Nothing, Really

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously said his TV show was “about nothing”. We all knew that he didn’t literally mean “nothing”.  We all knew he meant his show was about “nothing important”.  Cultural critics may agree or disagree with the conclusion but they are not in danger of mistaking “nothing important” for “nothing”.

Whether certain scientists are as clear about “nothing” as Mr Seinfeld is another matter. Pick up this or that piece of popular science writing, or even, at times, something by a scientist striving for precision, and you may be surprised how much something can be made out of “nothing”. Indeed, whole universes (if we can really make sense of positing more than one “universe”) are said by some scientists to spring into existence from “nothing”. Dig a little and you quickly find that these scientists are either incompetent in their ontological characterization or they deliberately misstate (either for effect or supposedly to enlighten).  That is, they’re either wrong or they mislead their readers.  They mean by “nothing” something.

Many scientists like to think of themselves as the hard thinkers, the rationalists, the precision predicators.  Such scientists often dismiss philosophers as gabbers in matters unreal, as members of the Woolly Thinking Society, surpassed only by theologians and other religious believers when it comes to talking as if Nothing were Something. But Dr. Edward Feser is a philosopher and a realist. And he is certain that nothing means nothing, not something. What’s more he is willing to take on those who say otherwise, even if they’re scientists.

Dr Feser asks, “What part of nothing don’t you understand?”, as he dismantles pop science writers who at least seem to claim that this cosmos is One Big Free Lunch.  Feser’s substantial blog post on the subject is worth a careful reading. After all, nothing ventured, and all that …

Source: Catholic World (November 22, 2011) by Mark Brumley

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