I am apprehensive about this column because I have received some odd looks when I bring this subject up in casual conversations.

But I can’t resist, so here goes.

The concept of zero, nothing, nada, zip has intrigued philosophers and scientists since antiquity.

Until well into the 17th century scientists were so afraid or unequipped to confront the large amount of “nothingness” in the universe they insisted that everything between the “something” they could see and touch was filled with a thing they called “The Aether.”

Sadly, neither they nor anyone since has been able to find any tangible scientific evidence of “The Aether,” so it was discarded and has been replaced by “nothing,” or more accurately “vacuum.”

My sole intention in this column is to propose that this nothing or vacuum dominates our universe.

I must admit right here that I do not have any defensible idea what this “nothing” is.

Now, since I cannot define it, I will start by assuming that what is not “something” would logically be nothing.

The only form of something (in a scientific sense) that I think we can all agree on is matter.

Matter is made up of atoms. Atoms are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons.

If we first look at the vacuum the “nothingness” of interstellar outer space we find almost absolutely “nothing” … vast expanses with virtually no matter — just empty space with a few individual atoms scattered around.

So our universe as a whole is mostly nothing.

If we look at something like a solid block of metal, which all agree is a concentrated form of “something” we find it is made up of densely packed atoms.

These atoms are each made up of a small central nucleus of protons and neutrons, where essentially all the mass (matter) of the atom is concentrated.

Very small and lightweight electrons can be described as sort of smeared out and orbiting the nucleus.

I have read that if a typical atom was the size of a large football stadium, the total pure mass of the atom would occupy a space about the size of a marble (approximately a 1/2-inch in diameter).

So even a very concentrated form of something is mostly empty space … nothing.

To be complete, I must add that many things — like light and gravity — can and do go through all this “nothingness.”

I am not smart enough to understand what that means or if that somehow makes the vacuum (the nothing) into something.

But I will keep reading and thinking about “nothing.”

In my opinion, we really are not much further along today in defining or explaining “nothing” than the ancients.

If any of you, after reading this, want to set me straight or just comment I would love to hear from you.

Joe Concienne of Galveston, a chemical engineer who spent much of his career in Texas City, writes an occasional column on the basic concepts of science. He can be reached at concien@aol.com.

(1) comment

George Croix

Mr. Concienne, far be it from me to dispute a learned man, being just a simple 'ol East Texas Piney Woods stomper myself, but it seems to me that the concept of nothing is easily seen, and demonstrated often.
All one has to do is fly to D.C. tomorrow, and bear witness to the total postive non-partisan effort by the elected politicians and their appointees, top to bottom, and 'nothing' is as plain as a clear summer day.
Like the wind, you cannot see, or touch, that nothing, but the effects of it can push you where you don't want to go, and cost you a lot of money to repair the damage that nothing can result in.
Anyway, sarcasm aside, an interesting article, as are all of yours.
It's a bit mind boggling, in the vein of trying to come to grips with how there is now something, if there was nothing in the first place, from which to derive the something...
Ouch....makes my simple, public school filled brain hurt...

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