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A Post About Nothing

April 29, 2012

Approximately eighteen months ago, I made a vow to write an original blog post every week; I chose Sunday as my blogging day so that various ‘daily living activities’ were less likely to interfere with the task.  To date, I’ve only missed one week (due to my mother’s hospitalization), and I generally have two or three ideas floating around in my mind from which to select a topic for each post; I generally make the decision regarding what to write about on Sunday morning. 

Nothing To Write AboutThis morning, however (despite having several ideas ‘in reserve’), I simply couldn’t get inspired by any particular theme or issue (at least, not enough to write 1,500 or so words about it).  I whined, just a little, to my husband as he set off for the garage and his own ‘I-can’t-wait-to-get-started’ Sunday project; “I have nothing to write about,” I moaned.  His comeback was pure genius (and further proof that he knows me better than I know myself): “Then write about nothing,” he said.

In its purest sense, ‘nothing’ is a noun, meaning no thing or not anything (e.g., ‘I said nothing’; ‘I bought nothing’; ‘I did nothing’); no part, share, or trace of (e.g., ‘The seller had nothing of significance to offer’); nonexistence (e.g., ‘The forest sounds dwindled to nothing’); something or someone of no importance (e.g., ‘Wealth is nothing if you don’t have your health’; ‘She meant nothing to him’).  Nothing DefinitionIt can be and is, of course, also used as an adverb (e.g., ‘The dress was nothing if not ugly’) or an adjective (e.g., ‘I was stuck in a nothing little town’), and is a popular slang term with various meanings (e.g., ‘I can get there in nothing flat’; ‘Think nothing of it’; ‘I see nothing but blue sky’; ‘There was nothing doing on a Friday night’).  I’m going to focus on the subject (noun) form of ‘nothing’ (as in, “I’m doing nothing,” “There’s nothing out there”) today.

Absolutely Nothing SignSo here are a few mind-boggling questions for you:  Can you actually ‘do nothing’?  Is it possible that ‘nothing’ exists somewhere (‘out there’ in the infinite universe)? Can you create ‘something from nothing’ or is ‘nothing’ something that’s already there before you start?  Is ‘nothing’ a word that’s been misunderstood and misused for centuries?  It seems very likely.

The Big BangIn the 5th century B.C., a Greek philosopher named Parmenides argued that ‘nothing’ cannot exist because if you speak of something, then it exists. This speaks to one of the things that gives me a headache whenever I watch National Geographic shows about the creation of the universe: how could the universe have been formed from ‘nothing’ (I mean, SOMETHING had to cause ‘the big bang’, right? So what was there BEFORE it happened and the universe as we know it was born?!?!?!?) 

We used to think of outer space (and even the space around us) as being a whole lot of ‘nothing’. But air is comprised of nitrogen and oxygen, so it’s not ‘nothing’. Dark MatterAnd scientists have discovered that all that ‘nothing’ they observed for years in space is actually ‘something’ called dark matter (which doesn’t emit or absorb light or other electromagnetic radiation, so it can’t be seen with a telescope); it’s estimated that 83% of the matter in the universe is dark matter (that’s a lot of ‘nothing’, isn’t it?!?!?).  And even though scientists have tried to create a ‘perfect vacuum’ over the years (a space that doesn’t contain any matter and might be considered to be truly ‘nothing’), they’ve never been 100% successful because there are just too many degrees of uncertainty involved (like ‘virtual particles’, dark energy, and other highly complex physical phenomenon related to quantum physics – which definitely is NOT my area of expertise, so I’ll leave it at that).  So it doesn’t look like ‘nothing’ exists (sorry – I think that’s an oxymoronic statement!)

ZeroSometimes people use the number zero to denote ‘nothing’, but 0 is actually a real value in computing (and since our world is pretty much computer-driven these days, we have to consider 0 to be ‘something’); a variable with no value (which might be considered ‘nothing’) in computer-speak is actually called a ‘null’ – but it’s also a ‘container’ for something that isn’t there, so it’s not really ‘nothing’, after all.

Metallica: King Nothing Album CoverThere have been dozens of songs written about ‘nothing’ (including: “All Or Nothing” by the Small Faces, “Nothing Is Easy” by Jethro Tull, “Nothing Man” by Pearl Jam, “Nothing At All” by I.Q., “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Now I’m Nothing” by Nine Inch Nails, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman Turner Overdrive, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits), yet merely by singing about ‘nothing’, these artists have turned it into ‘something’.

Much Ado About NothingWilliam Shakespeare, of course, penned his famous comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing” in the late 1590s; it has been performed countless times in any number of venues, and has been made into a dozen feature films (both for the big screen and/or television). The first was a silent black and white movie produced in 1909; the latest is a modern retelling (directed by Josh Whedon) due out later this year. Clearly what Shakespeare wrote about wasn’t ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ after all (since so many people have turned his words into ‘something’ over the years).  And here’s an interested factoid – according to the Internet Movie Database, there are over 500 movies with the word ‘nothing’ in the title – clearly they’re about SOMETHING!

NothingA quick Google search revealed three blogs specifically about nothing (“We Believe in Nothing”“A Whole Lotta Nothing”“Apparently Nothing”); two design agencies and one I.T. development firm devoted to and/or named for ‘nothing’ (“Nothing” out of Amsterdam; Nothing Interactive” in Switzerland; “Nothing Limited Ventures”), as well as an “End Hunger” movement (focused on ending hunger in the states of Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont); you can even follow @nothing on Twitter (they currently have 411 followers).  But by talking about it, selling it, and tweeting about it, aren’t all these organizations simply making ‘something out of nothing’?!?!?!

A lot of people get criticized (by others, and sometimes by themselves) for ‘doing nothing’.  Many actively seek the time and/or space to ‘do nothing’ – as if the concept is some type of holy grail for the average overworked, harried, or otherwise busy individual.  Doing Nothing on VacationPeople spend thousands of dollars going on vacations that promise the elusive reward of being able to ‘do nothing’ while they’re away.  But if you’re on vacation, relaxing on a beach, reading a book, sipping exotic drinks, or just lying in a hammock (one of my favourite ‘doing nothing’ pastimes), aren’t you actually doing ‘something’?  In fact, it’s virtually impossible to ‘do nothing’ because no matter how ‘at rest’ you are, you are always breathing, your heart is continually beating, and (believe it or not) you’re thinking (it’s said that the average person has something like 70,000 thoughts per day – a significant portion of which are often fleeting, random, subliminal, and completely involuntary).  So – try as you might – you can’t ‘do nothing’.

That’s not to say each and every one one of us shouldn’t get some ‘downtime’ every once in a while. It’s important to take a break from the mundane activities that fill our busy lives, from work (or play) to rest, relax, and enjoy the wonders of world around us. I think that’s just what I’ll do for an hour or two this afternoon – get outside, breath some of that fresh air, and do as little as possible (even if it’s not quite ‘nothing’) while I can, over here on … the other side of 55.

Doing Nothing Quote

  1. May 4, 2012 8:03 am

    Sundays are my designated day to do nothing =)

    • May 4, 2012 9:17 am

      Everyone should set aside at least one day a week for that particlar passtime!


  2. April 30, 2012 3:49 am

    It’s amazing how much can be said about nothing and yet be so interesting. Great post!

    • April 30, 2012 10:58 am

      It’s amazing what you can pull off when you have ‘nothing’ in your head!


  3. April 29, 2012 5:52 pm

    The best post about nothing I have ever read! (It’s also the only post about it I’ve ever read but that’s beside the point). 🙂


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