Sunday, August 1, 2010

There is nothing to worry about.

It is Sunday evening and I have eaten and have the television set on. There is nothing on the box and so I thought I'd sit down and write. I couldn't think of what tow right, but remembered a lengthy online discussion that i had during the week about nothing.

Two Orionids meteor and Milky WayNothing is something that is mostly ignored. As humans living in modernity we are convinced that what hits our senses and is perceived directly is real, that which does not being unimportant. Seeing is believing and conversely that which cannot be sensed by our legitimate five senses is deemed illegitimate and beyond any meaningful discourse. This is in spite of the observable ad perceivable fact that the universe itself is mostly made of nothing at all.

The ancients knew this intuitively. In English we have separate words for heaven and sky but in other European languages at least this is not the case. There is one word for both heaven and sky in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Polish and Russian: ciel, Himmel, cielo, cielo, cel, niebo and небо respectively. The only other European language that uses words to differentiate the two entities is Greek, which uses παράδεισος and ουρανός. When we look up at the heavens we see nothing foregrounded by what we now know to be the bluish sheen of our planets atmosphere in interaction with the suns radiation and backgrounded by the stars, the closest of which is about four billion  billion miles away. We say this is four light years to stop this astronomical calculation overwhelming us in the almost complete nothingness that exists between us observers on earth and the closest source of light apart from our own sun.
A diagram summarizing the tree-level interacti...
Nothing can overwhelm us and so we have a tendency to reduce nothing to mean not being of importance. We pretend this nothing is not something to notice but is just a space. An absence rather than the overwhelming presence that it perhaps in reality is. We unwittingly perceive the foreground and background while neglecting the middle ground of nothing or next to nothing. The whole of our perceptual reality is treated similarly when I think of it. The universe is overwhelmingly composed of nothing and all we seem interested in is finding something solid. The human mind seems allergic to the idea of the abyss.

Quotes - 23/60Think of a single atom. No one has directly perceived one but we believe by inference that it is made up of a nucleus of protons and neutron encircled by electrons. Other sub atomic elements are thought t exist as well and even a God particle which is being searched for at the Hadron Collider project on the French-Swiss border. These scientists are searching for something that may turn out in the end to be nothing. This is not to say that a God particle does or doesn't exist, but perhaps the God particle consists of nothing and therefore is something as part of everything that goes to make up our universe. (Other universes not with standing).

I am using nothing here in the same sense as Merleau-Ponty's concept of the Invisible. The biologist tells us that we are largely water or the chemist carbon depending on just how reductionist they happen to be at the time and what barrow they happen to be pushing. This is all part of a language game, and misses the point that the externalities of our bodies encapsulate matter which is just as much composed of nothing as it is of any particulate or matter. Remember, as matter we are both particle and light?

Bruegel d. Ä., Jan - The Sense of Sight - 1618I do not, however, perceive myself this way. I am flesh and bone and I see the world in my image just as the ancients once saw God as a heavenly father. The world appears to me as embodied, as having a being apart from me but behaving in a way similar to the way I perceive my body to function. Once I understand the nothingness present in the universe, I begin to understand how this nothingness inhabits the world and through its existence as a flesh like substance through which I move, my very own body to be inhabited, perhaps overwhelmingly so, by nothing: That when nothing is seen as something then it and all the other somethings can be seen to construct the world around me in a way which expresses more closely the overwhelming nature of the universe we inhabit somewhere in our dark corner, lit only by our sun and the faint glow of the milky way and all the other stars off into the broad expanses.

We have the Visible or perceivable and that which is not directly perceivable and which forever remains invisible except when expressed by us humans through our day to day lives and that cultural phenomena called art, religion or spirituality. If the invisible is so overwhelming then why too is its existence denied just as vehemently as God has been by many lesser scientists and thinkers. I can no more sense nothing, than I can God. Yet, all the expressive parts of humanity are in the same basket of non-matter. Human consciousness does not exist in the same way as love does not exist. These are not particles or light, but are part of the realm of nothing that I have described. 
We can not sense these things from the outside but can only experience them from within. I can no more sense how much you love your cat than you can sense how sad I am that my friend forgot to ring me this evening. Because you have a body like I do, and I know through experience that we perceive the world in similar ways, I can have empathetic feelings for you and you for I. But it is not possible to cross that gap and to see my consciousness of things, because that consciousness does not exist to the senses; it is in the realm of the Invisible and nothingness. If God exists, this is the realm to look in, not for a particle but into the abyss.

So, nothing is something to worry about. If we want to gain a broad understanding of everything that goes to make our universe and the world, we need to concern ourselves with the overwhelming bulk of that universe, not discount it as meaningless. To do so is to deny one of our essential features as human beings and that is to make meaning from our perception of things and to express them in a way that makes sense of the world we inhabit.

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