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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I've mentioned the Idea Festival before.

Interesting (to me) post there today about "Nothing." I'll post the full text here to spare the lazy ones out there. I hope they don't get upset with me...

There's something about nothing

Turn to the back page of a special issue of Discover, just out, and you'll find "20 things you didn't know about nothing" by LeeAundra Temescu, a continuation of the magazine's "20 things" series. Here are some of the points Ms. Temescu makes about nothing that I find interesting:

1. There is vastly more nothing than something. Roughly 74 percent of the universe is "nothing," or what physicists call dark energy; 22 percent is dark matter, particles we cannot see. Only 4 percent is baryonic matter, the stuff we call something.
4. Even nothing has a weight. The energy in dark matter is equivalent to a tiny mass; there is about one pound of dark energy in a cube of empty space 250,000 miles on each side.
9. "Zero" was first seen in cuneiform tablets written around 300 B.C. by Babylonians who used it as a placeholder (to distinguish 36 from 306 or 360, for example). The concept of zero in its mathematical senses was developed in India in the fifth century.
14. Vacuums do not suck things. They create spaces into which the surrounding atmosphere pushes matter.
15. Creatio ex nihilo, the belief that the world was created out of nothing, is one of the most common themes in ancient myths and religions.
16. Current theories suggest that the universe was created out of a state of vacuum energy, that is, nothing.
17. But to a physicist there is no such thing as nothing...
19. ...In fact, according quantum mechanics, the energy contained in all the power plants and nuclear weapons in the world doesn't equal the theoretical energy contained in the empty spaces between these words.
20. In other words, nothing could be the key to the theory of everything.

The links and emphasis above are mine. Since hearing John Barrow speak at the last ideaFestival on the related concept of infinity in mathematics and cosmology, I've been a fan of nothing. And if nothing really is the key to a theory about everything, what we do with uncertainty surely matters.

Some insightful leaps in logic. Fascinating facts. Thoughtful comparisons and contradictions.

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