The journey to nothing begins with this pivotal first chapter in A Hole in the Universe, which we will now explore! This chapter begins with an intriguing quote:
Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
This, to me, was an unusual twist on words; one can interpret the passage in many ways, and is uniquely relevant to the whole topic of the book. Now, without further ado, forward march!
The first thing I learned was that there is a hole in the universe. Not an ordinary hole, that leads from somewhere to someplace, where one may come and go as they wish. This hole is much like a blank space – a depthless, inexplicably large area in space that is an obvious blind spot in our understanding of the universe. That very hole is the grasp of nothing itself. Understanding nothing is vital (not only for this ISU!) because it is the backdrop where everything else happens. Without perceiving the nature of nothing, humans cannot hope to understand the ‘blank page on which the story of everything is written’, as the author puts it. Hence, for centuries, the likes of scientists, physicists, and philosophers have tried to track nothing, to label it and box it to understand it better; and all this time, they have failed.
Scientists have often wondered how such a powerful presence could remain so effectively masked and still have such profoundly colossal effects. The author provided a fantastic example to prove the marvels of nothing – such as a blank piece of paper – so I altered her examples to create a few of my own. Now, we think of a piece of paper as a perfectly featureless canvas that couldn’t conceivably affect what we draw on it; or so we think. So, what if. .
…The paper is slick, so that your pen’s ink slips and slides and flows in tiny rivers on the paper.
Or the paper is invisible, so there is no certainty that any mark you make will actually make it on the paper at all.
Or the paper morphs in front of your eyes, interchanging between a variety of size and shapes that make it nigh impossible to create what you wish on it.
Or the paper wriggles and wobbles like a worm and refuses to stay still – causing your lines to go awry and not come out as you planned.
Or the paper simply disappears and appears on a whim, frustrating your attempts to even etch a mark onto the paper.
While these situations may be out of this world, they are not unlike those that scientists have faced in their search for ‘nothing at all’. In order to find out about nothing, they have needed to wiggle out nothing’s properties so that they may be ‘visible’. To visualize this, I’ll use the author’s example of a rock perched on a cliff. The rock is doing ‘nothing’, but don’t underestimate that ‘nothing’ – it carries an enormous amount of potential. If it drops, the potential is strong enough to crush the skull of a passerby beneath it. Potential, it seems, is one of the rather attractive properties of ‘nothing’.
Nothing’s duality – it is some thing and no thing at the same time – is part of it’s unexpected power and appeal. At some times, a simple void. At other times, a rich and bountiful potential, much like the rock poised on a cliff. In fact, it is much like the number zero. Let’s say I had 10 hedgehogs – a formidable sum. If, however, I had 10,000,000 hedgehogs, then I would have, well…a lot of hedgehogs. Yet the difference between the two is simple, the mere addition of six more zeros. Hence, nothing and zero have quite a bit in common. A black hole (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_hole) is my favourite example of nothing’s duality, though, even if my understanding of black holes is close to nil. From what I know, it is an natural vaccum that sucks up anything that was unfortunate enough to come close enough to it, yet it has no dimension. It’s something and nothing at the same time! Ha-ha!
Another wonderful quote that I loved goes like this:
It’s a struggle to understand how at one instant there’s something and at the other instant, there’s nothing.
-cosmologist ROCKY KOLB
It is sometimes difficult to grasp the presence of nothing. A person in a car going 70 mph may feel nothing when cruising down the highway; until they hit a wall, where they would then feel the impact of such a speed. When nothing changes, we know. In fact, when nothing changed, our entire universe was born.
Nothing has many operable definitions; one being that nothing is “that which doesn’t make a difference.” You can tell you’re in nothing because the situation around you doesn’t change – you could be going up or down, left or right, be hot or cold, happy or disgruntled, be moving at light speed or the pace of a garden slug and you would acknowledge the fact that you are in nothing. It is somewhere you can get lost in, be profoundly happy in, be left alone in. Something, however, definition-wise, is any deviation from nothing. Something is created when nothing’s symmetry is broken, when noise is created from the silence of nothing – like drawing on a blank paper, breaking into song in a silent room, or plopping a stone into a clear lake and creating ripples.
Quote crazy that I am, this one was my favorite from this chapter:
Although space may be empty of body, nevertheless it is not in itself a void. Something is there, because spaces are there, although nothing more than that.
Before reading this book, this quote would have been a distinct blur that I would have thought I understood. However, now I can see it through a different eye. To me, Sir Newton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton) was someone who even long ago – when scientists were beginning to delve deeply into the fields of science – understood the basic properties of nothing. Nothing is nothing is not a helping hand, an idea of convenience that allows us to understand the nature of something; a solemn corner in which the magnitude of wealth the universe throws at us a tad bit more tolerable. Therefore, in my opinion (and the author’s), nothing deserves at the very least, our respect and adoration.
What a chapter! Though there is much more I could have put, these are the main points, to me. And what points they are, right? Now, onto the next chapter! There is a lot more stuff to behold…