SOMETHING ABOUT NOTHING
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
There is nothing I like better than to equivocate over nothing. Since nothing is perfect, nothing and only nothing is perfect. Wherefore Muhammad Ali’s picture on the poster in the window at the World Famous 5th Street Gym on Alton Road in Miami Beach caught my eye. I met the prize fighter when he was Cassius Clay at the original gym on 5th Street, and as Muhammad Ali in the elevator of the Ala Moana Hotel, in Honolulu, where I was preparing to argue a case pro se before the state supreme court.
“Impossible is Nothing” quoth Ali on the poster, giving me cause to consider whether or not Impossible and Nothing are commutative terms.
Sometimes all the talk about nothing seems quite sensible to me, and even the mere mention of nothing excites me to say something about nothing. Of course my limited faculties condemn me to figures of speech or metaphors – sometimes I laugh at how the most abstract gods or gods negatively defined down to nothing wind up being a “He.” One author threw me off with a “She” – imagine that!
I don’t know why, but even my most abstract notions seem to be derived from sensation and perception no matter how much I fervently hope for immediate gnosis from the Transcendent Sphere Beyond or for some revelation not mediated by the limited forms imposed by my mental field or faculty.
Yes, I embarrassingly admit it – I am a frustrated mystic. Kant scoffed at the notion of the noun, ‘Transcendent’, which he distinguished from the adjective ‘transcendental.’ And despite the master’s warning about the illusion of the transcendental logic, the New England Transcendentalists and others went wild over the idea that everybody naturally possesses not only an innate, transcendental or a priori faculty which imposes the forms understanding on sensation, a process independent of the things in themselves as well as of the recognized authorities, but they also claimed they had direct access to the Transcendent, or God, whom some called “Reason” because they were greatly pleased with their reasoning on the Subject of subjects.
Kant had specifically said that sort of thing is nonsense, and that reasoning about Reason, the god of the Enlightenment, has, at best, illusory results. His god existed as a practical absolute presupposition for the conduct of life’s great experiment. It is practical to presuppose God, Immortality, and Free Will in order to do our highest duty, which is of course to overcome evil, and that, of course, has its source in desire.
God: we probably have the power to do our duty. Immortality: we have the time to do our duty. Free Will: we have the conditions to do our duty. The New England Transcendentalists were very practical people and they would have no doubt have appreciated the beauty of Kant’s presuppositions if the translations had been at their fingertips.
Now I am moved to say more about nothing, but before I do so I am duty bound to confess that I am absolutely ignorant of its substance and nature – if it is a substance with a nature, which I seriously doubt. An popular analog for nothing is space. The early metaphysicians of modern science took up the subject, space, and were surprised to discover that its attributes were those previously bestowed by metaphysical thinkers on God.
As for empty space, physicists today deny there is any such thing as a void without at least some sort of particulate content. Space without objects, or absolute space, seems to be a logically absurdity. That being said, scientists still speak of space AS IF it were a thing separate from the material system, otherwise how could they talk about nothing? At least I think they do – I am not quite sure what physicists are talking about nowadays, if anything, when they speak of space, and, at my age, it is much too late for me to get ahead of the curve let alone catch up with it.
I occasionally reread the same sentences penned by Sir Arthur Eddington, I do not comprehend them, but I believe I am making some headway. I suppose his notions are passé by now, but I enjoy being mystified. For instance, I do not understand his discussion of the two possible universes posited during his day, the Einstein and the de Sitter universes; both are spherical, closed universes, and both are changeless – a frame or background for relative movement. He says it dawned on scientists that de Sitter’s universe was a mathematical fiction, a “completely empty” universe, if his formula is taken literally, and that the only way he had avoided change was by putting no matter into it. Nothing exists after all. Thus Einstein’s universe turned out to be the one form of material universe which is genuinely changeless or static. But then the choice between the two became irrelevant because a whole range of intermediate states between motionless matter and matterless motion were found.
I was relieved to know that! More significantly, Eddington speaks of ‘space’ as if it were a separate thing or substance, saying that space must expand before the material system can expand. But he says too much attention is paid to space. Whatever space is, it is curved, and that is a fact verified by measurement: for, over large distances, the angles of a triangle do not equal two right angles. Thus somehow space curves back on itself and the opposite ends of a line meet, leading us to suppose that space is not as infinite as we thought, but is rather like a strange sort of sphere with a fourth dimension to account for the view that each point of the points evenly dispersed throughout the sphere is at the center of the sphere – this analogy is drawn from the surface of a real sphere, which is a closed space.
Amazing! Space must be something after all. As for the universe, somebody told me that it is really a donut. I said that was ridiculous, for who would eat it? He asked me, “What does it mean when we say that a man who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.” What an ignoramus!
Anyway, my nothing is not empty space. No way, at least that is not my experience! I venture to say that it transcends ordinary ‘nothing’ and ‘something.’ I think Eddington recognized the difference, at least in terms of space alone, for he mentions the critic who complained that the common man’s conception of space, as he ‘experiences’ it, is being ignored by scientists:
“It is no part of my present subject to discuss the relation of the world as conceived in physics to a wider interpretation of our experience; I will only say that that part of our conscious experience representable by physical symbols ought not to claim to be the whole. As a conscious being YOU are not one of my symbols; your domain is not circumscribed by my spatial measurements. If, like Hamlet, you count yourself king of infinite space, I do not challenge your sovereignty. I only invite attention to the certain disquieting rumours which have arisen as to the state of Your Majesty’s nutshell.”
I am moved by Nothing to speculate here: I think the nebulous YOU is personal (Quality) in contrast to IT or impersonal (Quantity); in other words, Subject versus Object. I opine the person is a synthesis of YOU and IT and has as its principle of origin Absolute Power, which causes me to mention, yet again, Nothing.
But what do I know?