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What is Nothing?

Is there any place in the Universe where there’s truly nothing? Consider the gaps between stars and galaxies? Or the gaps between atoms? What are the properties of nothing?

I want you to take a second and think about nothing. Close your eyes. Picture it in your mind. Focus. Fooooocus. On nothing….It’s pretty hard, isn’t it? Especially when I keep nattering at you.

Instead, let’s just consider the vast spaces between stars and galaxies, or the gaps between atoms and other microscopic particles. When we talk about nothing in the vast reaches between of space, it’s not actually, technically nothing. Got that? It’s not nothing. There’s… something there.

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Image credit: NASA

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Image credit: NASA

Even in the gulfs of intergalactic space, there are hundreds or thousands of particles in every cubic meter. But even if you could rent MegaMaid from a Dark Helmet surplus store, and vacuum up those particles, there would still be wavelengths of radiation, stretching across vast distances of space.

There’s the inevitable reach of gravity stretching across the entire Universe. There’s the weak magnetic field from a distant quasar. It’s infinitesimally weak, but it’s not nothing. It’s still something.

Philosophers, and some physicists, argue that *that* nothing isn’t the same as “real” nothing. Different physicists see different things as nothing, from nothing is classical vacuum, to the idea of nothing as undifferentiated potential.

Even if you could remove all the particles, shield against all electric and magnetic fields, your box would still contain gravity, because gravity can never be shielded or cancelled out. Gravity doesn’t go away, and it’s always attractive, so you can’t do anything to block it. In Newton’s physics that’s because it is a force, but in general relativity space and time *are* gravity.

Quantum theory includes strange  particles like these quarks, seen here in a three-dimensional computer-generated simulation.  PASIEKA/SPL

Quantum theory includes strange particles like these quarks, seen here in a three-dimensional computer-generated simulation. PASIEKA/SPL

So, imagine if you could remove all particles, energy, gravity… everything from a system. You’d be left with a true vacuum. Even at its lowest energy level, there are fluctuations in the quantum vacuum of the Universe. There are quantum particles popping into and out of existence throughout the Universe. There’s nothing, then pop, something, and then the particles collide and you’re left with nothing again. And so, even if you could remove everything from the Universe, you’d still be left with these quantum fluctuations embedded in spacetime.

There are physicists like Lawrence Krauss that argue the “universe from nothing”, really meaning “the universe from a potentiality”. Which comes down to if you add all the mass and energy in the universe, all the gravitational curvature, everything… it looks like it all sums up to zero. So it is possible that the universe really did come from nothing. And if that’s the case, then “nothing” is everything we see around us, and “everything” is nothing.

What do you think? How do you wrap your head around the idea of nothing? Tell us in the comments below. And if you like what you see, come check out our Patreon page and find out how you can get these videos early while helping us bring you more great content!

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tihomir August 21, 2014, 3:43 PM

    So, in general relativity (GR), space and time are “gravity”…?
    Are you sure?
    Is then the Higgs particle a form of space and time?
    In GR, there is no “space” and there is no “time” – there is “spacetime”, since it’s all about velocity, and not about space being one, and time being another thing all together. Gravity, on the other hand, IS another thing. It is a property of matter, supposedly/probably due to the Higgs. Gravity itself has a property to bend spacetime – but that does not make one equal to another.
    And yes, I think you’re right about the similarity between philosophers and physicists arguing about what “nothing” really is. Some GR aspects can apparently also be viewed both physically and philosofically.
    Clear skies!

    • Manu August 21, 2014, 8:25 PM

      Nope nope nope.
      You’re confusing gravity with mass.
      Gravity (in GR) ‘doesn’t exist’, it’s space-time curvature that is perceived as such. It is definitely NOT a property of matter, even though that curvature may result from (among other things) matter inertia.
      Mass on the other hand (more specifically ‘rest-mass’) is a property of matter, likely originating from interaction with the Higgs field etc.

      • Manu August 21, 2014, 8:32 PM

        (tried to edit my comment but couldn’t, adding new comment instead)

        It’s interesting that GR originated in Einstein’s postulating that ‘inertial mass’ (the mass that’s responsible for car crash casualties) and ‘gravitational mass’ (the mass that’s attracted by gravity) are one and the same. Consequently, there is no gravitational force, only inertial movement. Consequently, space-time must be curved so that orbiting bodies move in ‘straight lines’ (geodesics) in that curved space-time. How smart is that? =)

  • cyclesrfun August 21, 2014, 8:29 PM

    I read a lot of theory, and from what I’ve surmised, Gravity is not a property of matter at all, but that of spacetime. Matter may induce and vary a gravitational field, but the properties of gravity lie with spacetime itself… in other words,- bent spacetime is gravity. Going out on a limb on a related note, Dark Matter, which also induces gravity, may not be matter at all. We just call it “matter” because we have no evidence of anything else inducing a gravitational field…but it doesn’t seem like matter to me. I wouldnt be surprised if it were eventually found to be a different phase of spacetime. Very soon I believe, the Higgs particle as it is called will be found to be a component of spacetime …or it already is, as the Higgs field. Further study of the Higgs will probably solve the problem of dark matter too. As for the Graviton in classical particle physics, I predict it will never be discovered…. it is what I would call – Nothing.

    :)

    • bfmorris August 21, 2014, 8:53 PM

      I agree with your perspective. haha @ the graviton comment, It appears particle physicists live by particles and will die by particles.

      Simply put, it appears there is no such thing as ‘nothing’, our universe is nonlocal; only the appearance of nothing as portrayed by some far deeper substrate that in my best guess is in turn modulated by a creative force. I predict physics will eventually play out before the big answers and ultimately the baton will have to be handed to the philosophers. So in my opinion Fraser’s question is a philosophical question.

  • sabel August 23, 2014, 7:19 AM

    Everything is nothing at the same time. These things are understood by Living Awareness beyond Consciousness and can be explained by modern day Quantum Physics. I suggest you to check out: Here on this website called Life is Living Art, there’s amazing perspective on consciousness and Living Awareness beyond it. Cutting Edge stuff that I’m not came across anywhere else.

    “In Randomness there is Divine Order – Structure, which is contained within everything and no-thing at the same time. Here on this page I have demonstrated how the idea of Quantum Teleportation actually works and I have a solid proof of this system in action.

    Our modern day understanding of Quantum Physics and the nature of Reality has come to a point, where scientists and spiritually oriented people can finally learn to find a common ground. In the very core both are speaking of the same ideas and concepts. Most importantly they both are trying to figure out the same phenomenon of Entanglement, with slightly different names and variations of meanings. Essentially both agree that there’s underlying structure behind the visible and observable universe. What this means is, that in randomness there’s Divine Structure and Order that is contained within everything and no-thing at the same time – A Source-Field from which everything springs forth into manifested form.

    In modern world our understanding comes from the mind oriented thinking. Mind cannot never understand something which has been created outside of the mind. I have written about this area known as Living Awareness here on this website as well as in my upcoming book series Life is Living Art. Keeping that in mind: From the observational point of view these scientists in the field of Quantum Physics / Mechanics come way behind of my current level of understanding. It seems that the Original Creative Thinking which springs forth from outside of the limited mind structure – is years far ahead, when we compare it to the Collective Consensus Reality and approaches made thereof.

    In actuality there’s nothing unusual, strange or bizarre in Quantum Mechanics. It may seem strange for those, who only use logical left side of their brains to observe and understand this wholeness. John S. Bell stated in his theorem:

    “No physical theory of local hidden variables can ever reproduce all of the predictions of quantum mechanics.”

    This simply means, that Quantum Physics and it’s underlying mechanism can’t be understood and measured in traditional, orthodox ways of viewing things (level of consciousness and thinking). In order to understand subtle nature of Quantum World and it’s operation, one would have to utilize both hemispheres of their brain. In Quantum World this becomes that – likewise the observer needs to become inseparate part of the observed particle, to fully understand it’s existence and properties it helds.” – Life is Living Art info website Quantum Entanglement System Section. http://quantum.lifeislivingart.info

    • sabel August 23, 2014, 7:20 AM

      Holofractographic model of reality makes this possible: A Living Sea of Holofractographic Interconnected Wholes – Life is Living Art: Over the past decades compelling evidence has accumulated, that shows us without a shadow of a doubt, that quanta (plural of quantum) only manifest as particles, when we’re looking at them. When an electron isn’t being looked at, experimental findings show us, that it’s always a wave. If you break matter into smaller and smaller parts, you eventually reach a point where those parts – electrons, protons, and so on – no longer posesses the traits of objects. This means, that also electron posesses no dimension whatsoever. An electron is simply not an object, as we have used to know it to be. Electron can manifest as either a parcticle or a wave. This chameleonlike ability is common also to all other subatomic particles. It’s also common to all things once thought to manifest exclusively as waves. Light, gamma-, radio-, X-rays – all can change from waves to particles and back again.

      As we can realize, the world is always a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing Quantum Soup – a wave form, that is always changing and evolving. What’s amazing in wave forms, is that they can always be converted back into the original pattern through Fourier transforms. One good example of Fourier transforms comes from an Russian researcher named Nikolai Bernstein. He discovered that a dancer is a representation of a wave form.

      He painted white dots on dancers and filmed them dancing against a black background. When he converted their movements into a language of wave forms, he discovered they could be analyzed using Fourier mathematics. The very same mathematics, that was used to invent the hologram. Also the brain uses Fourier mathematics and saves visual images into the Fourier language of wave forms.

      When we observe wave forms a little closer, we can find out that they seem to be organized interconnected wholes in their particle form. David Bohm ones stated, that electrons are not scattered because, through the action of the quantum potential, the whole system is a crowd of unorganized movement, more like a ballet dance than like a crowd of unorganized people. Like many times before in his work, he notes that such quantum wholeness of activity is closer to the organized unity of functioning of the parts of a living being, than it is to the kind of unity that is obtained by putting together the parts of a machine.

      One of Bohm’s most startling assertions was, that the tangible reality of our everyday lives is really a kind of illusion – like a holographic image. Underlying it is a deeper order of existence – a vast and more primary level of relity, that gives birth to all the objects and appearances of our physical world, in much the same way that a piece of holographic film gives birth to a hologram. Bohm calls this deeper level of reality the implicate (which means “enfolded”) order, and he refers to our own level of existence as the explicate, or unfolded, order. He uses these terms because he sees the manifestation of all forms in the universe as the result of countless enfoldings and unfoldings between these two orders. Electron is no one thing, but a totality or ensemble enfolded throughout the whole of space. When an instrument detects the presence of a single electron it is simply because one aspect of the electron’s ensemble has unfolded.

      When an electron appears to be moving, it’s due to a continuous series of such unfoldments and enfoldments. A piece of holographic film and the image it generates, are an example of an implicate and explicate order. The film is an implicate order, because the image encoded in its interference patterns is a hidden totality enfolded throughout the whole. The hologram projected from the film is an explicate order, because it represents the unfolded and perceptible version of the image. The existence of a deeper and holographically organized order also explains why reality becomes nonlocal at the subquantum level. Every part of a piece of holographic film, contains all the information posessed by the whole, is same as saying that the information is distributed nonlocally.

      When the universe is organized according to holographic principles, it also have nonlocal properties – meaning that multitudes of universes literally exists within our very own cells. Further it means, that we exist in every cell and every universe at once. Beneath of the manifold of our Human experience, there’s a single reality – the source and cause of all that ever was, is and ever will be. The whole is in the part – meaning that the whole creation is in every part of it. You are the universe(s), multiverse, Life itself. There’s no dead matter, because every atom is fundamental being in and of itself. Man is microcosm of macrocosm – as in the inner so is the outer, as is the great so is the small, as it is above so it is below, nothing is great, nothing is small, nothing is high, nothing is low (hermetic axiom). – Life is Living Art info website Quantum Entanglement System Section http://quantum.lifeislivingart.info

    • sabel August 23, 2014, 7:21 AM

      And interconnectedness of everything is experienced directly through synchronicity: Phenomenon of Synchronicity ~ Interconnectedness of Everything – Life is Living Art Synchronicities are meaningful coincidences, that are often so unusual and meaningful, that they could hardly be attributed to chance alone. Synchronicities reveal the absence of division between the physical world and our inner psychological reality, which reflects spiritual world. Carl Jung, who coined the word synchronicity, worked closely with Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli, the pioneers of relativity and quantum physics. He believed there were serious and significant parallels between synchronicity and aspects of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Both Jung and Pauli postulated, that life was not a series of random events, but rather an expression of a deeper order, which they referred to as Unus mundus.

      This deeper order or you could very well say Divine Structure, refers to a cohesive connection of super strings of consciousness, that follow an orderly pattern, which the person himself is embedded in. The realization of such a pattern results in a spiritual awakening, which further leads to self-realization of oneself as inseparate part of Living Life itself. In ordinary religious terms, Jung stated, that synchronicity shares similar characteristics of an intervention of Grace. In spiritual terms, this simply means, that there’s Divine Structure and orchestration / direction, which is happening beyond the visible and observable reality. Jung also believed that synchronicity in a person’s life, serves a role similar to that of dreams, but with the purpose of shifting a person’s egocentric conscious thinking to a greater wholeness.

      In Holofractographic Reality, where everything operates in Quantum Principles, there are no coincidences. When events or experiences coincide outside the ordinary bounds of probability, we’re talking about of meaningful coincidences. And there is always an intention (or you could say Divine Orchestration) behind these occurrences. Waves of synchronistically intertwined events reveals God’s presence to the highest degree. These incredible, simultaneous situations, that occur in our lives, shows that there’s Higher Divine Presence – Living Awareness, beyond the visible and observable reality, that is capable of organizing, matching and making them happen and manifest as reality. Synchronicities are acting as gateways, which enables us to perceive omnipresent and omnipotent nature of God/Source in our everyday life. These synchronistic occurrences are proof, that God/Source can do anything and be everywhere at once.

      Throughout the history of humanity, people have been accustomed to pray for Higher Power to give them answers to their worldy problems (which they created themselves in the first place, with their very own thoughts, feelings and actions). Disconnect between spiritual and material planes of existence, has grown to such a degree, that most of the people have totally forgot to listen. If people only paid attention, they would most often be amazed, and even feel overwhelmed with the way, in which the answers they so desperately are needing for – appear in the almost miraculous ways. – Life is Living Art info website Quantum Entanglement System Section http://quantum.lifeislivingart.info

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