Is it possible to know "Nothingness"?
Name of Presenters: Kris
Date and Length of Presentation 1 December 1997 for 25 minutes
Basic Goal of Presentation Find Nothingness
Brief Outline of Presentation (as actually delivered):
It seems to me that Nothing can not be known -- at least not in terms of itself; at least not in the same way I know a chair or a table. Chairs and tables are things and can be known either by visualization of things or by verble descriptions of things. In fact, all my tools for perceiving or describing existence is thing oriented(1). Therefore, these tools are inappropriate for perceiving or describing something that is defined to be "no thing".
On the other hand, the term "nothing" was developed in the English language, has equivalents in most other languages, and is used commonly enough that even small children won't run to the dictionary to look it up -- they believe themselves to know what this means. Therefore, there must be some graspable quality about Nothing that can be perceived despite any apparent paradox between my tools and Nothing itself.
Let us then look to how this term is used. When I refer to an empty room or an empty box as containing "nothing", I do not necessarily mean the room or the box is a vaccuum void of any contents, but rather, that any contents I am perceiving are not on a contextually agreed specific scale, such that I have chosen to ignore any other contents as "things". I would put forth that this is not a different meaning of "nothing", but rather a different degree of "nothing". The problem with saying "by this form of thing, we mean none of x" infers that x is a predefined object or set of objects and anything outside that set could be called "nothing". Let us take an example. I have a bottle in front of me. A friend asks me for a sip of apple juice. If the bottle contains air, it would be acceptable as true to reply "There is nothing in the bottle", whereas if the bottle contains orange juice, though it still contains "none of apple juice", it would be unacceptable as true to reply "There is nothing in the bottle"; orange juice exists at a scale contextually recognized as being valid as something..
The Nothing Kris seeks seems to be not a question of a different meaning, but of a different scale or degree -- he wants an Absolute Nothing where any thing of any scale can defeat its property of Nothingness.
Let us then try to approach Absolute Nothing. Let us begin with a common degree of "nothing" by speaking of the contents of an "empty" box. This box contains air, so it truly has a thing in it. But, is this thing (air) truly perceivable? In fact, it is generally not. Unless I am sufficating through it's lack or unless the air carries some property such as fog or scent, not necessarily inherent to itself, I do not perceive air, and in this failure, my attempt to perceive air is much like an attempt to perceive nothing.
Let us go to the next degree. This box is no longer in the open air, but under the force of a powerful vaccuum pump. Now, all that is left are subatomic particles and forces. I can not perceive these particles and forces and must trust the reports of scientists that they would be there. Unless I am in direct contact with this vaccuum (and therefore dying), I can not perceive any difference between this degree of nothing and the last. My attempt to perceive these particles and forces further approximate my goal of perceiving Nothing.
Let us by some force "magickly" vacate the box still further. Under any circumstance, even under direct exposure, could I perceive a difference between this degree of nothing and the last? Could scientists be absoluting certain there is not still another degree of nothing waiting around the corner?
It seems to me, that as I disqualify more items from my list of those things what are allowable within "nothing", I am not changing my knowledge or perception of nothing, but rather adding to a list of actual things I fail to perceive. Thus, a perception of Absolute Nothing requires that I have no perception what-so-ever. As it is paradoxical to speak of such, and as knowledge requires some form of perception, it seems that even this indirect approach must ultimately fail. However, it also seems that as we refine our criteria increasingly, our ability to perceive and know the differences becomes increasingly diminished and it may not be unreasonable to believe that such an approach can leave us with a justified belief on a reasonable approximation of Absolute Nothing.
1. This is logical. Perceptions and language were developed with the specific goal of being able to deal
with actual things. It seems impossible to conceive either of adapting these tools for working with "nothing" or
to create any meaningful alternative which could. Return