Sunday, March 02, 2008
Commenting on my article on physics, halibut etc., the ineffable Gordon McCabe points out that, strictly speaking, the issue was not why there should be something rather than nothing but whether there should be something rather than a 'sea of photons', which is what you would get if all stuff was cancelled out by anti-stuff. Fair enough, but I think calling a sea of photons nothing was justified in the context. Anyway, it now seems that physicists have trapped nothing in a bottle. And Julian Barnes is terrified of nothing. Strictly speaking, both to the physicist and the individual there is no such thing as nothing. The physicist has his photon sea and the individual does not live through death, he simply ceases to be a self. He cannot, therefore, be afraid of nothing since there is nothing to be afraid of. The self cannot possibly have any relation - of fear, love or anything else - with its non-existence. What the human self can have is an awareness that it will, in time, cease to exist. Existence itself will continue which makes the prospect of our own death seem either an injustice or, because we all suffer from a touch of solipsism, illogical. As a result, we long for deliverance from nothing. Modern physics has always sounded a bit like theology. (I seem to remember Dawkins attacking theology as a discipline about nothing; he did not realise that this was, in fact, high praise.) Now the physicists have got a handle on nothing and are hoping to get a Theory of Everything from the Large Hadron Collider, I suspect physics and theology are going to start sounding even more like the same thing. 'Nothing will come of nothing,' said Lear. How wrong he was.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 11:21 am