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Nothing is the most important part of the Universe.
March 25, 2013 1:39 PM   Subscribe

The concept of nothing is as old as zero itself. How do we grapple with the concept of nothing? From the best laboratory vacuums on Earth to the vacuum of space to what lies beyond, the idea of nothing continues to intrigue professionals and the public alike. Join moderator and Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson as he leads a spirited discussion with a group of physicists, philosophers and journalists about the existence of nothing. The event, which was streamed live to the web, took place at the American Museum of Natural History on March 20, 2013.

PANELISTS:

J. Richard Gott, professor of astrophysical sciences, Princeton University, and author of Sizing Up the Universe: The Cosmos in Perspective

Jim Holt, science journalist and author of Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story

Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics, Arizona State University and author of A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing

Charles Seife, professor of journalism, New York University, and author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

Eve Silverstein, professor of physics, Stanford University, and co-editor of Strings, Branes and Gravity
posted by lazaruslong (32 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not on the panel was David Albert, who was dis-invited in a way that has sparked some hubbub
posted by Blasdelb at 1:46 PM on March 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


about the existence of nothing

Parsing that statement pretty much marks the boundaries of the entire discussion.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:50 PM on March 25, 2013


Much Ado About Nothing?
posted by yoink at 1:53 PM on March 25, 2013


Mu!
posted by tommasz at 1:53 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sweet merciful crap! I needed some new NDT to watch. Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:55 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do we grapple with the concept of nothing?

Well as for me ... Eh, I got nothing.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:05 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Much Ado About Nothing?

It's a post about NOTHING! /Seinfeld
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:06 PM on March 25, 2013


The concept of nothing is as old as zero itself.

Naught that old.
posted by hanoixan at 2:50 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


For superstition is basically nothing else but our thinking of nothingness. Therefore the investigation of this nothingness is for us as important as that of the something, the real: so that we keep ourselves away from this nothingness, and grasp a true anchor in our thinking of the truth of things. It is most important to extirpate the pseudo-concept of nothingness. Of all words, nothing is the most dangerous. He who does not overcome the supposed thinking of nothingness itself is cut off from the way of the truth, and starting with the complete dispensing of this nothingness the most emphatic strivings of one’s thinking can be led to a happy end.--Constantin Brunner / Die Lehre von den Geistigen und vom Volke I [my translation].
posted by No Robots at 3:05 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


SpacemanStix: "about the existence of nothing

Parsing that statement pretty much marks the boundaries of the entire discussion.
"

Does it though?
posted by symbioid at 3:11 PM on March 25, 2013


jim holt and lawrence krauss previously...
posted by kliuless at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2013


Wonder what they would have made of this: nothing is lighter than light (Markus Raetz).
posted by progosk at 3:19 PM on March 25, 2013


Does "Nothing" inherently exist? Or does nothing inherently exist?

So - in high school, my friend was eating broccoli, and said "Man I love broccoli..."

I replied "No way..... Nothing is better than broccoli."

He said "You're right, nothing's better than broccoli."

I said "No! Nothing, when you think of it as something, is better than broccoli!"
posted by symbioid at 3:25 PM on March 25, 2013


Does "Nothing" inherently exist? Or does nothing inherently exist?

There is no "Nothing." Existence is all there is.

Nothing, when you think of it as something

There's your mistake.
posted by No Robots at 3:43 PM on March 25, 2013


Is this were dave foley saves rodneys' butt?
posted by clavdivs at 3:59 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does it though?

I think so. Asking to what extent nothing exists as an ontological reality and how that is related to its existence then as a concept about that reality raises most of the interesting questions I can think of.

But then again, I'm not a clever man.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:06 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Space isn't nothing. Space takes up space (ie, it has dimensionality, ie, width, height, depth). It also is very energetic at a very tiny scale.
posted by jclarkin at 4:24 PM on March 25, 2013


Nothing to see here. Move on.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:35 PM on March 25, 2013


From the Tao Te Ching (Ellen Chen trans.):

Ch. 1

Non-being, to name the origin of heaven and earth
Being, to name the mother of ten thousand things

Ch. 25

There was something nebulous existing,
Born before heaven and earth.
Silent, empty,
Standing alone, altering not,
Moving cyclically without becoming exhausted,
Which may be called the mother of all under heaven.


From me:

How can you have something if you don't have nothing to compare it to?
posted by tommyD at 4:39 PM on March 25, 2013


Śāriputra, form is not different from emptiness, and emptiness is not different from form. Form itself is emptiness, and emptiness itself is form. Sensation, conception, synthesis, and discrimination are also such as this. Śāriputra, all dharmas are empty: they are neither created nor destroyed, neither defiled nor pure, and they neither increase nor diminish. This is because in emptiness there is no form, sensation, conception, synthesis, or discrimination. There are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or thoughts. There are no forms, sounds, scents, tastes, sensations, or dharmas. There is no field of vision and there is no realm of thoughts. There is no ignorance nor elimination of ignorance, even up to and including no old age and death, nor elimination of old age and death. There is no suffering, its accumulation, its elimination, or a path. There is no understanding and no attaining.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:12 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.
posted by No Robots at 7:43 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not on the panel was David Albert, who was dis-invited in a way that has sparked some hubbub

That was bizarre, I remember reading about it at the time. Has Tyson ever addressed the hubbub?
posted by homunculus at 8:11 PM on March 25, 2013


Sounds kind of typical of him, actually. He's a science nerd at heart obviously and a great communicator, and he's also really taken to the more public role. You can tell on stuff like StarTalk Radio and his TV appearances that he enjoys getting, you know, energetic and fun-fighty about things. It wouldn't at all surprise me if someone brought it up and he was all YEAH and then the Isaac Asmiov people were all Yeah Uhh Moar Science Less Drama Plz and he was all Oh Right Sorry and then just kept the one dude he knew better or whatever.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:16 PM on March 25, 2013


Cage-Matches aren't a fantastic idea for something that's supposed to be about science, and I think someone reminded him of that after the heat of the moment. If I was betting, all I'm sayin'.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:17 PM on March 25, 2013


Scientists examine nothing, find something
Two studies of vacuums suggest that the speed of light in a vacuum might fluctuate, pointing the way to a quantum mechanical explanation for why the speed of light and other so-called constants are what they are.

physicists Gerd Leuchs and Luis L. Sánchez-Soto, from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Light in Erlangen, Germany, hypothesize how this emergence occurs. They suggest that the impedance of a vacuum – another electromagnetic 'constant' whose value depends on the speed of light – itself depends only on the electric charge of the particles in the vacuum, and not their masses.

If their hypothesis is correct, it answers our question of where the speed of light comes from: it emerges from the total number of charged particles in the universe.
The quantum vacuum as the origin of the speed of light
We show that the vacuum permeability μ 0 and permittivity ε 0 may originate from the magnetization and the polarization of continuously appearing and disappearing fermion pairs. We then show that if we simply model the propagation of the photon in vacuum as a series of transient captures within these ephemeral pairs, we can derive a finite photon velocity. Requiring that this velocity is equal to the speed of light constrains our model of vacuum. Within this approach, the propagation of a photon is a statistical process at scales much larger than the Planck scale. Therefore we expect its time of flight to fluctuate. We propose an experimental test of this prediction.

A sum rule for charged elementary particles
There may be a link between the quantum properties of the vacuum and the parameters describing the properties of light propagation, culminating in a sum over all types of elementary particles existing in Nature weighted only by their squared charges and independent of their masses. The estimate for that sum is of the order of 100.

posted by Golden Eternity at 8:58 PM on March 25, 2013


So I've been confusing "Why Does the World Exist?" with "Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing?", thinking they were just one book. I do not think the fault for the confusion lies with me.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:39 PM on March 25, 2013


Lots of the things they say sound like lyrics to Steve Miller Band songs.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:48 PM on March 25, 2013


Just to get purely definitional about it: Nothing = no thing, yes? (Where "thing" encompasses both matter and energy, the two of those mathematically having been shown to be equivalent by Einstein, and demonstrated by subsequent experiments.) Along the lines of "bald is not a hair colour" (one standard refutation of the logically fallacious statement that atheism is a religion), I'd say that the absence of a thing is not an instance of a thing. Does that make it clearer?
posted by Philofacts at 11:43 PM on March 25, 2013


Physicists can certainly talk about why the universe is in one quantum field state and not another. I really don't think they can talk about why there is something rather than nothing. But since Krauss is in this discussion and, as far as I can tell, no one representing Albert's objection is, my interest dropped sharply.
posted by cthuljew at 11:46 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Long ago the ships of math, science, and philosophy left the shores of the commonplace for more exotic lands, leaving behind everything which can be easily described in plain language.
posted by wobh at 1:45 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is roughly as answerable as the question "Why do we have subjective experiences?"

Which is not to say they are unanswerable, just that they seem to have the same…flavor?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:37 AM on March 26, 2013


Philofacts: " Along the lines of "bald is not a hair colour" (one standard refutation of the logically fallacious statement that atheism is a religion)"

omfg thank you so much for that.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:40 AM on March 26, 2013


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