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The nature of nothingness - Comments

Alex, adv. diab.'s Avatar Comment 1 by Alex, adv. diab.

The articles linked to are not about nothingness at all, but fun nevertheless.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 20:55:21 UTC | #894184

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 2 by Schrodinger's Cat

From the number zero to electron holes to the cosmic vacuum, New Scientist's special issue explores how nothing underpins everything

Except it doesn't, as the very same set of articles argues that there is no such thing as 'nothing' as far as space is concerned....and even space itself is not nothing. Creation from 'the void' is not creation from nothing, as the void itself is not nothing. The resulting semantics is a muddle of jabberwocky that squeezes past the question of why 'the void' has any properties at all let alone those non-nothing properties it does have.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:18:58 UTC | #894191

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 3 by Nunbeliever

I have never really understood the idea that emptiness isn't really empty (from a physical point of view). Quantum physicists claim there are a lot of activity going on in empty space, or quantum fluctuations if I have understood this issue correctly. But, I really can't get my head around this. Yes, particles spontaneously pop in and out of existence. So what? When a particle pops into existence then there is something there if only for a fraction of a nano-second. But, what about between these occurances?

Physicists estimate that the sum of all energy in space is zero. Hence nothingness is the sum of everything. This really troubles me. This implies that nothingness is the same as "everythingness". Hence the whole term nothingness seems to be pointless.

Another problem is more a semantical one. When we talk about nothingness we mean nothing. But, by definition nothing can't exist, or can it? Isn't it an oxymoron to claim nothingness can exist?

Damn, I am much too stupid to understand the concept of nothingness...

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:25:26 UTC | #894193

Alex, adv. diab.'s Avatar Comment 4 by Alex, adv. diab.

Comment 3 by Nunbeliever :

I have never really understood the idea that emptiness isn't really empty (from a physical point of view). Quantum physicists claim there are a lot of activity going on in empty space, or quantum fluctuations if I have understood this issue correctly. But, I really can't get my head around this. Yes, particles spontaneously pop in and out of existence. So what? When a particle pops into existence then there is something there if only for a fraction of a nano-second. But, what about between these occurances?

When you look it can happen that you don't observe a particle, but in the Copenhagen Interpretation, the wave function in empty space is always a superposition of states with no particle and states with some number of virtual particles in them. Only when you look does the superposition collapse and one of the possibilities, such as "no particle there" becomes realized. It's the nature of the beast...

Physicists estimate that the sum of all energy in space is zero. Hence nothingness is the sum of everything. This really troubles me. This implies that nothingness is the same as "everythingness". Hence the whole term nothingness seems to be pointless.

sum of energy = 0 doesn't mean that there is nothing, obviously. It's a strange concept though, to assign negative energy to geometry- what does that mean!

Another problem is more a semantical one. When we talk about nothingness we mean nothing. But, by definition nothing can't exist, or can it? Isn't it an oxymoron to claim nothingness can exist?

That depends, do you allow perfectly empty space as a candidate for "nothing"? If you have 1 yard of nothing, is the 1 yard a property of the space inbetween, which is thus not nothing because it has an attribute, or is the 1 yard a property of the neighboring somethings, with a true nothing in between?

There's an analogy to digital image processing. In pixel images, you can have a range of black between two elements of a picture, but that's because there are really pixels in between which have the color black assigned. In vector images, you have a list of objects with coordinates as object properties, and the space in between two elements of the picture does not exist, is simply not related to anything in the underlying description of the picture. Is the world like a vector image or like a pixel image?

Damn, I am much too stupid to understand the concept of nothingness...

That's nothing to worry about!

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:38:30 UTC | #894196

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 5 by Jos Gibbons

x + -x = 0 even if x isn't 0. If you understand that, you understand how 0 works in physics.
However, the fact that the ground-state energies of harmonic oscillators aren't 0 is pretty important too. (Bosonic and fermionic oscillators of equal quantum frequency have equal and opposite, respectively positive and negative, ground state energies. In that last sentence "quantum" is a noun, by the way.)
Probably the weirdest occurrences of 0s in physics are Grassmann variables, a generalisation of ordinary numbers that are crucial in understanding fermions, but have the remarkable property that, if you multiply two of them (be they different or not), changing the order multiplies the answer by -1, which in particular means squaring one of these quantities yields 0.
And probably the weirdest "is-it-0-or-not?" questions are ones where something is non-zero when you would expect it to be 0; ironically, the absence of a 0 is what's most bizarre at times. For example, if you arrange two objects in a vacuum, e.g. 2 plates or a plate & a sphere, what force exists between them? Not 0, it turns out.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:48:12 UTC | #894200

bachfiend's Avatar Comment 6 by bachfiend

Nunbeliever,

Humans just didn't evolve to appreciate events and objects at quantum level, where everything appears counterintuitive.

To give you another example, nucleons (protons and neutrons) consist of 3 quarks, 2 up quarks and 1 down quark in the case of the proton, the reverse in the neutron, held together by almost massless gluons. Most of the volume of the nucleon is 'empty' space (the quarks make up around a millionth of the space). The empty space within the nucleon is filled with a sea of virtual particles, quark/antiquark pairs, etc, which flash in and out of existence. It's the virtual particles that give the nucleons their mass (if you add together the rest masses of the quarks, there's not nearly enough).

When the Large Hadron Collider smashes together two beams of protons traveling at almost light speed in opposite directions, the collisions the physicists are interested in are those between one virtual particle in one proton and another virtual particle in the other, because the virtual particles have the mass and hence energy of the proton and are therefore capable of generating novel high energy particles.

After the collision, the rest of each proton, with its quarks and sea of virtual particles, continues on its way.

It's an astounding way of looking at reality. When I was at school, neutrons and protons were taught to be like hard solid billiard balls.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:49:41 UTC | #894202

JuJu's Avatar Comment 7 by JuJu

I love nothing, can I have some more please?

If what we think of as nothing is really something, then it seems we haven't actually found nothing yet. Its interesting that in our quest to understand nothing, we found out lots of information about the somethingness of nothing. I guess in our quest to understand that somethingness, we may someday find nothing.

I think my brain just twisted into knots or something. Oh never mind, it was nothing.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:56:25 UTC | #894205

Alex, adv. diab.'s Avatar Comment 8 by Alex, adv. diab.

Comment 7 by JuJu :

I love nothing, can I have some more please?

I can lend you nothing, but be warned, I charge 10% interest!

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:15:27 UTC | #894212

Billions and Billions's Avatar Comment 9 by Billions and Billions

"Nothingness" is applicable in concept only... or what what may be found between the ears of a Creationist.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:15:34 UTC | #894213

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 10 by Nunbeliever

Thank you for your sincere endeavours to enlighten me on this topic, but I think I give up... or at least for the time being. Every now and then I try to tackle this issue, always with the same result. Complete frustration and humiliation. But, fortunately I have a short memory ;-)

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:22:50 UTC | #894216

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 11 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #894202 by bachfiend - gluons aren't almost massless; they're massless (albeit confined by asymptotic freedom).

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:24:19 UTC | #894217

JoxerTheMighty's Avatar Comment 12 by JoxerTheMighty

sum of energy = 0 doesn't mean that there is nothing, obviously. It's a strange concept though, to assign >>negative energy to geometry- what does that mean!

Well, negative energy isn't so strange...take two bodies that attract each other, like in gravity. You would need to spend energy to pull them apart to practically infinite distance so there is no interaction and the energy of the system is ~0. So, if you need to add energy to a system in order to get it to have zero energy...the initial energy of the system is negative :)

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:28:36 UTC | #894220

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 13 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 7 by JuJu

I love nothing, can I have some more please?

There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance.

'For MORE!' said Mr. Limbkins. 'Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?'

'He did, sir,' replied Bumble.

'That boy will be hung,' said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. 'I know that boy will be hung.'

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:38:02 UTC | #894224

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 14 by JHJEFFERY

These scientists obviously have not seen inside the cranium of Rick Perry.

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 22:40:19 UTC | #894225

Alex, adv. diab.'s Avatar Comment 15 by Alex, adv. diab.

Comment 14 by JHJEFFERY :

These scientists obviously have not seen inside the cranium of Rick Perry.

'tis the inverse total perspective vortex

Tue, 29 Nov 2011 23:57:53 UTC | #894244

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 16 by Schrodinger's Cat

Any comment on nothing is incomplete without Hemmingway's demolition of the Catholic creed....

What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, it was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was all nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.

from “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 00:49:58 UTC | #894261

                                   ike's Avatar Comment 17 by ike

In fact, nothing is everything to science

It sure is something...

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 01:43:04 UTC | #894268

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 18 by susanlatimer

I could never wrap my brain around nothing. Even zero means zero something.

It's only because there's something that we can ask why there is something rather than nothing.

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 03:42:53 UTC | #894300

Random Jerk's Avatar Comment 19 by Random Jerk

Comment 7 by JuJu :

I love nothing, can I have some more please? If what we think of as nothing is really something, then it seems we haven't actually found nothing yet. Its interesting that in our quest to understand nothing, we found out lots of information about the somethingness of nothing. I guess in our quest to understand that somethingness, we may someday find nothing.

I think my brain just twisted into knots or something. Oh never mind, it was nothing.

Brilliant :)

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 06:13:46 UTC | #894316

Explorer's Avatar Comment 20 by Explorer

0

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 08:26:44 UTC | #894331

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 21 by DavidMcC

Comment 3 by Nunbeliever

Yes, particles spontaneously pop in and out of existence. So what? When a particle pops into existence then there is something there if only for a fraction of a nano-second. But, what about between these occurances?

I suspect that there's more to it than that. What is needed is a quantum theory of gravity, remembering that gravity is a fundamental part of space. Thus, in a proper theory of quantum gravity, a particle isn't something separate from space either - it is a local excitation of space, rather than being some mysterious "lump" in a separate thing called "space". Thus, what you have "in between occurances" is simply de-excited space.

NB, this does not imply a detectable aether, because we do not detect space itself, only the relative positions of local excitations, which are not tied to a fixed bit of space any more than the oscillations of linked pendula are fixed to one pendulum.

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 09:48:46 UTC | #894352

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 22 by Alan4discussion

Of course most people's perception of "nothing" fails to understand basics.

Not only is there a lot of "empty space" at subatomic level, but much of what is regarded as "empty space" (high vacuum) - interplanetary space, contains particles from the Solar Wind http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_wind within the Heliosphere - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliosphere

The point where the solar wind slows down is the termination shock; then there is the heliosheath area; then the point where the interstellar medium and solar wind pressures balance is called the heliopause; the point where the interstellar medium, traveling in the opposite direction, slows down as it collides with the heliosphere is the bow shock.

The heliopause is the theoretical boundary where the Sun's solar wind is stopped by the interstellar medium; where the solar wind's strength is no longer great enough to push back the stellar winds of the surrounding stars. Voyager 1 is expected to cross the heliopause by 2014. The crossing of the heliopause should be signaled by a sharp drop in the temperature of charged particles.

So much of what has been regarded as "nothing", has very widely dispersed moving particles in it!

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 11:16:40 UTC | #894381

mooterskooter's Avatar Comment 23 by mooterskooter

All this is hurting my brain. I can so understand people who turn to religion to avoid all this. Then again, I have felt quite ill the last 2 or 3 days and under those conditions I often find myself pondering the eternal questions and it ends up giving me brain-ache. It's the 'not knowing' that does it. We all get to 'experience' nothing eventually...unless at least one of the religious myths turns out to be true!

Ntothing is making any sense right now. Where did space come from? Why is it here? Who's screwing with my brain? God? Thanks 'mate'...

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 11:31:01 UTC | #894384

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 24 by DavidMcC

Comment 22 by Alan4discussion

So much of what has been regarded as "nothing", has very widely dispersed moving particles in it!

Absolutely, but there is still an issue of "What is the nature of the vacuum, that it can support particles?".

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 12:06:04 UTC | #894390

Naturalist1's Avatar Comment 25 by Naturalist1

This article is behind a paywall....does anyone have a link?

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 13:56:31 UTC | #894413

JHJEFFERY's Avatar Comment 26 by JHJEFFERY

Comment 16 by Schrodinger's Cat

My favorite author and one of his best short stories:)

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 16:49:15 UTC | #894448

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 27 by keyfeatures

Comment 3 by Nunbeliever :

This implies that nothingness is the same as "everythingness". Hence the whole term nothingness seems to be pointless.

Absolutely spot on. Nothing=everything=nothing. Our concept of nothing without everything is nonsense. You can't have one without the other. To me this means our idea of that what came before the big bang is 'nothing' is therefore flawed. It must always be a 'nothing' with potential for 'everything' and an 'everything' with a potential for 'nothing'. We simply find ourselves at one point in the cycle (well we couldn't find ourselves at any other point!).

What has to be explained in such a cycle however is loss of information. Entropy suggests increasing information that cannot disappear but is simply messed. My thinking is that information requires space-time to be stored. However I think that once current energy expression has reached maximum space-time creation this could well start to shrink the manifestation back to 'nothing' (in other words loss of information through loss of 'storage' - a not very scientific analogy being when the body starts to each the brain for energy).

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 19:58:49 UTC | #894497

keyfeatures's Avatar Comment 28 by keyfeatures

Comment 6 by bachfiend : When I was at school, neutrons and protons were taught to be like hard solid billiard balls.

It amazes me how stuck to 'particles' physics still is. Take for example the notion of wave-particle duality; What duality? A particle is just waveforms manifestation. We see the interference patterns not the whole picture. It goes on that to define 'mass', 'speed', 'energy' as fixed units is a tautology. Accepting the waveform as real and not just a statistical predictor explains a lot of contradictory observations.

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 20:20:08 UTC | #894503

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 29 by Steve Zara

Comment 28 by keyfeatures

It amazes me how stuck to 'particles' physics still is. Take for example the notion of wave-particle duality; What duality? A particle is just waveforms manifestation. We see the interference patterns not the whole picture. It goes on that to define 'mass', 'speed', 'energy' as fixed units is a tautology. Accepting the waveform as real and not just a statistical predictor explains a lot of contradictory observations.

If you listen to a Geiger counter you hear clicks, from particles.

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 23:28:33 UTC | #894556

PERSON's Avatar Comment 30 by PERSON

This issue of NewSci is impossible. Any fule kno yu cant get something from nothing.

On wave particle duality. It seems a bit misleading to describe it that way. AIUI (possibly wrongly) there's an oscillating probability distribution centred on a point. It's not a wave, but a thing that behaves like a wave. Nor a particle that is in a single place and fills a region, but a thing that can be in any of the places described by the probability distribution with the corresponding likelihood.

That is, it's neither a particle or a wave, or a particle and a wave, but a bit like a particle and a bit like a wave.

Wed, 30 Nov 2011 23:59:27 UTC | #894561