A Scientific American article I was reading (I couldn't find it online) has a one-page discussion about nothingness. Some of the discussion points seem a little questionable to me, and I'd like to ask people more knowledgeable about some of these.

The first point I'd like to know about is his argument that nothing is actually something. He says,

It is a logical fallacy to talk about "nothing" as if it were "something" that ceases to exist... The very act of talking about "nothing" makes it "something." Otherwise, what are we talking about?

I don't get the part where he says talking about nothing makes it something. Sure, nothing exists as a word, but a word that means the non-existence of something. So, we are talking about the non-existence of something - here, the non-existence of everything.

Nothing is nonsensical. It is impossible to conceptualize nothing-not only no space, time, matter, energy, light, darkness or conscious beings to perceive nothingness but not even nothingness. In this sense, the question is literally inconceivable.

I suppose it is difficult to try to picture nothingness, but I think it is meaningful to discuss. It is simply the non-existence of everything, which seems perfectly coherent and meaningful to me.

Nothing would include God's nonexistence ... If by "nothing" is meant no physical objects or matter of any kind, for example, there can still be energy from which matter may arise by natural forces by the laws of nature. Physicists, for example, talk about empty space as seething with virtual particles, from which particle-antiparticle pairs come into existence as a consequence of the uncertainty principle of quantum physics. From this "nothingness," universes may "pop into existence.

I don't really get the argument here - it simply seems to say God is not necessary to create the universe if there are laws in place that can create it by itself. However, even if this is true, it could still be possible that God exists - God could have created these laws - even if they have always been true - by an eternal expression of his will, given God is timeless.

The last argument says that the idea that God created the universe out of nothing is false because if it was truly out of nothing, God would be included in that nothingness, and therefore cannot create the universe. But I think this rests on a misunderstanding of creation out of nothing. Creation out of nothing I think states God created the universe out of nothing, but that does not mean created the universe with nothing else in existence.

So are my criticisms on these arguments valid? Since Scientific American is a trustworthy source, I doubt these arguments would have such obvious pitfalls. Thoughts?

Edit: They posted the article online. It can be found here.

  • 1
    plato.stanford.edu/entries/nothingness think you may just be reading it too liberally, not sure, not seeing the article so 1. don't talk about nothing this way 2. nothing as opposed to nothingness, not just an empty world but an empty non thing 3. not an argument. not sure!
    – user6917
    Jan 26, 2017 at 2:38
  • 1
    @MATHEMETICIAN I think the article will be up online in a few days, I can put a link up when it does
    – APCoding
    Jan 26, 2017 at 2:57
  • 1
    cool, will take a look then. physicists can be dumb, so maybe you are on point
    – user6917
    Jan 26, 2017 at 3:11
  • 1
    Your "confusion" is right (and - I think - unavoidable). When speaking of nothingness we use it ambiguously : in a pseudo-physical sense, it means "devoid of matter (particle)" which means : empty space (in the Newtonian sense) ? or "pure energy" ? or... In any case, there are viable ways to "manage" this concept, provided that we implement it into some sound theory. Jan 26, 2017 at 8:58
  • 1
    If, on the other hand, we mean "absolute nothing", than we will run into paradoxes : how we can speak/think about "something" that is nothing, i.e. devoided of any property, etc ? If we imagine an empty universe, we are thinking of pure void (in the physical sense), and this has nothing to do with the existence of God (if any). If we imagine an empty "all", then there is no universe, no God, no space, no time, no ourselves, no thought... absolutely nothing. So, why care ? Jan 26, 2017 at 9:02

1 Answer 1


The word "nothing" is something, because a word is something, but the referent of "nothing" is what is important in any understanding of the concept "nothing". There needs to be a distinction between logic and semantics because, semantically, the relationship between nothing and something is a paradox of self-reference.

  • Premise 1: “Nothing” is an element of the extension of the predicate term “nothing”.
  • Premise 2: The extension of the predicate term “nothing” is the set of every predicate term that is not an element of its own extension.
  • Premise 3: “Nothing” is an element of the set of every predicate term that is not an element of its own extension.
  • Conclusion: Thus,“nothing” is an element of its own extension and “nothing” is not an element of its own extension.

In conventional symbolic notation....

  • Premise 1: N∈e(N)
  • Premise 2: e(N)⇔{P|P∉e(P)}
  • Premise 3: N∈{P|P ∉e(P)}
  • Conclusion: N∈e(N)⇔N∈{P|P∉e(P)}.

"N" denotes "nothing", e(X) is the extension of predicate term X, and "P" is any predicate term.

With classical logic (along with most bivalent non-paraconsistent logics), both of the following arguments are valid but, due the aforementioned paradox, the decidability of one over the other is ambiguous.

Modus Datisi:

  • Every thing is something.
  • Some thing is nothing.
  • Thus, nothing is something

Modus Felapton:

  • Every thing is something.
  • No thing is nothing.
  • Some thing exists.
  • Thus, nothing is not something.

("Every" and "no" refer to universal quantification of "thing", and "some" refers to existential quantification of "thing". For example, "some thing" should not be confused with the propositional variable "something".)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .