left biblioblography: Oh, The Nothingness Of It All…

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Oh, The Nothingness Of It All…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

nothingnessNothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'
You gotta have somethin'
If you wanna be with me
Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'
You gotta have somethin'
If you wanna be with me – Billy Preston, "Nothing From Nothing"

Nothing will come of nothing, speak again. – King Lear

Here’s a bit o’ nonsense you’ve likely run into more than once in a real time conversation with a religious person:

“You don’t believe in gawd? Then you believe in nothing then.”

I’ve had a number of responses to this over the years.

One of the first things I point out, is that I ‘believe’ in reality – I then point out that I believe in me, I believe in the person making this (stupid) statement, I believe that I live on the planet earth, that the sun will rise in the morning, etc.

My answer is usually contingent on context – I’m a lot politer, for instance, if the person in question is a roommate or a pretty girl (oops sorry, did I just void my ‘I am a feminist’ card?). I’m usually a lot ruder to bible-toting bicycle-riding godbots.

But usually, I respond with ‘There’s no such thing as nothing’. Use this next time, and watch the eyes glaze over and the jaw drop as the speaker receives what I like to call a ‘conclussion’ (that’s a portmanteau of ‘conclusion’ and ‘concussion’). It’s truly a joy to watch the WTF? moment wash over their vacuous minds.

Carry this further: ask the questioner what the word ‘nothing’ means. After they fum-fah several times, explain that the definition of the word means:

Nothing is no thing, denoting the absence of something. Nothing is a pronoun associated with nothingness.

I usually like to go a little further with it, and tell them that nothing usually means ‘a complete or utter absence of anything’, and that by calling something nothing, technically it becomes something, thus violating the very concept of the definition. Then I stand back and watch the listener become completely boggled.

Usually, I side with Parmenides:

He argued that "nothing" cannot exist by the following line of reasoning: To speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists. Since we can speak of a thing in the past, it must still exist (in some sense) now and from this concludes that there is no such thing as change. As a corollary, there can be no such things as coming-into-being, passing-out-of-being, or not-being.

But I’m an old school salt-of-the-earth kind of guy: I find these sort of discussion vastly amusing (particularly when I’m around stoned musicians: the pseudo-philosophy tends to amuse me greatly) – and most Western martial artists don’t understand that it’s an entirely different concept in Eastern philosophy (as to attaining a state of mind). And once in a great while, someone trots out the concept from the physicists’ point of view, without understanding the context (recall the creationists and their abuse of the word ‘theory’?) – but even physics has this to say:

In physics, the word nothing is not used in any technical sense. A region of space is called a vacuum if it does not contain any matter, though it can contain physical fields. In fact, it is practically impossible to construct a region of space that contains no matter or fields, since gravity cannot be blocked and all objects at a non-zero temperature radiate electromagnetically. However, even if such a region existed, it could still not be referred to as "nothing", since it has properties and a measurable existence as part of the quantum-mechanical vacuum. Where there is supposedly empty space there are constant quantum fluctuations with virtual particles continually popping into and out of existence. It had long been theorized that space is distinct from a void of nothingness in that space consists of some kind of aether, with luminiferous aether postulated as the transmission medium for propagating light waves (whose existence has been disproven in the now famous Michelson-Morley experiment).

So the next time some pseudo-philosopher pulls ex nihilo, nihil fit out of their ponderous arse, feel free to pull these factoids out of your wallet in response.

And enjoy.

Till the next post, then.

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