This essay is about nothing.

What do you see when you see nothing?

Yes, nothing. Is there a way to describe nothing with something, in this case, words? What is nothing? Is nothing something? Is nothing just the absence of something? Can there ever be a total absence of something? Can there ever be nothing? These are important and requisite questions that yearn for answers when the discourse about nothing is raised. We can provide answers to this question through various branches of knowledge. The mathematicians can come up with a long list of theorems and formulas to prove to us that there is nothing, the programmer can prove that there is nothing by writing some codes, the philosopher can prove that there is nothing by coming up with a couple of suppositions and theories, the architect can approach this by designing a space that makes us feel nothing.

The simplest way to approach the question about the existence of nothing is to base our answer on the experience we have had. When asked to check a box for a particular item, and we find not the item or any other thing we can observe with our senses in the box, we answer the question about the existence of nothing in the affirmative. However, there is something in the box. There is air in the box. Air is mostly composed of Nitrogen, Oxygen, and other gases. We do not think of air as something because we cannot see it. On the other hand, if we find another gas we can sense, either by our eyes or nose in the box, say smoke or liquefied petroleum gas, we do not answer the question affirmatively, we say there is something in the box.

Consider another hypothetical scenario where a fisherman asks his son to go to a river and catch some fish. For some reason, all the fishes got to know that he was coming and they left the river to save their lives. The son spends hours catching only plastic bags and plastic bottles in the river. He gets home and his father asks him why there were no fish in his bag, he responds, “there was nothing in the river”. Was there nothing in the river? No, there was something. There were plastic bags and the experienced fishes that waited behind and successfully avoided his hook.

What these hypothetical situations reveal is that there is a connection between nothing and unobservable things (things we cannot sense with our naked eyes or ears.) It also shows that there is a connection between nothing and undesired things. The second postulation is, in fact, evident in our society and everyday conversation. We refer to the undesirable amount of money we have as nothing, we even call some people nobodies.

What does nothing mean scientifically?

In an attempt to answer the question in terms of physics and astrophysics, let us consider again, the first hypothetical situation of the box and nothing. This established the fact that what we declare is or is not is based on the way we sense our environment. Consider a room with a transparent window, the window is only transparent our eyes are only able to sense visible light, imagine our eyes could sense microwaves, the walls of the room will be transparent, and it will lose its private character. Let’s say the box has the volume of a cubic meter, there will be a septillion molecules in the box, and not nothing like our eyes, nose, and ears will want to make us believe. Even in space (inter-planetary, inter-stellar, inter-galactic), there is not nothing, even though the molecules (matter) that exist there are more tenuous. Trying to explain this in terms of quantum physics, we come across virtual particles, particles that exist and cease to exist in lesser time than one can measure their existence. What we will discover after a comprehensive quest to answer the question is that there can ever exist nothing because something goes beyond matter, it includes gravity, energy, other natural forces, and even space and time themselves.

The philosophical response to the idea and question of nothingness will be quite difficult because the question philosophy provides to questions like this is mostly metaphysical (metaphysics is the study of what exists). The best philosophy can do here is to agree that there truly is no nothing, and poise the question “why is there something, instead of nothing”.

You have done something by reading up to this point about nothing, as you come to the end of this essay, I want you to focus on nothing, think about nothing, imagine what nothing would look like or feel like, and maybe try to explain your ideas about nothing to someone.

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Tim Ojo-Ibukun

Tim Ojo-Ibukun

Tim is an Architecture student at OAU, he's the convener of tim talks.