What is "nothing" and how can a Universe be entirely created out of "nothing"? The moment we give "nothing" a description or definition, it becomes something. The absolute state of nothingness, by its own "definition", does not exist and cannot exist. Therefore, something is always there and will always be there. The PSR (Principle of Sufficient Reason) ensures this. This does not imply a Creator God, but it implies that the scientific definition or theory of "nothingness" is skewed or misconceived. Thoughts?

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    If you do not understand "empty" then I am not going to let you drive my car.
    – BillOnne
    Oct 6, 2022 at 15:17
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    In the beginning was nothing, & because it had absolutely no means to be sure what it was, it of course exploded. "This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 6, 2022 at 19:39
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    If, before the supposed big bang, the universe was in an equal and opposite condition, then at the moment of the big bang, it could be nothing, but only for that instant. In the same way that alternating current circuits have 0 voltage for an infinitely small instant at crossover. Nothing is either a perpetual nothing, or just a brief point in time. Quite obviously, there could not have been a steady state nothing at the "creation" of the universe. Oct 6, 2022 at 22:41
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    Per Sartre, "nothing" means "no thing(ness)", which is brought to the world by the for-itself to fully become the being-in-the-world and is also the real origin of negation which ultimately leads to free consciousness and intellectual freedom... Oct 7, 2022 at 2:21
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4 Answers 4


The moment we give "nothing" a description or definition, it becomes something.

One possible way to work around this apparent problem is to flip it on its head and ask "how does nothing relate to the other things that do exist?"

In Set Theory in mathematics, we sometimes talk about the Empty Set, which is a set which has no members. Since Set Theory is supposed to be extensional - that is, the identity of a set is determined solely by which things are members of the set - we talk about the empty set, rather than just an empty set.

The Empty Set is not nothing. Sets in our domain of discourse are things, and there is such a thing as the empty set. Some set theories directly stipulate this as an axiom, some derive it as a conclusion from other axioms (e.g. replacement), but it's a pretty standard formulation to say that there is such a set which has no members. Rather, "nothing" is just the answer we give to the question of "of all of the elements of our domain, what of them are members of the empty set?". None of them are, and so nothing is.

I think this helps gain some traction if you then want to take the concept of "nothing" outside of the basic mathematical domain, because it starts to become clear that what we're talking about is the predication of objects in a given way of talking about the world, but where in our entire domain of predication, no object specifies some property or statement of interest. We might want to say that accounting for "nothing" requires a theory of semantics, whether that is a property-based metaphysical model such as the Aristotlean/Platonic ideas, a hugely detailed (but still finite) list of all of the stuff that exists, or something more modern like algebraic logic, but that once you have such a theory, "nothing" falls out as a useful reference to a vacant quality.

If you accept the mathematical abstraction of set theory into our general theory, it's easy enough to give a semantic account of "nothing" - the set of stuff that satisfies our query is empty (see e.g. Alfred Tarski's semantic programme). But similar reasoning is available for a range of other approaches; all that matters is that some systematic approach to making sense can account for when some property applies to a thing, when it does not, and what kinds of things there are for properties to succeed or fail to apply to.


Nothing is not something humans, in general, have access to. The moment you have the word nothing, you have something. A single thought is a million miles away from nothing. To sit down and consider nothing isn’t actually considering nothing - it’s considering the idea of nothing, which is most definitely something.

There is a scientific definition for nothing, but if that satisfied you, you wouldn’t be on a philosophy Q&A board.

Being and Nothingness is a book by the philosopher Jean Paul Sarte that delves into existential philosophy and, among other things, considers the relationship between being and nothing. One cannot exist without the other. They are inextricably bound to one another as the two sides of a coin.

In order for anything to exist (to be), there must be space for it. Even air (which seems like nothing to us) cannot exist without a space to exist that doesn’t already contain something. “Nothing” is (to use a Heiddeggerian phrase) the clearing, the context, or the space for anything to exist.

But “nothing” is already a word. It is already something. The human mind cannot understand nothing. While our brains work and constantly churn out thoughts, nothing can’t be conceived of within those thoughts. It can’t make sense. It’s like asking, as Alan Watts did, “Where is the universe?

So. Nothing is nothing. Except even that phrase is not nothing. You have a question that is not answerable. That said, perhaps nothing can be experienced. Maybe emptiness or the experience of the absence of something is briefly available in moments of wonder or unexpected stillness. I don’t know.


What is "nothing"

"Nothing" is the word spelled n-o-t-h-i-n-g.

It is easy to find good definitions of the word "nothing".

For example:

  1. No thing; not anything.
  2. No part; no portion.
  3. One of no consequence, significance, or interest. 
  1. Something that has no existence.
  2. Something that has no quantitative value; zero.
  3. One that has no substance or importance; a nonentity. 
  Insignificant or worthless. 
  In no way or degree; not at all.

This is all there is to it but this is better than nothing.

and how can a Universe be entirely created out of "nothing"?

The universe probably was not created out of a word.

In fact, we don't have any indication that it was created. Which seems to solve the problem.

  • I was not looking for a literal definition of "nothing". Am I not in a philosophical forum here to get a rise of independent thought and opinions on the question that was asked? "We don't have any indication that it was created. Which seems to solve the problem." Now we are getting somewhere, so what is the indication? Is the Universe eternal?
    – NamesLano
    Oct 6, 2022 at 17:05
  • @NamesLano So why did you put quote marks around the word "nothing"? Oct 6, 2022 at 17:37
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    @NamesLano Actually, this really isn't a philosophical forum for anything of the "independent thought and opinions" variety. This is a Q&A format educational resource for students to help them address questions with definitive answers from a consensus of experts. There are better venues for the kinds of debate you're seeking.
    – David H
    Oct 6, 2022 at 17:57
  • @DavidH What forum would you reccomend for those conversations?
    – Rexcirus
    Oct 15, 2022 at 14:31

How can it, not..?

Negation, or a contrastive, implies a context. A logical binary, or a matter of degree. Asserting a property, implies the capacity for things without the property: that's involved in asserting it. So, you could equally say the capacity for nothing, is intrinsically involved in stating any somethingness. They arrive together.

I really recommend the Sep article on Nothingness, it's fun.

"What is to be investigated is being only and—nothing else; being alone and further—nothing; solely being, and beyond being-nothing. What about this Nothing? … Does the Nothing exist only because the Not, i.e. the Negation, exists? Or is it the other way around? Does Negation and the Not exist only because the Nothing exists? … We assert: the Nothing is prior to the Not and the Negation…. Where do we seek the Nothing? How do we find the Nothing…. We know the Nothing…. Anxiety reveals the Nothing…. That for which and because of which we were anxious, was ‘really’—nothing. Indeed: the Nothing itself—as such—was present…. What about this Nothing?—The Nothing itself noths" -Heidegger, in 'What is Metaphysics?'

"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists." -Wittgenstein, TLP

Why is there something rather than nothing, is a defining conundrum of Metaphysics. Whether it is given serious consideration, helps indicate a person's regard for the validity of Metaphysics as a discipline.

I'm inclined to see the problem as a whetstone, to sharpen our minds on, and to examine the nature of our philosophical toolbox, rather than to arrive at final answers about or stances towards.

I describe the task of philosophy as including things 'meta', to look for layers to step out to, or up, or in, and examine new vantage points as a useful pursuit in itself: (Why) is this negative outlook on the concept of philosophy misguided? We don't have to know why, or where it will lead, ahead of time. It's just this quality minds have, involved in them being Strange Loops, to turn things over looking for clues: Why does Man ask Why questions?

On 'the scientific theory of nothingness', I just don't think you can say there is a finished product. Quintessence. Zero-point energy revealed by the Casimir Effect. Quantum Foam. Spacetime quanta. What 'before time', before the Big Bang, means. Too many questions, to claim any real handle, on nothing.

How we see 'nothing' is a little like a mirror, where we can catch our minds at work, glimpsing the finger that points rather than what it points to. How can the finger point at, not pointing?

An area that's better in my book, responded to poetically, than with philosophy, or science:

"And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,

End in the Nothing all Things end in - Yes!-

Then fancy while Thou art: Thou art but what

Thou shalt be –Nothing– Thou, shalt not be less.."

-Omar Khayyam

"the moon passes over the ocean of non-being

droplets of spray tear loose and fall back on the cresting waves

a million galaxies are a little scum on that shoreless sea"

-Rumi, concluding the poem Subtle Degrees

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