nothingness

or the real question one can ask: how to depict it?

Is there at most one empty world?

Most philosophers would grant Peter van Inwagen’s premise that there is no more than one empty world. They have been trained to model the empty world on the empty set. Since a set is defined in terms of its members, there can be at most one empty set.

But several commentators on the nature of laws are pluralists about empty worlds (Carroll 1994, 64). They think empty worlds can be sorted in terms of the generalizations that govern them. Newton’s first law of motion says an undisturbed object will continue in motion in a straight line. Aristotle’s physics suggests that such an object will slow down and tend to travel in a circle. The Aristotelian empty world differs from the Newtonian empty world because different counterfactual statements are true of it.

If variation in empty worlds can be sustained by differences in the laws that apply to them, there will be infinitely many empty worlds. The gravitational constant of an empty world can equal any real number between 0 and 1, so there are more than countably many empty worlds. Indeed, any order of infinity achieved by the set of populated possible worlds will be matched by the set of empty worlds.

This is true even if we restrict attention to laws that preclude all objects and therefore only govern empty worlds. Consider a law that requires any matter to adjoin an equal quantity of anti-matter. The principles of matter and anti-matter ensure that they cannot co-exist so the result would be an empty world.

Advocates of the fine tuning argument (a descendent of the design argument) claim that the conditions under which life can develop are so delicate that the existence of observers indicates divine intervention. One can imagine a similar sort of argument that stresses what a narrow range of laws permit the formation of concrete entities. From the perspective of these fine tuners, the existence of a universe with concrete entities is an inspiring surprise.

Some existentialists picture nothingness as a kind of force that impedes each object’s existence. Since there is something rather than nothing, any such nihilating force cannot have actually gone unchecked. What could have blocked it? Robert Nozick (1981, 123) toys with an interpretation of Heidegger in which this nihilating force is self-destructive. This kind of double-negation is depicted in the Beatles’s movie The Yellow Submarine. There is a creature that zooms around like a vacuum cleaner, emptying everything in its path. When this menace finally turns on itself, a richly populated world pops into existence.

Some cultures have creation myths reminiscent of The Yellow Submarine. Heidegger would dismiss them as inappropriately historical. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is not about the origin of the world. Increasing the scientific respectability of the creation story (as with the Big Bang hypothesis) would still leave Heidegger objecting that the wrong question is being addressed.

(c) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness/

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