what shampoo you use?; b) will it enhance your chances of getting a good job; c) will it hinder your chances of getting a good job; d) will you be truthful to yourself or will you succumb to peer pressure to be ‘cool’ – whatever that is; e) will you be different, unique, innovative; f) will it be a complete waste of time, will you just be talking to yourself?
All of these are valid questions. For me, right now, my answer stands at this – well I’m just going to try it out, see if my voice makes a difference and above all express my individuality in just another form. I will look at this as just another way to live in the moment, embrace the current trend and explore, first hand, another aspect of human expression.
I see a major shift in the way that people expressed themselves on the internet in the 1990’s and how they image craft themselves now. For the most part it is a good difference. People are more aware now of the extremely high level of exposure that their musings may attract. I feel that those people that are under the age of say 20 years old have developed a keener awareness of this already. In the 1990’s people posted incredibly personal stuff about themselves, often under pseudonyms, exploring the ability to be someone other than who they were. You might like to think that was a liberating moment for the human species, however, much of what was being written in the chat rooms of those times was an exploration of self in a highly narcissistic and base form. Today I am seeing the emergence of a more digitally and infomatically aware generation.
Two decades on from the days of MUDS, forums and chatrooms, we live in a vastly different digital landscape. For the most part, people are becoming more responsible in what they write, they take more ownership of their writings. Hence, we often see a stronger propensity to more morally enabled writings. Now, a quick look at the inane comments on a social platform such as Youtube may make you think otherwise. I agree with you there. Many of the “comments” sections on social platforms are beyond me in scope of dire lack of intelligence, absence of coherence of meaning and basic moral eptitude. That is not to say that we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The way has been paved. The means enabled. The platform for free voice established. As a user generated and constructed digital landscape we have the power to affect the terra-forming and shape of our digital world. We must exercise this power, lest it be wrested from us by a self enabled hegemonic paradigm. In short I am saying YOUR INDIVIDUAL VOICE, YOUR UNIQUE EXPRESSION OF DIGITAL VOLITION IS SHAPING OUR WORLD, RIGHT NOW. This is happening with every click you make so for the sake of society and our future…make very click count!
I recently received my fourth “follower” to this blog. A lovely young lady in her teenage years who is highly committed to her sport, she exhibits many of the attributes of a grounded and ethically maturing young adult in her approach to life. That following has given me more direction in my blog. I have spent many years of my life working with, training and coaching people in their adolescent and young adult phases of their life. I greatly enjoy the company of people in this age range as this is where I see the greatest potential for change and development of our society; excitement of life and an openness of mind and the ability to (not to say that it is always exercised) empathize with those around them and subsequently incorporate their observations into their world view. Their world view, their developing perceptions of society are forerunners to what our future society will be. It is imperative that they receive the best possible guidance in their approach to expressing their ideas on the WWW. They should be encouraged to use this new media to express themselves yet at the same time made aware that not only will everything they ever write on the internet be there forever – I think they know that- but that this is a format in which they can not only express their opinions and discuss topics of the day but also use this new platform to develop an even greater consciousness of the human state.
This in turn has made me think even more about what I post. I have lived more years, seen more things, tried out more ways of doing things, succeeded more times and failed more times than most people I know. I am a risk taker. I have lived life to an extraordinary degree. Sometimes that has brought me amazing experiences and sometimes much pain. My path is not one that I would advocate to anyone faint of heart, it has thus far been a complete roller coaster of life. What I can tell you is that I HAVE LIVED. People ask “have you lived without regret?”, well of course not. Hindsight is 20/20. But without taking risks and just really going for it I would never, in your wildest dreams, have achieved half of what I did. My life played out in accordance with my choices. There was some good luck and some bad luck. And from the wisdom gained I hope to incorporate some ideas, approaches and methodologies in my writings in this blog. I am one human in a vast sea of humans. My best hope is that some of my words can assist some people in the choices they need to make.
Shoot for the moon always. Because if you miss (which is most often the case) you will land amongst the stars. Sometimes disconnected and stunned, reeling from all you just went through. But you know what…if you do it all with the best possible intent, with care for those around you, and more importantly care for yourself, then just maybe, if you are determined, and you can weather the cuts and bruises, just maybe, you can skid into that gravestone sideways, sliding in the mud of life, yelling WHAT A FRICKIN RIDE WAAAHOOOOO!
So write about that!
Write about your human experience. Write it with truth and consciousness and I will for sure follow you. For those of us that are “awake” and even more so those of us that can articulate our state of “awakeness” are the most important and interesting people to me on the planet.
Be CONSCIOUS, be awake, be aware, be self reflective. So I guess that is the recipe I will follow for myself. Please pull me up if you see me failing in these areas; simple as it sounds I know it is not always easy. I love constructive, thoughtful and eloquent criticism. That is how we can learn and grow. Discourse, interaction, reflection, communication and the main skill I see lacking in the world today…listening, these are the things that will propel you to greatness.
I don’t know the purpose of this blog just yet…maybe I never will…but Miss HM (skier extraordinaire) has given me the impetus to make it as great as I possibly can!
Viva La Liberte!
Write while you can. Write as much as you can. Know that your voice will be seen. And even if it is only seen by a few then that WILL change the world!
What does nothing look like? Close your eyes and put your hands in front of them. That is pretty much what nothing looks like. Can you think about nothing? I mean really nothing. Empty your mind like a mountain yogi and truly block out all of the millions of little thoughts that flit through your mind every minute of the day. Can you imagine what was here before the Big Bang? Does nothing even exist?
Creation myths often address the problem of the existence of nothing. In the Sanskrit text written 3,700 years ago, the Rigveda it names the nothing Sunyata and says of it:
“There was neither non-existence nor existence then. There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.” Rigveda 10.129
This concept of Sunyata is still embraced today in Buddhist practice where the ability to meditate on nothing and experience the void is seen as a path to enlightenment.
The Ancient Hebrews called it the Tohru wa Bohoo. It was spoken of in Genesis: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Genesis 1:2
The Greeks especially did not like the idea of nothing. Thales categorically stated that “nothing can come from nothing; does not thinking about nothing make it something?” Parmenides said, “To speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists.” Aristotle was particularly adamant that nothing does not exist; “Nature abhors a vacuum” was the aphorism, he cried. As much as we students of rhetoric like to place these noble Greeks on pedestals, the Italians unquestionably proved them wrong. And science continued to prove them wrong time and time again, finding ever-unique ways to describe, catalogue, and define…nothing.
In 1589, Galileo Galilei climbed the tower of Pisa to drop a feather and a stone off the upper most balcony to prove that all objects fall at the same rate despite 2,000 of western Aristotelian beliefs that heavier objects fall faster. Well that’s the urban legend in anycase. He did not perform this experiment, because he knew that the resistance of the air would carry the feather aloft and disprove his own hypothesis. He needed something else, he needed a vacuum, he needed nothing. Nearly four hundred years later, the Apollo 10 astronauts carried out this experiment on the moon. They used a hammer and a falcon feather; indeed, when released, both touched the powdery surface of the moon at the same time, proving the existence of a vacuum.
Torricelli, a student of Galileo, had already shown us a vacuum in 1646. Torricelli filled a glass vial with mercury, placed his thumb over the open end, then inverted it into a bath of more mercury. At this point, some mercury was drawn out into the tub (proving a host of other things such as air pressure, density and flow rates), but what was left at the closed end of the glass vial after mercury was drawn out was a vacuum. (Science 1, Aristotle 0).
Over the four hundred years since Galileo and Torricelli affirmed the existence of nothing by way of a vacuum, science has become ever more sophisticated. The Greeks proposed the existence of the atom, but major understandings of them did not happen until the dawn of the 20th century, most notably by scientists such as Rutherford and Bohr. When we finally were able to understand the structure of atoms, we found that an electron is only 1 / 2000th of the mass of a typical atom, with apparently nothing in between the electrons and the nucleus. Atoms are just 99.999999% empty space. The vast majority of all matter is composed of nothing! Nothing just took a major leap up the importance scale. If you took out all of the space in atoms, you could fit the entire human population into a cube of sugar.
To help visualize this further, if you expand a hydrogen atom to be the size of the Earth (12,000km diameter), the nucleus of the atom would be 192 meters diameter (about 2/3rds the size of the TFDL at the University of Calgary. Picture the library buried 6,000km below us representing the nucleus of an atom, then picture a 9cm long rubber ducky sitting on the surface of the ocean representing an electron.
That is a lot of nothing. Science needed to see even smaller than a nucleus and an electron. Let’s go back to the TFDL analogy. Zoom down to our nucleus and expand one single proton to be the size of the library, then walk inside to see what is going on inside the library/proton. Imagine clouds of busy bees buzzing all through the library representing quarks, filling up the space! However, I need you to take this thought experiment a little further. Each bee or quark is moving and vibrating therefore requiring a space to move through or vibrate into. Is this medium the real nothing? Have we found it resting in between the quarks?
Now things get weird. Quarks interact based on their colour, it’s like a vibrating rainbow in there. There are six different types of quark colours, and these are called flavours. And what medium are the flavours moving through to interact exactly? At this point, physics has not only fallen down the rabbit hole smashing every looking glass on the way, opening up new dimensions to burst through, and currently the best explanation we have is…string
Leaving the bizarre math of string theory aside for a moment let us look at the 2011 the Nobel Prize for physics. It was awarded to three scientists — Perlmutter and Riess of the USA and Schmidt of Australia — who proved that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. By marrying Einstein’s’ general relativity and a something called “quantum vacuum energy”, they were able to prove that 74% of the universe consists of a thing called dark energy; and it’s more powerful than Newton’s apple loving gravity. They took this theoretical math and developed empirical experiments using observations on how light stretches from a supernova or exploding star and produced strong evidence that our universe is expanding faster and faster all the time – a mysterious dark energy expanding and pushing galaxies apart and an ever-increasing rate.
Thus, “nothing” does exist; we can measure it, and it acts in a very strong way on the universe around us, essentially creating the universe around us and allowing us the stars and planets and therefore us to exist. In July of 2012, the Higgs Boson particle was confirmed at CERN, providing a field from which this dark energy could emerge. What comes out of the Large Hadron Collider over the next decades will undoubtedly continue to cyclically confirm and deny the existence of nothing.
Whilst waiting for the latest updates from CERN, let us step aside from particle physics back into the cognitive realm of cosmology. We know the universe is expanding, but what exactly is the universe expanding into? What is outside the universe and what was here the day before the big bang? Was there something outside of the universe that gave seed to this whole bunch of “something”? This question invokes the ontological argument of First Cause, a anathema to science and a prime target for logical disproof, necessitating a vacuous nothing in which this universe or universes must reside. One of our cleverest rabbit hole technicians, Richard Gott, Professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton, has created some elegant yet “stringy” math that eradicates the need for a first-cause principle. Using a math that permits regressive time travel, he is able to postulate a self-creating universe, thus allowing our universe or all universes to self-seed.
Outside of this is possibly nothing. Take yourself there. Now we are floating, completely detached in a sea of pure abstract. Can you close your eyes and visualize it now? Or when you do you see a giant, gyrating trumpet like structure of self-creating universes on your horizon?
Even Gott and his contemporaries, such as Eva Silverstein, theoretical physicist at Stanford University, concede that in this nothing there is a topographical geometry, something from which space-time can arise. That is at least something. Once again, nothing slips quietly through our fingers the moment we grasp it.
Would exploring the realm of pure concept of numbers enable us to finally get a grip on nothing? Consider Zero a number that the ancient Greeks barely acknowledged existed it repulsed them so much. They borrowed it from the Babylonians when they needed to make more complex astronomical calculations; then, they would quickly give it back, washing their hands of the stench of nothingness. The Romans, who took so much from the Greeks, did not even have a way to express zero in Roman numerals. Zero did not make a formal appearance in Europe until Fibonacci adopted it in 1202, and, even then, it did not become common among business folk until the 16th century. In our humble little zero, can we find nothing? The ultimate expression of the absence of something? I’m afraid not.
Zero holds the auspicious titles of, non-negative integer, natural number, rational number, real number, algebraic number, and complex number. It also has the more colloquial labels of naught and nil. And, of course, it has its pictographical representations, both with and without the diagonal slash. It shivers at the lowest Kelvin temperature of absolute zero, and, in Celsius, it is the freezing point of water. To a computer, it is half of Everything, being that binary code consists of only one’s and zero’s. Zero is as far from nothing as the vibrating rainbows inside our quarks.
Let’s try out some linguistics, something at which rhetoricians are adept: something familiar and comforting. Syllogistic logic. Assumption: Nothing does exist.
By the fact that we are thinking this, something exists; however big or small that something is, it is something.
All that exists contains by definition everything that exists.
If nothing does exist, then it must be contained within all that exists and therefore nothing does exist.
Well that’s that then. We may as well all go sit in a dark coffee shop, smoke some strong cigarettes, and despair in French tones how there’s really not much point to anything: “Nothingness haunts being”, wailed Satre (1943).
I have now given you an extraordinarily brief synopsis on nothing, showing how the very cleverest rabbit hole technicians on the planet can paradoxically and simultaneously prove both the existence and non-existence of nothing. Logical. Precise. Scientific.
Aristotle is dead, and now I feel a step closer to that emptiness.
That quite nagging deep inside that you have tried to ignore your whole life, the one that whispers to you in the dark when you are most alone that from nothing you came and to nothing you will return. And if nothing comes from nothing, as so eloquently proved by Paramenides, then you are by default, nothing. When you die, will you dissipate into a bleak existentialist absence of anything? What if we are alone and nothing matters, not even nothing itself? Has this fear been given new life by my logical discourse thus far as I have rattled at your most fundamental and foundational beliefs? When faced with the apparently irrefutable proof of the existence of nothing, do you wish to spit out the red pill and return to a life less examined?
Invoking Aristotle here may give one pause to hope:
“Although these opinions seem to follow logically in a dialectical discussion, yet to believe them seems next door to madness when one considers the facts.” Aristotle 350 BC
There is just one more thing…All that I have shown you so far are my refutations — not my thesis. Here is my answer to the age-old question: “does nothing exist?” You can take it or leave it; after all, evidence appears to point to a universe of free will.
Thesis: Nothing does not exist because something does exist. And where there is something, no matter how infinitesimally small, there is the potential for infinite something, and that leaves no room for nothing.
For me, there is far too much SOMETHING for there to be an absolute nothing. Rainbows, the same ones that can be found in quarks, supernovae, rabbit holes, and on Hawaiian beaches, are a great little jelly bean of a package to sum that up for you.
To invoke in your memory and imagination something I could show you really anything; a picture of the Tower of Pisa, an astronaut on the moon, or the number zero. I could ask you to imagine an infinite set of numbers. Or I could ask you to remember the smell of the forest after a storm, the touch of an ocean wave breaking on your shoulders, the flutter in your chest when you see an old friend, or the sound of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. I could ask you to go outside and wait for the rain, to feel it fall on your skin, and to witness the rainbow that comes after the rain. There is a video clip that I especially enjoy watching when I feel the nothingness encroach. This video shows the scattering of the ashes of an Hawaiian legend, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole in 1997. This video shows hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the passing of a man who believed in rainbows, and really knew the value of something. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_DKWlrA24k&feature=kp
Did he become nothing when he died? Certainly, his memory lives on very strongly for many people, and perhaps in memory, the scribe of consciousness, is an eternal something. If something, even just one something, is eternal, can there really be room for absolute nothing, for at its very depths, there would always be that echo of the eternal, whispering on the horizon? Whispering ‘from something you came and to something you will return.’ So ask yourself when you next see a rainbow, can you state that you believe in nothing or will there always be for you, somewhere over the rainbow, a place where dreams always exist and by their very potential nothing is squeezed out into non-existence.
Rainbow Beach, Queensland, Australia.
Griffith, R., (2004). The Rig Veda. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. (original work punblished 1896).
Sarte, J., (2012). Being and nothingness. New York, NY: Open Road Media. (original work published, 1943)
Aristotle, (350 B.C.). On Generation and Corruption, I:8. translator H. H. Joachim, The Internet Classics Archive, retrieved 24 January 2009.