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"Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky."

Rabindranath Tagore

Nothing in Particular

    Aristotle says that something exists if it has substance. To have substance means to have form, whatness, sense, or structure. That which has no substance is known to be eternal and unchanging. Nothing is eternal and unchanging.

    Aristotle says that matter or substance has the potential to change, and in this changing, the matter becomes actual. He also says that there must be pure actuality to create a change from potency. His six steps in this theory are as follows:

  1. How can one account for something rather than nothing?
  2. Change involves movement from potency to actuality.
  3. A being cannot account for its own movement from potency to actuality.
  4. Therefore, whatever is moved is moved by another.
  5. But if everything was moved from potency to actuality, then there would be no reason for why there is being rather that nothing.
  6. Therefore, there must be a being(s) that is pure actuality in order to account for why there is being rather than nothing.

    This pure actuality is the final cause, or the reason that the cycle of change from potency to actuality exists, as well as the reason for the action of changing from potency to actuality.

    So, this pure actuality is everywhere, all of the time, but it has no substance and no tangible evidence of its existence. However, Aristotle proved that there must be such a pure actuality in order for there to be a cycle of potency and actuality (which there is).

    Now let’s get back to the idea of the lack of matter. There is space between matter that is a lack of matter. Is this nothing just a lack of matter or is it something more? To have substance means to have form, whatness, sense, structure, and matter. Nothing does not have form, whatness, sense, structure or matter; therefore nothing is not a substance. So, nothing is eternal and unchanging.

    Space is that which contains nothing and has no barriers nor substance. Space is the place in which all matter exists and all actions occur. The place of a thing is the inner boundary of the first unmoved body that contains it. The only thing that is absolutely unmoveable is nothing or space. Furthermore, the inner boundary of a thing is the boundary between nothing and something. Nothing is unmoveable, unchanging, everlasting, without boundaries and without a place. It’s always been there and it always will be there, for time is the movement through space.

    Since nothing is eternal, perhaps this nothing can be one with pure actuality. In order for action to occur there must be a place that an object can be moved to and in. Without space, or nothing, there is no place and without a place there is no action (or change from potency to actuality), therefore there is no potency, substance, or time without nothing. Then again, what would there be without nothing?

    In the theory of the Big Bang, all matter was contained (as energy) in a sphere smaller than the head of a pin. The infinite area surrounding this ball of energy consisted of nothing. At some point in time, the energy rapidly expanded and eventually created matter. (Matter can be created from energy as seen in Einstein’s theory: E=mc^2 and one can imagine that there must have been allot of energy used to create such matter found in the universe.) In other words, potency was changed to actuality. However, what was the efficient cause that started the chain reaction that created matter?

    Now let’s look at another example. A balloon tied in a knot and deflated contains a small amount of air. Next the balloon is placed in a sealed container and air is sucked out of the container. The balloon appears to expand as more matter is removed from the container or place that the balloon is located. The balloon will eventually fill the boundary of the container it is located in. The expansion begins rapidly and as the volume of the balloon increases, the rate of expansion decreases. One might say that the action of removing the air from the container made the balloon expand, but removing the air was only used to reveal the presence of nothing. Thus, the lack of matter that surrounded the balloon is what caused the balloon to expand. Furthermore, perhaps this theory can be applied to the Big Bang theory that was previously discussed. The energy expanded because there was nothing around it. The volume of the universe was rapidly increasing at first, but as time went on, the volume of the universe increased and the rate of expansion decreased, just like a balloon in a vacuum. Some scientists hypothesized that at some point, the expansion of the universe will stop and then begin to implode. The problem with this hypothesis is that a boundary of space is inferred and here, it is assumed that nothing, or space, has no boundaries (but maybe space does; there is no proof). Anyway, there is still the problem of the question on how the pure energy got there in the first place which is what scientists tried to solve by assuming a cyclic characteristic of the universe whereas it would reach a particular boundary and begin to run in reverse.

    Lao Tzu once wrote "The myriad creatures in the world are born from Something, and Something from Nothing." Aristotle once wrote "Therefore not only can a thing come to be, incidentally, out of that which is not, but also all things come to be out of that which is, but is potential, and is not actually." The two are basically saying the same thing; that something can come from nothing (or that which is not and nothing is not). Also in XI of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu wrote:

Thirty spokes
Share one hub.

Adapt the nothing therin to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the cart. Knead clay in order to make a vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the vessel. Cut out doors and windows in order to make a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the room.

    Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of Nothing that this can be put to use.

    So, Lao Tzu realized this conception of nothing as being a key to the understanding of the way things work. Aristotle realized that there was a pure actuality that must exist in order for things to occur the way they do. One could just as easily attribute such occurrences or pure actuality to God, but then one must define what God is. Then again the beliefs of individuals are irrelevant to the actions of the universe regardless of the ability for one to change one’s environment. For it is the action of the changing that exhibits the relevance not the thoughts nor the desires.

Adam Lein
Classical Philosophy
November 26, 1995