## What is NOTHING?

• 2.6k
What is NOTHING ( N )?

Definitions:
2. Merriam-Webster: nonexistence

Do the two definitions concur?

There are only two worlds that I know of:
1. Mental world (M)
2. Physical world (P)
Since we regularly speak of thoughts, ideas as things, it's reasonable to say that thoughts exist in, at least, M. If we don't take it this way, and say that thoughts don't exist, then N would include thoughts and ideas - this doesn't agree with the general idea of what we mean by N. So, N is neither mental nor physical. It can't be a thought and neither is it a physical object.

Is space (S) N? Usually, the meaning of N is conveyed by pointing to an empty spot in space. So, is S = N? Well, N, being nonexistence shouldn't have any properties. But, S does have properties. S can be measured - its volume can be calculated. S has properties but N doesn't. So, S isn't N. It's a good analogy though and that's why people usually use it to express the meaning of N.

Some say N is a concept. But, concepts exist in M but, as shown by its definition, N can't exist in M. So, N is not a concept, although, we do have a concept of N.

Therefore, the two general responses to ''what is N?'' viz
1. N is empty space
2. N is a concept
are just an analogy or plain wrong.

Something else:

N, being nonexistence, shouldn't have properties. If we divide possible properties into two - qualitative and quantitative - then it's quite obvious N can't have qualitative properties like color, shape, texture, sound, etc. but, surprisingly, N is, quantitatively, zero. In other words, N has the quantitative property of zero - there's no thing in N i.e. the number of things in N is zero.

Another thing:

N forms boundaries. For instance, what is both a cat and a dog? Nothing! This forms a clear cut boundary between the categories cat and dog.

The usefulness of N in forming well delineated boundaries is made clear by situations where this isn't possible. For instance, vague categories (e.g. tall and short) lead to a lot of confusion and makes thinking difficult. We could say, in some sense, that N is useful.

Even for a single category, N sets limits to its domain. ''Nothing is taller than mount everest'' demarcates the boundary of the category mountains. In a very general sense, a finite world is bound between superlatives (smallest-largest, richest-poorest, etc.) by N. Here again, N allows us to make sense of our world.

In what other way can we make sense of N?

What other properties of N are there?
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What other properties of N are there?
Why would nothing have properties? What kind of ontology are you situating nothing in?
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This is an interesting question. Just off the top of my head, based on your reasoning, it would seem that no thing belongs to sets. The set is the set of things. As you point out, it forms the boundary of the set (which can be formulated as a rule) and a value of zero.

Does it have directionality I wonder? Infinite sets can ben infinite in one direction and limited in another. Can you think of a case where this may apply for no thing as well?
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Why would nothing have properties? What kind of ontology are you situating nothing in?

When we talk of properties of physical objects, we consider their quantitative aspect too. We say ''5 bananas'', ''2 cars'', etc. These numbers, as relates to objects, are the quantitative properties of things.

Similarly, when we quantify NOTHING, we do so with the number zero. Zero is the quantitative property of NOTHING just like 5 is the quantitative property of your right/left hand.

Ontological basis? NOTHING is nonexistence. Yet, paradoxically, it has a quantitative property.

Can you think of a case where this may apply for no thing as well?

Well, it's quite difficult to work with something which, by definition, is nonexistence. As for the infinite, NOTHING is still relevant to it. What is the largest possibe number? The answer: NOTHING!
• 306
In what other way can we make sense of N?

Heidegger had a lot to say on this topic. Currently I am only really familiar with Being and Time and haven't yet read What is Metaphysics? where he explicitly discusses the nothing, but I intend to do so in the near future.

It's a very interesting topic. I'm not so sure that zero is the quantitative property of nothing. I think my issue with some of your interesting suggestions above is that (regarding zero) you're putting the cart before the horse so to speak. To reverse your reasoning, zero has a quantitative property due to it's having numerical meaning/significance. The same is true of all numbers, they all have quantitative properties. Having said that, it seems obvious to me that this property has nothing to do with the nothing. In other words, it is not the case that the nothing has the quantitative property of zero, zero is rather a numerical manifestation of the nothing. And there are various other interesting manifestations of the nothing besides, some of which you mention above.

Does this make sense? It's a great topic! All I'm basically saying is that nothing is primordial, and more primordial than zero, which in turn is only a representation/manifestation of nothing/the nothing or what ever you want to call it. In other words, I am denying that quantity is ontologically primordial. From what I've picked up over the years, Heidegger is saying exactly this, that the nothing is ontologically basic.

Zero is the quantitative property of NOTHING
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It isn't.
• 2.6k
I think my issue with some of your interesting suggestions above is that (regarding zero) you're putting the cart before the horse so to speak.

The above contradicts with the following:

All I'm basically saying is that nothing is primordial, and more primordial than zero

From what I've read, zero is the solution to x - x where x is a number. Before zero, the answer to x - x would be nothing. So, nothing is, as you said, primordial to zero. Is N = zero?

No, because:

What is the solution of x + 1 = x? There is no numerical value for x (not even zero) that'll satisfy the above equation. The normal response to the above question is nothing.

However, in set theory, we could say that the set that contains the solutions to x + 1 = x is the empty set, { }. Now how many elements does { } contain? Zero.

So, N is not zero but zero is a property of N.

It isn't.

What isn't?
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Nothing.
• 306
There are only two worlds that I know of:
1. Mental world (M)
2. Physical world (P)

I would like to politely disagree with this claim. There is a third world. The world of significance, of involved coping activity, in a word, of circumspection. Circumspection cannot plausibly be described as merely mental nor merely physical. Nor as the combination of both. It is in fact phenomenally and ontologically prior to both, and has it's own conditions of possibility, one of which is the nothing. In order of primordiality:

1. World of significance (W)
2. Mental world (M)
3. Physical world (P)

The intelligibility of M and P are derived from W. N cannot be made ontologically intelligible without W.
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There is a third world.

I had to break up reality into two worlds because there are things that are exclusive to each. Thoughts are immaterial. They don't have mass and nor do they occupy space. For me, that requires division of reality into two worlds - physical and mental.

Your third world - circumspection - is unwarranted because everything in it resides in the mental world. This makes it redundant, at least for the meaning of nothing.
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Your third world - circumspection - is unwarranted because everything in it resides in the mental world. This makes it redundant, at least for the meaning of nothing.

But ìt doesn't reside in the mental world. That is the point. I think you are being a little dogmatic here.
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But ìt doesn't reside in the mental world

Something neither mental nor physical? That seems impossible. Can you clarify.
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Is ther anything like nothing? :)
• 1.5k
Zero is a number too small to be measured or the absences of.
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Nothing is nothing.
• 2.4k
Parmenides:

For this shall never be proved, that the things that are not
are; and do thou restrain thy thought from this way of inquiry.
Nor let habit force thee to cast a wandering eye upon this
devious track, or to turn thither thy resounding ear or thy
tongue; but do thou judge the subtle refutation of their
discourse uttered by me.
• 811
It's an imaginary friend of certain philosophers, and, like other imaginary friends, may be part of a process by which they're reconciled to the mundane world.
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What is NOTHING ( N )?

Definitions:
2. Merriam-Webster: nonexistence

Do the two definitions concur?

Yes. “Not anything” means the absence of all things that could exist. (And also, to be exhaustive, of all things that could not exist, but of course they are absent by necessity.) “Nonexistence” means nothing existing. They mean the same. And they are both correct.

Only things that could exist could instantiate properties (if and when they exist), so if all things that could exist are absent, no properties can be instantiated. So nothing cannot have properties. If we think we have found a property of nothing, we have gone wrong somewhere. Probably what has happened is that we have chosen words to describe a state of affairs that misdescribe it; there will always be a way of describing the state of affairs in which the supposed property of nothing disappears.

N is neither mental nor physical. It can't be a thought and neither is it a physical object.

No indeed. Being mental or physical are ways of existing, and as such are arguably not properties (since existence is generally held not to be a property). Nevertheless, only something that could exist could exist in a certain way, and so nothing, which is the absence of all things that could exist, could not exist in any way at all, and so cannot be either mental or physical.

Therefore, the two general responses to ''what is N?'' viz
1. N is empty space
2. N is a concept
are just an analogy or plain wrong.

Agreed.

N, being nonexistence, shouldn't have properties. If we divide possible properties into two - qualitative and quantitative - then it's quite obvious N can't have qualitative properties like color, shape, texture, sound, etc. but, surprisingly, N is, quantitatively, zero. In other words, N has the quantitative property of zero - there's no thing in N i.e. the number of things in N is zero.

Zero is not a property. Rather, it is an alternative to saying ‘nothing’, e.g.:

How many objects are in the box? Zero.
What is in the box? Nothing.

N forms boundaries. For instance, what is both a cat and a dog? Nothing! This forms a clear cut boundary between the categories cat and dog.

In this and the remarks that follow it, you are actually talking about the concept of N, not about N. If we say ‘Nothing is both a cat and a dog’, we are using the concept of nothing to express the fact that in our domain of discourse, everything is either wholly cat or wholly dog. So insofar as there is a property of usefulness here, it is the concept of N that has the property, not N itself.

When we talk of properties of physical objects, we consider their quantitative aspect too. We say ''5 bananas'', ''2 cars'', etc. These numbers, as relates to objects, are the quantitative properties of things.

Similarly, when we quantify NOTHING, we do so with the number zero. Zero is the quantitative property of NOTHING just like 5 is the quantitative property of your right/left hand.

Numbers are not properties of things, at any rate not in the way you suggest. The property your hand possesses is not fiveness, but five-fingeredness. Similarly, in a bunch of 5 bananas, the bunch itself does not possess the property of fiveness, but the property of five-banananess. As for each individual finger or banana, insofar as it possesses any quantitative or numerical property, it possesses the property of oneness; and it seems to true but trivial that all objects whatsoever must exhibit this property.
• 306
Something neither mental nor physical? That seems impossible. Can you clarify.

To give a simple example. A hammer is neither a physical phenomenon nor a mental phenomenon. Sure it is made from physical stuff but it's being as equipment, in other worlds its intelligibility, is only possible upon a background of shared practices. This background is neither mental nor physical. To reduce it to either would be to completely misunderstand the phenomenon.
• 2.6k
Yes, it's difficult to talk about NOTHING. Being, by definition, nonexistence, it lacks properties we're familiar with and, so, is beyond our grasp.

We may, however, approach it negatively, in fact it's defined negatively - as what it isn't. The only property NOTHING has is zero, a quantiative property.

Zero is a number too small to be measured or the absences of.

Zero is the number that describes NOTHING - an absence of a thing.

Are you saying NOTHING is a waste of time? Why?

Agreed.

the concept of N that has the propertyHerg

Ok...somewhat...

Numbers are not properties of thingsHerg

So, there's no such thing as a quantitative property. Humans walking on 2 legs and dogs on 4 don't assist in distinguishing the two?

A hammer is neither a physical phenomenon nor a mental phenomenon

By that reasoning, a hammer is NOTHING.
• 1.5k
In math 0 is also a number either too small to be measured or too small to be significant.
• 112
So, there's no such thing as a quantitative property. Humans walking on 2 legs and dogs on 4 don't assist in distinguishing the two?

Certainly there are quantitative properties. A 2-legged man has the quantitative property of having 2 legs, while a legless man has the quantitative property of having zero legs. But the number itself, 0 or 2, is not the property; the property is not 0 or 2, it is having 0 legs or having 2 legs. Numbers themselves are not properties.
• 112
A hammer is neither a physical phenomenon nor a mental phenomenon. Sure it is made from physical stuff but it's being as equipment, in other worlds its intelligibility, is only possible upon a background of shared practices. This background is neither mental nor physical. To reduce it to either would be to completely misunderstand the phenomenon.

A hammer is a physical object. The fact that we think of a hammer as a tool has no effect on the hammer, it’s a physical object whether we think of it that way or not. If all the humans in the world suddenly vanished, so that there was no-one who could think of a hammer as being a hammer, the hammer itself would be completely unchanged. Our thoughts about objects and our uses of objects do not make the objects anything other than what they are. What you call the hammer’s “intelligibility” is not part of the hammer, it is part of our thinking of and use of the hammer.
• 306
If all the humans in the world suddenly vanished, so that there was no-one who could think of a hammer as being a hammer, the hammer itself would be completely unchanged.Herg

The material stuff the hammer is made out of would be unchanged, I don't disagree with that. However there would be no hammer. Because hammer-ness, as such, depends on humans existingly making hammers intelligible; not by thinking, but by using, and using in order to fulfill appropriate tasks in appropriate ways.

If aliens visited earth and took a hammer from our culture home with them as a souvenir. Would the thing be a hammer to them? Not if they had a hammer-less culture that lacked the cultural background of significance that makes hammers as equipment possible (e.g. carpenters, houses, timber, nails etc etc). No matter how hard they thought about the thing, it would not be a hammer because the intelligibility of hammers, hammer-ness, depends on use not on thought.

By that reasoning, a hammer is NOTHING.

This sound absurd doesn't it, that a hammer is NOTHING. So either there is something wrong with my argument or there is something wrong with your ontology of the mental and the physical. I don't think there is anything wrong with my argument. It's not actually my argument, but Martin Heidegger's argument in Being and Time. I would kindly suggest that your ontology needs to be either displaced or supplemented.
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When we perceive we create something.

If we don't perceive, then there is nothing.

When we are unconscious, there is nothing.
• 112
If all the humans in the world suddenly vanished, so that there was no-one who could think of a hammer as being a hammer, the hammer itself would be completely unchanged.
— Herg

The material stuff the hammer is made out of would be unchanged, I don't disagree with that. However there would be no hammer. Because hammer-ness, as such, depends on humans existingly making hammers intelligible; not by thinking, but by using, and using in order to fulfill appropriate tasks in appropriate ways.

Since you prefer ‘using‘ to ‘thinking of’, I will rephrase, though it makes no significant difference.

‘There would be no hammer’ is badly phrased. It sounds as if the object has ceased to exist, but that is not so; all that has happened is that no-one is now using the object as a hammer. Rather than saying ‘there would be no hammer’, therefore, you should say ‘no-one would be using this object as a hammer’.

Let’s get technical. The object that we use as a hammer is physical, and being physical is an intrinsic property of the object, i.e. a property that the object has in and of itself. Being used as a hammer, by contrast, is an extrinsic property, i.e. a property arising from the object’s interaction with the rest of the world (or some part of it). This extrinsic property consists in a relation in which the object stands to ourselves (the relation of being used by us as a hammer). When I said ‘the hammer itself would be completely unchanged’, I meant in respect of its intrinsic properties, including the property of being physical. Only its extrinsic properties would have changed.
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Nothing Is just a useful concept. It's not anything real with properties, or lacking properties, or the opposite of something/everything, or whatever.
• 306
The object that we use as a hammer is physical, and being physical is an intrinsic property of the object, i.e. a property that the object has in and of itself. Being used as a hammer, by contrast, is an extrinsic property, i.e. a property arising from the object’s interaction with the rest of the world (or some part of it).Herg

It may be an intrinsic property of the object, but not of the hammer. The hammer is not an object, it is equipment. As such it belongs to a different ontological order than the subject/object (or mental/physical) ontology that this discussion has been grounded in.

What determines the hammer as a hammer is the background contextual significance of equipmental relationships within the world. What you are calling the hammer’s extrinsic properties (when looked at as a deworlded thing, i.e. not as a hammer) are in fact its primordial, background relationships and uses as equipment and as a hammer.

I built a fence last summer. When I needed to nail a pailing on the rails I didn't have to look for a physical object that resembled the intrinsic properties of a hammer and then mysteriously project mental thoughts onto it about the extrinsic ways I could use the physical object to get the job done. I never once explicitly though about the hammer, only about the task to be done. This is because we are primordially in the world encountering equipment as equipment and only later experience ourselves as deworlded subjects abstractly thinking about objects and properties and whether hammers exist and what nothing is.
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I like finding the essence of things, even when the thing in question is nothing. Also I agree that 'nothing' is synonymous with 'zero'. Here is why.

What is the essence of 0? We know the essence of 3 is "III", 2 is "II", 1 is "I", therefore the essence of 0 is " ".
What is the essence of nothing? That which has no properties. In other words, " ".
Therefore the essences of 'nothing' and 'zero' coincide.
• 112
The hammer is not an object, it is equipment.

It’s both. The fact that it’s used as equipment does not prevent it being an object. If it were not an object, my dog could not sniff it, pick it up in his mouth, or anything else he might do with it. The hammer is not equipment as far as my dog is concerned, so if it were only equipment and not an object, he would not be able to interact with it at all, which clearly he can.

As such it belongs to a different ontological order than the subject/object (or mental/physical) ontology that this discussion has been grounded in.

Disagree. The ontological order of a thing is the kind of existence we understand it to have, and the kind of existence we (most of us, anyway!) understand the hammer to have is as a physical object. The use of an object (e.g. as a hammer) is not an ontic or even ontological property; it’s an epistemic property – the hammer’s being a hammer is a matter of us knowing that it is a hammer (or, more correctly, knowing of it as a hammer), not of its being in itself a hammer.

What you are calling the hammer’s extrinsic properties (when looked at as a deworlded thing, i.e. not as a hammer) are in fact its primordial, background relationships and uses as equipment and as a hammer.

Both are true. Extrinsic properties are a general type of properties, and use as equipment is a subtype within that general type.

When I needed to nail a pailing on the rails I didn't have to look for a physical object that resembled the intrinsic properties of a hammer and then mysteriously project mental thoughts onto it about the extrinsic ways I could use the physical object to get the job done. I never once explicitly though about the hammer, only about the task to be done. This is because we are primordially in the world encountering equipment as equipment and only later experience ourselves as deworlded subjects abstractly thinking about objects and properties and whether hammers exist and what nothing is.

At no point have I suggested that we have to look for an object with certain intrinsic properties before we use it. Actually it’s the reverse; we look for an object with a certain extrinsic property – something with some such property as ‘usable for hammering things in with’ – and only sometimes do we then notice its intrinsic properties: for example, the hammer may have a loose head (intrinsic); but even then we would be more interested in the extrinsic properties than the intrinsic (is it too loose to do its job? – extrinsic). Nor am I suggesting that in using a hammer we need to EXPLICITLY or ABSTRACTLY think about the hammer; we just need to think about it enough to select it for the job of hammering.
• 306
The hammer is not equipment as far as my dog is concerned, so if it were only equipment and not an object, he would not be able to interact with it at all, which clearly he can.Herg
Here you seem to be making an implicitly metaphysical claim that the physical stuff the hammer is made out of is actually real, and therefore, because it’s actually real, the dog can actually play with it. This is not the same as saying that the hammer is (also) an object. Please note that, for the dog, the hammer is neither ontologically ready-to-hand equipment nor an ontologically present-at-hand object. I think it’s safe to say that dogs aren’t ontological, and for that reason the dog has no understanding of the being of the hammer as either a hammer or an object. For the dog it is a curious play-thing. Therefore that the dog can play with the hammer does not prove that the hammer is also an object. Ontologically speaking, the dog is just irrelevant.

If you unmuddy your conceptions of ontology and metaphysics and see ontology as a theoretical articulation of our understanding of being, you will clearly see how it is a misunderstanding to regard the hammer as having the same intelligibility as a physical object. A rock has this intelligibility. The hammer driving in the nail in wood in order to..., the door knob you don't notice but that you nevertheless turn to open the door in order to enter the room in order to..., the keyboard beneath your fingers that you type on in order to express the meaning of the sentence in order to..., the sidewalk at your feet while rushing to the train in order to not be late to work... have in the first instance the intelligibility of readiness-to-hand, there is no awareness of anything like an object. Moreover, properties do not belong to the ready-to-hand. Properties only belong to present-at-hand ontology. Therefore it only a confusion to talk about a hammer's intrinsic/extrinsic properties. To do so is to regard the hammer as a present-at-hand object.

I believe that there are different ontologies, do you think there is only one?
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