DD, TheraP, Lux


Philosophy is a waste of time. I am lost in high school and I get to the U and I am stuck in a long line to register for courses and I end up in Philosophy I; Anthropology I and World History I.
I remember the History Professor, within the first minute of his introduction asking the 250 or so students:

"Who, here, had a coach as their world history teacher in high school?"
Everybody raised their hand. Unless both their hands were involved in activities that come easily to young men.

"OK.  Lets start anew.  The eighteenth century represents the 1700's. The nineteenth century represents the 1800's."

Everybody laughed, but I knew I had a chance.

I remember Philosophy I because I began reading Plato.  The Apology, made me cry.  I was hopelessly lost. The sophists were the bad guys and Socrates (I pronounced in my head with a silent 'e' until the professor straightened me out.  I had always thought it was Hercules like Hercules Perot.)

I bring this up because I ended up in law school and the origins of law school end up in the school of the Sophists.  And yet, you are supposedly taught by the Socratic Method.
It is kind of like the Republicans telling you that the Democrats are elitists. I do not know how better to describe it.

I remember thinking that in the Apology, there was never an apology.  The bad guys were the sophists and they killed my friend.  A friend who had been dead for 23 1/2 centuries before I was born.

There were 'schools' in the ancient world. Different perspectives.

There were the atomists who believed that everything could be boiled down to small particles, atoms.

There were those who believed that the entire perspective of the human poplulation was nothing but a dream.

Now there are many, many 'schools' in ancient Greek thought. So do not chastise me for ignorance.  Besides, I am good at ignorance.

What can philosophy teach us? Well Socrats (as I perceived him and pronounced him), opens the Apology with the words: "There are things beneath the earth and above the heavens that will never be understood in your philosophy."

Kind of like arguing with Fundamentalists who think that the world is 6 or eight thousand years old.  Who actually have Fred Flinstone museums where you can see Fred mining with a dinosour as his digger.

My basic question of the day is:  What is nothing? or What is nothingness?

Hold your two hands about a foot apart.  What do you see?

There is nothing between my two hands.

But, when I do this, I know that is not a true statement.

There is air between your two hands. There is nitrogen, and oxygen, and a hundred different molecules depending upon where you are that exist between those two hands.

And there are biological entities between your hands. There are hundreds of different forms of bacteria and viruses. Living beings that you cannot see.

There are things like asbestos and dead skin and smoke and other things that are not 'alive' between your two hands.

Now we come to a  Greek concept of the vacuum.

If you take away from or ignore the water and nitrogen and oxygen, and asbestos and bacteria and viruses and everything else. Can you really say there is nothing between your two hands?

No, because there is space between your two hands and, evidently, if we are to believe scientists, space is something.

First, outer space is not a concept anymore.  We can see it.

National Geographic, in its November issue, showed PICTURES of planets orbiting another sun 160 light years away from us.

These pictures were not 'artists conceptions' they showed three PLANETS orbiting another sun.  And by telescopic time lapsed photography they actually show a picture of the arc of one of the planets.

I never thought I would ever see this in my lifetime. I was amazed.

This was not mathematical wizardry or deductions from watching the 'wobbling' effect of faraway suns.  The procedure used for ten years to demonstrate that other solar systems exist in our own galaxy was categorized as the 'wobbling effect.'  These are pictures and not pictures of 'dust', but of planets.

These scientists, astrophysicists, tell us that space is not Kalvin zero.  It is a 'temperature of 3 degrees above', Kalvin.  This is different from Celsius . The Kalvin 'thermometer' registers lack of heat to the point where there is no atomic movement at all.

But, no matter where you go throughout the universe, you will find some heat.

And of course, there is light, photons, or we could not see anything between us and what we are recording.

And there is gravity, whatever the hell that is, between us and the sun and the other suns we are looking at.

Space is not nothingness.

And space is expanding.  The galaxies are moving apart except those like our closest neighbor that is coming toward us, or we are going toward it, or both.

Galaxies are moving apart and space is expanding.


What the hell is space expanding INTO.

Is it expanding into nothingness?

The Greeks asked simple questions.  Dictionaries cannot answer some of these questions.  Most of the elemental questions cannot be answered. Even today.

No one can answer the question:  What the hell is nothingness?



Wow! I hesitate to even start. Where to start? Let's get the crisper definitions out of the way before I even stumble into the metaphysical aspects. Mathematical definition of a line segment: A line segment is a part of a line that is bounded by two distinct end points and contains every point on the line between its end points. Points have no dimensions. Lines have one dimension. A line segment when considered mathematically has points of no dimension defining it and the 'space' between the two points is comprised of equally dimensionless points. So the space between the two points is kinda collapsable upon itself. This leads to the mathematical paradox that you can never really get from point A to point B, as the space is continually halved ad infinitum as you approach point B. So in that regard space is in fact an intellectual construct, (I think).

Next, some thoughts regarding the expansion of the universe. I'm not an astrophysicist, and I don't play one on TV, so please someone who knows this stuff, please jump in. My limited understanding of the expanding universe is that it will expand till gravitational forces, (as you aptly pointed out, "whatever the hell that is"), begin to slow down the expansion till the universe collapses back in upon itself.... After which, theoretically the energy contained 'explodes' again leading to another more expansive period. This part of physics always reminded me of the dragon swallowing its tail in ancient Chinese symbolism.

A thought regarding absolute zero, (zero degrees Kelvin). The fact that all that space/dust/etc. is at 3 degrees Kelvin represents a lot of latent energy which when the universe contracts will lead to the next 'big bang'.

Which brings us back to your real interest, 'nothingness'. On the physical level nothingness might be considered to be what happens when things reach absolute zero. Zero energy. Interestingly. physicists haven't been able to produce that in laboratory experiments. They've gotten really close, but I suspect it may be analogous to the paradox of approaching Point B from point A. You always halve the distance between whatever temperature you start out at and absolute zero, but never quite get there. Just speculating, on all of this stuff really. So is energy a necessary condition of physical matter? I think so.
See Einstein's theory of relativity.

Metaphysically speaking, (and here I'm speculating as well), my thoughts range from seeing that unapproachable space between point A and point B as nothingness. You can't get there from here ; ).

On another level the premise that the universe is expanding, and will eventually collapse upon itself in the process wiping out all this biomass in the process, (dragon swallows tail - Yum!), inspires a kind of philosophical aloofness, (although not nihilism), in me. Be the dragon. Swallow your tail. Do your best even though ultimately it may all be for naught.
i.e. The dragon swallowing his tail is a metaphysical representation of 'nothingness'.
i.e. The dragon swallowing his tail is a metaphysical representation of 'nothingness'.
I love this post! Not that we're going to answer the question, but a question is a good place to start from.

Even though you're asking about "nothingness," I had a blindingly powerful insight once about "emptiness." It's meaning. I heard the meditation bell. It was at a 10 day meditation retreat. And that reverberation.... felt as if it was happening inside me. Best I can explain it. Or that I was resonating to the bell. (a brass meditation bowl really) And suddenly I realized that the bell could not "resonate" unless it was empty. And that told me something about the "meaning" of being empty oneself.

Now, that doesn't answer your question. But it sure answered mine! Not that I had a question. But it gave me a powerful insight, that has never left me. And it shows that learning is not always something you get by having "more." Sometimes it's gotten by having "less." If that makes any sense.

And I suspect nothingness is like "emptiness" if you let it happen to yourself.
This comment made me happier than I anything I have read in a long time!

And after that bell, TheraP, what then? :)

DickDay, TheraP has answered half your question.

[Lux turns his zafu upside-down and heads out to Starbucks for coffee]
Wow, if you really want to know. It was mind-blowing! Indeed, I think it impacted everyone on that retreat! We were at a Trappist monastery in Snowmass, CO.

Well.... I was in tears. But also bursting into laughter. Once I could let it out, because I can't recall if that was the second of back to back half hour sessions before breakfast. I know that when I left there I had the feeling I had to speak to "someone." One monk I had talked to a day or two before was making breakfast. And I requested some time with him. He had it later that day. Then I talked a bit to one woman who was kind of facilitator. But those conversations I can't really recall.

Here's what happened with the group. Everyone could see I was "in a state." Or "out if it." Or whatever they saw!

I had signed up to read or say (?) something (a psalm? a blessing?) before each meal. And here I was in this state of crying, laughing... unable to contain my emotions in a "silent retreat." They were all looking to me as we were standing there before breakfast... and people had this look like.... can she do it? should she do it?

My husband squeezed my hand (he was next to me, but as clueless as anybody). Somehow I got through the "whatever."

It was in January. Picture the mountains in January! Not much snow really. But very cold. Long walks between the guesthouse and the chapel of the monastery.

I had this thought... which seemed so funny and mind-blowing at the time: God just wants to ring your bell!

But the bell has to empty first.

At the same time I was "filled" to overflowing. Pure joy? Pure something. Like something you could not describe. As deep as tears. As high as ecstasy, I suppose.

I explained the insight to a couple people, not sure if that day or another day. People did seem to "get" it. (well.... given the circumstances) And they got into fits of laughing too.

I recall that evening after dinner. The teacup was empty of tea. And I recall saying to someone "my empty cup runneth over." (same thing)

Somehow what happened to me had an impact on that group. It seemed to have a ripple effect perhaps. One guy who had ribbed me that day I "heard" the bell (in a nice way, trying to cut the intensity of emotion, I think, on the very last night, when we were talking about the experience of the retreat, he started to talk... and he mentioned me, apologized in a sense for ribbing me, and maybe he explained that this had also impacted him, and then he broke down in tears himself.
That was very powerful to see!

Now.... you asked what happened next. But what's interesting here, Lux, is also - what happened before then? A couple days before that, I can say that I'd felt very restless. It was so hard, so hard, to "sit." I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. Then.. the next day we had this conference with one monk who described a method of listening to a psalm (but you could use that for anything, I think.... a koan, a story, could be from any mystical tradition, I think). He read a few verses only. Very slowly. And several times. Now... we're in this silent retreat. It's been at least a week by now. And he asked us what we had experienced. Well, I had noticed my heart pounding. And I had some thoughts as if there was a door inside myself and it was being knocked on ... from the other side... as if a wall could be broken down... and the sense that it was a wall that didn't need to be there... and it related to the issue of "shame." (not sure if I realized that at that precise moment)

But I think when I heard the bell, it was like that wall crashing... and thus when I was in that state of laughing and crying... it was like being totally vulnerable in front of that group. The wall down. No shame. In a way no self-consciousness.

Thanks for asking the question. And to whoever might be reading this, please realize what I've written here is so deep, so personal. Like being turned inside-out. If you've never "been there," please understand this is the kind of thing like Moses with the burning bush.... "take off shoes... this is holy ground."

I don't mean... don't respond. Just please, respect the holy ground here.

I've had other experiences, both before and after. I think they involve a "letting go" - both before and after. A profound change. That never leaves you.

This is what I mean, when I talk at times about the kind of "safety" in a place like this, that allows for people to be vulnerable with each other. And how that benefits all of us. (Ideally)

Reverential bow.
What a wonderful experience! And everything exactly right. exactly right. You definitely broke through and I have met so few people I could say that to. A remarkable account, so rare to encounter.....

I love the Trappists, when I came back from being in an overseas monastery, I spent some time with the Trappists and they had zafus in a retreat room! Very ecumenical in those days were they! Fr. Willigis Jager was teaching a Catholic Zen in those days and Fr. John Main was teaching a mantra system that went in the same direction.

Don't worry about uncomprehending comments. The holiness of this ground is self-renewing. Emptiness cannot be exhausted! Cannot be defiled! What can lie outside the ringing of the bell, the expansion of the universe? With the spiritual power in that ringing bell, flames shoot to the heavens and vast waves cover the earth! How could you not, how could I not, laugh and cry!

Its like the old saying, "[The master] knocked me down [thirty years ago] and ever since then I can't stop laughing!"

You set me laughing/crying this morning. Gassho, Venerable.

Did you meet John Main? We did! He is one of the true holy men I have met. We met him at Mt Savior Monastery, near which we used to live. Yes, we listened to his conferences on meditations many times, many times. (That was many, many years ago now.)

Well, all I can say, Lux, (based on my limited experience) is that no one "breakthrough" is "all" of "nothing." (I'm nobody here.)

Snowmass is a small monastery. But there are so many mystics there among those few monks that in my husband's view, were it not for the constant stream of visitors, the place would spontaneously combust!

If you haven't read Tales of a Magic Monastery by Theophan (now deceased), I highly recommend it. (it's on Amazon) Theophan spent over a year at a zen monastery and many of the monks do meditate at Snowmass in the zen style. (The book is like zen tales - meant to shock you into understanding... also of Christianity.)

I too love the Trappists. I've also read widely in many traditions. They're all pointing at the same vanishing point. This is all that really matters to me. But the "vanishing point" is also within all of us... and like the heart of reality. Thus my care and concern, as you also know. (I feel pretty sure you and I are in the same boat... even if you aren't "aware" of it. But you are.)
"The universe is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable..." --Martin Buber
One can be so concerned for one's children that one loses all fear of being unseemly.

At Vulture Peak the Buddha held up a flower.

93,000,000 miles away the sun was burning furiously and the great wheel of the cosmos was slowly spinning, slowly spinning in a space of its own being.

Today walking home someone saw a small earthworm crossing the dry sidewalk.
Picking up the creature to deposit it in the grass, she lifts up Buddha, flower, sun, and cosmos.

"Amare sed non tangere"
Lux Umbra Dei / empty boat

TheraP / bashed boat!
I am the wall.
down the wall.
Thank you for that insight.
Now I want to respond to your post in a different way. You started out by saying: "Philosophy is a waste of time."

It's interesting because psychotherapy has often been called: "A necessary waste of time."

Makes one think about your statement differently now. Many things that enrich life are a "waste of time." Art. Music. Fishing. You name it. Things that are best appreciated in a meditative, you could even say, a trancelike state.

I had a professor who taught ethics via the Socratic method. We never got very far, it seemed at the time. We spend endless hours debating first principles. I have a suspicion I learned more in that course than any course I took, but I didn't expand my knowledge base... only my reasoning base, I think. That's what was valuable. I think he taught us to think - or to examine... or "something." He let us question everything. He encouraged us to question everything. (and nothing... as you pose in your post!)

Now we come to what, to me, is a key thought you had here:
Kind of like arguing with Fundamentalists
Your education, my education, a "liberal" education (and consider now the origin of the word "liberal") exposes us to questions. Exposes us to turning ideas and concepts and arguments and first principles over and over in our minds. Isn't that the opposite of fundamentalism? Isn't that what fundamentalists actually fear?

To really grow, I think, we need to move beyond our comfort zones. Whether it is in terms of meditation (through a koan or by whatever method) which breaks down the mental barriers .... if you let that happen... because partly I think this is also emotional barriers that break down. But fundamentalists are fundamentally scared people, I think. Terrified people! Scared of letting go of "certainty." (a mirage if there ever was one!)

I honestly think this is the basic difference between fundamentalists (and too many republicans are fundamentalists) and those of a "liberal" bent. It has to do with the tolerance of uncertainty, the tolerance of ambiguity, the ability to "let go" in the face of "nothingness" for a bit.... in order to grow.

4th paragraph: we "spent" endless hours debating first principles.
Okay, people, I got my astrophysics friend to weight in here, there is alot of pseudoscience and this really pisses me off.
1) The currently widely-accepted theory is NOT the big crunch. The universe is shown to be expanding at an increasing rate which suggests that gravitational forces will not draw it back in on itself again. This means that the more likely explanation is heat death: Matter decays into energy (photons), photons scatter throughout the universe which continues to expand, causing the universe to tend to a temperature of 0 [b]Kelvin[/b] (Not Kalvin, Kalvin is a different scientist). Kelvin is identical to Centigrade except 0 kelvin = 2 hundred and something centigrade, but +1 kelvin is the same as +1 centigrade.
2) Miguel: Space is not an intellectual construct, unless you're a cartesian existentialist. Scientifically, it is not an intellectual construct. Time is. You sort of got your explanation real muddled up there. The paradox you mentioned (Xeno's paradox) is quite easily resolved by newtonian physics and calculus, which can prove that you will overtake point B in finite time.
3) Zero Energy, No Matter, No Energy, No thing - is still something. It is still space. The universe can still be said to exist. Hence there is [b]something[/b] there. If All energy were to suddenly vanish from the universe, space would still exist (but time would not, see the branching theory of quantum physics).
Energy causes things to move on a very small level. Gravity is the curvature of space/time, so that if something moves in one direction, it effectively moves FURTHER in space that it would move if it were going in the other direction. This means even as the universe expands, material objects are held together, somewhat. That is why light, which has no mass, is still affected by gravity.
To your question "What is the universe expanding into", the answer I would give would be the Japanese "mu" - that is, that your question depends on incorrect assumptions. (The origin of this is in Zen Buddhism, something of which I make a very devout student)
Nothingness is best defined as a mental concept - the absence of anything. But, seeing as space has been named, and we understand that seeing as there is a distance between two points, even in a vacuum, that there is some "space", some "stuff" in which all things exist - but it is not actually something, it's not something you can hold in your hand or measure with an instrument, so conceiving of the absence of it is not really legitimate. Further derivations can be made to show that space is spun out of mathematical dimensions, so to speak (see string theory), so that all objects have properties which govern their position in space/time according to this particular quantum branch.
The expansion of the universe is best likened to a blowing up of a balloon. Just suppose for the time being that we did not have 3 spatial dimensions and we had a mere 2, as if we lived in a cartoon. Then, the universe could be said to be the surface of the balloon. It has no "edge", but it has an area. As the universe expands, the balloon blows up. Notice how the area increases, and the distance between objects on the surface expands, but, if the entire universe is merely the surface of the balloon, then there is nothing into which it has actually expanded?
There is a theory that our universe exists within another universe but this is largely discredited by quantum theory which is very confusing to me and I won't go into for this reason.
The reason there appears to be an "Edge" to the universe when we look out our telescopes is that as we look outward, we also look back in time, because it takes some time for light to reach us from far away. So, when we see something 10,000 light years away, we are actually seeing what it looked like 10,000 years ago. That means, if you look far far far out, you will see the beginning of the universe (all you see is radiation). This, to us, appears to be an "edge", but if you were to hop in a spaceship and travel out there, you wouldn't find what you saw in the telescope on earth.
You know what I love about quantum theory? Or the quanta? When we speak of the "quantum leap," what that means is that all the quanta - in the entire universe - "leap" at the same moment.
There's no way of predicting which direction they will "leap." No way of predicting the moment of the leap.
But think about it: Somehow they "know" to all leap together.
Now that to me is mind-blowing! That interconnectedness at the heart of reality.
Do we tap into that with zen (or whatever method)? Who knows?
With the science out of the way, I strongly encourage you to embrace wholeheartedly 禅(zen) Buddhism. It will help you to understand this not on an intellectual level but on a personal level.
One of the most amazing experiences in 坐禅 (zazen) is to attempt to view the scenery around you, and not parse it into individual objects. That is, you don't see the tree, and the rocks, and the path, and the sky. What you see is an image. And your brain does not attempt to break down that image. It is one of the hardest things to do.
公案 (koan) are also good, as is the reading of the masters.
With regards to the socratic method, the Japanese had beat Socrates to the punch on that too:
(nomunoga itsumo shinjireba, nomunaide.)
"If you believe everything you read, don't read."

Hmm, "beat to the punch" is a wrong expression seeing as Socrates probably predates most of Japanese culture. However that's a very succint way of putting the Socratic method into eastern proverb, no?
I love those Japanese characters!
How about? He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak.
Just one reason I parsed my comment above with the disclaimer that I was only speculating. kamatsu, thanks for the physics update. My study of that field is outdated, as our current understanding will undoubtedly be someday.
That's Taoist, is it not?
As is "Define the emptiness within and you have the use of the room."
Oooh, I love it! Never heard that one before. TPM is a fount of wisdom!
Somewhere in your Lao Tzu. Don't really feel like digging it out and looking for a page number at the moment.
No Lao Tzu? That's easily remedied...
I've got one. I'll check. Thank you.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."
--William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
When in doubt, look to the G'mork.
I wrote this just before I crashed last night and I was not going to post. That is why I never looked up the spelling for Kelvin.Because, I thought, who really wants to read and write about nothing. I have gone through the comments once but I will keep reviewing them over the next week.

Citing Xeno was right on. And the meditation of the one is something I have pondered for years because I am in love with the Gaeia (sp) theory. She was the goddess of the earth and the theory sees the entire earth as one, living, breathing entity. Every thing is related to every thing else.

The Trappist retreat relates to me in so many different ways, I have to review it again and again.I will never grasp quantum theory but every year I pick up a popular book on it. Popular meaning Quantum Physics for Dummies. These books and documentaries on cable and PBS are the most entertaining presentations to me of chaos.
Maybe a passage from the book titled A Book for None and All would be in order here:

By many ways, in many ways, I reached my truth: it was not on one ladder that I climbed to the height where my eye roams over my distance. And it was only reluctantly that I inquired about the way: that always offended my taste. I preferred to question and try out the ways themselves.
A trying and questioning was my every move; and verily, one must also learn to answer such questioning. That, however, is my taste--not good, not bad, my taste of which I am no longer ashamed and which I have no wish to hide.
"This is my way; where is yours?"---thus I answered those who asked me "the way." For the way---that does not exist.
Thus spoke Zarathrusta
One use of "nothingness" in Nietzsche's rhetoric is to provide an absolute way to challenge absoluteness. It has other meanings in his work but the above statement is a sort of claymore to any any unified attempt at a theory of nothingness.
The absence Nietzsche refers to keeps leading back to our expectations of what will be present. And this expectation reminds me of what Kafka said:

The true way goes over a rope, stretched, not at a great height, but just above the ground. It seems more designed to trip people than be walked upon.

moat, I'm so glad to see you! (if I could "see" a moat...)

Your image of the ladder... I have lately thought that any "way" was like a ladder you start climbing. But at a certain point, the ladder ends (in thin air) ... but you must keep climbing.... Some people, finding thin air, find the ladder useless. They say, what a waste! Or, it's a worthless way! Or... this is going nowhere!

How you keep climbing in thin air, I cannot say. It's like a Sufi saying... something about when you reach an impasse, with no way out, a door opens that no one yet has known.

I think we're all stretching here - to communicate ... beyond words. But reaching out... into thin air ... touching each other. Maybe like that wonderful painting of Michelangelo ...of creation... where God reaches out to Adam ... fingers reaching ... never quite touching.... but creating that tension ... of creative/freeing love. (as Lux said above)

now to sleep