Thursday, December 29, 2016

Making Something Out of Nothing

Modern Thought

The Glow: This image is pretty, but one wonders what it has to do with the concept of nothingness, nevertheless I share it here, chiefly because I like the effect of the yellow and blue—warm and cold colors co-existing, and consider it as some form of modern art.
Photo Credit: Ted Kinsman
Source: WSJ

In a book review article of “The Strange Physics of Nothing,” Peter Pesic writes for The Wall Street Journal that the book’s author does a fine job of explaining the incomprehensible, namely, that James Owen Weatherall, a professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine, has an inkling of what nothingness (the “empty” space between matter) is composed of, or at least what it might represent. Well, actually, he has more than an inking; Prof. Weatherall has devoted 224 pages to the subject. This is more than most of us can say.

In “The Physics of Nothing” (December 22, 2016), Pesic writes:
The concept of “nothing”—a total void or vacuum—has given rise to all kinds of questions, beginning with the ancient Greeks. What is left when the air is removed from a container? How do we know that there is really “nothing” there, rather than, say, an ever more attenuated gas? And if we conclude that “nothing” is indeed there, what would we mean by there, where there is nothing?
These issues weren’t settled by the ancient Greeks’ introduction of the concept of atoms, which just transferred such questions to the submicroscopic realm. Aristotle argued against the existence of atoms because, adrift in the void, unconnected to surrounding matter, they would have no way of knowing in which direction to move. It is good to see Mr. Weatherall treat Aristotle’s acute arguments respectfully, though briefly. But he concentrates more on Isaac Newton’s argument that, in addition to the relative space defined by the distances between bodies, there was an absolute space, completely empty and at rest—“an infinite, otherwise empty container,” as Mr. Weatherall writes.
Just like the book and the review of it, this reveals nothing new, nothing important; it will have zero effect on how the planet spins and on the daily lives of its inhabitants, who are focused on the more mundane, ordinary and everyday matters like working, living and survival. It will not (likely) answer the question it is trying to answer. (Neither will the answer be found by the methods and means of physicists or philosophers, no matter how many papers and books they publish.) But it will keep a number of physicists and philosophers and publishers employed. And it will entertain and provide cocktail banter, conference discussions and more academic papers. I guess that’s making something out of nothing. There is a beautiful expression in Yiddish which captures this idea best: Gornisht mit Gornisht (גאָרנישט מיט גאָרנישט).

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For more, go to [WSJ]

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