Zero, though a number without tangible value, has fostered within its hollowed essence, quite an enormous reputation over the ages. The “significant nothing” has played a revolutionary role in extending the boundaries of numerical computation, from its earliest applications by the human mind to its most recent. One would be surprised to know that after all this time, there is still so much we can learn from, well… nothing.
“For the vast majority of our history, humans didn’t understand the number zero. It’s not innate in us. We had to invent it and we have to keep teaching it to the next generation.” Brian Resnick, a scientific reporter for vox.com professed in his article The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero. He further mentioned that zero may still be a mystery to the human mind and justifiably so, zero is easy to think about when used in association with a specific object (zero mangoes, zero trees, etc). In this scenario, one can agree that a tangible or perceivable quantity of the objects in discussion, does not exist within the observer’s finite space of observation. Andreas Nieder, a scientist from the University of Tübingen’s Department of Neurobiology in Germany, mentioned that this is one of four universal steps to approach the number zero from a conscious perspective, of which three are shared with some of our companions in the animal kingdom.
Nieder explained “The first is just having the simple sensory experience of stimulus, going on and off. This is the ability to notice a light flickering on and off. Or a noise turning on and off. The second is behavioral understanding. At this stage, not only can animals recognize a lack of stimulus, they can react to it. When an individual has run out of food, they know to go find more. The third stage is recognizing that zero(nothing), or an empty container, is a value less than one. The fourth stage is taking the absence of a stimulus and treating it as a symbol, no animal outside of humans, understands that zero can be a symbol.”
It is because of the fourth reason, that we can pivot this discussion towards the direction it is about to head. Let us first eliminate any relationship to perceivable quantity and examine zero the naked symbol, the empty enigma, for what is truly is when it’s left alone to the silence of its own company.
If zero is to be isolated and looked at in the sense of its “totality” being “absolute nothingness”, It’s hard to consider what such a phenomenon could entail. A deep enough reflection on this statement in Resnick’s article “If zero had remained simply a placeholder digit, it would have been a profound tool on its own,” gives rise to an interesting stream of thoughts, what if nothingness happens to be reality’s placeholder representation for potentially existing tangible substance? This could hint at deeper implications with regards to the mechanics of existence. In the initial instance, there never seemed to be a rational place for “absolute nothingness” in the boundless ocean of Infinity, as in every empty space it’s widely accepted that some particle must by necessity reside, no matter how small, how negligible, or how estranged to human perception that particle might be.
Some profess that nothingness can be regarded as a “mode” or a singular component of infinity itself (what Spinoza regards as substance), others may argue that absolute nothingness may even be the polar extreme or the “antithesis” of infinity. However, these are all hypotheses which could either be considered as fairly rational or incredibly absurd depending on how we choose to conceptualize infinity, and how we expect “absolute nothingness” to interact with it.
If we equate infinity to meaning an ever-increasing quantity, then we can give some amount of rational credit to “absolute nothingness,” as this would provide a “void” to be filled with endlessly increasing matter and particles etc. In this case, I think we can agree that we are looking at infinity as more of a verb as opposed to having it denote some pre-existing quantity in endless abundance, a view aligned with Spinoza’s. The former position can easily be used in association with what we conventionally consider to be the expanding universe, as opposed to the later position where it’s simply the summation of all things in existence.
If we were to accept Michio Kaku’s string theory of multiple parallel universes however, one might be hesitant to equate the word universe with infinity as with a little reflection on Spinoza’s Ethics, it was declared that “A thing is called finite after its kind, when it can be limited by another thing of the same nature,” and by this logic, finite boundaries must exist within one universe for there to exist another as they are both of the same nature, yet Georg Cantor hypothesized based on his investigations into infinity, that infinity can subsequently exist within different quantities, and within a tangible boundary as contradictory as this may sound. An example of this would be irrational numbers between 0 and 1, they are infinitely recurring, yet they have an ultimate lower and upper limit.
It is always nauseating to isolate components like infinity, Space and time and observe them objectively. I think absolute nothingness should be thrown right into the pot with the rest of them.
Let us consider the expanding universe as a universe that recognizes an absence of its own presence, by Spinoza’s logic, if it is an attribute of the mode, it is by extension an attribute of the substance. In this regard we can imagine a construct, of which, based on the internal activities between its constituents, is somehow intricately compelled to stretch into an ever-present void over some period of time. But an ever-expanding universe must have an origin, a medium through which it can grow, a cause for its growth and an effect oriented destination. With regards to its origin Neil deGrasse Tyson, an Astrophysicist, briefly explained in his book, Astrophysics for people in a hurry, the process of the early universe’s inflation from the incredibly minute speck it was during the Planck era to the behemoth we know it to be today.
“In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence. Conditions were so hot, the basic forces of nature that collectively describe the universe were unified. Though still unknown how it came into existence, this sub-pinpoint-size cosmos could only expand. Rapidly. In what today we call the big bang.”
He continued, “during the Planck era, the large was small, and we suspect there must have been a kind of shotgun wedding between the two. Alas, the vows exchanged during that ceremony continue to elude us, and so no (known) laws of physics describe with any confidence the behavior of the universe over that time”. No doubt this describes that at some point the universe was in fact considered to be of a finite quantity.
Now let us pause here and consider “time” for a moment. Even if this is only supported by very few case-scenarios, time and nothingness seem to co-relate if we think of them in this way. If we take time, for example, some might say time is infinite, but we as humans know that every perceived moment is finite, and if you think deeply about this you would learn this to be true. The paradox comes when we decide to look at time as an endless linear sequence of momentary progressions (clock based/mechanical time), which seems to align in someway with the two perspective distinctions we’ve previously established with regards to infinity.
A moment never truly ceases yet it can be recorded, estimated, and represented in great numerical detail, the same can be done for the quantity of any increasing volume, yet, “time” in its totality, cannot. It can, however, be seen as wholesome and gives a notion of being in endless abundance (providing that only mechanical time is affected by the presence of a singularity), or so we would like to assume. But this is only the case if we consider moments that have not yet been experienced or shared by any sole construct or particle, a concept we now universally describe as the “future” which is some expected moment in reality that is yet to exist or has the potential to become a reality.
Time seems to lay the platform for “dynamic change” and can act as a catalyst in its own intricate way, in whatever scenario you may want to apply that, it would almost if not always, stand true. The number zero as a place value amid all existence seems to share this same responsibility if all its applications were to be reduced to binary operations. By extension “absolute nothingness” would as well if it were to exist somewhere within the confines of infinity. It only seems rational that everything should be considered, in this bizarre quest to unveil nothing.