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Consider for a moment the classic question "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

My favorite answer is a terribly funny statement by a stand up comedian in Hebrew: "eem ein ein, az yesh yesh!" which is an impossible to translate word play of meanings, that means something like "existence exists since nothing does not"

From that point of view, existence is infinite and inevitable, and nothingness is just a concept which cannot be.

I think that it is because of our own mortality, that we tend to intuitively picture reality as a finite speck of existence in an infinite sea of nothingness.

Rather, it is us who are a finite interval of phenomenal existence, and as a consequence it is quite surprising that we exist at all.

Indeed, possibly the only example of nothing that we can imagine is that eternal lack of consciousness which is death.

But then I ask, if nothing is the end of consciousness, then in what sense does anything exist once we die?

If this question ain't too silly, an answer with pointers and references will be appreciated; and to save you time, I would add that I don't believe the world is an illusion, nor that I am the only consciousness around.


EDIT - what a crop, one SPAM answer, and a comment suggesting this question belongs in Reddit's stoner-philosophy page.

Luckily I found a Nobel Prize winner to (sort of) back me up; in a paper called Two Kinds of Realities, Eugene Wigner wrote:

one would expect that my consciousness, the only absolute reality, should be permanent. It should have existed always and remain in existence forever. Again, this is clearly not so. On the contrary, there are realities of the second kind of which we think as permanent - electric charges, heavy particles. Surely the permanence of these objects after my death is meaningless

and:

my consciousness would dissolve into nothing some day. Then, there will be no absolute reality-and indeed there will be nothing

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A the risk of validating the stoner philosophy vote, I would suggest that negation is an overrated aspect of human grammar, and not a deep aspect of experienced reality. 'The Neverending Story' aside, there is no Nothing. Your Yiddish pun is right: something is not there in contrast to anything, something is what there is and what there isn't can't matter.

This is one of Plato's useful biases -- deficiency is the projection of perfection onto its imitation and an attempt to explain the result. But the perfection and the imitation are both far more real than the deficiency, which is a side-effect of the side-effect of material reality.

A slavish attachment to two basically grammatical notions 'all' and 'not' is what creates strange things like Russel's paradox, and obsessions with theological concepts about omnipotence and determinism that take us nowhere.

It is also at the root of many of our struggles with our own 'primary process' thinking. A great example is Tourette's Syndrome, where in an attempt to intensify "Don't do that" the mind seems far more capable of emphasizing "Do that" and then intensifying "Don't" raising first your tendency to do it and then how bad you should feel about doing it.

To my mind, the right way to address this is to focus on synthetic directions over analytic ones. The greatest achievements of physics are seeing how apparently disparate effects arise from combined causes, from Newton solidifying Galileo's merger of celestial and terrestrial motion, Faraday and Maxwell's combination of electricity and magnetism, the Elecroweak/strong unification in modern times, and trending into String Theory as the seeds for the theory of everything. Philosophy has much to learn there.

There is no clear distinction, only the remainder after we have handled the part. So there is no good reason humans should come equipped with a good way of handling absolute distinctions. And we don't have one. Such bizarre lacunae are fascinating, but that does not make them productive.

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"Indeed, possibly the only example of nothing that we can imagine is that eternal lack of consciousness which is death." It seems this depends on your notion of conciousness -

1) If you think that it's a thing that transcends phyical interference, then there's no reason to suppose that your conciousness will diminish after you die. Perhaps your perspective on reality may change though, as your physical body is now .. um .. different.

2) If you think that conciousness is a part of the physical world, then when you die your perception of all things will die with you and so far as you're concerned, that's it - nothingness prevails.

3) Although you can't remember anything from before you were conceived, does that mean you weren't concious prior to this ? Is not being born yet the same stae as after death ? Some argue you can connect to such lives but the memory is vague.

That's a fundamental difference between 1) theist, 2) atheists and 3) reincarnation.

I think a discussion on the nature of conciousness is off topic here though

re "But then I ask, if nothing is the end of consciousness, then in what sense does anything exist once we die?":

If you consider that 2) is true, and you don't believe you're the only conciousness, then that person 'ends' so that thread of perception ends, so everything ends for that conciousness - but will remain for survivors.

if 1) or 3) is true, then the conciousness stream carries on in some way so in fact death isn't as terminal as is proposed.

  • I disagree with most of your answer; for example non-materialists do not necessarily suppose consciousness survives physical death; nor does theism necessarily entail belief in the after world; I believe there is no reference to the after world in the Jewish Torah (the Pentateuch) and when God "punishes" man for eating the forbidden fruit it is written "For you are dust, And to dust you shall return"; which sounds surprisingly scientific; the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson once put it "we are star dust" – nir Dec 12 '14 at 19:37
  • @nir I think you're right, I am generalising too much regarding theism. I will edit my answer accordingly. – user2808054 Dec 17 '14 at 10:31

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