The Scientific Indian

Where there is nothing

Where there is nothing, there is no thing as there. That’s the usual response to ‘what’s outside the universe’. Evidently, this stands at the very edge of meaning: meaning in the scientific sense, meaning derived from being able to observe and measure some thing.

This response would satisfy those engaged in scientific observations and measurements. They can sleep easy in the knowledge that even if they don’t know, they are making the attempt to know (am not saying they do sleep, but that they can sleep). In the end, this is probably the most rational way to proceed. But, what about ordinary mortals like you and me, who are not so engaged? How do we sleep now that a conundrum has crept into our minds and is chipping away at our fragile everyday epistemological edifices?

Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgment said Wittgenstein. He was talking about talking, about language and how what we know is completely dependent on the use of language (language games). The opening sentence of this post is a good case. The perceived muddle in it is the result of us travelling on two roads from opposite ends and hoping that they would meet. They don’t, atleast not exactly. One is the road where language is used sensibly. And, the other is where language is quite an encumbrance, where mathematics makes all the sense there is to be made.

In the end, for us who are in the audience where modern science is up on the stage, acknowledgment is, of course, more than mere words, it is the very real acknowledgment of tax payments, and the acknowledgment of our engagement with the past, present and future – our collective identity; our bold acknowledgment that proclaims this is who we are and this is what we do.

Comments

  1. #1 Art
    March 23, 2009

    I was listening to an interview, might have been Sagan, and he described how the current knowledge was that the Big Bang was the unfolding of the universe. That it wasn’t just matter flowing out from a point, but that both time and space emerged.

    Which, to this day, sort of blows my mind. Matter coming out of a point source is sort of like a vacuum cleaner in reverse. But both time and space emerging forces the question: What is there before there is time and space. How do you nail down a time when this event happened if the event itself is the origin of space-time.

    Curiouser and curiouser.

  2. #2 Jason Dick
    March 23, 2009

    With this sort of question, what makes things rather more difficult is the fact that “universe” is used in a variety of different ways.

    When somebody asks, “What is outside the universe?” do they mean, “What is beyond what we can see?” or do they mean, “What is beyond the region of the universe that stemmed from our particular big bang event?” or do they mean, “What is beyond all that exists?”

    Obviously the question is only meaningless in that last case.

  3. #3 Sridhar Mahadevan
    March 26, 2009

    Why this elaborate drama
    the stupid turmoil and ignorant sustenance
    why the evil and painful misery
    if at the end only mud remains.

    why people rush towards the end
    in varied ways and unequal days
    Why plant the desire seed
    and make it grow as joy and pain

    Why we need austere salvation
    when creation makes no sense
    confused by unnecessary varierty
    we forget to question our mysterious presence

    yearning for a world with only me
    not even my body or my complex mind
    even I should be just a disturbance
    in this world of no world, not even that

    no mud, not a drop of water
    No life, not even a dead leaf
    no body to feel
    or a nose to smell

    where death is nonsense
    as there is nothing to die
    where there is no action
    as there is nobody to act

    no darkness
    for light was unknown in this eerie land
    no object occupying space
    as there is no space to begin with

    just still in suspended stagnance
    with limitless peace and no anxiety
    Then a question arises in this queer place
    “Why nothing instead of something” ?

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