This is a post about nothing.
Lately I’ve become fascinated with nothing.
Hich was the name of the hotel I stayed in, in Konya, Central Turkey.
Hich means “nothing,” in the Islamic tradition, and it’s a central part of Sufi teachings. They believe that you should strive for nothing-ness – a state where the ego dissolves completely, and there is no barrier between yourself and unity with God.
The Buddhists too strive to attain a state of nothingness – where there is no attachment to things or feelings or thoughts or actions. Suffering comes through attachment. If you have no attachment, you have no suffering. You have nothing.
I’m fascinated by zero – a concept that was conceived by Indian mathematicians in the 5th century AD. It’s incredible to think that the numeric system that we operate under now, in which zero is such an integral part, came from Indian scholars 16 centuries ago.
This excerpt from Wikipedia:
The rules governing the use of zero appeared for the first time in Brahmagupta’s book Brahmasputha Siddhanta (The Opening of the Universe). Here Brahmagupta considers not only zero, but negative numbers, and the algebraic rules for the elementary operations of arithmetic with such numbers. Here are the rules of Brahmagupta:
- The sum of zero and a negative number is negative.
- The sum of zero and a positive number is positive.
- The sum of zero and zero is zero.
What’s interesting about this is that the rules for zero came from a book called: The Opening of the Universe.
This brings me to the next aspect of nothing I’m fascinated with – cosmology, and the research currently underway in Switzerland by CERN into the substance of matter. Or dark matter, to be exact.
A huge machine called a Large Hadron Collidor is buried underground somewhere in the French/Swiss countryside, and the world’s top physicists are using this machine to smash sub atomic particles together at incredible velocities to see what happens when they bust open.
Check this article out:
What’s interesting in this article is this section:
Scientists now know that the atoms that make up the stuff we can see (such as stars, butterflies, asteroids, toasters, clouds and humans), account for less than 5 per cent of the universe’s mass. That leaves a lot of other stuff about which we know almost nothing. About 27 per cent of the universe is dark matter and the rest – about 68 per cent – is dark energy. Some scientists hope that collisions in the Large Hadron Collider will give us some evidence of dark matter, which has never before been detected.
So 68% of the universe is made up of stuff we know nothing about.
The last time the guys at CERN did these experiments, they discovered what they called “The God Particle.” What’s a God Particle? I’ll use a quote from The Dude in The Big Lebowski: “That rug really tied the room together man.”
The God Particle is the rug, and the Universe is the room.
Here’s a good article from Nat Geo to explain – http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/03/god-particle/achenbach-text
So, this is why I’m fascinated by nothing.
The *concept* of zero is far more a
The *concept* of zero is far more ancient than that, Bill — but it’s still something to “handle with care” … where is the dividing line between the absence of a particular and the absence of all Existence at all ?
Why is there something rather than nothing ?
Hi Julian – yes I hesitated over using the word “concept,” because the concept had been used by the Egyptians about 1700 BC, found inn hieroglyphics as a symbol – but the notion of zero as a number was initiated by the Indians –
This from Wikipedia… (yes I know, not always the most authoritative of sources, but handy in this instance…)
Statue of Aryabhata
The concept of zero as a number and not merely a symbol or an empty space for separation is attributed to India, where, by the 9th century AD, practical calculations were carried out using zero, which was treated like any other number, even in case of division.
The Indian scholar Pingala, of 2nd century BC or earlier, used binary numbers in the form of short and long syllables (the latter equal in length to two short syllables), a notation similar to Morse code. In his Chandah-sutras (prosody sutras), dated to 3rd or 2nd century BC, Pingala used the Sanskrit word śūnya explicitly to refer to zero. This is so far the oldest known use of śūnya to mean zero in India. The fourth Pingala sutra offers a way to accurately calculate large metric exponentiation, of the type (2)n, efficiently with less number of steps.
The earliest text to use a decimal place-value system, including a zero, is the Jain text from India entitled the Lokavibhāga, dated 458 AD, where śūnya (“void” or “empty”) was employed for this purpose. The first known use of special glyphs for the decimal digits that includes the indubitable appearance of a symbol for the digit zero, a small circle, appears on a stone inscription found at the Chaturbhuja Temple at Gwalior in India, dated 876 AD.There are many documents on copper plates, with the same small o in them, dated back as far as the sixth century AD, but their authenticity may be doubted.
In 498 AD, Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata stated that “sthānāt sthānaṁ daśaguṇaṁ syāt; i.e., “from place to place each is ten times the preceding, which is the origin of the modern decimal-based place value notation.
Sure Bill, it’s not the mathematics history tha
… that was bothering me.
What was bothering you? The absence of all Existence? This is where I have a fundamental problem with Buddhism. The denial of joy and bliss…
It’s a more philosophical problem, which is that zero is really just a mathematical tool, and a somewhat paradoxical one, and not “something”.
Zero does not occur in reality.
It’s simply a counting tool used to describe that something else is absent.
The concept though is older even than you suggest — it is as old as the negative in language, which is prehistoric.
Oh — and just anecdotally, when I was a computer programmer, on several occasions I needed to determine the actual results of a division by zero, in both stock management and price calculations for example.
In practice, zero turns out to be variously equal to 1, 100, Infinity, 2, 3, or actual 0. etc.
Most often 1 or 100.
The few occasions when it actually represented 0 were the most complicated to resolve in the applied maths.
Great post. Just discovered your blog thinking its focus was purely El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Delighted to discover that your curiosities are much broader.
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Thank you Susan, is it? How did you discover the blog, out of interest? Go back over previous posts – you’ll find some interesting stuff – particularly last September in Dallas!
Read on, Susan and be bowled over by what spews out of this blog – it’ll keep your mind going for ages in all sorts of improbable directions!! 🙂
Oi, “spew?” I give great consideration to what I wrote here.
I only “spew” posts after having jugs of Sangria with you and your wicked mates!!
Bill, have your heard Fred Watson talk about the collider? He positively glows with enthusiasm – at one of his lectures, he showed what sort of sense of humour the team there has … having set up a ‘chook pen’ for (computer) mice, seen nibbling on food stuff!! Boys own paradise 🙂
I should check him out – thank you! They are a very strange lot, those research scientists who tip into the workings of the Universe.
I think you’d have to be!