A Short Critique of Nothingness

In which is demonstrated its impossibility image Picture an ancient tarn enclosed on all sides by mountains and trees, hold in you mind the keen shimmer of the water, the murmuring of the oaks and the injustice of the northern winds. Now strip all of this away, the mountains and lake vanish along with the trees, then the very face of the Earth is swept from reality. The stars all vanish along with the other celestial bodies in the sky so that all we are left with is a blank void, a nothingness of sorts. Except what we are left with is something very real, the passing of time and the reality of space is still undeniable is it not? There is also the potential for the reintroduction of corporeal entities, not to mention the fact that the scene of this blankness is still comprehensible to our minds. There are those amongst us who would reduce this already reduced form of reality even further to the point at which the dimensions of space and time disappear and we are left with what is referred to as nothingness. But this appears to be a completely flawed notion, not only does the reduced reality of blank space give rise to the idea of nothingness in a mind, the idea of nothingness is not even that. The comprehensive faculties of the mind can make no sense of it whatsoever and it can only be described with respect to what is not there. If we ask: what is nothingness? an adequate response might appear to be, it is the absence of all things, or the absence of reality. This brings us no closer to understanding what nothingness is and, since we cannot comprehend it or give a satisfactory account of it, we might think those who believe in the possibility of it to hold an unsubstantiated belief. And yet the problem is even worse than this. Some would go as far as to claim that, not only is nothingness possible, it is also ‘easier’ and more sensible than reality. Hence the arrival of the question: Why is there something rather than simply nothing? Simply nothing? Why there is nothing simple about it! In fact this very notion of what is simpler or easier being the case implies the existence of a mind (of God) for whom it is easier for, and this may not be true to the way in which Nature works. Already the befuddlement that we as human beings come under the influence of when thinking of concepts such as nothingness seems to remove all rights for us to talk of it as something that is simplistic and easier than reality, even if mind did play such a crucial role in Nature. But we can go further than this. Although the possibility of nothingness seems unlikely, due to its incoherency and the precariousness of how it is derived, this in no way refutes its possibility; simply because we cannot understand it does not mean that it is impossible. Therefore we must determine a way of knowing whether or not the possibility of nothingness is ruled out entirely. What do we know then? Well we know that either nothingness is the case or reality is the case and that both of these cannot be so. We also know that reality, in some form or another, is the case, due to our various sense perceptions of things which imply a beholder and a perception. We can therefore be sure that nothingness is not the case. Yet this does not mean that it could not have been the case. So we must go deeper. All things must arise due to necessity, be that by a direct cause, such as one billiard ball knocking into another; a causal framework, that is, a universally governing law of Nature that causes things to exhibit certain properties; or causation by pre-programming, such as in the case of fundamental particles (which I do not believe could ever exhibit truly random properties since I have yet to see a coherent system that explains how it could occur). We may therefore deduce that all that happens is necessary. If, therefore, reality is so, then it follows that reality is necessary. We know that reality is so and that therefore it is necessary. Now if reality is necessary and either reality or nothingness is true, then it must be so that nothingness is impossible by necessity. This arises due to the fact that there is only one correct solution to the problem and that, just like in mathematics, that correct solution makes all other solutions impossible by definition. 2 + 2 could never be anything other than 4 by its very nature, this is also the case here since only one solution is coherent (reality) and the incorrect solution (nothingness) arises due to our misinterpretation of the correct solution (the error by which we assume it is possible to strip reality away completely and be left with something that, although incoherent, is possible). Therefore the idea of nothingness is made impossible by reality. Reality’s necessity makes the impossibility of nothingness an impossibility by necessity. Why this is the case however is far more difficult to explain, perhaps it has no explanation. I believe that this brings the realm of Philosophy entirely into reality itself, and this may seem to be a truism and yet since the development of modern physics we seem to have begun to view our universe with less significance than we did before due to the possibility of the nothingness ‘before’ it. If the idea of nothingness is but an impossible misunderstanding then our reality’s philosophical significance is restored. This will be helpful in the justification of other theories.

Running alongside progress: have we gone too far?

Our pulsing star sets its gaze upon the winding pathways; it looks down at me through the varieties of rustling leaves and branches, scattering what has been a grey mist of a night and stirring it into a watery daybreak. Coursing through the woods on a mixture of adrenaline and muesli I quicken my pace up the incline. I’d started out making pretty good time but had grown too complacent nearing the 2k marker and not pushed as hard as I ought to have done. Now I’m lagging behind the 21-22 minuters who have probably already made it past the wooden cabin and hit the 4k point.

Accepting my 10th place fate with a good humoured resentment of those ahead of me, I take the time to look about at the forests surrounding my ambience. Shades of ochre moss crawl over the oaks felled by gales just off the beaten track; a dim fog still hangs in the air beneath the trees and in the depths of the woods I believe that I hear the hoot of an owl sounding through the thick brambles and beeches. Often when running through such picturesque landscapes I am struck by such sensations, some intuitive and completely undefinable understanding that I am a part of something greater than myself, something that transcends our modern day, detached society.

image

All too frequently however I mistake this feeling for being literally caught up in a timeless encounter with Nature in a similar way to how our primitive ancestors once were. But as I flick from the emerald colours of the woodland to the shrill ringing of my luminous timer, I realise that this is simply not the case. My thoughts seem rarely to drift from the anthropocentric illusion that most of us seem to cling to, I am not simply enjoying my run but am concerned by time limits and training schedules, nor is my desire to run so early on a Saturday born out of anything other than the want improve my time. When I really stop and think about it, there are parameters to my experience of running that prevent me from seeing it in its true light. I am locked into similar experiences of a thing by the constrains society places on me.

Consider yourself, right now whilst reading this article, getting up and running off into the fields or beaches. Imagine that you run for miles and miles until you have no idea where you are, you don’t even know why you are doing it. Some time ago you deliberately dropped your phone so as to have no means of communication. You are completely alone and at one with your surroundings. This I think comes close to what our ancestors might have experienced in the ancient jungles and wildernesses. But will you actually do it right now as you’re reading this article? For most I imagine that the answer is no. But why, what’s stopping us? Social conditioning? Moral conduct? Laziness?

In fairness it’s likely a mixture of all these things preventing us from acting in such spontaneous and impulsive ways. And we have progress to blame for that. As our civilisation has become larger and more technologically advanced, more social ties are formed in our short lifespans, our morality has had to evolve via Kantian ethics and utilitarianism to suit the demands of a complex culture and our intake of glucose and saturated fats has increased making us less animated and more inclined to sit on the sofa watching trash TV all day. The creativity and happiness of us as individuals has been restricted to lie within certain parameters due to socially imposed factors that influence our livelihoods. The metallic cords of language, memory and society prevents us from seeing the world in the way our ancestors once did, it restricts our thought and our vision. If we ever wish to combat the epidemic sweeping this civilisation there is but one antidote: we must stop progressing. And that is all I will say on the matter. We can either continue to venture into the unknown or we can revert back to how our civilisation used to be. There is no middle ground. It’s time to choose. Our creativity or our ambition.

Concerning God

image
We shall begin by examining the potential relationship between God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence. If God is, as the common Christian belief holds, infinitely powerful then it should follow, assuming he is in possession of freewill and an awareness of the self, that it is possible for him to manipulate, or guide, the universe towards some goal or objective since his authority can override the physical laws of nature. The will of God created reality and that same will may govern it directly at any point in time he so chooses. Now, let us also suppose that God is omnibenevolent, armed with this knowledge we would make the assumption that God wishes to exercise this good in his creation and in fact, make goodness a vital and fundamental part of creation itself. However this does not seem to be the case and God, at least from a human perspective, appears to allow the existence of evil and suffering in the universe which are contrary to his complete nature of goodness. This leads to three potential conclusions. Either: God does not exist since two parts of this nature create a contradiction which cannot be logically resolved. God is not omnipotent and some other force besides God is responsible for the existence of evil making us wonder what exactly our “God” is and whether or he is worthy of worship. Or finally, and possibly most controversially, that God is not ominbenevolent

God is the creator of the universe and according to Christian doctrine the “creator of all things visible and invisible”. This view of God currently has a place in science and is a potential solution to the cause of the Big Bang, in fact it seems logical that there should be a first cause since an infinite series of events with no beginning is illogical and to presume such an absurdity would be foolish. Therefore, with God as the creator of reality, just as a watchmaker is responsible for creating a faulty clock God is responsible for the malfunctioning of his creation (for example earthquakes and volcanoes causing human suffering and death). This could suggest that evil does not originate from God and that reality as we know it was formed from preexisting matter which contained the potential for evil. This would suggest that God is not the creator of everything and that God is not omnipotent since he cannot dispel this evil potential which tragically resides within all matter. Nor is he eternal since otherwise be would have been responsible for creation and therefore some other being or force must instead be responsible. If we are to have a first cause, and it is not God since he did not create reality, then it defies logic to state that before the first cause God existed. Even if God existed before time he could not have existed simultaneously with the first cause since otherwise it would be necessary for the first cause to create God as he was created which is impossible since he was not made but simply was. God cannot have been created before the first cause was because the first cause was never not. God must have come after. If the first cause created God then he must have been created at a measurable point either in time or some other substance or dimension since any time, place or nowhere that God was created the first cause must have existed before since only it can be eternal by logical definition.

If God created the universe for a purpose then he is responsible for how that final purpose is achieved, if he creates a world in which death and evil exist in order to achieve some ideal then God’s omnibenevolence is proven to be purely speculation since an all good God would be prevent evil and suffering. However, it could be argued that God has the greater good in mind when he allows the existence of evil, or a good which is beyond the comprehension of mankind. This would suggest that the actions that we consider evil are not really evil at all and are instead simply things that we dislike. We may dislike an action such as rape or genocide but that does not make it evil by any means, simply undesirable to a human being. To one who can see the bigger picture of events (and even the true nature of these events) there is no immorality in these actions despite what we humans may think of the matter. After all, we are only created in the image of God, and come nowhere near to the likeness of God himself.

If God has freewill and is omnibenevolent then he must be in control of his creation and is therefore responsible for all that happens within the universe and out of it. One implication of this is that, because God exercises freewill not only is he responsible for his creation but he governs it as well. Therefore God is not so much an all good ethereal being attempting to better both man and the universe as a whole but a divine dictator whose lust for power and control has corrupted him beyond the scope of human understanding. He is the perfect example, not of good, but of pure self interest and the complete disregard for the interests of others. He is in fact responsible for his creation but, since he is all powerful and there is no one to oppose him, there is no reason why he should be responsible (the ethical term) towards it. After all if one has free will and the ability to do as he pleases then why should he not take advantage of the situation, especially if the consequences of such actions have no negative implications for the actor. God is said to be more than a man, in many respects this is true, but it is likely that he possesses freewill, and that gives him the awareness and ability to do as and what he pleases.

If we are to assume that all things which occur in the universe at this time are the result of the fundamental forces of nature which came about or were adjusted at the creation of this current universe and that God was responsible for the creation of these forces and the universe, then, even if God is transcendent, due to his omniscience he must have been aware of the exact implications of his creation to an incalculably small scale. This is proven by the precision that the universal constants appear in mathematical form (Planck’s constant being one of them). This suggests that Gods plan has, already, as good as taken place and that all things that occur in the universe including evil actions have been calculated and predicted at that defining moment before creation. God is therefore omnipotent and omniscient. The question remains however, as mentioned in the above paragraphs, as to whether or not God is simply incomprehensibly good or merely a divine dictator with no regard for the individual human life.

The detached one

Image

On closer examination of our physical reality it seems that a creator may indeed be inferred from the regularity and intrinsic beauty of things, however, this being need not possess a conscious mind, nor need he bring about an afterlife. It is in fact likely that, for us, this creator simply does not care. 

An analogy relating to human beings and the universe

Suppose there was a clockwork city within which lived clockwork people, the entire city was surrounded by a great black dome so that when the clockwork men and women looked up above their heads they saw only blackness, and assumed that this blackness was a vast and eternal space continuing forever to infinity. Now suppose that the existence, in terms of thought and movement, of these mechanical creatures was dependant upon a giant who existed outside of the great black dome in his crafting shop. By turning a handle outside of the dome the clockwork people were given the energy to move and go about their daily business. Now suppose that the giant himself has tasks to attend to and hence must cease his turning of the handle. If he does this all the clockwork life within the down will cease, there will be no thought, no movement, all life will cease to exist. But the people of that city still remain intact. Now, suppose the giant finishes his duties and returns to the turning of the handle, the clockwork people return to life and are once again animated in thought and movement.

The question, therefore, is whether or not the clockwork people have any knowledge that they have stopped existing for a period of time and, if they do not and remain ignorant of the giants turning of the handle outside the dome, if they continue to function in the same way as before as though no time had past whatsoever.

20140208-145442.jpg

God’s choice

Many would suggest that the presence of evil in the world is real enough due to the many atrocities that occur day in and day out. Theologians and believers might state that this evil is a result of mans actions and that we need to be able to make our own decisions in the world in order for us to have and be able to exercise freewill.

However, this idea of freewill is vigorously weakened by the suggestion that God is omniscient. If this is the case, surely our choices are solely deterministic and preprogrammed due to the engineering of a creator since he designed our minds and knows the decisions we will make.

But is this really the case? For we have yet to mention God’s omnipotence. This provides a new approach to the situation. For omnipotence has been described as being all powerful and hence having the ability to do anything even if it lies outside of the conventions of logical reason. With this in mind, if God truly desired us to have freewill he could chose to not know certain happenings concerning the universe, including what occurs within each individual human mind and how each specific event concerning man will play out.

God not knowing something is not necessarily an indication of his lack of knowledge but, if he was both omniscient and omnipotent, it is merely a display of his power in that, although knowing everything, he can choose not to know certain things. It is therefore clear that God and freewill can only coexist if God possesses omniscience and omnipotence in order to commit what many would consider a logically absurdity. It therefore appears that religious views of morality are founded upon the requirement for the unreasonable and the preposterous.

20140103-210713.jpg

The Primed Template

In Aristotle’s metaphysics a being, with certain characteristics not dissimilar to God, is predicted to exist outside of our physical reality and hence also outside of space and time. This being is derived from the fact that the universe is in a constant state of change with everything in it moving from states of potentiality to actuality (a human is potentially a lions dinner). Aristotle gathered from this that there must be a thing, or substance, which was responsible for this constant movement but was not moved in itself. This he called the Prime (or First) Mover. However, the great philosopher then proceeded to add values and quantities to this being he had predicted the existence of. He began to tie in aspects such as morality in the form of omnibenevolence but was then forced to state that the Prime Mover thought only about itself since it could not intervene in the world as it is unchanging and hence cannot possess knowledge that would change it in anyway. The Prime Mover became, from what had originally been an insightful and astonishing theory for its time, a confused muddle of Godly qualities which do not in anyway follow logically from his first observations and deductions.

However, the first observations of an unmoved mover seem like an interesting (although strictly speculative) solution to the question of what sustains our reality and prevents it from simply not existing. We have now reached the point in our progression as a civilisation that we know of laws such as gravity and electromagnetism and believe them to be the reason for why we have a functioning universe at all. However it is common fact that these laws change in themselves, the Grand Unified force which existed just after the Big Bang combined at least the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces (if not gravity as well). So what, we must ask, keeps these changeable laws from simply ceasing to exist?They need not exist truly. Why simply do they not just stop?

A possible solution is that there exists a thing, substance or being outside of all such laws and that cannot be subject to any change whatsoever. This would explain how the universe continues to exist and why we are permitted an existence (although the task would remain of discovering how exactly there can be such an moved mover). We should not, however, give this being irrational attributes in order to make sense of it, this would lead to fallacy. Instead, it could be possible to use this basic idea as a template to base scientific observations around in order to assess both the credibility of such an idea and perhaps gain insights as to its nature. Reason, in many senses, can only take us so far in discovering the truth.

This approach to the Prime Mover also raises an interesting question. Since it lies outside of time and space it was (excuse the fallacy but there is no other way to express it) before the universe came into existence and hence was present at a point before the very laws of nature it was supposedly meant to support existed. So what becomes of it when there is no universe to support. A rather nice, although completely unjustifiable, hypothesis that I find myself wishing to be true is that this being has a circular existence. That is, it shifts between states of being completely unchangeable and supporting the laws of physics to being the very thing which started the universe off in the first place.

However, another interesting idea is that there is actually no such force holding the universe together and preventing total collapse. For what, I ask you, happens if a building is unsupported by any solid frame or structure? It simply collapses, not in on itself, like some theories of the universes final demise, but simply downwards and outwards. Is this not similar to our universes expansion. Driven by dark energy the universe is expanding at such a rate that scientists have predicted that in the future the universe will suffer heat death and space-time itself will collapse and cease to exist. Perhaps, with no Prime Mover, this is the eventual fate of our unsupported universe.

20140103-093835.jpg