What is nothing?
It is difficult to picture nothing.
I’d argue that it’s our language that prohibits nothingness, for even having the language to shape our thoughts has birthed a tangible imagination. As wild as our thoughts are, they are contained by our language. Even the most abstract concepts like infinity, love, and motivation are wrapped tightly in vocabulary. Without langauge, what would ideas be? Feelings? I don’t know for sure.
Without language, it’s almost as if our existence ceases to be.
Well, okay, pain and hunger and the biological elements of our existence would continue. We wouldn’t be able to express how or why we eat or suffer or sleep, but we would do them anyway. Like robots, programmed.
With words, though, and the symbols we use for written language, we have removed the mystery. No longer do things simply happen, for there are words to explain all phenomena. There are even words to express the fact that one doesn’t know something. Even the lack of knowledge can be known. There are ways to express things we’ll never understand, which, in a way, is another way of understanding things.
An ability to say, “This is something I will never know,” is far more advanced than our ancestors, who viewed the unknown without knowing it was unknown, as an ant who comes across a leaf in its path and simply bounces off in another direction, not questioning the leaf, narrowly seeing the leaf, more observant of the fact that its forward motion was stalled, but not why or how or where the leaf came from.
We can no longer just be.
If only because we have the verb be.
Therefore, to imagine nothing is to imagine something. A dark space. A bottomless pit. Some other adjective, some other noun. We fill nothing with words, defeating the purpose of nothing, betraying one construct with another. We’re incapable of doing nothing.
Thanks to language, our thoughts have shapes and those shapes become words, sentences, theories. I’ve heard of people meditating to clear their minds to clear all thoughts, like someone dusting their entire house. I don’t buy it, though I’ve never tried it. Our brain’s are wired to acquire language. We’re designed to communicate. Even in total silence, our brain speaks.
I picture the meditating monk with a cleared mind like someone on a vast ocean, floating on a piece of driftwood, completely isolated from the outside world. Or perhaps floating in an endless vacuum. This, I imagine, is the quiet and tranquility they seek for whatever spiritual purpose they desire. Except they are still a noun, performing a verb.
I’m not trying to say that meditation is futile. I think it helps to quiet the vocabulary machines inside our brains that constantly, unconsciously create language to explain the world around us. Closing our eyes, we see dark and we think quiet and we feel calm and we hear our heartbeat. But there is always something. There is never nothing.
So don’t feel bad about those lazy days when you do nothing. Don’t ever feel like you’re worth nothing.
- Where does language come from? (salon.com)
- Language is shaped by brain’s desire for clarity and ease (eurekalert.org)