We find no evidence that a state of nothing exists in nature or is even possible.
Physicists know this for sure: there can be no state of absolute zero in nature; not for temperature; not for energy; not for matter. All three are equivalent in important ways and are never zero—at all scales and at all time intervals. Quantum theory—the most successful theory in science, ever—says that absolute zero is impossible; it can’t exist in nature.
There can be no time interval exactly equal to zero.
Einstein said that without energy and matter, time and space have no meaning. They are relative; they vary and change according to the General Theory of Relativity, according to the distribution and density of energy and matter. As long as matter and energy exist, time can never be zero; space can never be empty.
People can search until their faces turn blue for a physical and temporal place where there is nothing at all, but they will never find it, because a geometric null-space (a physical place with nothing in it) does not exist. It never has and never will. Everywhere scientists look, at every scale, they find something.
We ask the question, Why is there something rather than nothing? But we ignore the plain fact that no one has ever observed even a little piece of nothing in nature. There is no evidence for nothing.
Could it be that the oft-asked question—Why is there something rather than nothing?—is based on a false impression, which is not supported by any evidence?
Until someone finds evidence for the existence of nothing in nature, shouldn’t we conclude that something exists everywhere we look and that the state of nothing does not exist? Could we not go further and say that, indeed, nothing cannot exist. If it could, it would, but it can’t, so it doesn’t.
Why do people find it difficult, even disturbing, to believe that no alternative to something is possible? Folks can, after all, imagine a place with nothing in it. Is that the reason? Is it human imagination that explains why, in the complete absence of any evidence, people continue to believe in the possibility of null-spaces and null-states and empty voids?
I think it has something to do with our vision; our sense of sight and the way our eyes and brains work to make sense of the world. Only a tiny interval of the electro-magnetic spectrum, which we call visible light, is viewable. Most of the light-spectrum is invisible, so in the past we thought it wasn’t there.
The photons we can see have a peculiar way of interacting with each other and with our sense organs, which has the effect of enabling us to sort out from the vast mess of information streaming into our heads only just enough to allow us to make the decisions necessary for our survival. Otherwise we would be overwhelmed by too much information and become confused.
We don’t see a lot of the extraneous stuff which, if we did observe it, would immediately disavow us of any fantasies we might have had about a state of nothingness in nature.
If we were not blind to 99.999% of what’s out there, we wouldn’t believe in the concept of nothing. Such a state, never observed, would seem inconceivable.
The reason there is something rather than nothing is because there is no such thing as nothing. Deluded by our own blindness, we invented the concept of ZERO in mathematics. Its power as a place holder convinced us that it must possess other magical properties; that it could represent not just the absence of things we could count, but also an absolute certainty in measurement that we now know is not possible. ZERO, we have learned, can be an approximation when it’s used to describe quantum phenomenon.
When we take the number ZERO too seriously, when we refuse to acknowledge the quantum nature of some of the stuff it purports to measure, we run into that most vexing problem in mathematics (and physics), which destroys our best ideas: dividing by zero, which we say is undefined and leads to infinities that blow-up our most promising formulas. Stymied by infinities, physicists have invented work-arounds like renormalization to make progress with their computations.
Because we are evolved biological creatures who are mostly blind to the things that exist in the universe, we have become hard-wired over the ages to accept the concept of nothingness as a natural state when, it turns out, there is no evidence for it.
The phenomenon of life and death has added to the confusion. We are born and we die, it seems. We were once nothing, and we return to nothing when we die. The concept of non-existence seems so right; the state of non-being; the state of nothingness, so real, so compelling.
But we are fools to think this way—both about ourselves and about nature itself. Anyone who has witnessed the birth of their own child understands that the child does not emerge from nothing but is a continuation of life that goes back eons. And we have no compelling evidence that we die; that we cease to exist; that we return to a state of nothingness.
No one remembers not existing. None of us have ever died. People we know and love seem to have died, physically, for sure. But we, ourselves, never have.
Those who make the claim that we die can’t know for sure if they are right, because they have never experienced a state of non-existence; in fact, they never will. No human being who has ever lived has ever experienced a state of non-existence. One has to exist to experience anything.
Why is there something, not nothing? Because there is no such thing as nothing. There never will be.
The only alternative to nothing, is something. Something doesn’t require an explanation. The burden of proof lies with the naysayers. Let them find a patch of nothing somewhere in the universe. They can’t do it.
The properties of things may need to be explained, and scientists are working to figure them out. People want to know how things get their properties and behave the way they do. It is what science is about.
Slowly but surely, we make progress.
Afterthought: The number ZERO is a valid place holder for computation, but can never be a quantity of any measured thing that isn’t rounded-off. When thought about in this way, ZERO, like Pi (π), can take on the characteristics of an irrational number, which, when used for measurement, is always terminated at some arbitrary decimal place depending on the accuracy desired and the nature of the underlying geometry.
The universe might also be pixelated, according to theorists. Experiments are being done right now to help establish evidence for and against some specific proposals by a few of the current pixel-theory advocates. If a pixelated universe turns out to be fact, it will confound the foundations of our mathematics and require changes in the way we measure small things.
For now, it seems that Pi and ZERO—indeed, all measurements involving irrational numbers—are probably best used when truncated to reflect the precision of Planck’s constant, which is the starting point for physicists who hope to define what some of the properties of pixels might be, assuming of course that they exist and make up the fabric of the cosmos.
In practice, pixelization would mean that we don’t need numbers longer than forty-five or so decimal places to describe at least the one-dimensional properties of the sub-atomic world. According to theory, quantum stuff measured by a number like ZERO might oscillate around certain very small values at the fortieth decimal place or so in each of the three dimensions of physical space. A number ZERO which contained a digit in the 40th decimal place might even flip between negative and positive values in a random way.
The implications are profound, transcending even quantum physics. Read the Billy Lee Conjecture in my essay, Conscious Life, anyone who doesn’t believe it.
One last point: quantum theory contains the concept of superposition, which suggests that an elementary particle is everywhere until after it is measured. This phenomenon—yes, it’s non-intuitive—adds weight to the point of view that space is not only not empty when we look; it’s also not empty when we don’t look.
Board Comment: We thought that a little story might help readers understand better what the heck Billy Lee is writing about. So here goes:
A child at night hears a noise in her toy-box and imagines a ghost. She cries out and her parents rush in. They assure her. There are no ghosts.
Later, alone in her room, the child hears another sound, this time in the closet. Her throbbing heart suggests that her parents must be lying.
Until she turns on the light and peeks into her closet, she can’t know for sure.
Then again, maybe ghosts fly away when the lights are on, she reasons.
In this essay, Billy Lee is trying to reassure his readers that there is no such thing as nothing. It’s not real.
Where is the evidence? Or does nothing disappear when we look at it?
Maybe ghosts really do fly away when we turn on the lights. The Board