Why We Had to Change the Meaning of Nothing – Facts So Romantic


“Nothing,” in physics, is really quite something.Photograph by www.cafecredit.com / Flickr

Nothing” isn’t what it used to be. It used to be something self-evident: the opposite, or the absence, of something. We still use the word this way colloquially, of course. When I’m asked, on the sidewalk, if I can spare some change or a dollar, I say, if I have neither, “Sorry, I got nothing.”

But this sense of the term doesn’t make much sense in science—at least, not anymore. “Nothing” used to be taken as an empty void, the space in which no particles exist. This way of thinking works for money. You either have it, in your wallet or your bank, or you don’t. But it doesn’t work with matter, energy, space, and time. “Nothing,” in physics, is really quite something.

The cosmologist and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss got some backlash for this re-definition. His 2012 book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, seemed, by the title, poised to answer that perennial and perplexing question: Why is there something rather than nothing? But what he offered looked, to some, like a conceptual sleight of hand: Instead of answering the question, he…
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