February 18, 2019

Is Nothing Something?

“Close your eyes and try to imagine nothing.

Too late. Odds are, you’ve already thought of something: maybe the color black, or the word “nothing,” neither of which are nothing.

Pondering nothing could be considered, at best, a form of meditation, and, at worst, a total waste of time. Or, it would be, were it not for the simple fact that there is an unresolved question at the heart of physics that requires at least some consideration of this matter, or lack thereof: why is there something (our universe) instead of nothing?

Nothing is a concept so deceptively simple that it inhabits the strange intersection of science, philosophy, and language itself. Like a child asking “Why?” to the point of absurdity, trying to get to the bottom of this problem can be pretty frustrating, so I enlisted the help of a physicist and a philosopher to get an idea of what—if anything—”nothing” means. Apparently, this is also a frustrating question for experts.

What is nothing, according to physics?

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at California Institute of Technology. Nothing has been a recent concern of his, insofar as it relates to something.”

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