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January 04, 2012


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Hello again Churchless,

If you'd be so kind as to allow me to pursue the thread I dropped in my comment to your previous post a bit further, I'd like to offer a simple question for your consideration.

Do you actually believe that there could be such a thing as a "chunk of nothingness"?

Brian from Colorado, a "chunk of nothingness" is a fairly good description of what scientists are trying to accomplish with the Large Hadron Collider. I'm pretty sure Greene used those words, or words to that effect, in his TV series.

Here's a few pages from his book which describe the search for the HIggs boson:

Empty space isn't really empty, according to the theorists. It is filled with the invisible Higgs field. To detect the Higgs particle, a manifestation of the field, other particles are collided at a very high energy. This, hopefully, will create a Higgs particle, which can be recognized not directly, but through its decay products.

As Greene says in the book excerpt linked to above, empty space may be filled with the Higgs field. So by knocking a chunk out of what seems to be nothingness, that mysterious something may be revealed.

This shows that "nothing" isn't really nothing, as I blogged about a few months ago:

Ah, I just remembered where I saw the "chunk of nothing" mention by Brian Greene. It was in a New Scientist piece that I wrote about recently. Here's a link:

And the Greene quote. I love the idea of chipping off a tiny piece of nothing. It'd be so cool to have that framed on a wall of our house. Assuming we could see it.

"The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, is also in the business of probing nothing. A prime goal is to find evidence for the Higgs field, which, much like dark energy, is believed to permeate empty space. Instead of driving the expansion of space, the Higgs would exert a drag on particles, giving them the masses they have. According to theory, slamming protons together at enormous speed should produce a piece of the Higgs field - a Higgs particle, in fact. In effect, through the violent collisions, researchers are trying to chip off a tiny piece of nothing."

So, it's not really nothing then, is it? More and more, it seems like the deeper that scientists peer into the nature of things, the harder it is to locate genuine "nothingness". What was once thought to be void is now conceived to be some mysterious manner of ineffable fabric, of which chunks and pieces can be cleverly manipulated (albeit not without heroic expense and effort).

Is not all this talk of "chunks" and "pieces" of "nothing" illogical, paradoxical and even irrational? Could it be that this is the point where the dualistic system of scientific positivism finally hits the wall? At the least, it would seems to leave quite a bit of open space (ha, I pun!) for metaphysical speculation. Indeed, a thoughtful person might even be tempted to question the reliability of a worldview that insists that something that very much "is" (conscious being) can spontaneously convert to some nebulous state of "nothingness" of which there is utterly no empirical evidence.

Perhaps we should capitalize all references to this mysterious Nothing. Certainly, it seems to fit the profile for some kind of invisible religious entity, the reality of which can only be apprehended by an act of faith.

Aaahhh....another chapter in the Brian vs Brian saga. It's very enjoyable.
The people at the Large Hadron Collider are just playing with very expensive toys. They are not looking for "nothing". They are actually looking for something: something that is demonstrable, undeniable, unequivocal, inescapable, and, in a manner of speaking, responsible for everything that occurs - even the presumption that this "something" is actually there to look for in the first place.

So have at it, gentlemen. I will be cheering you both on from the sidelines.

I commend you for your lofty impartiality Willie! And thanks for clarifying that scientist are, as always, looking for something, particularly since nothing is nowhere to be found. I suppose we can all agree that - at one level at least - this something/nothing line of inquiry has a bit of a Alice and the Red Queen-kind of feel to it.

On the other hand, I'd prefer not to introduce competetive sporting analogies into the discussion. Besides Our Kind Host has declined to comment further (as is certainly his perogative). I can only speculate, but suspect that he would say the whole line of thought that I've proffered herein is nonsensical and devoid of "common sense." We ought to note, however, that when it comes to quantum physics, common sense has long since been left far, far behind....

Brian from Colorado, I enjoy your comments. As with other comments, sometimes I feel inclined to respond with my own thoughts; sometimes I don't. Comment conversations are just like face to face conversations.

Sometimes I'm simply interested in what another person has to say, in learning how they see the world or how their life is going. Other times I feel like adding my own thoughts to what they've said.

You seem to find some sort of mystery in the fact that conscious beings die and end up being unconscious. I don't. You seem to find the fact that science has never discovered a true "nothing" to be meaningful. I don't. Only religion (Christianity, particularly) believes that creation occurred ex nihilo, out of nothing.

The atoms of our bodies don't become nothing. When we die, we get recycled into the universe. But entropy ensures that stuff breaks down, runs out, becomes less orderly. Consciousness, so far as we understand it with current knowledge, requires order to exist. If a brain gets seriously mangled, it loses much of its conscious abilities. Or maybe all of them.

Hey... I'm responding to your comment!

Also, yes, with quantum physics we leave common sense behind. We humans didn't evolve with a need to grasp the workings of either the extreme micro-world or the extreme macro-world. So its tough for us to grasp things that aren't like the things we encounter in everyday life.

'Nothing' is not well defined. It could mean no-thing (i.e. no physical matter) OR it could mean an absolute void. An energy field has no-thing in it, but it does have energy so it is not void-like.

Science and positivism have always had limits. Science is synonomous with evidence, which is limited - this is its strength and its weakness. You can speculate all you want, but its not scientific until there's evidence.

What is the alternative? what other mode of enquiry even comes close to separating fact from fiction? Provide an alternative. Describe another mode of enqiry including metaphysical traditions, that can tell us anything about reality that science cannot.

Hi again, Churchless. As has sometimes been the case, you've managed to confer beliefs upon me which I don't actually hold. Not sure why that happens, although I'm not offended. In a nutshell, I find no "mystery in the fact that conscious beings die and end up being unconscious" because I don't believe that. Like the Buddha (although, sadly, I'm certainly no buddha) I have an intuitive sense that there is ONLY consciousness.

Moreover, even as you accurately cite orthodox Christian belief in ex nihilo creation, it inadvertently serves to highlight the point that Christians and atheists share a common believe in the fundamental concept of nothingness.

In terms of personal conscious being, the difference is primarily one of inversion, I think. Christians believe that first we were no-thing but then became some-thing which forever after will be (eventually entailing unending occupation in heaven or hell as time continues to proceed in linear fashion, of course).

Meanwhile, atheists believe that first we are some-thing, but eventually become no-thing, at which point, time ceases altogether.

Wouldn't you agree that that's a pretty concise summary?

BTW, I'd also like to respond to George's thoughtful post as well, but must do so separately, as I must now tear myself away for a while.

Brian from Colorado, at first I viewed your comment as a quasi-poetic observation that I appreciated, yet couldn't grasp a clear meaning within. So I held off replying. Then you noted that I hadn't responded, so I didn't want you to feel ignored.

Suggestion: if you want to make a clear point, make your point clearly. If you believe there is ONLY consciousness, say it. Then people can better understand what your point is.

Sometimes I have difficulty grasping what you're trying to say because you tend toward the elliptical, then, if you don't feel understood, you respond with a "you haven't understood me."

The alternative, which some commenters take, is just to say whatever you want to say and not be concerned how the comment is taken. That's a great way to go also. The inbetween state is what's problematic: being quasi-poetic and then expecting clarity of understanding.


The Buddha did not assert that there is ONLY consciousness. That idealistic view is closer aligned with the advaita vedanta of Shankara. There was a later short lived school of Mahayana Buddhism that asserted consciousness only, this was the Yogacara school which influenced Gaudapada (Shankara's teacher's teacher.) Most schools of Buddhism and certainly the early writings of the Pali canon hold the view that consciousness is empty of inherent existence and is dependent on conditions.

Jon, interesting comment. I've never understood very well the Buddhist conception of consciousness. You've helped a bit. I'd never thought of the "empty of inherent existence" idea, though it is eminently scientific, and the Dalai Lama tells us that Buddhism should adapt to emerging scientific facts.

Give anesthesia to a Buddhist meditator, and he/she will fall unconscious. They seems like pretty good evidence of the "dependent on conditions" argument.


Not sure how atheism and christianity share a belief in creation from nothing.

As you know 'theism' means god (creator), whereas 'atheism' means no god.

Christianity is monotheism whose god is eternal. There always was god, never nothing, hence a dodgy ex nihilo belief in creation from nothing.

Atheism is not about creation, ex nihilo or otherwise, rather the non-belief in a creator. Atheists might have different views on creation. Some might believe in creation (something from nothing by natural means), while others that there was no creation (always something never nothing).

Atheism is defined by no creater, the question of creation is seperate. In contrast, christianity is defined by a conscious creator. If christianity is ex nihilo as you suggest, in that creation is from nothing by a creative consciousnnes, this seems closer to buddhism than atheism.

"Give anesthesia to a Buddhist meditator, and he/she will fall unconscious. They seems like pretty good evidence of the "dependent on conditions" argument."

Yes, if an unwavering consciousness were to be the case then it follows that anesthesia would be coherently witnessed. We know that this is not the case - same with unconsciousness caused in accidents, mental trauma, drug abuse, deep sleep etc.

If the claims of an eternal witness were true, these experiences would be witnessed in the same way as one might witness a film. The content of the film might be dramatic and include SCENES of disorientation and incoherence etc. Instead it's the case that the QUALITY of witnessing itself becomes disoriented and incoherent and eventual ceases to function in any way that could be adequately called conscious.

Jon, yes, I've never understood this notion of a witness (Awareness) who stands apart from conscious experience. Like you said, if this was the case, Awareness would remain aware of what's happening while anesthesia or deep sleep is experienced.

//Science progresses. It learns. It changes. It builds upon current knowledge.

By contrast, almost universally religions are stuck. They talk about ageless revelations that were as true several thousand years ago as they are now. They claim that a holy book or holy person has revealed all that can be known about the ultimate reality of the cosmos, so take it or leave it.//

Exactly. Some believers criticize science that it always changes its mind. That is precisely the virtue of science. Honesty. Willingness to change its mind in face of new evidence. Traditional religions, in contrast, refuse to change their minds and stick to ageless "revelations." That is the VICE OF FAITH. Dishonesty. Refusal to face evidence.

Please, if you will, provide substantial proof to back your argument that "a holy book or holy person has revealed all that can be known about the ultimate reality of the cosmos, so take it or leave it." At best the Bible only says that God created everything. At no point does it, or a "holy man" I assume referring to Jesus; claim to "reveal all that can be known". You have a very poor argument with even worse concrete backing to justify your claims. There is tons of room for speculation and scientific discover within the realms of believing in a Creator. The Big Bang Theory for example is a very valid and possible explanation for how our cosmos came to be, however, there is still a giant gaping hole in what caused this sudden expansion of the singularity which "created" all of the quarks, hadrons, particles and various nuclei. There is absolutely no evidence how God created, only that he created. I firmly believe in science, but when tackling the difficult question of how everything started science only goes so far. Science has a ceiling, there will come a point when we will have proven all that can be proven and simply will conclude that there is a higher force. Until that time I encourage you all to revisit the bible and take a closer look at what it has to offer for you.

I recently watched a DVD titled:

Curiosity - Did God create the Universe?
with Stephen Hawking

I believe that the contents of/views expressed in the DVD (at least some parts) are relevant to this blog and would like to see if people here are interested in debating.

The following link raised "my curiosity" to watch the whole DVD:

God Does Not Exist - Stephen Hawking

If interested, one can buy the DVD at:




By the way, I could just borrow the DVD from a local library.

"Science progresses. It learns. It changes. It builds upon current knowledge."

Science definition #1: As suggested by the statement above, science begets semi-autonomic characteristics and only exists as it is in relation to "current knowledge." Thus, new science is generated through the progression of existing knowledge (human knowledge). In correlation, the creation of science depends on the actions and perceptions of humans. [We once thought we were in the center of the universe until we wrapped our minds around the fact that the existence of the universe was not dependent on the existence of the human race. (Unless, of course, you personally believe that God created the universe for the sole purpose of being the physical reality in which humans can use as a basis for existence.)]

Science definition #2: Science is the functionality of reality to be discovered and understood at incremental amounts afforded by human curiosity; not generated, changed, or having the ability to learn its way into existence. It would, therefore, serve the purpose as an absolute reality (truth) that might or might not have infinite bounds present independently of the existence of the human race. (Unless, of course, you personally believe that God created science for the sole purpose of being the existential reality in which humans can use as a basis for existence.)

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