Category Archives: Notes on Articles I Have Read


Nothngness“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed. ”  –  Blaise Pascal

  • To understand anything, as Aristotle argued, we must understand what it is not, and Nothingness is the ultimate opposition to any thing.
  • To understand matter, said the ancient Greeks, we must understand the “void”, or the absence of matter.  Indeed, in the fifth century B.C., Leucippus argued that without the void there could be no motion because there would be no empty spaces for matter to move into.
  • Nothingness is a relative concept. We cannot conceive of anything that has no relation to the material things, thoughts, and condidtions of our existence.
  • The void does not exist.  Every cubic centimeter of space in the universe, no matter how empty it seems, is actually a chaotic circus of fluctuating fields and particles flickering in and out of existence on the subatomic scale.  Thus, at the material level, there is no such thing as Nothingness.
  • The mental sensations we experience as consciousness and thought are purely material consequences of the purely material electrical and chemical interactions between neurons, which in turn are simply assemblages of atoms.  And when we die, this special assemblage disassembles.

Each of us is a temporary assemblage of atoms, not more and not less.  We are all on the verge of material disassemblage and dissolution.

Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist, and professor of the practice of the humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.