Thinking of Nothing

Is it possible to think of nothing and remain awake? Is thinking of nothing the same as not thinking at all? Is being conscious of something the same as thinking? Do all thoughts take objects? Where do ‘objects of thought’ come from? Perhaps these are odd questions. Usually there is no need to ask. Thinking is about something or other.

We spend a lot of time thinking about the future. This includes all the mundane things we have to plan for and carry out. It includes thinking about what is coming up for our health, education and job prospects, relationships, the state of the economy, politics, retirement, taxes, death; in short, all the things that people care about that point to the future.

We spend most of the rest of the time thinking about the past. I think of the good times and the bad times, the people I have known. Sometimes an old landscape comes before my imagination, now covered with houses and roads, sometimes a flower I have seen, or the smell of orange blossoms in spring. I think of old loves and passions, the turmoil of youth, the work of middle age, and the reflections of later life. Looking back, we can try to see the meaning hidden in events that were too close and involving to be understood clearly at the time.

Can objects of thought come from the present? I do not see why not. Bringing your attention to sensations or perceptions of objects brings you directly to the present. This is because the living body is rooted in the present in a way that thinking is not. For example, to become conscious of the feeling in your left foot is to come into the present of your body at a particular moment. Similarly, becoming aware of the specific perceptual qualities of an object also brings you to your senses. So if you were to see a rare bird and remember to pay attention to its color, and the flash of its wings, this, too, brings you into the present of your body as perceptual system. All too often one is ‘elsewhere’ when the bird passes by. In addition, there are contemplative practices that fill the present meaning, as in Plato’s intellectual contemplation of the Forms or religious contemplation of sacred symbols. However, such objects are not temporal in the same way as sensations or objects of perception.

Yet more objects of thought come from subjects like logic, mathematics and geometry. The objects of these studies are universal necessary truths that do not depend upon contingent facts for their validation. I can intuit some simple truths like this. For example, I can see a circle is round and a square is rectangular. So, if I take up a position, as Spinoza suggested, “under the aspect of eternity”, I am thinking about something that does not change over time. Every time I look at a circle, I can be sure to see its circular shape. Some objects of thought are timeless.

Have I left anything out? What about “Mindfulness?” Does mindfulness count as thinking about something or nothing? By “mindfulness” I am thinking of a dedicated or “single-minded” mindfulness. Roughly speaking, this form of mindfulness brings one into the present moment without comment or judgment. One is simply in watchfulness over what transpires within one’s field of bodily/mental experience. Mindfulness is word free, a simple awareness of a present actuality that cannot be named, but can be encountered in stillness. Chattering to oneself destroys it. The words that make up our descriptions and explanations distract us from the moment.

One can be mindful in different ways. I am mindful of the pavement so that I do not trip, or mindful of the feelings of others. I am mindful of putting the silverware away, conscious of putting each fork or knife into it proper place. Here, we are still thinking of things, albeit in a mindful way that brings us more fully into the present moment. Nevertheless, discursive or calculative thinking is incompatible with ‘single-minded’ mindfulness.

So, can one think of nothing and remain awake? The answer is ‘yes’ in the case of ‘single-minded’ mindfulness. It is thinking of nothing in the sense of not categorizing things or making calculations about them. It is neither having abstract truths before one’s imagination, contemplating symbols or images, nor attending to sensations. ‘Single-minded’ mindfulness is neither engaged in the world, nor apart from it. It does not tell itself stories, valuing or negating, wishing or hoping, but receives and accepts whatever is going on as long as it continues; allowing thoughts and feelings, words and images, to exist as soon as they arise and to let them go as soon as they are ready to leave.

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33 Comments.

  1. What gives rise to thinking must be a part of the neural activity in the brain and we can ask if Thinking Knowing and Perceiving are nothing but the same thing. Is thinking always accompanied by conscious self awareness? I do not think it is, as in the case where one is so absorbed in thought to the exclusion of all else. Can we think of nothing but still be alert and attentive? Yes I think so in the case of a prolonged visual search to detect any change whatsoever in what is beheld. Does thinking differ from dreaming, if so in what way? Is thinking involved when recognising a person? The ability to think of something which does not exist is surely a prerequisite of inventiveness. Does thinking also occur at an unconscious level? There seems to be evidence that it does.
    Many of these questions seem to depend on one’s own definition of thinking. Is thinking therefore a scientific term, or is it better described as a somewhat vague folk Psychological term with no really useful application other than it enables us to speak about a cluster of mental experiences yet to be isolated scientifically.
    The most significant feature of thought seems to be Intentionality. Language is not a prerequisite for thought to occur in spite of what some have said to the contrary. Do animals think? The reply to this is, almost certainly, but it is specific, and limited to the animal in question. Bodily Action can occur in the absence of thought and often conscious thought occurs later than the action to which it applies.
    What is the use of thinking? It basically assists in survival. It enables us to replicate in our minds certain foregone events and to consider how we might behave when and if similar events confront us in the future (It is in this connection a late error detector). Thus contemplation of the past leads to contemplation of, and predictions for, the future. Again I think it could be argued that the contemplation of, and subsequent agreeable thoughts, about aesthetic objects and themes could make life for the subject, more agreeable and worth living, which again enhances survival.

  2. “thinking of nothing in the sense of not categorizing things or making calculations about them”

    Perhaps you can indeed attain ‘mindful’ states in which thoughts arise but there is no discursive or calculative thinking, but is this really “thinking of nothing”?

    Is it not better to say when a thought arises it is – has to be – ‘about’ or ‘of’ something, but, in a ‘mindful’ state nothing is being thought about (the content of) that thought?

  3. Curious, I suspect you are right about this. I was singling out ‘single-minded’ mindfulness to indicate the state of mind you mention. I guess I thought that ‘aboutness’ had a conceptual component that made it ‘thinking about something’, and in that sense ‘single-minded’ mindfulness is that same as you describe a state of mind in which “nothing is being thought about that thought.” This might also be close to Sartre’s Pre-Reflective Cogito which has a pre-reflective grasp of a situation that reflection later labels and conceptualizes. I guess that what’s important is not so much the term we use, but the state of mind that is invoked. Thanks for the thought.

  4. “thanks for the thought”
    – think nothing of it (:

    a wise and poetic piece, thank you

  5. Dennis Sceviour

    “Does thinking differ from dreaming, if so in what way?” Psychologists have identified a long and short-term memory store. For example, you may remember your telephone number from 15 years ago, but you cannot remember the telephone number you dialed a week ago. Sleeping and dreaming may play a part in determining what is remembered, and what is forgotten.

    By ’single-minded’ mindfulness is there a point when something and nothing merge into one? The concept of unity requires a comparison with null. Can yin exist without yang? A dyad between nothing and something must exist.

    This is different than writing about not thinking. I can not think, and I can think about nothing, but it is difficult to write something about nothing.

  6. We can be conscious of the present not only through bodily perceptions but via imagination and memory. Hume, Descartes, etc. included such under “thinking,” as we know. For example, we can be remembering and imagining at this moment the front door of whatever room or dwelling we are in, the street, the kitchen, etc., anything we are not directly perceiving at the moment and which very, very likely is existing at the moment. True, memory suggests the past, but that’s only a necessary part (to know what we’re talking about, so to so speak)for the imagination to take over. In my “mind’s eye” I see my car parked outside right now. I can even be “transported” by the picture (perhaps a more exciting example would do better here) so much so that it could be called a case of single-minded mindfulness, in Jeff’s sense.

    A work of art that you admire, the face of a loved one, may be better examples.

  7. We can be conscious of the present not only through bodily perceptions but via imagination and memory. Hume, Descartes, etc. included such under “thinking,” as we know. For example, we can be remembering and imagining at this moment the front door of whatever room or dwelling we are in, the street, the kitchen, etc., anything we are not directly perceiving at the moment and which very, very likely is existing at the moment. True, memory suggests the past, but that’s only a necessary part (to know what we’re talking about, so to speak)for the imagination to take over. In my “mind’s eye” I see my car parked outside right now. I can even be “transported” by the picture (perhaps a more exciting example would do better here) so much so that it could be called a case of single-minded mindfulness, in Jeff’s sense.

    A work of art that you admire, the face of a loved one, may be better examples.

  8. Sorry for the double-item had much trouble posting.

  9. Re: Dennis Sceviour Jan 20th.
    This is interesting. I cannot see how something and nothing can merge into one. Surely there is nothing for something to merge into. Nothing comes from nothing unless you are a believer in spontaneous creation. Are not something and nothing mutually exclusive concepts?
    Could you give examples of ‘Not thinking’ and ‘Thinking about nothing’ such as to demonstrate the difference between them? You could think about the concept of Nothing, but I do not think that is what you mean here.
    You say it is difficult to write something about nothing but is that not precisely what you have just done i.e. said it is difficult to write about it?
    On a lighter note this reminds me of the old advertisement “Nothing acts faster than Anadin” to which some philosophical wit replied “Well take Nothing then”

  10. Dennis Sceviour

    Don Bird,

    Thank you for your appreciation of my effort to write something about nothing.

    I can see no difference between Nothing and nothing. I think about the concept of nothing as meaning null or zero.

    Not thinking can occur as a temporal state when one is asleep and not dreaming. I was thinking of defining not thinking as the sensory state of aura awareness that separates the body and mind. This can be achieved temporarily with Yoga breathing techniques, or other Asian meditative arts. Apparently, some people cannot do this, or are unwilling to try.

    Jeff Mason had indicated that single-mindedness occurs when “nothing is being thought about that thought.” I am not well acquainted with the works of Sartre, so I will interpret no further, except that I see a circularity here. I agree with you that something and nothing cannot merge into one within the dimensional bounds of the universe, as we perceive it. For nothing and something to merge would be a journey into science fiction.

    The question I think you are addressing is whether not thinking is a state of nothingness. There is a split in opinion. According to some, this is an illusion. Yet, the answer “there is no answer” defines both nothing and not thinking.

    Here is a sample from Joshu, one of my favorite Zen masters:

    Student: If I have nothing in mind, what shall I do?
    Joshu: Throw it out.
    Student: But if I have nothing, how can I throw it out?
    Joshu: Then carry it out.

  11. Re Dennis Sceviour:- Jan 21st.
    As I have already mentioned the great problem, well for me at least, is that there is no thoroughgoing definition of Thinking; so to a large extent, whilst we all are in agreement for the purposes of our everyday social intercourse what it entails, when it comes to specifics, or close examination of the phenomena, problems occur. Outside of Philosophy it seems very difficult to find the word listed in any scientific literature dealing with the brain and/or its psychological states. Certainly there is stuff concerning abnormal thoughts but nothing much about thought in itself.
    It is generally held to be the case that with problem solving a solution can become apparent during a period of sleep which seems to suggest that thought can occur in unconscious states.
    I know little or nothing about meditation so I am wondering if meditative states are such that what we commonly regard as thinking, is somehow suppressed. This being the case, how would one extract oneself from the state. In this connection however, I find I am suddenly getting up out of bed and have no remembrance of an instance of decision in favour of that, as against staying there. I assume I have thought it best to rise but cannot identify the instant of that thought.
    Interesting quote from Kant:-”Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”
    cf Critique of Pure Reason A51/B75

  12. Dennis Sceviour

    Don Bird,
    “…intuitions without concepts are blind.” What does this mean? If I burn my finger, my intuitions take my finger away. I need not conceptualize to do this. The movement of the finger has purpose without deliberation.

    I agree that we know little about how we think. You have proposed to define Thinking as “the neural activity in the brain”, yet are rightfully unsatisfied. It could be added that thinking involves cognitive logic which can aid in decision-making, but logical deduction is not necessary to make a decision. What is missing is a description of thinking as it is, and thinking as it ought to be. Is it necessary to have an exact definition for Thinking to think of nothing? Some politicians have a natural talent for talking about nothing, but is it a talent to be envied?

    Your curiosity about meditation may be well rewarded. Five minutes of meditation can tell more than five hours of explanation. There are so many different methods. Although antiquated, Descartes “Meditations” is interesting and gives a short description on his meditative procedure of clearing the mind. There are self-help Yoga books in bookstores. For further studies, “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” is easy reading, if you can find a copy.

  13. In his initial posting Jeff wondered whether one can think of nothing while conscious. I think that’s an important parameter for the discussion. Hence dreaming is excluded even if we define thinking as a neural activity since every stage of sleep, including the dreaming one, of course, displays brain waves.

    Then there is daydreaming. That’s a little like Jeff’s examples of looking at the pavement, etc., without thinking about it. Related phenomena like what we call daydreaming remind me of when someone is “staring into space” and the interlocutor passes a hand before her eyes to bring her back to the conversation or whatever. She was “gone” for a while.

    It is true, though, that a definition, if possible, may be needed since someone may object that, no matter, thinking was going on in all such cases. (I am assuming that thinking of nothing equals not thinking). However, since I believe we understand the sort of experience Jeff is talking about, what we may need is a stipulative definition of thinking , one that tells what is and what is not thinking. I know, stipulative definitions are suspect, but perhaps permitted in this case where what is wanted is a description of a phenomenon.

  14. Joaquin: “Jeff wondered whether one can think of nothing while conscious… Hence dreaming is excluded…” from the parameters of the discussion.

    Jeff asked: “Is it possible to think of nothing and remain awake?” It is certainly unclear how reference to dreaming could settle that question. Or indeed the question you ascribe to him, which is subtly distinct – “awake”, after all, is not necessarily synonymous with “conscious”. Whether anything hangs on that distinction depends on what is included within the parameters of the discussion, but, for what it is worth, I was thinking of the phenomenon of lucid dreaming (a case of being conscious but not awake perhaps?).

    In any case, given our shared assumption that thinking of nothing equals not thinking, what is left of the original question (adopting your phrasing) seems to be this: can one be conscious and not be thinking? If you define ‘thinking’ narrowly then, sure, it is certainly plausible to suggest you can (and I don’t think it improper to define ‘thinking’ narrowly). One thought that arises though is the ‘mirror’ question: can one be thinking without being conscious? I do not take that to be a nonsense question. And if our concern is to discern the relationship and distinction between thinking and being conscious, the notion seems worth consideration, even if it is ultimately rejected.

    To be conscious is to be conscious of something – to be conscious of nothing is to not be conscious at all. Thinking and being conscious seem to have intentionality in common but being conscious (and indeed being awake) do seem more obviously a matter of degree. Whether this makes thinking about being conscious even trickier than thinking about thinking I don’t know. In any case, I am uncertain you should rule out dreaming (or indeed non-dreaming sleep states) as irrelevant to the endeavor of understanding the intriguing phenomena you have quite rightly drawn attention to.

  15. Joaquin, I am not sure what’s in a name. With the comments and with more thinking about this problem, it seems to me that the main thing about being ‘conscious’ without thinking about anything is really having consciousness without a flow of words going through one’s mind. For philosophers there are rare moments. Descartes thought that ‘thinking’ covers all mental activity at all and defines the nature of mind. I don’t have to go that far. So maybe what I am talking about is a silent awareness of things going on in the present, both inside and outside my body.

  16. Since “nothing” itself is an object, then thinking of “nothing” is no different from thinking of something. Nothing and something are both objects that the mind grasps within its field of awareness. If the mind is aware of its awareness, however pure and empty of those mental activities we label as thinking, thinking is still happening.

    What is missing from the analysis is the apparent distinction between subject, object, and relationship. When subject (mind) grasps (the relationship) object (thoughts of past, present, future, perception, sensation, analysis, etc.), then typically thinking could be said to occur. Even pure, “naked awareness” is thinking, because there is still a distince subject and object. The idea of a mind is itself a thought, so an awareness of a mind being aware is thinking.

    When the distinction between mind (subject) and awareness (object) dissolves, however, there cannot be said to exist any thought. Attaining pure awareness might be a necessary condition to produce the dissolution of subject-object, but there is no reason, hypothetically, that that dissolution cannot be maintained even in the presence of everyday thinking.

    Thinking of nothing, therefore, is the dissolution of the self within pure awareness. But don’t take my word for it. The truth of this can only be verified empirically.

    I would argue that mental states of pure awareness and subject-object dissolution happen all the time, but we typically ignore it, because its rather mundane. We expect angels and light coming through the clouds or something. If you don’t believe me, look what happens when you orgasm or sneeze. For a very brief instant, you disappear into nothingness.

  17. Re Dennis Sceviour Jan 22nd.
    Kant’s terminology differs somewhat from our modern use of words. I accordingly suggest you have a look at this web site for his definition of Intuition and Concept. http://www.scribd.com/doc/27353776/Glossary-of-Kant-s-Technical-Terms-by-Stephen
    To discuss exactly what he means and on his terms would I think go well beyond the subject under discussion which is Thinking. So far as I am concerned however I think the situation is as follows. Say for instance a person is presented with the propeller of a ship and they have never seen anything like it before they would be unable to suggest what it is, or does. We might say then that they have developed no concept of propellers or propelleration (if there be such a word). If in the course of time the person in question become more familiar with propellers and what they are about, we may say he has developed a concept of propellers, which then enables him to recognise all objects of that type and even to do so when presented merely with fragments of them. So broadly speaking if we take the word Intuition to mean how our senses represent something to us and the process leading to understanding ( this is not the modern meaning of the word) and If we have no concept to embrace the intuition, we can say ‘intuitions without concepts are blind’

  18. Re Jeff Mason Jan 22nd.
    My conscious states, or what I believe to be are my conscious states, rarely have a flow of words going through my mind but I would not say that I am accordingly conscious without thinking.
    Einstein claimed that he rarely thought in words. Images feelings and musical architectures seemed to predominate in this connection. He said that, a thought comes, and he might try to express it in words afterwards.
    Donald Davidson for example, concluded, (incorrectly in my opinion):- “ that a creature cannot have a thought unless it has a language. In order to be a thinking, rational creature, the creature must be able to express many thoughts, and above all be able to interpret the speech of others” Davidson, Donald. (1985). ‘Rational Animals’.

  19. Dennis Sceviour

    Don,
    Thank for the interesting list of Kantian terminology. The quotation does make more sense if “intuition” is defined as the opposite of “concept.”

  20. Jeff, regarding the state of ‘mindfulness’ that is, I think, your immediate concern.

    Reduced internal verbosity does seem an aspect of what you value. Attaining a mental state that is devoid of words, however is not, I suspect, your goal as such. “Thinking of nothing”, as previously indicated, is not, I think, a helpful way of describing ‘mindfulness’. Perhaps ‘thinking nothing of’ is closer to the mark. By this I do not merely mean moving away from discursive or calculative thinking. I also mean moving away from evaluation (which you touch on). I think the state you value is one in which you cease to be the passionate and categorising ‘owner’ of thoughts and become more the disinterested observer of whatever arises, ‘verbal’ or otherwise.

  21. As this blog post demonstrates it is perfectly possible to think about nothing and remain awake, even write about it! Dennis Sceviour mentions null and zero. If we could not mentally manipulate nothing (i.e. think about it), then zero would be mathematically impossible. Note that 1+1-1 = 1 is the same as 1+ 0 = 1. Zero is the lack of positive or negative magnitude. It is as real and apprehensible as negative integers or the imaginary numbers. Or hypercubes. As real as NULL, an empty set with zero members, an uninitiated structure of potential but unrealized value. They may not have the experiential clarity of a scented rose bud. Yet they hover in our mental space with equally meaningful effect .

    The concept of Nothing is akin to negative space in art. The absence of Something that suggests the potential of Something. If we were to say that this Nothing is merely the concept of nothing and not truly nothing, then we would be falling into the trap of noumenons, the trap of das Ding an-und-für-sich. We know only the world as it phenomenologically presents itself to us. And Nothing presents itself to us as a form of negative space that could but has yet not been filled. No-Car, No-Tree, No-Fetus, No-Anything.

    I don’t want to get to esoteric but it is specifically this lack of magnitude as a potential for magnitude that Parmenides ex nihilo nihil fit fails to take into account. All vibrations begin from no vibrations. Even if something “caused” those vibrations, the vibrations themselves are new and in some sense spontaneous. They are not the movement of the fingers across the harp and in this sense they are ex nihilo.

  22. I thought this blog had lapsed into non-existence, but Olsson’s comment brings to mind a little book: “Zero, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea,” by Charles Seife, which basically elaborates on the same idea.

  23. Zero is not nothing, Zero is (to most minds) a number. If you are manipulating that number then you are thinking about something.

    The null set is not nothing either, it is a set – the empty one – and if you using that set you are, again, thinking of something.

    No?

  24. Yes, Curious, zero is a number, a number that represents Nothing. It can be contrasted to one which represents Something. With these two magicians you can perform wonders. The digital age is constructed around their powerful dyad. In simplified terms a modern computer operates around the concept of SIGNAL, NO SIGNAL. The NO SIGNAL, the zeros, are actually either another type of pulse or empty time. And yes, they are not the elusive non-existent NOTHING of which you speak Curious. Because that NOTHING, that noumenon does not exist and cannot be reached by the mind! Which would seem to mean that you cannot think of NOTHING and remain awake. Which is the Zen Rinzai hole into which we seem to be collapsing.

    But one of my points is that no noumenons can be reached by the mind! Everything in the world exists to us as it presents itself to us. It does not mean they are not independent of us and that we live in an imaginary space. It simply means that we can never know the Other in its pure independence as independent from us. We can only know the Other as it unfolds in our mind. So NOTHING is not unique in this sense. The way NOTHING presents itself to us is as negative space, a hole to be filled, an absence. Zero is the numerical representation of this absence. Contrast a wave with amplitude 1 to a wave with amplitude 0. A wave with amplitude 1 you would recognize as a wave. A wave with amplitude 0 you would not intuitively call a wave but a line. Once a key characteristic of a wave, it’s amplitude, is brought to zero, the wave looses its so to say Waviness (it becomes a No-Wave).

    Zero is a very odd number indeed (actually zero is numerically even but you catch my drift). Its strangeness is why it took a very long time for humans to even accept it into the family of numbers. In my opinion the only stranger numeric entity is the imaginary numbers, which took even longer to be recognized as actual entities. But that’s a whole other story. Going back to zero, you cannot, for example, divide by it. Any modern computer will barf if you try this impossible feat. Why? Because you cannot place any number of items into zero groups. You would have to make them magically vanish from existence. You cannot simply reduce them to Nothing. You would have to pretend that they never existed at all. Which they did because the problem presented was how to put them in zero groups!

    Nothing is a form of potential. The fact that something has a value of zero implies that it could have another value. A little over a decade ago, I presented myself with a thought experiment: What if anything was possible? You can read about it here. I now realize that zero (i.e. Nothing) represents this infinite possibility. Nothing is not the absolutely incomprehensible … (?). It is the infinite possibility of the uninstantiated. Like the three dots before the previous question mark, it is waiting to be filled.

  25. The story of the “dangerous Saracen magic” that is Zero is an intriguing one. And, even to my mathematically untutored mind, Zero is both an ‘odd’ and remarkably useful number. I maintain that if you are manipulating that number you are thinking and that if you are thinking you are thinking of something.

    As I admit, I am mathematically untutored. Does 0 really represent nothing? And if so does -1 represent less than nothing and -2 even less again?

  26. To be more accurate Zero is a cardinality (the number of elements) of a set. But this cardinality represents “no elements” . Hence, if a set has a cardinality of 0, then it’s an empty set! In everyday language we might say “there’s nothing in this group”. Mathematically you would say that the set has a cardinality of zero. In this sense zero is not Nothing. The empty set is Nothing.

    To clarify, a set of numbers can contain the value 0, which would seem to imply Zero is not equivalent to Nothing. But if you treat numbers as sets themselves, then 0 is the empty set. A set containing the element 0 then is the same as a set containing an empty subset, which is equivalent to the number 1. A set with an empty set and a set containing an empty set would be equivalent to 2. And so on and so on, until all the natural numbers have been bootstrapped into existence.

    Anyway I look at it, Zero leads me back to the concept Nothing.

  27. Curious, I don’t think you can have anything less than Nothing. I can’t wrap my head around what that would be. The way I think of negative numbers is more in terms of directionality. I return to magnitude and waves. As we transition from the crest and dip below the undisturbed position towards the trough, we move into “negative” amplitude. In a regular wave, the magnitude from the resting position is the same whether we find ourselves at the trough (the negative) or the crest (the positive) side of the wave.

    Another example of directionality would be the overall transactions between two persons A and B. 5 would mean that A has initiated 5 more transactions than B and -5 would mean the reverse (that B has initiated 5 more transactions than A). Here Zero would be when A and B have initiated the same number of transactions. This meaning of Zero would seem to imply that Zero is not Nothing. But what we are measuring here is the discrepancy in the number of transactions and not the total number of transactions. And Zero means that the discrepancy is zilch, nada, i.e. nothing.

    Again, I find magnitude and waves very enticing in understanding Zero and Nothing. When a surface is undisturbed, we could theoretically say that there are waves of magnitude 0. But this is the same as saying there are no waves. The set of waves for the surface is empty (it has a cardinality of 0). But the fact that we have a surface implies the possibility of disturbance, hence waves.

  28. Andreas,

    I don’t think you can have anything less than Nothing either. I can’t wrap my head around what that would be either. I also can’t wrap my head around the idea that you can be thinking but thinking of nothing in either sense: having no object of thought or having Nothing as the object of thought. I shall ponder further on your comments though and thank you for them.

  29. The trick is to distinguish between NOTHING and Nothing. I have to invent a way of distinguishing between two seemingly identical things. But in fact one of these things is meaningful and the other isn’t. So for the one that is NOT meaningful I’ll capitalize all the letters. My fully capitalized word has no real intentionality. It’s a void constructs akin to many of the words in Lewis Carrol’s famous poem Jabberwocky. They seem real but in fact they point nowhere:

    Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    You might still insist “But the meaning of NOTHING is Nothing! It points nowhere!”. You might insist that Nothing by the very nature of its meaning has no intentionality. But if that were true then the word Nothing would be meaningless, which it isn’t. As I mentioned earlier, if it were it would have no place in mathematics. Or in human thought as such since, as has been pointed out by others, thought is always about something.

    Mathematics is a highly formalized language. If an entity does not have intentionality, mathematics will discard it. Take the following:

    TOVES =+> ARGNIG ^ $ X *)

    The art world might embrace this typographic construct as something mysterious and beautiful. But mathematicians would ask what it means. Unless you can define the terms and justify their relationship in a meaningful way, they will discard it. You could say:

    TOVES means One
    =+> means Plus
    ARGNIG means Two
    ^ $ means Equals
    X*) means Three

    A mathematician might then say “Correct, if you add ARGNIG to TOVES, you get X *). But why did you not simply write 1+ 2 = 3 as we have formally agreed to do?”.

    Mathematics is an abstraction of the real. Numbers are rooted in counting real things in the real world. Do the notches on my plank match the number of camels I have?

    In the real world we have jars that we fill with things. Prior to filling a jar someone might say “The jar is empty. There is no water in it”. Someone else might elaborate with “Yes, there is no water in the jar. As a matter of fact there is nothing in it. No water, no apples, no wine. Nothing is in the jar.” Clearly, there is intentionality in “Nothing is in the jar”. We are thinking of something when we say Nothing. Something is in our mind: the empty jar. It’s this Emptiness that is meaningful and that we can think about. This is what Nothing is. Contrast that with my following cryptic statement: NOTHING is beyond our mind.

    At some point someone realized that this Nothing, this Emptiness needs a mathematical representation. Per usual, we dispensed with the concrete in favor of the abstract. The jar was chucked out and replaced by the conceptual Set: Anything that can contain Something. Or more accurately (in terms of the uninstantiated abstract Set): Anything that can contain Anything. But a thing that can contain Anything necessarily can contain Nothing. It can, so to say, be empty. A jar does not vanish because we pour out the water. Which leads us to the Empty Set, the mathematical concept of Nothing.

    And all sets have a numeral that represent their size. If every member of a set can be paired with another member in another set, they obviously share some characteristic (they have the same size). This is what is called the cardinality of the set. Empty sets have a special similarity: they have no members to pair with other sets. This common characteristic, this cardinality is as real as the one-to-one correspondence of Non-empty Sets. You recognize an empty box as having something similar to an empty glass. And the cardinality of all Empty Sets has been assigned the word Zero.

    So you are correct, Curious. When you are thinking of Nothing you are in fact thinking of something! You are thinking of Emptiness, the absence of Something.

    Back to NOTHING. As I mentioned earlier, NOTHING is not a meaningful concept. You cannot “think NOTHING”. Such a sentence has no meaning fulfillment. It’s a paradox. When the mind cannot fulfill the intentionality of what is thought, it temporarily blanks out. It hits the wall of meaninglessness. Lewis Carrol’s poem is so fascinating because the Englishness of the words make us want to fill them with intentionality. There are no conventions to allow us to know what Lewis Carrol meant when he wrote Jabberwocky. We can only guess. And guess we do. Because the mind abhors a vacuum.

    Though we can think of the sound produced by combining the letter N-O-T-H-I-N-G, the only intentionality it produces is the experience of uttering their sound. It’s no different from the sentence “All mimsy were the borogoves”. But Nothing? The void and emptiness inside the jar? That and all the endless possibilities of what to fill it with we can think about to our heart’s delight.

  30. i can think about nothing almost all the time heh even if im mad as fuck and i think alot, thoughts coming up everywhere i can like instant ——– stop thinking about anything and im not thinking “think about nothing” its completely blank even if i stare into a wall i can shut of all my thinkings .. so yes it is possible. I remember when i was kid i could not do it so i guess it’s something you learn but i dont know how :P

  31. pity ! time is created by mind, and mind tries to solve it too

    have a thought

  32. Jeff Mason,

    In Physics people attempt to think about nothing quite a lot. The challenges of doing so are a revelation. Our world is made of stuff. Stuff is made of energy, which, interestingly enough, we define in terms of its relationship to the movement of stuff relative to other stuff. If one attempts to take the stuff out of the field of thought and merely consider fluctuations of “potential” in a space one must come to grips with the fact that even the consideration of the space in which fluctuations “happen” require the operation of a space over time. Take out the time and the space function collapses.

    For an instant in that process there really is “nothing” to consider. In his book “A Brief History of Time” Stephen Hawking asked, in addressing the question of what happened before the beginning of the universe, “What is north of the North Pole?” The answer, of course, is “nothing”. Any consideration of nothing requires an acknowledgement of the limits of the context in which it is possible for us to frame conception of any kind. For every conceivable “something” there is a nil function.

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