When nothing means something: a philosophical investigation

By Nijesh Upreti

There was a subtle look in her face. Her gleaming eyes were trying to communicate with me, and leaves were falling to fill in the distance we maintained. I was caught up in a trance of thought in which I could not respond to her mystic call.

The idea of nothingness has always intrigued me more than the feeling of nothing itself. The realization that reason is the true identity of any individual curves over me. I try to explain the feeling I felt when the leaves were falling and there is a single word that I can write: nothing.

I still try to remember seeing her, but I fail to construct the moment in clarity from my memory. It fills me like a feeling that was never felt, and my inability to respond demands a friend of sort. In response, often these days Nietzsche comes to the rescue. He tells me not to respond to the feeling of the unfelt.

From the very spiritual to the very mathematical, nothingness has its part to play in everything. In mathematical terms, the use of the concept of zero dates back to around 400 B.C. in Babylon. This formalized during the 5th century A.D. in India where the spiritual concept of void was used to give the number the shape it has today.

Nothing has always been special because it not only integrates the essence of being into itself but also the essence of non-being. The idea of nothing is so central to human imagery that without it our idea of existence would be incomplete. And that is why, often in various forms, nothingness keeps us in the loop of its existence.

There is a medical phenomenon called phantom limb in which a patient feels pain or other sensations in a lost part of his or her body. How can something you do not possess any longer cause so much psychological trouble?

It’s interesting to note how our brains respond to the stimulus of losing something that they once considered part of their own. Our brain is trying to create something—pain or sensations—out of nothing.

In psychological terms, too, we often tend to cling to our desires or behaviors in such a way that virtual is the actual “real.” From tangible to intelligible domains, nothingness is central to our understanding of reality.

Advances in neuroscience, such as V.S. Ramachandran’s research, help us conclude that our perceptions depend on how we tend to relate to non-existent stimuli. Mostly, we connect the existent with the non-existent by creating a reality in which nothing has its place in every aspect of our perception.

To feel about something with two opposite emotions could mean not feeling anything at all, mathematically. However, in psychological terms, the feelings do not negate one another in that manner; rather, they overlap, producing augmented emotional confusion or chaos. This is what keeps me questioning what it is that I felt when the leaves were falling. Maybe the idea of chaos has the answer?

In ancient Greece, nothing was described as being full of chaos. The Bible too has references relating chaos and the void as being the raw material of creation. Many other religions refer to creation as God’s making everything out of nothing.

In physics, the measure of disorder in the universe is increasing as we move forward in time. Also, the expansion of the universe tells us that there is nothing, as something is rapidly filling in the distances that everything maintains. If we can say that chaos is nothing, as the ancient Greeks did, then maybe we can explain the emotional void I felt.

The state of equilibrium in the natural and social sciences refer to a single frame of nothingness in which dynamic pathways result in a change in position of the idea of nothingness.

In the biological equilibrium of homeostasis or the economic equilibrium of supply and demand, the focus is on returning to nothing. Nothing is the equilibrium of existing, and not existing is every frame of reference.

Stretching the idea further, what we see around us is nothing but a perception created by the movements of electrons. The light that gives us the ability to see is simply a construct resulting from electrons’ transitions from lower to higher, or vice versa.

Also, what we call physically tangible is no more physical when it comes to science; it is just vibrations that we feel, since we never actually touch anything at the quantum level. The recent developments in modern physics hint towards nothing as being a quintessential component of the universe, with quantum vacuums playing an integral role in helping us understand the universe better.

It is only in the domain of nothing that we all can come together and agree that it is nothing. There are no divides, no arguments in the realm of nothing. To be able to acknowledge that you do not know anything is when you actually start to learn. So let this be said: Ideas are formed, but only to say that there is something that exists, and that that something is __________________.