Vanity Fea

Something More than Nothing

sábado, 17 de enero de 2015

Something More than Nothing

Here’s Lawrence Krauss’s lecture "A Universe from Nothing".

Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not,
When primitive Nothing Something straight begot.

Krauss has an amusing comment (or insight) on hindsight bias in science: "You don’t have to know what you’re doing, to win the Nobel Prize. You just have to do it." These guys thought they were up to nothing, and they won the Nobel Prize. There’s a lesson there on the future value of present nothingness, and on its true substance.

"Nothing will come of nothing", said Lear, and it seems that either he or Shakespeare were wrong, even if this story of the universe has no choice but be just another just-so story: the anthropic principle is another instance of hindsight bias.  A nothingness out of which something may come is something more than nothing.

Creation ex nihilo brings to mind not just Genesis (although there’s a god behind nothing there, too) but the anti-Genesis contained in the Earl of Rocheter’s libertine satire "Upon Nothing"—addressed to Nothingness itself:

Something, the general attribute of all,
Severed from thee, its sole original,
Into thy boundless self must undistinguished fall;
Yet Something did thy mighty power command,
And from fruitful Emptiness’s hand
Snatched men, beasts, birds, fire, air, and land.
Matter the wicked’st offspring of thy race,
By Form assisted, flew from thy embrace,
And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusky face.
With Form and Matter, Time and Place did join;
Body, thy foe, with these did leagues combine
To spoil thy peaceful realm, and ruin all thy line;
But turncoat Time assists the foe in vain,
And bribed by thee, destroys their short-lived reign,
And to thy hungry womb drives back thy slaves again.

Samuel Johnson comments that Rochester "is not the first who has chosen this barren topic for the boast of his fertility", and refers us to Jean Passerat—whose poem upon nothingness can be found at The Latin Library, under the title De nihiloPorrigitur magni NIHIL extra moenia mundi, indeed. John Barthelme’s "Nothing: A Preliminary Account" is also worth perusing.

A photo on Flickr


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