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About Nothing 
Posted on April 21, 2009 at 10:28 AM.
Even the title of this is something of a contradiction – unless we intend the term “nothing” to denote something more like “nothing in particular,” where we do not in fact mean “nothing” literally. But we do mean it literally, don’t we?

We understand the term chiefly as involving negation, where we understand something simultaneously as what it is and what it is not: our understanding or definition of a thing carries with it an implied understanding and definition of what it is not.

Here it will be argued – as far as argument is even possible in this context, which I contend it is not – that nothing, or nothingness, is a meaningless concept with no application to either logic nor language. In fact, it will be argued that if the term means anything at all, it means precisely this: that no discussion, application, definition or understanding of it is possible.

And again we are met with something of a contradiction: how is it we can, evidently, discuss the matter if no discussion of it is possible? Because, in truth, we are not discussing nothing, we are discussing something. Namely, we are discussing the meaning of a particular concept; but it is precisely the point that the concept “nothing,” by definition, has no meaning at all – nothingness is precisely the lack of meaning, or the lack of something (anything). Thus to attempt to uncover the nature of nothingness, so to speak, is futile, insofar as no declarative statement can be made about nothing, for there is “nothing” to declare about it – indeed there is no “it” to refer to.

To be as straightforward as possible, in fact, I believe my case has already been made – the thesis being, nothing cannot be discussed. What more is there to say? To refute this thesis would be to declare its opposite – that nothing can be discussed – which is plainly false. To say that nothing can be discussed is to say “discussion is not possible.” Further discussion along these lines is necessarily redundant. Nonetheless, we shall proceed – indeed into nothingness.

Heidegger’s contention is that nothing is outside the realm of existence, as possibility. This can be understood in two ways. The first is that “Nothingness” is a possibility of Dasein insofar as the possibility of non-existence is a “real” possibility – namely, the possibility that with the biological death of the body individual existence (“my” existence, “your” existence) stops, becoming nothing. However, we can also understand the statement “nothing is outside the realm of existence, as possibility” as saying, in effect, “there is no possibility of there being something ‘outside’ existence.”

In the first case, Heidegger assumes atheism and mortality. This is not the place to argue for or against this assumption, but it should be clear that it is, in fact, an assumption, and it should be clear why that is significant here. In the second case, the declaration is plainly true; it states only that it is impossible for “non-existence” to “exist.”

Sartre’s argument is that “Nothingness” and the “for-itself” are the same; or, put another way, that human beings are a blank slate, creating ourselves “out of nothingness.” In this way, “Nothingness” is intertwined with and inseparable from existence. We might even say, along with Hegel, that “Pure Being and Pure Nothing are one and the same."

The question that remains is, has anything been said here? Eight paragraphs in, have we made headway? No. In terms of our declarations thus far, our most cogent phrase has been that it is impossible for non-existence to exist. Deep, I know. Next we will declare that it is impossible for impossible things to be possible.

Even though we have said it is impossible to discuss nothing, for there is nothing about nothing to discuss, we can still have some fun here. That is, to elaborate the point we can take a look at statements that include the term and subsequently demonstrate that they have no logical or linguistic application. For example, from Heidegger: “Nothing is absolutely rejected by science and abandoned as null and void.” “Null” and “void” both are but synonyms of “nothing”; and indeed “rejection” is itself a kind of negation, as is “abandonment.” So what has been said here if not that science treats nothing as nothing? And from Sartre: “if nothingness can be given, it is neither before nor after being, nor in a general way outside of being.” Look at all those negations! First, nothingness cannot be given; second, Sartre’s contention is that if it can (which it can’t) then it is not this and not that. Well, thank you, because it (nothing) is not anything.

Where does this leave us? Are we to say nothing is part of existence, or is nothing beyond existence? Put in such a cut-and-dry way, the answer seems clear enough: nothing is beyond existence. Why? Simply because the declarative statement “nothing is part of existence” is demonstrably false in that its antithesis, that everything is “part of” existence, is true. Similarly, the statement “nothing is not part of existence” ceases to mean anything more than “nothing is not.” Nothing means not. Nothing means non-existence. Nothing means non-being. Conversely, the declarative statement “nothing is beyond existence” is true in that there is no thing beyond existence; existence is a necessary precondition of itself.

Is this nothing? Or is this not nothing, where “this” constitutes everything? Of course “this” (i.e., everything) is not nothing, for it is this, it is everything. Is nothing possible? No, everything is possible, insofar as “everything” is what is; therefore, “everything” must be “possible.” It (everything) is already here. How could it (everything) be impossible? I digress.

Heidegger’s other notable contention is that we come to know and experience dread in the face of nothing, that nothing “is revealed in dread." This is no different, however, than what we have already said: the contention is that our experience of dread relates to the prospect or possibility of non-being, where non-being is the atheistic interpretation (assumption) of biological death. Heidegger is of course correct about this – that the manifestation of nothingness, which is only itself a thought, a prospect, a possibility – occurs when considering our biological death. But it begs the question: What would it be like to not exist?

Let’s look at this question and then call it a wrap, as it will provide another crushing example of how discussion of nothingness is meaningless (as I believe this entire discussion already has shown). We consider death, the possibility of stone-cold atheistic biological death, where existence becomes non-existence. Worm food, that whole thing. We ask, What would (or will) that be like? The answer, of course, is nothing. But this is not a “manifestation” of nothing, rather it is the conceptualization (something) of one’s self (something) not existing. We cannot isolate the negation. We cannot isolate nothing. There is nothing to isolate. “I am not the chair.” We cannot isolate “not” and look at it. We need “I” and “chair.” In the same way, we cannot isolate “nothing” and look at it.

Nothing is nothing.
Comments
# 1 deaduck @ Apr 23
A well crafted argument as long as we stick with verbage of language and philosophy....however our little logical buddy, mathmatics weighs in with the simple....1-1=0 or if it's too abstract by numbers alone...If you have one apple in a box and I remove that apple what you have left in the quantity of apples is nothing.
 
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