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Let's first define nothing as the absence of something. Not talking about universe here.

How early on do we grasp this concept of nothing? Are there people who get old without that basic understanding?

Now, let's define nothing as the absence of everything. Yes, talking about any possible universe now.

This is not any longer obvious if anyone can even understand it. Suppose we can: how hard is it to do? Is it even possible to postulate a mathematical definition for it, thus, making it really hard but plausible?

In other words... While it will always be ambiguous, what is a good philosophical definition for nothing? If there really isn't any consensus (as it seems to me), then the answer automatically is something in the line: "No, it ain't easy at all", and then pointing why it isn't easy to understand (in lack of a better word).

Disclaimer: If you know portuguese, I'm deriving this question from a brazilian song. Please, don't mistake the question by "Is nothing easy to understand?". That is just obviously false. There are things that are easy to understand. And, specially, don't take this to ontology or methaphysics.

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    How, exactly, are you expecting people to answer this question? What would a good answer to this question look like in your mind? – Cody Gray Apr 13 '12 at 17:53
  • @CodyGray I guess I currently have the habit of getting into a subject I really know very little about and asking a question that sounds absurd to those who do know. Your comment and those downvotes already hint me that's the case. Now, answering your question, I'd expect to have just 1 or 2 definitions (rather than the many ones in the wikipedia link) or a good reasoning to why there can't be a single definition. I thought I had already stated this explicitly enough, though. – cregox Apr 13 '12 at 18:00
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    No, it's perfectly acceptable to ask questions about things you don't know. In fact, that's the whole idea! My concern is just that it's not clear to me what you're asking or how people would actually answer this question. It seems like the fundamental question you want answered is: "what is a good philosophical definition for nothing?" And my concern is that that particular question really isn't a good question for a Q&A site like this one. I was hoping if I could get you to articulate your specific question, we could work together to make the question a bit clearer. – Cody Gray Apr 13 '12 at 19:46
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    @CodyGray: It's even worse than that-- "What is a good philosophical definition for nothing?" coupled with "And, specially, don't take this to ontology or methaphysics" leaves little room for an answer. – Michael Dorfman Apr 17 '12 at 14:23
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    It's not clear how you want us to answer the philosophy-based questions in your body; to ask of the "difficulty" in understanding 'nothing' is vague at best. Is it difficult to understand 'pizza'? As for the other questions, such as "How early on do we grasp this concept?", these should be asked in the Psych/CogSci sites (although as someone who studied developmental psychology I imagine most infants understand the concept of 'nothing' by the time they are 24 months old, coinciding with their understanding of object permanence). Closing for now, pending revisions. – stoicfury Apr 17 '12 at 19:44
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Well, I'm... let's just say, not as young as I used to be, and I still can't grasp the concept of "nothing". And given how long it took humans as a species to invent the number zero, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that "No, it ain't easy at all".

There can't be a single definition, because to provide a single definition, you need to be able to specify a target for that definition unambiguously. I realize that's verging on tautology, but... really that's the only way to answer it. To define something, you either have to point to it and say "That is X", and you can then define X by the characteristics of the thing you point to. If you can't point to something (or some class of things), then X means whatever anyone wants it to mean, and no consensus of definition can be reached.

If you are interested in learning more about naming, identification, and definition, I can highly recommend Kripke's book, Naming and Necessity.

  • Yes, this is a kind of answer I can accept, but I'm missing something, and I may be the culprit of not asking it right... You're talking solely about the definition. But let's say there is a definition we just can't grasp. Like "love". It's hard to define, but most people actually understand it somehow sooner or later. Or so I believe. It is so simple, or easy to understand that we complicate things and make it hard. That's what I actually meant in the question... Though I devised it to ask definition, because I tot there might be one. – cregox Apr 15 '12 at 22:06
  • @Cawas Not sure I agree with you there. If you recall, in greek there have been a lot of different words for love, used at the same time - e.g. agape, storge, philia... I think love is hard to define, because everyone experiences it differently. You can point to a thing, and say "that is blue", but you can't point to a thing and say "that is love". Only, "it is likely that what you are feeling now is similar to what I would feel in your position, and that feeling is love". – Benubird Apr 17 '12 at 11:56
  • I was editing my question to include this explanation... But then I realized this is already in the question, so, I'll do it here. - We don't need to define something to know what it is. Let's take planets for instance. Any one with the concept of outer space knows what a planet is, but when we try to distinct planets from other space objects it may get really fuzzy and complicated. So, "planet" is a constantly changing definition (just look at Pluto) and still we do understand what it is. We are just trying to better define it. – cregox Apr 17 '12 at 13:40
  • Similarly, if there's no single definition for nothing it doesn't mean we don't understand it - it just means it is currently hard to define. It also doesn't mean the difficulty lies "in the borders", for whatever that may mean. It has its own peculiarities. If it wasn't clear enough, it is my belief that many people do understand nothing, but then again, maybe that's where I'm wrong. – cregox Apr 17 '12 at 13:40

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