What is nothing?

For thousands of years philosophers have argued about what exists. Could it be that nothing at all exists? Part of the problem is that we cannot imagine “nothing,” since there is nothing to imagine! Is there such a thing as “nothing”? How can we describe or imagine a lack of anything at all? American philosopher Robert Nozick asks us to try to
think it through, using the following example.. 

Nozick said that for there to be nothing, there must be something making that nothing happen by keeping no object or person there. He asks us to imagine a huge vacuum cleaner that goes around vacuuming everything up. Eventually there is nothing left but the vacuum cleaner itself. For there to be nothing at all, the vacuum cleaner must then vacuum itself up. At this point, however, it will have sucked “nothingness” into nothingness, and when there is no longer any “nothing,” there must be “something.”

If we ask “Why is there something rather than nothing?” it sounds as if we think “nothing” is the natural way for things to be, and “something” is a step on from this. But maybe it is  more natural for there to be things, rather than for there to be nothing? If so, we donot have to wonder about why there is something, because it is natural for something to exist.

The meaning of “nothing”

Some philosophers say that when we talk about “nothing,” we are not really talking about a lack of anything at all. We are talking about “something,” but something other than what we were looking for. For instance, if we were to say that “Jane is not tall,” it does not mean Jane has no tallness, or no height. It just means that Jane is something other than tall. She may be short or of average height. Similarly, when we use the word “nothing” it is wrong to think that the word refers to a total vacuum.

“Something” is more likely

Probability looks at how likely something is. For example, children go to school five days of the week when school is in session, and on just two days a week they do not go to school. If someone were to stick a pin in a calendar showing the school year, they would be more likely to hit a school day than a weekend. In the same way, Nozick said, it’s
more likely for something to exist than for nothing to exist at all, because there are many possible worlds of  something, but only one possible world of nothing. He compared it to having a huge sack of red balls (these are all the possible “something” worlds) and adding just one white ball (the “nothing” world) to the sack: Isn’t the chance of pulling out a red ball much higher?


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Creative designer and builder of stage magic and illusions. Developer of large scale attractions. Troubleshooter for leisure and entertainment industry.

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