This past Saturday I saw a video of Mark Gungor’s “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage.” One thing that stood out was his discussion of the difference between the minds of men and women. According to Gungor, a man’s mind can be understood in terms of boxes: we have a box for each thing and each thing has its own box. In contrast, a woman’s mind is like a ball of wires-everything is interconnected and everything is linked to emotions. The highlight of this discussion was the nothing box. As Gungor sees it, each man has a special box in his mind that contains nothing. This box is supposed to be our favorite box and it explains how we men can do nothing and think nothing.
Naturally, Gungor is not the first comedian to note the special connection between men and nothing. Jerry Seinfeld famously had a show about nothing and numerous other comics have bits on the subject. Of course, this is not a blog about comedy, but a philosophy blog. Philosophy, as you know, is a lot like comedy, only less funny.
When it comes to nothing in philosophy, it is natural to think of Martin Heidegger and his work Being & Time as well as Sartre’s Being & Nothingness. Since I have no idea what Heidegger meant and I only understand Sartre while eating croissants, I will simply mention them and move along to the question of whether or not men can think or do nothing.
Like all men, I purport to be able to think nothing. To be specific, if a man is asked by his significant other “what are you thinking”, then the best bet is that he will respond by saying “nothing.” It is, of course, tempting to infer that a man says this because he is aware that saying what he was really thinking will result in a look of disgust, a slap, or both. However, men do claim to actually be thinking of nothing (at least at times). This raises the obvious question of whether or not this is even possible.
On one hand, it does seem possible. First, a man could be involved in a profound consideration of the Nothing and its various metaphysical and theological implications. However, the likelihood of this will vary from man to man (and typically hovers just over nothing). Second, Buddhism puts forth the notion that there is no self and there is no world. The ultimate goal is, of course, Nirvana. If the Buddhists are right, then there are no men to think about nothing, but at least there is nothing to think about. So, perhaps all men are actually Buddhists. Third, maybe men have the ability to actually have their minds literally think about nothing. To use an analogy, think of the mind as a blender and thinking as blending. Now, imagine running the blender with nothing in it. If this analogy holds, which it almost certainly does not, then perhaps the mind can think with nothing to think about.
On the other hand, it might seem to be impossible. First, as Hume noted, the mind always seems to have something going on-some perception or another. Hence, a man is never really thinking about nothing-there is always something in the blender. Second, it could be argued that unlike a blender, a mind cannot engage in its function without some content. Thinking might be more like cutting-while one can make a motion with scissors, they are not cutting unless they have something to cut.
In the case of doing nothing, a man could be doing nothing in the sense that a blender could be blending nothing. Of course, the obvious reply is that while the blender is blending nothing, it is not actually doing nothing. After all, by doing it is doing something. Even thinking about nothing would be doing something, namely thinking about nothing. As such, as long as a man is doing, then he would be doing something-at the very least he is doing. What he is doing, of course, might not amount to much-hence we could be forgiven if we exaggerate and say we are doing nothing.