There is nothing like Nothing




I was fully committed to a Sunday of absolute rest today, but no sooner had I started to do nothing than I was distracted by the memory of the blasphemy I had just encountered over my morning coffee. Sometimes doing absolutely nothing on Sunday is akin to starting a diet after the next piece of cake. Neither eternal peace or starvation is really wanted.

Yes, the distraction was blasphemy in my case, of the sort that might lead one to conclude that life is really worth living after all, whether or not one is eating cake. It was blasphemous in the technical sense, that Nothing was used against Nothing to prove that Nothing does not exist. And this I was confronted with after making it perfectly clear, in my How-To essay, ‘How To Do Absolutely Nothing on Sundays’, that one must be Nothing in order to do nothing, upon which it should follow that Nothing indubitably exists.

I was unsuspectingly led into sin by a book, namely Professor R.B. Collingwood’s AN ESSAY ON METAPHYSICS. It was the ‘Revised Edition with The Nature of Metaphysical Study, Function of Metaphysics in Civilization, Notes for an Essay on Logic,’ published by Clarendon Press (1998), at Oxford, of course!

First of all, let me explain why I had this heretical book in my possession. I had overheard some gossip that Professor Collingwood discovered something called the Four Forms of Experience. Each form is a mistake corrected by its successors, in this order: Art, Religion, Science, History. I have heard of all sorts of orders; I was not surprised that History came out on top this time inasmuch as the professor, who died in 1943, was, first and foremost, a historian. Yes, history was everything for him. You may have heard of his Three Doctrines:

1. Mental creations must be studied historically, not psychologically;
2. Historical knowledge is attainable;
3. History and philosophy are a unity.

The good professor invested nearly his entire professional life in Oxford, where he was the only surviving disciple of the great Romano-British archeologist, F.J. Haverfield. And Professor Collingwood was a fine archeologist in his own right, highly respected for his ability to interpret his own as well as other people’s excavations. In fact he succeeded where others conformed; he was not afraid to make mistakes, to create hypotheses to be challenged, knowing very well that truth is often found in bed with error. From the many bits and pieces of academic gossip I picked up about him, I gathered the impression that he was a tolerant man, one who would read a book about absolutely nothing simply to see if there was some truth in it.

Well, to each his own, I thought, as I read the academic chatter. Someone said Professor Collingwood had gone so far as to claim that his Four Forms of Experience were all mistakes, and there existed a Fifth, comprehensive Form, which was error-free yet had no content of its own. Nothing exists? My ears perked up at that! One of the professor’s students rendered this hearsay:

“The truth is not some perfect system of philosophy: it is simply the way in which all systems, however perfect, collapse into nothingness on the discovery that they are only systems.”

There it was again, I thought, Nothing! For, if systems collapse into nothingness, Nothing exists! The unsystematic philosophy of Nothing is the key to everything! Therefore I eagerly scooped up the professor’s ‘An Essay’ to peruse this Sunday morning over my one-hundred percent Kona coffee. I opened it up to Chapter I, ‘Aristotle’s Metaphysics.’

If we are to understand “metaphysics”, then we must understand its history, Professor Collingwood proposed. To understand its history we must understand Aristotle’s motive for bringing it up. So far so good. What was ‘metaphysics’ to Aristotle? Nothing. He did not even use the term. His editors used it to identify certain treatises they placed after the physics; hence “metaphysics” is the name of the last book. Aristotle addressed three obscurities in the works constituting the book we call his ‘sciences’ of metaphysics: First Science, Wisdom, Theology.

The First Science is the study of everything logically prior to all the other sciences, the Science of sciences – although we work up to it from the bottom of the pyramid, it is first because it is the apex, point, arch, the principle of everything that follows.

Wisdom is the under-standing that all sciences want within their respective disciplines.

Theology has the ultimate goal of everything logically presupposed in the First Science, and is therefore present as the principle or arch (archos – chief) of all sciences; namely, to use a barbarism, ‘God.’

All three sciences are actually a unity under cover of three names. We reason from the particular to the general and from general to particular in the inductive-deductive process. We generalize our experience and act accordingly, correcting our mistakes as we progress up the mountain, forming better and broader generalizations that apply to all the slopes below, and across the plains and to the circular horizon below. Naturally, the universal laws we discover on our ascent are presumed to exist prior to our climb.

There is one pyramid of universals. Thus metaphysics is considered to be the general science of universals, the science of Pure Being found at the summit.

My heart leapt at this Aristotelian process of generalization paraphrased by Professor Collingwood, whose paraphrasing I have paraphrased. Having led me to the summit, I felt he would, in full faith, bear witness for his students and take the magnificent leap into Nothing!

Alas, was I ever disappointed. I had put on Richard Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, refilled my coffee mug, and turned the page to behold the professor’s title to his second Roman-numerated chapter, II: ‘NO SCIENCE OF PURE BEING!” (emphasis and exclamation-mark added).

By Gum! that should never be said on Sunday, my day to practice doing absolutely nothing. For Nothing is Pure Being. To say there is no science of Pure Being is to say Pure Being cannot be known: what good is it to do absolutely nothing and not know it? And even worse: if there is no theoretical science, then there is no practical technology, so there is no way to do absolutely nothing. Since it is necessary to be Nothing to do absolutely nothing, Nothing must exist, therefore Nothing must be known by doing absolutely nothing. Surely the professor is pulling my leg, I reconsidered, so I went on to read:

“(Aristotle) was aware that when the process of abstraction is pushed home to the limiting case and arrives at the summit of the pyramid, the thought which has effected this new abstraction and might seem, therefore, to stand upon the threshold of a new science, the science of pure being, stands in a situation not quite like the situations out of which ordinary sciences arise. The situation in which it stands is in certain important ways unprecedented and unique, and it is a debatable question how far and in what sense anything that arises out of it ought to be called a science.”

Now, then, looking down on the dirty details from our lofty elevation, our teacher wants to cavil instead of leaping faithfully into the Nothing; he wants to pause and hold debates about the “facts”, I supposed. He steps back from the precipice to inform us that there are two conditions for a legitimate science: first of all, there must be orderly thinking; two, there must be a definite subject-matter. He claims that “the science of pure being would have a subject-matter entirely devoid of peculiarities; a subject-matter, therefore, containing nothing to differentiate it from anything else, or from nothing at all.”

But there it is again! Nothing! He fails to observe that Nothing is precisely the non-dimensional, unique, all-encompassing pointless point, the very principle of the space-time continuum. He fails to observe there is nothing like Nothing! Furthermore, Nothing is the perfectly undifferentiated identity of the proposition [Nothing=Nothing], the equation that simultaneously expresses absolutely minimal differentiation. Moreover, and this is as plain as Day: Nothing is All abstracted from All-rushing to All-fulfillment in the Vacuum not abhorred but loved by All. But what does our Oxford man have to say about abstraction? This:

“Abstraction means taking out. But science investigates not what is taken out but what is left in. To push abstraction to the limiting case is to take out everything; and when everything is taken out there is nothing for science to investigate.”

But he has missed the capital point entirely. There is not ‘nothing’ to investigate: there is Nothing to investigate, and there is nothing like Nothing, for Nothing exists! He goes on to say:

“You may call this nothing by what name you like – pure being, or God, or anything else – but it remains nothing, and contains no peculiarities for science to examine.”

Well then, may that sordid “science” keep its dirty hands off!

At first I suspected the doctor of duplicitous ambiguity; perhaps intolerance was forcing Oxford dons to resort to coded ambiguities to maintain tenure. But on further reading it does not seem so, when he directly states:

“This is only a roundabout way of saying that there can be no such science. There is not even a quasi-science of pure being: not even a thing which in certain ways resembles an ordinary science and in certain ways differs from it… There is not even a pseudo-science of pure being: not even a collection of what seems to be statements but are in fact only the record of guesses, intellectual gropings or emotional reactions that take place within us when we confront an object we do not understand.”

Now, then, I hope I have not quoted at too great a length without authorization from the authorities; I do not believe so, for in order for blasphemy to be exposed, it must be quoted freely for the Public Good.

I would go on to read Professor Collingwood’s third chapter, ‘III. Metaphysics Without Ontology’, where I presume he is going to throw the being of nothingness out of metaphysics, but my stereo has traversed the peaks with Zarathustra and gone through most of ‘Ein Heldenleben’ (A Hero’s Life), to that sweet pasture where I am starting to relax to the point when-where I can do absolutely nothing without even trying.

Finally, now that I have calmed down somewhat, I am beginning to think that Professor Collingwood really meant Nothing when he said “nothing”, for otherwise he has employed Nothing against itself, which would be blasphemy, a mortal sin good professors¬† would certainly avoid. No doubt he knows that ignorance is the necessary precondition for all knowledge, that Nothing is the font of all that is, and that all his statements about the science of Pure Being prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, since there is nothing to obstruct the reason, that Nothing exists. Therefore as the music ends with a muffled thumping of a heart beat, the simple motif of its theme, I retire into the Silence.




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