If "nothing" is encapsulated by "something", does this imply it has size? For example; imagine I have a 1 meter by 1 meter by 1 meter box which encloses a complete vacuum. Does the vacuum have a size of 1 cubic meter? If the box were further enclosed by layers of obstructing matter to block out all radiation creating a true 1 meter by 1 meter by 1 meter area of absolutely nothing; would nothing in this case have a size of 1 cubic meter?

Edit: The answer explained quite well below by more than one person is that there is no such thing as "nothing". I gave the check to the explanation that I thought was more clear.

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    Since your "vacuum" (a region of space, presumably) can be enclosed it is not "nothing" even if it is free of matter. In fact, presence or absence of matter seems to be rather irrelevant to shape and size. "Nothing" will have no such characteristics.
    – Conifold
    Mar 15, 2017 at 3:07
  • Ok, so you are saying a vacuum can have size. How about the second part of my scenario; where the box is further enclosed to block out all radiation? I'm talking about a box that is capable of blocking out an actual "area of nothing". Mar 15, 2017 at 3:13
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    There is no "area of nothing" with the sense of "nothing" which would produce the paradoxes you want. "Absolute nothing" has no relation to matter, radiation, boxes, meters, and other such incidentals. The "paradox" comes from us using "nothing" colloquially to abstract in a far less radical sense that still has characteristics to it. By your usage mathematical circles are "nothing" too because they contain no matter, and so are abstractions like beauty or goodness, which are even non-spatial.
    – Conifold
    Mar 15, 2017 at 3:24
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    Ah, so the concept of nothing is in itself an abstraction, just like there is no size to a point, or width to a line. Mar 15, 2017 at 3:55
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    There is also a difference made in physics between a vacuum and a void, your use of vacuum might not be as precise as you intend it to be
    – Not_Here
    Mar 15, 2017 at 4:12

5 Answers 5


Is a vacuum nothing if that vacuum exists within the bounds of spacetime? Check out "Raum und Zeit" by Minkowski. This secondary article might also come in handy.

For an empirical explanation of nothing: https://phys.org/news/2014-08-what-is-nothing.html

Even if you could remove all the particles, shield against all electric and magnetic fields, your box would still contain gravity, because gravity can never be shielded or cancelled out. Gravity doesn't go away, and it's always attractive, so you can't do anything to block it. In Newton's physics that's because it is a force, but in general relativity space and time are gravity

So, imagine if you could remove all particles, energy, gravity… everything from a system. You'd be left with a true vacuum. Even at its lowest energy level, there are fluctuations in the quantum vacuum of the Universe. There are quantum particles popping into and out of existence throughout the Universe. There's nothing, then pop, something, and then the particles collide and you're left with nothing again. And so, even if you could remove everything from the Universe, you'd still be left with these quantum fluctuations embedded in spacetime.

...and in that sense you are asking "can not-spacetime have spacetime?" Inasmuch an answer of yes would mean "A is not-A." This contradicts the principle of non-contradiction. That "spacetime is not-spacetime" is false is axiomatic. This, of course, also implies that all of spacetime cannot be bound by not-spacetime. In either instance, by which empirical means and deductions might we empirically verify whether or not the world even ends? For all we do know between blinkering quantum decoherence and the event horizons of epistemically opaque cosmological wholes ("Black Holes") we simply do not know how the world started or whenwhen / if it ends.

"People say again and again that philosophy doesn't really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say this don't understand why it has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. As long as there continues to be a verb 'to be' that looks as if it functions in the same way as 'to eat' and 'to drink', as long as we have the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', as long as we continue to talk of a river of time, of an expanse of space, etc. etc., people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up. And what's more, this satisfies a longing for transcendence, because in so far as people think they see the 'limits of human understanding', they believe of course that they can see beyond these."
-Ludwig Wittgenstein
"Culture and Value"
pg. 15e c.1931

That said, sure, in a metaphorical sense nothing can have a size as in "look at all that nothing."

enter image description here

...but, as you nicely put it in your comment, like a mathematical point, or, like a Euclidian circle, "nothing" is just an abstraction and like all abstract ideas, nothing does not exist - it is only to be found in language.

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    This is very informative, and it does help, thank you. I am imagining though, truly, although it might require "magic" an "area of nothing" bound by "something" in the shape of a cube. That being said, it invokes the opposite, where spacetime is bound by non-spacetime, and beyond the edge of the universe is truly nothing. May there be a multi-verse, what is in between those universes other than nothing, and might nothing be bound by them, thereby implying it has a size? Mar 15, 2017 at 3:42
  • @takintoolong glad it helped! I am picking up what you are laying down, but I simply don't know - the world certainly owes us no explanation and the more we find out, in all likelihood, it is weirder than we imagine. Good thinkin' tho!
    – MmmHmm
    Mar 15, 2017 at 3:47
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    Figured it out in the comments on my question. "Nothing" is an abstraction. Just as a point can have no size nor a line any width. Mar 15, 2017 at 3:58
  • Sure, aren't all absolutes and ideals?
    – MmmHmm
    Mar 15, 2017 at 4:08
  • Of course, there you go with the word “exist” viz-a-viz “does not exist”. Just like you were quoting Wittgenstein: What about the distinction between existence and reality, et cetera? Mar 15, 2017 at 5:46

In physics there is a differentiation made between "vacuum" and "void". From an article entitled "How Feynman Diagrams Almost Saved Space" by theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek:

Vacuum, in modern usage, is what you get when you remove everything that you can, whether practically or in principle. We say a region of space “realizes vacuum” if it is free of all the different kinds of particles and radiation we know about (including, for this purpose, dark matter — which we know about in a general way, though not in detail). Alternatively, vacuum is the state of minimum energy.

Intergalactic space is a good approximation to a vacuum.

Void, on the other hand, is a theoretical idealization. It means nothingness: space without independent properties, whose only role, we might say, is to keep everything from happening in the same place. Void gives particles addresses, nothing more.

Aristotle famously claimed that “Nature abhors a vacuum,” but I’m pretty sure a more correct translation would be “Nature abhors a void.”

In this view, vacuum refers to an actual region of spacetime. Remember that quantum field theory tells us that there are fields that exist all throughout the universe. Even if you remove particles from a region of spacetime the fields themselves still exist in those points, they are just in a minimum energy state so there is no actual particle or radiation in that space. If you were to put a field vacuum inside of a box (build a box around a particular region of vacuous spacetime?) then that region would still have a dimension of length, because it is still spacetime that is permeated with minimum energy field vacua.

On the other hand, a void is the idea of a region of space and nothing else. It doesn't have minimum energy field vacua, it doesn't even have a time component. It is the abstract concept of just having a region of space. If you were to have a box that had a void inside of it it would still have a length because it is the definitional concept of space. From Wikipedia:

Space is the boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events have relative position and direction.

Even in a void, a theoretical region of space that has nothing inside of it, it still has spatial dimensionality because it is, by definition, space.

A third concept, the concept that you are most likely meaning to refer to, is the idea of an absolute nothingness. Nothingness, or emptiness, is what is called a universal, or an abstract concept. There isn't a region of the universe you could go to that would contain nothingness because all regions of the universe have spatio-temporal dimensionality. So you wouldn't ever be able to find a region of actual "nothingness" to enclose. However, that brings up the problem of universals vs particulars, or even just abstract objects in general. Here are two introductory resources that will help you get a better understanding of the subjects: Properties and Abstract Objects. It is not a closed debate about whether or not universals, such as "nothingness", or abstract objects in general exist. There are good arguments on both sides and this is a question that has been discussed at the forefront of western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle. Whether or not "nothingness' as a universal exists, you still would not be able to encapsulate it within a box. As for vacua and voids, however, both of those do have dimensionality because both of them are bounded by spatial dimensions.

To state definitively and succinctly: a vacuum would have a size of one cubic meter in your example; a void would have a size of one cubic meter in your example; the abstract concept of "nothingness" would not have any sort of size and could not be put into a box because it refers to the abstract concept of nothingness. Hopefully now it makes more sense why the definitions you chose really matter and a question such as "If 'nothing' is encapsulated by 'something', does this imply it has size?" at face value is a little vague.

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    funny, the gluon in the vacuum animation looks a lot like Conway's game of life in 3D.
    – MmmHmm
    Mar 15, 2017 at 6:05
  • I see your point about the gluon. I still don't think our computers are capable of actual life. Maybe once the quantum computers have advanced. Even still, something seems to be missing. Mar 16, 2017 at 6:33
  • @takintoolong when you used vacuum originally, were you referring to a vacuum, a void, or an instantiation of the universal "nothingness" ?
    – Not_Here
    Mar 16, 2017 at 6:46
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    Well, this ventures past philosophy of physics. "Removing spacetime from a region of spacetime" isn't a well defined notion and really has nothing to do with physics or philosophy of physics, thats a much more general metaphysical question
    – Not_Here
    Mar 16, 2017 at 7:07
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    Of course, at any rate I would definitely say look more into universals vs particulars and abstract objects. Nominalism is the view that universals don't really exist, they're just part of language, and only instantiations of them do. Since "nothing" can't be instantiated in that way, or at least it would be paradoxical if it could, a nominalist would probably say nothingness has no size because it cant exist. I don't know how much back ground you have with set theory or logic in general but Frege and the 20th century investigation of the philosophy of language will probably illuminate this.
    – Not_Here
    Mar 16, 2017 at 7:14

Is 'nothing' encapsulated by 'something'

Nothing in its elemental notion is exactly that: no thing - no determinate or indeterminate thing. This was originally an insight of Parmenides in the very early theorisation of what it means for things to actually be and what their nature actually is.

In that sense there is nothing to measure because there is literally nothing there including space and time which is the stage upon where things are.

Generally noticing this in the ontological sense is just called the void.

Aristotle gave five arguments for the non-existence of the void and argued that the void of the atomists was better conceptualised as space.

Newton conceptualised space as infinite in extent and it's only with the advent of General Relativity that it was realised that space itself can have size.

There is an easy intuitive argument that shows space ought to have size - essentially because actual infinities are not physically realisable and when it's understood that space is ontologically real.

Once you have understood this then your specific questions are easy enough to answer (though to be honest, relatively unimportant in the order of things).


Indeed it's a brilliant question!! First, we need to understand what is Existence, as asked in question the term 'nothing' is actually 'Spatial expanse of Existence'

Existence: It includes universe/multiverse/entire creation, it can be defined as a self-existing multi-dimensional entity, infinite in nature, it consists of all other entities that ever existed or existing now or will exist; such as matter, antimatter, waves, energy, force fields, spatial expanse (includes emptiness and non-emptiness) etc.

Non-Existence: It can be defined as an entity that never existed, nor existing now and will never exist.

Spatial expanse of Existence: It can be defined as a physical entity (part of Existence) which can contain nothing inside it (emptiness) or some physical entity filling it (non-emptiness).

Note: Vacuum does not mean spatial expanse, it just represents emptiness, while spatial expanse includes vacuum and non-vacuum both.

The density outside the earth’s atmosphere is less than 1 hydrogen atom per cubic centimetre. So we can consider the distance between the 2 hydrogen atoms is min. 1 centimetre. Only if we consider spatial expanse as a physical entity of Existence between them, then only we will be able to observe the distance between 2 hydrogen atoms. Else we would not be able to observe the distance between them, because there is empty vacuum only and nothing else exists between them. And if we consider this empty spatial expanse as Non-Existence then there should not be any distance between them.

All physical entities are present in the infinite spatial expanse of Existence very similar to a particle/wave of light penetrating into the water and getting absorbed. This spatial expanse of Existence could be so vast that if we consider our universe as a small particle of light then the spatial expanse might be equal to the Pacific Ocean or more. This example is just for an illustration purpose as spatial expanse could be infinite in nature.

There is a theory of the presence of dark matter (never been detected directly) in the emptiness of our universe due to which our universe is expanding exponentially. It might be possible that our universe is just getting absorbed into the vast infinite spatial expanse of Existence. (The detailed discussion of this topic has not been included in this book as it is a full research topic to cover).

By the above definitions, now we can have a better understanding of Existence, Non-Existence and Spatial expanse of Existence.

There is always a continuous change of state of Existence can be explained by two theories i.e. Second law of thermodynamics and Moment of inertia. However, both might not be able to explain it fully.

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A lot of confuse concepts. I will try to answer your question excluding all considerations about the transcendental idealism producing space, but you should read about it.

The nothingness is not an object that exists outside of a mind. It can be said to be an ideal concept (more precisely, a synthetic-a-priori concept, equivalent to the number zero in math, read the introduction to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason). As such, it can't be closed inside a box. A box is a product of sense perception, and you can't put ideas inside. Notice the types of both objects: one is ideal, is not the result of sense perception, the other is the result of experience.

The concepts nothingness and nothing (equivalents in this particular case) mean the absence of things. Given that you can only measure things, you can't measure an absence of things. Nothing is a group which has no elements, and therefore it cannot have a size (which is different from having size 0).

Worst even, you cannot imagine nothing, except as an empty container. What you are precisely trying to measure is the container, not the content, since you can't measure something that does not exist. Imagine nothing without a container: you can't.

In physics, the concepts of nothing and nothingness refer to a space where there are no objects we can interact with (i.e. no atoms), but where there would exist objects we can't interact with (e.g. gravity fields). Black matter is a conceptual object that would exist in a perfect vacuum. You can perform ideal measurements of it, but only as a concept containing something, not as an unexisting content.

Under such light, the answer to your question "does 'nothing' have size?" is clear: no. It can't have a size. Only things have sizes. In order to measure the nothingness, you need to exclude the idea of the container, and measure what lefts.

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